Perfumed Letters

Reading the scent trail of fragrance and words

Research

My current research focuses on perfume, poetics, and culture. 

“Decadent Perfume: Under the Skin and through the Page.” Modern Languages Open. 28 October 2014. Web. 33p.

Abstract:

At the fin de siècle, there is  tendency in learned discourse to discredit the salubrious properties of fragrance, and more radically, to deem perfume use potentially toxic and aberrant. It is as if suspicion of perfume supplanted the fear of miasma (smell-borne contagion) as an olfactive indicator of hygienic and social danger. But unlike the involuntary absorption of disease-ridden smells, fin-de-siècle perfume abuse (be it heightened sensitivity to odor or overzealous spritzing, huffing, injecting, or imbibing) was a deviant behavior, not an environmental hazard, and one—accurately or not—often ascribed to women and linked to mental and emotional instability.I posit that the more obtainable and feminized perfume became, the more toxic and symptomatic its portrayal. A growing suspicion of perfume, and vigilance to its implementation and proximity to the body, coincided with an increased likelihood that women of all classes might leave their scent trail in spaces beyond the privacy of the boudoir.

The essay focuses on two remarkable yet nearly forgotten fin-de-siècle manifestations of decadent perfuming, in texts and images whose discourse intersects with that of hygiene and medical reports of their time. The first is Edmond de Goncourt’s 1884 novel Chérie, the fictional study of a young hysteric with a decadent, erotic connection to perfume. The second, a real-life swooning perfume-lover, involves the nameless consumer to whom an unusual gadget called the Lance-parfum Rodo (1896) was marketed. Like Goncourt’s Chérie, Alphonse Mucha’s ad poster for the Rodo, and the surprisingly hazardous product itself, contribute to reciprocal discourses on the social and literary implications of permeating the body and the page with perfume.

 

“The Scent Trail of ‘Une Charogne.'” French Forum 38 (2013): 51-68.

Excerpt:

In 2007 Charogne joined the catalogue of provocative eaux de parfum launched by État Libre d’Orange. Self-proclaimed enfants terribles of the industry, the fragrance team takes concept perfumery to new heights, linking each scent to an edgy name (e.g., Delicious Closet Queen; Éloge du traître; Sécrétions magnifiques), bolstered by illustrated brochures, revealing the combination of earnestness and humor that have become the company’s trademark. In response to the barrage of celebrity perfumes on the market, État Libre d’Orange offers alternative alternatives: no Britney Spears; no David Beckham; no J Lo. Instead, the avant garde perfumista may select from Tom of Finland, Rossy de Palma, or the Tilda Swinton perfume, enigmatically called, Like This. Add to the listCharogne, a shocking name that draws upon the infamy and celebrity of the reluctant Prince of Carrion, poet Charles Baudelaire. […] Modern perfumery’s cultivation of a literary sillage—the practice of naming perfumes after novels and writers, for example–links history, national identity, popular culture, fashion, consumerism, and the luxury market. The attention to cultural heritage and literary legacy implicit in naming a perfume after a Baudelaire poem has deep roots in the industry. What surprises is not État Libre d’Orange’s tribute to Fleurs du Mal, but the selection of “Une Charogne” for its homage. As Baudelaire reminded Nadar, not all of his poems stink; plenty of them do smell of musk and rose.”

 

“Flâneur Smellscapes in Le Spleen de Paris.” Dix-neuf 16.2 (2012): 181-92.

Abstract:

The figure of the flâneur haunts the pages of Charles Baudelaire’s Le Spleen de Paris. As first-person narrator, man, woman, protagonist, or passer-by, the flâneur presence lends continuity to this collection of fifty seemingly disparate prose poems. The flâneur has also become almost inseparable from the backdrop of the city and its streets, which in mid-nineteenth-century Paris were crowded, muddy, and smelly. The purpose of this essay is to rethink the Baudelairean flâneur, and the prose poems, through olfactory perception. Odours inhabit intimate spaces and invade public environments, thus facilitating a process of mutual permeation, or, to use a word favoured in Baudelaire’s writing, a mutual penetration. An analysis of both the theory and practice of flânerie in the prose poems reveals that smell and flânerie function similarly as experiences of volatility, transience, intimation, and penetration in Le Spleen de Paris. Here textual references to the olfactory go beyond mimetic realism, contributing to a poetics of flânerie central to the prose poem experiment.

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