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  • 1 With regard to smell, consider, among others, Detienne 1972, Corbin 1982, Le Guérer 1998, Classen, (...)
  • 2 Cfr. Jaquet 2010, Han 2017, Hsu 2020, Shiner 2020, and also Korsmeyer 1999, Perullo 2016.

1Although recent years have seen a growing philosophical interest in the exploration of the so-called ‘lower senses’, aesthetic research on taste and smell (the situation is partially different with respect to touch) still covers a relatively small domain, confined to a niche. While historical and socio-anthropological research on the two, often said, ‘chemical senses’ are quite copious since decades,1 philosophy is far from having a proper and specific field of work. Things are changing, however, as multiple and recent attempts in this direction show.2 But, still today, one of the main topics of the debate among scholars on taste and smell concerns precisely the reasons for such marginality. A very common reason has to do with the Western dualistic paradigm of thought, in which a clear-cut distinction is drawn between the sensory and the intellectual; and, within it, a further hierarchy between more intellectual and more material senses. There are, nevertheless, many other reasons (which often revolve around the dualistic framework), differently facing with problems about the epistemic reliability of tastes and smells or about their ethical risks. In any case, notably during the last two decades, many of these traditional objections in support of the alleged philosophical irrelevance of the ‘lower senses’ have been called into question. Today, a broad agreement is emerging on the philosophical dignity of taste and smell, on their aesthetic relevance and on the multiple values they convey. The point I want to suggest here, however, has not so much to do with reiterating such position but, rather, with remarking that – even if one accepts some philosophical relevance of taste and smell – it is normally assumed that they concern only a very small portion of the philosophical inquiry. Is it possible, instead, to take them, and in particular, as it is here the case, smell, as a vector of a whole philosophical project?

  • 3 Perullo 2012.

2The original idea that motivated the current monographic issue of the “Rivista di Estetica” stems from accepting the challenge of the question raised above, and it is cognate to the one that gave rise to a previous issue, published in 2012 (number 51).3 There, a series of essays on wine and taste were gathered, but the attempt was to show how, through studies apparently dealing ‘just’ with a very peculiar subject, it was possible to give body to general philosophical issues. Philosophizing through the taste of wine: that was the ambition. In the 2012, “Rivista di Estetica” made this aspiring operation, but, in 2018, another notable philosophical journal, “The Monist”, dedicated a monographic issue to food: times were changed.

  • 4 Merleau-Ponty 1964: 167.

3Now, the present issue faces with smell, odors and fragrances. We can easily agree on the fact that the ambition of ‘widening’ an apparently restricted topic to the general arena of thought is here much easier to support. In fact, differently from taste (and even more so for the taste for wine), smell is always at work and it is not limited to food consumption. We breathe all along our life, producing an ongoing exchange between the inner and the outer, the self and the world, the activity and the passivity. We inhale and exhale; the medium of air is the fundamental condition of life and society, as it carries everything, not just odors but bacteria and viruses, yeasts and oxygen. As Merleau-Ponty wrote in Eye and Mind, “There really is inspiration and expiration of Being”.4 This issue aims at offering the reader a multiplicity of perspectives that can stimulate not only further research in the fields of olfaction, but reflections on the nature of aesthetics, its current state of art, and also some urgent emergencies in social and political terms.

4Far from claiming any exhaustiveness, I list some of the relevant topics that emerge – sometimes directly, other times indirectly – from this constellation of papers on smell, odors and olfaction. I am here introducing only those I find more compelling and challenging, in order to provide, rather than a list of contents, an ‘overviewing map’ of the forthcoming pages. It is not a summary of every paper (which readers can easily find in the respective abstracts), but a sketch of some possible investigations that can be drawn through and from them.

  • Are we fixed and solid entities or rather aerial beings? Or maybe a combination of the two dimensions? This ontological question seems paramount when we discuss about aerial spaces and olfaction. Smell, thus, can deeply contribute to challenge the status of ‘individual being’ understood as a clearly bounded entity and, instead, to open up a relational paradigm.

  • The ever-emerging fighting between the objectivist view and the subjectivist view – with the third option, the relational view – is at stake when discussing about smell. It is obviously an epistemological question, but it is nevertheless connected to the previous ontological one; more in general, it calls into play the distinction between ontology and epistemology.

  • In the aesthetic debate about perceptual knowledge and the senses, smell and odors concur offering another perspective. The conventional paradigm, assuming the prevalence of the visual perception, can be questioned not only through the alternative of the auditory and the tactile perception, but also through the olfactory one. What are the consequences, once we assume that the whole perception is immersed into an olfactory environment?

  • Odors deeply engage with two important aspects of aesthetics today: the ‘everyday life’ aesthetics, and the new art. In fact, on the one hand, smell is pervasive and surrounds the whole life – better, it is a condition of it; a specific attention to olfaction thus implies the possibility to live an aesthetic life with particular values. On the other hand, once we overcome the hierarchy of the senses both in epistemology and in aesthetics, an olfactory art becomes totally legitimate.

    • 5 Irigaray 1983.

    Through the greater or lesser importance attributed to smell and breathing, we alight on the core of the dialogue and confrontation between ‘Western’ philosophy and ‘Eastern’ thought. As it is well known, in the Eastern tradition olfaction and breathe play a fundamental role that finds little correspondence in the West (Luce Irigaray wrote about the “forgetting of the air” to feature Heidegger’s thought),5 at least until the notion of atmosphere began to be conceptualized.

  • Social impacts of air, as well as the political consequences of the manifold ways of manipulating odors, are tremendous. On the one hand, this has to do with issues on how to use the technological developments (for example, deodorization or artificial aromas); on the other hand, with wider phenomena such as atmospheric pollution, a fundamental part of the ecological crisis. Not to mention Covid-19 emergency, that has to do with air and breathing.

