A critical consideration of scent culture? Anyone? / by Brian Goeltzenleuchter

My sightline, obscured by my furrowed brow and crooked nose.

My sightline, obscured by my furrowed brow and crooked nose.

I was happy to see my artwork mentioned in this Guardian article, ‘The missing sense’: why our technology addiction makes us crave smells. Given the seeming explosion of interest in all things olfactory, it stands to reason that we ought to reflect on the factors that contribute to what is arguably an olfactory zeitgeist.  

Thomas McMullan’s article covers a lot of ground; he cites a number of topics, any of which could be the subject of its own article: the lack of odor primaries; artisanal versus massed produced scents; the natural/synthetic debate, etc. Eventually he gets to scent branding - the tactical use of the precognitive potential of scent to identify brands and seduce consumers. 

While it is no wonder why marketers would be interested in this, it is peculiar that academics and public intellectuals are not better equipped to offer the general public critical tools to negotiate this ethically ambiguous sensorial landscape. While we are beginning to see a developing literature on the subject, I wonder why there aren’t more “olfactory studies” departments on university campuses? In particular, where are those programs ("centers of excellence," to use the euphemism of the day) that are truly interdisciplinary in their aim to integrate scientific, humanistic and artistic scholarship and creative activity in a way that the Scent Culture Institute is beginning to do at the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland? If I were to take a stab at an answer, it would have something to do with academics - naively, I hope - maintaining the old Enlightenment bias against the chemical senses. Such a bias reinforces a hierarchy of the senses in which smell favors even worse than taste or touch. 

It’s often said that professors have bodies in order to carry their heads from one place to the next. And yet the nose is right there on the head, a prominent appendage, stuck beneath the eyes. So prominent is it, in fact, that it obscures our line of sight, although our brains to a good job of not making an issue out of it. I kinda wish that would change.