It is clear that my original conception of the Monthly Musings format has not been satisfied in more recent posts. But, that’s ok. I just muse on and on about justification.
Writing meaningful reviews continues to shift upwards in difficulty, forecasted in posts as far back as 2015. The reviewer is only as good as his or her quality of justification, and anything that goes beyond that becomes cloudy. It is this demand to clear the skies of clouds and produce strict workable principles that drive me – and it drives me incredibly.
At this point in time, I have dedicated a considerable chunk of my adult thinking life to delineating from first principles and advancing conceptual foundations of content analysis. This allows me to produce the most cogent, rigorous reviews of scent I possibly can. Similar sentiments have been echoed before:
“It is not my task as a serious critic to urge you to buy anything, (…) it is my job to express the oratory function of fragrance; to impose well-founded and self-founded values and hold a scent to that very account and see if it makes the cut”.
I am so passionate about this topic that I have devoted (virtually all of) my continuing tertiary education on these topics, gaining knowledge of theoretical backgrounds, skills in application, and the analysis of content. It is perfume that I evaluate as my content of choice.
Philosophy has been at once a driving force and a downfall. It’s a vicious circle, and progress is met with an innumerable number of variables that despite attempts at clarity and illumination all that it produces is further cloudiness. Despite this, the answer (in its roughest sense) emerged through newfound perspective – philosophy is the theoretical backbone, whilst method and approach are another related consideration altogether. This realisation came about when questioning the meaning of fragrance. Where does meaning exist? Where is it held?
If public discussion of this question highlighted anything for me, the instant appeal to subjective values is favoured wildly. I do not wish to diminish subjective value (I say that a lot) because forcing a ‘common-ground’ perspective, the ‘consensus-according-to-me’ view, runs the risk of trivialising the experience, trivialising the content of analysis itself, and scarily begins to restrict value to a small esoteric group who have a uniform perspective. We cannot fail to acknowledge the meaning of perfumes in a broader sense, or we will run into esoteric cloudiness.
The Human Condition, René Magritte, 1933
So, if philosophy only provides the framework to tackling this problem, what do we look to? Where do we begin to rely upon?
In my view at this stage of its formulation, we must divide the process of meaning and separate them into categories of objective and subjective.
And so, if we split the process in relation to perfume ‘x’, we find the following:
Disregarding any radical claims that diminish descriptive claims¹, we accept particular markers of an entity as objective, or at the absolute minimum painstakingly rigorously proven.
For instance: x was made in 1966, x contains methyl dihydrojasmonate, and x is a citrus scent.² I contest that these cannot be doubted, exclusive of user-produced mistakes.
These markers are then taken as grounds for subsequent conceptualisation, and conceptualisation produces meaning – this is a subjective process.
For instance, x is a scent of symmetrical balance, x reminds me of a virile male fresh from a steamy shower, and x is a good scent.³
It is the common view that these objective markers do not contain meaning and rely on subsequent conceptualisation to produce them, therefore following that meaning exists only if it is observed and that it cannot be inherent in an entity – this is hard to stomach, but it is true.⁴
Conceptualisation does produce meaning, I do not doubt that premise. The claim that there is no inherent meaning appears to be hasty, but really it is not.
Historical truths are set (cf. historical perspectives): x was produced in 1966, x was produced by e.
Clarity is given when we take one of these markers and ask “so what?”. As per the first example, the year 1966 contains no inherent meaning until we put our gaze onto it. The zeitgeist of 1966 is totally a matter of interpretation and perspective.
Not to be Reproduced, René Magritte, 1937
And so, where do we go from there? Just as a philosopher, a judge, and a taxi driver will consider ethical right/wrong claims differently, the remedy of different interpretations is (in my view) to be as polygonal as possible; to shape oneself as universal as can be to then provide the most effective perspective possible.
The diversity of interpretation is settled by establishing the appropriate context to be used in reference. Hence, context must be secure. Context (in part; majorly) is constructed from systematic readings and an awareness of a larger corpus of knowledge, thus narrowing interpretative scope in favour of harder, (approaching) more objective assertions.
I must then explicate the context which guides my inferences to be meaningful. As context is constructed, the onus shifts on me to be reflexive in nature and rely on building blocks that are clear, distinct, valid, and as sound as can be.⁵
If I can maintain this view, and utilise this sketching of a reviewer’s ethical framework and method as stated, then my position as a reviewer is more systematic, explicitly informed and rigorous than that of the everyday pedestrian. My position as prime over the pedestrian without being haughty or snooty about it is then achieved, for (any other) reviewer seems to do just that without any formalised justification akin to this. Arguments that assert assumed knowledge: “it goes without saying” is not convincing, nor should it be accepted. Formalised justification qualifies me as a critic: well-seasoned above all else and capable to objectively identify characteristics of a fragrance, or any matter-of-taste for that matter without diminishing the subjective value of the very same pedestrian that I endeavour to inform and educate.
Diogenes Sitting in his Tub, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1860