5I hope that this short, hints-made list, can give just a first idea of the huge potentialities that might stem from the philosophical study of smell and air. The following series of papers show how olfaction, odors, fragrances and, more in general, the aerial dimension of being and knowing cover a huge, and very diverse, range of problems that even exceed the aesthetic domain in its strict sense. This is why readers will not find papers exclusively by professional philosophers. The authors are also curators/philosophers, artists, artists/philosophers, perfumers and semiologists, approaching the issue from varied points of view and touching a vast domain of problems. In the sketch below, I grouped them into three main fields in order to help orientation; but they, in turn, often refer to each other, and essays that seem distant are instead connected. This presentation does not coincide with the sequence of essays in the issue.

  • Three papers – the ones by Larry Shiner, Giulia Martina and Sue Spaid – are mainly concerned with the relationship between smell, cognition, and expertise. They mostly rest on a neuroscientific base within a framework that insists on the analytical tradition of philosophy of mind. Shiner aptly argues in favor of cognitive powers of smell, linking it to the aesthetic value of olfaction and the possibility for an olfactory art. Giulia Martina, in turn, endorses this statement reinforcing an objectivist position that makes a clear difference between the ontology of smells, the content they possess, and their perceptual appearance. Lastly, Sue Spaid, also art curator, proposes a theory of value disgust inspired by Disgusting Food Museum, arguing for the possibility for perceptual learning of disgust transforming it from negative reaction to value.

  • The paper by Jenny Ponzo, the conversation with perfumer and sociologist of smell Diletta Tonatto and the piece written by the artist Wolfgang Georgsdorf, founder of the Smeller and the world famous event Osmodrama Festival in Berlin, investigate smells under the lens of art, science, and symbolic meanings. Jerry Ponzo, using especially the tools of the semiotics of culture, claims the spiritual and immaterial dimension of fragrances, highlighting the importance of symbolism for the aesthetic values of smell. Diletta Tonatto, while giving her testimony as an artisan of perfumes, stresses the beneficial community power of fragrances, the project she names ‘re-humanization’ of smell. Wolfgang Georgsdorf recreates the genesis and the development of Osmodrama, one of the most important and current specimen of olfactory-dramatic art, ‘olfactory poetry’, worldwide. It is an exemplary history as it intertwines science and art, chemistry and music.

  • The final field encompasses the two papers written by the philosopher and artist Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos and by Elena Mancioppi, co-editor of the present issue. They both move towards a more socio-ontological and socio-aesthetic engagement through the ethical and political implications of smell. Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos proposes a call against the ‘ontological anosmia’ highlighting the incessant and ongoing risk of manipulation of the atmospheric environment. Mancioppi, finally, highlights the – often hidden – relationships between smell and politics, also presenting the ambivalence of consumer culture in relation to aesthetic values.

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Bibliografia

Bourdieu, P. 1979, La distinction. Critique sociale du Jugement, Paris, Minuit.

Classen, C., Howes, D., Synnott, A. 1994, Aroma. The Cultural History of Smell, London - New York, Routledge.

Corbin, A. 1982, Le miasme et la jonquille. L’odorat et l’imaginaire social xviiie-xixe siècles, Paris, Aubier Montaigne.

Detienne, M. 1972, Les jardins d’Adonis. La mythologie des aromates en Gréce, Paris, Gallimard.

Han, B. 2017, The Scent of Time. A Philosophical Essay on the Art of Lingering [2009], Cambridge, Polity.

Hsu, L.H. 2020, The Smell of Risk. Environmental Disparities and Olfactory Aesthetics, New York, New York University Press.

Irigaray, L. 1983, L’oublie de l’air chez Martin Heidegger, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit.

Korsmeyer, C. 1999, Making Sense of Taste. Food and Philosophy, Ithaca - New York, Cornell University Press.

Jaquet, C. 2010, Philosophie de l’odorat, Paris, PUF.

Le Guérer, A. 1998, Les pouvoirs de l’odeur, Paris, Odile Jacob.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 1964, Eye and the mind (1960), in J.M. Edie (ed.), The Primacy of Perception and Other Essays on Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History and Politics, trans. by W. Cobb, Evanston (IL), Northwestern University Press.

Montanari, M. 2006, Food is Culture, New York, Columbia University Press.

Perullo, N. 2012 (ed.), Wineworld. New essays on wine, taste, philosophy and aesthetics, “Rivista di Estetica”, anno LII, vol. 51.

Perullo, N. 2016, Taste as Experience. The Philsophy and Aesthetics of Food, New York, Columbia University Press.

Shiner, L. 2020, Art Scents. Exploring the Aesthetics of Smell and the Olfactory Arts, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

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Note

1 With regard to smell, consider, among others, Detienne 1972, Corbin 1982, Le Guérer 1998, Classen, Howes, Synnott 1994. On taste, see Bourdieu 1979; Montanari 2006.

2 Cfr. Jaquet 2010, Han 2017, Hsu 2020, Shiner 2020, and also Korsmeyer 1999, Perullo 2016.

3 Perullo 2012.

4 Merleau-Ponty 1964: 167.

5 Irigaray 1983.

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Notizia bibliografica

Nicola Perullo, «Introduction»Rivista di estetica, 78 | 2021, 3-7.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Nicola Perullo, «Introduction»Rivista di estetica [Online], 78 | 2021, online dal 01 février 2024, consultato il 13 juin 2024. URL: http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/estetica/8655; DOI: https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/estetica.8655

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Nicola Perullo

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