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What is the significance of fragrance for you? A response.

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A long and complicated answer, maybe of meaning only to the OP, or perhaps not even to him...

lyrictenororbust:

It is interesting that you come at your question through Hegel's disagreement with Kant about the noumena. Kant believed that all we can know about things-in-themselves is that they exist; all the rest of our knowledge is of the phenomena, the extent to which they are present to the mind through their appearance, and not the thing-which-appears as it is in itself. Hegel says that the thing-in-itself is knowable through its actuality; but this concept of actuality is itself strange. In Aristotle's conception, this involves both "being at work" (energeia) and "being in a state of wholeness or completion that is consistent" (entelecheia). This is contrasted with potentiality (dynamis) which is as yet incomplete, and not yet consistent. Potentiality has not yet reached its work as its proper completion or proper end.

The way that some thinkers get beyond these dichotomies is to look at the relationship between the observer and the thing observed. The observer can see something as an object, that is, as it appears to the observer, or as a subject, that is, as it is to itself. To see it in this second way, as a subject, it is necessary to find a way to "listen" to it, to try to see it as it sees itself. This is easier (though not really easy) with conscious things, which can speak to us in something like our own language (although no two people use language in the same way) or through their actions (as animals can express some things through different behaviors, although we may rationalize and misinterpret their meanings). With things that are not conscious, we must try to find a way to let them speak for themselves, rather than mistake them for what they truly are to themselves merely through their pure appearance.

To do this, we must try to understand what their proper end is in reality. How do fragrances speak to us in terms of their completeness and consistency in their own reality? Is this about how we use them to project a certain image or gain a certain goal? I think it isn't. That's about our status as subject, not theirs. If a scent had its own purpose, its own proper work and end in the world, what would that be? And how could we let it tell us of its own entelechy?

The elements of finished fragrances exist as either natural or synthetic odorant chemicals, but the finished fragrances are the product of human work and of their makers' ideas of their proper end. For that we have, or at least potentially do have, a way of hearing what their intended end is. The perfumer must let his ingredients and his process relate to him in a conscious and purposeful way, and this is a process we can try to understand, by study, research, and dialogue. It is not what marketers say about the scents their companies sell. They did not create them, and they do not relate to them as creations made from individually known materials. It is the perfumer's understanding, to the extent that we can discover and understand it, that informs our quest. We must enter into the mind and process of a perfumer as much as we can if we want to understand the product as a subjective self issuing from another subjective self, the perfumer's mind. Beyond that, to understand scent as an art, we must go beyond individual artifacts, and try to gain an appreciation for the minds of many perfumers.

Not easy. We usually go on phenomenologically, assessing the pure appearances of scent to our subjective minds, treating and seeing them as objects for our use. To make the shift to seeing them as subjects and letting them speak to us on their own terms is a challenge indeed. This is the numinous aspect of perfumery. What does it tell us that the nature of smell as art is adding to our lives on its own terms? What meaning of its existence and ends does it speak to us?

Updated 18th July 2011 at 08:07 AM by JaimeB

Categories
Philosophy of Fragrance , The Art of Perfumery

Comments

  1. ECaruthers's Avatar
    Aristotle was one smart dude. Kant & Hegel were certainly clever. But in our modern world their categories seem artificial. To see fragrances as objects wanting to speak on their own terms may be more than a challenge. At least I find it more usefull to think in terms of natural ingredients, the chemicals they release, the associations we (individually and culturally) have with those chemicals, and the ways clever perfumers arrange and expand those associations to give us interesting and beautiful experiences. I don't think it matters whether this position is phenomenological, numinous or a mix.
  2. JaimeB's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by ECaruthers
    Aristotle was one smart dude. Kant & Hegel were certainly clever. But in our modern world their categor!ies seem artificial. To see fragrances as objects wanting to speak on their own terms may be more than a challenge. At least I find it more usefull to think in terms of natural ingredients, the chemicals they release, the associations we (individually and culturally) have with those chemicals, and the ways clever perfumers arrange and expand those associations to give us interesting and beautiful experiences. I don't think it matters whether this position is phenomenological, numinous or a mix.
    I replied in this way because the OP brought up the question of Hegelian philosophy. If you have read many of my previous posts on understanding the art of perfumery and the philosophy of perfumery, as I know you have, you have seen that the conclusion of my arguments there and here are the same.

    I do think the idea of treating objects of study as subjects with their own intentionality (not a Hegelian concept to be sure) is an important one. It keeps us from viewing the whole of reality as if we were the only subjects in it, and blunts our tendency to see ourselves as the masters, owners, and lords of nature, with all the evils that such an attitude engenders.

    Hey, I know I have a tendency to get all philosophical and rigorous on these subjects. I guess I am all too aware that my musings are not suited to everyone. Nevertheless, for myself, I like to keep the stricter perspective from being overwhelmed by mere opinion. Is that really such a bad habit?

    I think I'm just trying to keep the numinous alive alongside the phenomenal. The numinous is good. It's our source of awe and wonder, things I don't want to lose sight of in perfumery.
  3. cosmopolit's Avatar
    A righteous post from you, as usual, JaimeB. We definitely need more philosophical/aesthetic analyses of perfume of this sort--keep it coming!!

    Aristotle/Kant/Hegel/Merleau-Ponty are more than welcome here--as well as sensory anthropologists and all who look at what the senses and sensory stimuli mean to us--
  4. JaimeB's Avatar
    Well, well... I just came across a Latin quotation that I posted on another site. It might actually be germane in this new context:

    Nihil tam absurdum, quod non dictum sit ab aliquo philosophorum.

    "There is nothing so absurd that some one of the philosophers has not said it."

    — Marcus Tullius Cicero

    We certainly must all learn to laugh at ourselves, or others will most certainly beat us to it!
    Updated 20th July 2011 at 07:16 AM by JaimeB

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