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Perfumes, Persons, and Poems. Perfumes as Poems, Part II: Counter-conjectures.

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In my last post in this series, I boldly asserted the identity of perfumes and poems, offering twenty platitudes which I claimed to be true of both perfumes and poems. (see: [url]http://www.basenotes.net/blog_callback.php?b=2376[/url]) I was thinking along the lines of Leibniz' Law, according to which, in this case, if everything true about poems is true of perfumes, and everything true about perfumes is true of poems, then this should establish their identity!

I invited counterexamples to my “platitudes” (which were premises in the “argument” I advanced), and discovered that the most contentious claim I had made was [B]#11[/B]: [B][I][COLOR="red"]Great poems are not composed by committee.[/COLOR][/I][/B] However, astute fellow fragrance travelers stepped forward to reject not only the claim that great perfumes cannot be composed by committee, but also that great poems cannot be composed by committee. It appeared, therefore, that I was still on safe ground, and my proof remained unscathed. All that I really needed to do was to delete that “platitude,” which had turned out to be so far from being platitudinous that it was actually false of both poems and perfumes!

A less humble (or epistemologically exigent...) soul might at this point smugly proclaim victory in demonstrating once and for all that, in fact, perfumes really are poems, with all that that implies. Alas, over the course of the past month, the wheels have been whirring ever faster, and the more I think about this question, the more dubious the identity is seeming to me. Sure, there were nineteen identity platitudes, but that was only a tiny fraction of the infinitely many other possible statements yet to be examined! In what follows, I offer a list of ten Counter-conjectures, which I am not supposing are true but certainly suspecting might be:

[SIZE="4"][COLOR="blue"][B]Ten Counter-conjectures about Perfumes and Poems[/B][/COLOR][/SIZE]

[B][COLOR="red"]CC1[/COLOR][/B]: Perfumes are ingestible and therefore exhaustible. Poems are neither. TRUE or FALSE?

[B][COLOR="red"]CC2[/COLOR][/B]: Poems are archivable, even across hundreds or thousands of years. Perfumes, in contrast, are not archivable, and they are relatively ephemeral, at least compared to the poet's art. TRUE or FALSE?

[B][COLOR="red"]CC3[/COLOR][/B]: Most poets are unknown, but if they become renowned even posthumously, they may achieve immortality. (Emily Dickinson is one example.) Most perfumers, even those today who are world famous, will never achieve immortality because of the ephemeral and nonarchivable nature of their work, which makes it impossible for their creations to perdure and to be appreciated by more than a few generations. TRUE or FALSE?

[B][COLOR="red"]CC4[/COLOR][/B]: Everyone is potentially a poet, even if only a mediocre one (poetaster), because everyone uses language. Not everyone is a perfumer. TRUE or FALSE?

[B][COLOR="red"]CC5[/COLOR][/B]: Most perfumers earn their livelihood from creating perfumes. Most poets do not. TRUE or FALSE?

[B][COLOR="red"]CC6[/COLOR][/B]: Perfumers often become perfumers by family lineage (Creed, Guerlain, et al.). Poets are not usually the children of poets. TRUE or FALSE?

[B][COLOR="red"]CC7[/COLOR][/B]: Most perfumers work for other people/companies and therefore are constrained by their values (or the company's “guidelines”). When a perfumer begins to create solely for the promise of wealth, then he has become a hack. Most poets do not work for other people, but there is no real analogue to an industry hack in the case of poetry. TRUE or FALSE?

[B][COLOR="red"]CC8[/COLOR][/B]: Reviews of poems nearly never make explicit reference to details of the reader's historical circumstances (though interpretations are certainly influenced by them....). Reviews of perfumes often make explicit references to the wearer's subjective experience and associations. TRUE or FALSE?

[B][COLOR="red"]CC9[/COLOR][/B]: Faced with an unpleasant poem, one can simply close the book. Faced with an unpleasant perfume, one must either leave the room, take a bath, or ask the offending party (if nonidentical to the offended party...) to leave the room. TRUE or FALSE?

[B][COLOR="red"]CC10[/COLOR][/B]: Poetry criticism is a form of art criticism. Because we physical ingest perfumes (through our cells), perfume criticism is closer to food and wine criticism. TRUE or FALSE?


Now it is left to you, [B][COLOR="darkorchid"]O Fellow Fragrance Travelers[/COLOR][/B], to set me straight once again:

Are these conjectures in fact true? Or are they merely the conjurings of an overcaffeinated mind? Have I myself “succeeded” in undermining my very own quest to prove the equivalence of poems and perfumes by unraveling all of the progress I made to this point in proving my identity claim?

Any light which you may be able to shed on these never-more pressing questions will be met with abundant gratitude!!!

Updated 16th November 2011 at 03:05 PM by sherapop

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  1. Birdboy48's Avatar
    Dear Shera,
    CC2: Poems are archivable, even across hundreds or thousands of years. Perfumes, in contrast, are not archivable, and they are relatively ephemeral, at least compared to the poet's art. TRUE or FALSE?
    A person can memorize a poem, even if they do not have the text before them. If we have a poem memorized, does that not speak to existence, just as if we did have the text before us ?

    Societies once depended on oral histories as a means of preserving the existence of both facts and more conceptual information. Perhaps as a result of some sort of western cultural guilt, we now tend to have respect for oral histories, and as such, we've apparently legitimized the preservationist nature of "non-archived" remembered material.

