Ekphrasis: Towards a Fragmentary Writing (June 2021)

I have had my transformation – if you could even call it that (in its proper sense). What has happened is a desire to write once again, but to write differently. To write in a way that I feel does justice to capturing not only the experience of perfume, but also the feeling of perfume. And I think we need to ultimately remember that experience oftens exceeds discourse and that which can be captured in language.

So, for me to excessively eulogise words (in their literal function) … [t]o praise and to push their efficacy in capturing experience in a totally veridical manner is erroneous. Much rather, what I propose here is a new style of writing. A new sort of writing for this blog (what era this is, then [for Olfactics], I do not know – but I have never made any promises to keep still, or to endorse my own sense of satisfaction, and so perhaps I remain in a singular albeit complex era; to be plural in the singular).

It is a style of writing that will perhaps lead me through the rest of my writing career. It takes its cue from ekphrasis. Of course, this is an indulgence. For me to write a doctoral thesis in this manner would disqualify me (and move me away) from the demands and desires of the [institutional] system. And this is why it is an indulgence. The irony of course: for my doctoral thesis, I must produce the meta-language that critiques the meta-language itself. So, do we speak of a meta-meta-language, or rather a primordial language of pure gesture and expression?

Writing in this way is in many ways a discourse that is much more faithful to what I feel is required of a perfume blog concerned with experience. For this reason, I avoid pedantic consultation with note lists, opinions, or any similiar aspects because that quashes the utopian dream of a writing at degree zero, before the body is assimilated to language and order … a dream where language itself always has nothing but pure and accurate reference to the very object or phenomenon that it utters (Barthes). There is no ‘daring to speak of’ in this utopian image: one just speaks or writes with miraculous efficacy; without semantic confusion or lexical ambiguity.

It is simply me writing, from the body – through to the fingers and ultimately to the pen or the keyboard: an extension of the thinking and feeling ‘I’. For all I have to offer my readers are my impressions (this is my eternal and unwavering promise). What has changed? Merely my emphasis. When we ruthlessly historicise, contextualise, put-into-order … our initial feelings lose their force. The rhythms of the sensation changes: straightened out, put into a discrete inventory of types. My point is that a particular tokenistic perfume should not be thought of as entirely underneath a categorial type. Eau Sauvage is a citrus, but it indeed exhibits qualties that defy its categorisation into this strict category; and almost always, those aspects that exceed, or betray, or defile its categorical label are the things that make it noteworthy and memorable. For Eau Sauvage moves into anisic spices which offer us a glimpse of high-altitude arboreal air (a different sort of freshness than citrus), and a floral-jasmine heart of hedione which is a radiant amber without amber; a luminious fossilised petal then smashed into sweet, sweet dust.

Automat (1927) – Edward Hopper

Recently I have had the urge to just write as the moments come to me; that splendid image of the frantic writer-genius spontaneously struck with a line, the beginning of a thought, scrambling for a surface to write on: an envelope, the margins of a notepad already saturated, the receipt (for a perfume no less). I have amassed a number of these now, and it is high time that I share them. I maintain my conviction that I have worthwhile things to say. Not only this, but my full-blooded belief that things I say are constantly improving.

A moment of hubris: I read little by way of perfume criticism (if you could call it that), but of what I do read, or, more accurately, what I do encounter (not by chance; but by virtue of algorithm, rather) is a static degree of quality in terms of style. Which reminds me, these people aren’t writers: they’re perfume collectors, enthusiasts, hobbyists. Let them have their fun. Indeed I will. But do not neglect the fact that in letting them have their fun, and by letting bygones be bygones (by this, I mean that they are stuck in a moment of being in terms of their development – the world moves onwards, their style remains the same; timelessness is mythical – and not for living beings, anyway), we lose our sense of the very powerful effects of writing. For the writing we see out there, is not the sort of writing that properly induces a feeling of bliss in the reader.

My idea is that with the right sort of prose and style, insofar that it induces that shiver of bliss … [it] is an analogue for the shiver of bliss that is felt when smelling the perfume itself. If I can affect the skin and flesh of the reader, and if I can recreate in the imagination an impression of not only the smell itself but my very impression of the smell, then I have achieved a level of profundity and efficacy in my writing. It is ekphrasis that resists subsumption into the hodgepodge of the banality of discourse that fills the perfume economy. In fact, a fragment that achieves this can do nothing but glimmer and scintillate. Indeed, style is more memorable than content in its fine and sophisticated richness, but if I am able to get content right – without an obsession with verisimilitude (by this I mean: do we really care if you detect a trace element of aniseed? Or, instead of this, do we care if you find that the aniseed adds a fresh and intoxicating spice that moves from the heart into the top of the composition, with its sharp contour of roasted and dry green? N.B if the aniseed is detected but is described in a way to make it seem functionally useless – or, more likely, not described at all – then I do not see the value in its very identification. To say that there is patchouli in Coromandel does not in fact put that note into the sentence that states this fact – description, indeed, gets us closer as it works the affective body, and not the thinking mind).

Roland Barthes Chez Lui

And so, I declare (as I always do on this blog), a new style by virtue of refinement. I make no promise of frequency. But what I can promise – without even flinching nor trembling at this assertion – is quality (of style) and thoughtfulness. I have always been thoughful – such is the nature of an obsessive philosophy student, now undertaking his PhD. But now, I solidify a style that I am confident in, and will do (the most) justice to a series of sense impressions.

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