To Nose Is to Know: The Politics of “Knowsing”

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:30
Oral Presentation
Mashrur HOSSAIN, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh
Apparently automatic and independent, our perception and the operation of each of the five senses are shaped and conditioned by culture. This is particularly true of odour, a distinctive, usually unpleasant, kind of smell. While the sense of disgust related to odour (e.g. of pus and putrid meat) has derived partly from human’s behavioral immune system, a protection mechanism against contamination, it has often been a constructed affect, spatiotemporally contingent and ideologically loaded. History shows us how reductionist olfactory practices and metaphors have been deployed to construct, stigmatize, and delimit the inferiorized ‘other’ – woman smelling between her legs, stinking Negro, malodorous adivasi. Touching upon the poetics (biomedical, environmental and production mechanisms) and politics (conception, and circulation and reception mechanisms) of smell, the present paper investigates into the potential of the arts to re-configure the experience of odour. It develops through three sections. The first section, “Nosing: The Sensoriality of Odour,” demonstrates how plastic art can activate audience’s olfactory experiences and excites individuated responses; e.g. the (tabooed) smell of blood in Judy Chicago’s installation, Menstruation Bathroom (1972). The second section, “Knowing: The Visuality of Odour,” shows how even visual symbols or reports of odour that the audience is not smelling, e.g. the bouts of flatulence in the Japanese art scroll, Ha-Gassen (The Fart Battle), do reproduce ‘known’ responses. Taking thread from the previous sections, the third one, entitled “Knowsing: The Scent of Odour,” proposes “knowsing” as a reception mechanism, which brings the olfactory to the fore along with the other senses in the experience and use of sensorial data. It explores whether and how creative-innovative intra-sensuous interactions between odour and fragrance and synaesthetic inter-animation of odour and other senses in the arts can transform our prejudiced responses to odour and the consequential otherizing hegemony.