    But words are words, and if remembered correctly, are able to convey their information intact without a text. Smells may be memorized as well, but what sort of "language" do we have which can convey sensory information accurately and intact ?

    CC4: Everyone is potentially a poet, even if only a mediocre one (poetaster), because everyone uses language. Not everyone is a perfumer. TRUE or FALSE?
    Everyone who wades in the water might be a world-class swimmer, and everyone who digs in the dirt might be a gold miner. I think the substantive answer to any question like this hinges on intent.

    CC5: Most perfumers earn their livelihood from creating perfumes. Most poets do not. TRUE or FALSE?
    If we are talking about the broader subject of art, which for the moment it seems we are, the issue of primary importance would seem to revolve around acting on one's passions rather than making a living ? Is an artist only truly an artist if they can make a living at their chosen aspiration ? I think not.

    CC7: Most perfumers work for other people/companies and therefore are constrained by their values (or the company's “guidelines”). When a perfumer begins to create solely for the promise of wealth, then he has become a hack. Most poets do not work for other people, but there is no real analogue to an industry hack in the case of poetry. TRUE or FALSE?
    If there was as much demand for expensive poetry as there is for expensive perfume, I suspect there would be a market for lesser poetry just as there seems to be one for lesser perfume. And then there would be hack poet's too ?
    CC8: Reviews of poems nearly never make explicit reference to details of the reader's historical circumstances (though interpretations are certainly influenced by them....). Reviews of perfumes often make explicit references to the wearer's subjective experience and associations. TRUE or FALSE?
    True. But if there was an efficient and accurate universal olfactory language, perhaps the subjectivity would not be needed. And while reviewers of poetry may never make reference to their historical circumstances, I believe the only reason poems exist is because they do have certain "hooks" which resonate in some form or another with the reader's own experience of life.

    Do perfumes do the same thing ??

    Perhaps that's the next question to ask.

    CC9: Faced with an unpleasant poem, one can simply close the book. Faced with an unpleasant perfume, one must either leave the room, take a bath, or ask the offending party (if nonidentical to the offended party...) to leave the room. TRUE or FALSE?
    The differences here are purely practical, while the intents are the same. So if we are speaking purely in terms of intent, then both situations would seem to be the same.

    CC10: Poetry criticism is a form of art criticism. Because we physical ingest perfumes (through our cells), perfume criticism is closer to food and wine criticism. TRUE or FALSE?
    I think most people would say that perfume is more akin to food and wine, in that all three involve senses which, while quite real, are difficult to convey in words. When it comes to poetry, the intended words of the thing are right there before us.

    I suspect that the primary intent of poetry is to act in evocative ways upon our emotions, via the conduit of our intellect, while wine food and poetry, while also intending to be evocative in their own ways, are intended more to impact upon our physical senses ?

    Not to confuse the matter, but still speaking of the senses, one could also ask if getting a skilled massage is like poetry, or more like food and wine ?

    Poems would seem on their face to be literal, while these other things based more on physical sensation.

    Are they all attempting to convey the same things, or not ?

    That would seem to be where at least one important aspect of the equivalency question seems to lie.
  2. ts brock's Avatar
    CC4: False. Some people prefer non-perfume perfumes. They create their own non-perfumes by not wearing anything beyond deodorant or lotion. Everyone cares how they smell. Don't they?

    CC5: True but irrelevant.

    CC9: True but irrelevant.
  3. sherapop's Avatar
    Dearest [COLOR="darkorchid"][B]Birdboy48[/B][/COLOR],

    Thanks so much for all of these interesting thoughts. I'll address them one at a time, invoking my standard excuse: ADD...:coolold:

    [QUOTE=Birdboy48;bt6154]

    A person can memorize a poem, even if they do not have the text before them. If we have a poem memorized, does that not speak to existence, just as if we did have the text before us?

    [/QUOTE]

    Yes. But even oral histories are transmittable from generation to generation and by now can be recorded, which is still a way of archiving, isn't it? How do we archive perfumes? With all due respect to and appreciation for the efforts of the folks at L'Osmothèque, there are a finite number of molecules in the bottles of the perfumes being preserved there, n'est-ce pas?

    According to the Wikipedia article:

    [B][COLOR="blue"]"The perfumes that have been recreated from their formulae are conserved in aluminium flasks with its headspace flush with argon and then stored in the museum's basement air conditioned room at 12 degree Celsius."[/COLOR][/B]

    Okay, so that speaks to the preservation of whatever is inside those aluminum flasks (which may or may not accurately reproduce perfumes made of ingredients either no longer available or likely to be different due to a variety of factors).

    Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that we have an accurate reproduction. Take a sample of something just released--so by definition it is accurate. Put it into one of the argon-flushed aluminum flasks and leave it in the museum. Now, fast-forward one hundred years. Evening assuming that this mode of preservation works, so that the perfume does not change in any way, if people are allowed to sniff these perfumes now and then (and therefore open the flask), some of those molecules are going to escape. That's my point. At the terminus, there will be nothing left of even the most carefully protected and preserved perfumes! Maybe it will happen in one hundred years, or maybe it will take five hundred years.

    This problem is unique to perfumery, as distinct from poetry, I now think. Or at least I think that I think. :huh: