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Perfume- The Age of Enlightenment
Transcript of Perfume- The Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment? The Enlightenment is the period in the history of western thought and culture, stretching roughly from the mid-decades of the seventeenth century through the eighteenth century, characterized by dramatic revolutions in science, philosophy, society and politics; these revolutions swept away the medieval world-view and ushered in our modern western world. The Novel Perfume and the Age of Enlightenment Four areas where significant change occurred were: Enlightenment thought culminates historically in the political upheaval of the French Revolution, in which the traditional hierarchical political and social orders (the French monarchy, the privileges of the French nobility, the political power and authority of the Catholic Church) were violently destroyed and replaced by a political and social order informed by the Enlightenment ideals of freedom and equality for all, founded, ostensibly, upon principles of human reason. The Enlightenment begins with the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The rise of the new science progressively undermines not only the ancient geocentric conception of the cosmos, but, with it, the entire set of presuppositions that had served to constrain and guide philosophical inquiry. The dramatic success of the new science explained the natural world and accounted for a wide variety of phenomena by appealing to a relatively small number of elegant mathematical formulae. There was tremendous intellectual progress during this time, great advances in the sciences, and great enthusiasm for that progress. In addition, it was characterized as "the century of philosophy par excellence"because of the expectation of the age that philosophy (in this broad sense) would dramatically improve human life. This strategy promotes philosophy and science from a handmaiden of theology, constrained by its purposes and methods, to an independent force with the power and authority to challenge the old and construct the new, in the realms both of theory and practice, on the basis of its own principles. What is the Enlightenment? So, What Role Does the Enlightenment Play in the Novel Perfume? For example, the first paragraph of the novel is very significant:
"In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His story will be told here.
His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name-in contrast to the names of other gifted abominations, de Sade's, for instance, or Saint-Just's, Fouche's, Bonaparte's, etc.-has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, to wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent." Aside from locating the novel in the genre of historical fiction, this paragraph adumbrates or outlines the critical position the text takes vis-a-vis or in relation to the historical narrative it relates.
The passage is indicating that during the historical period in question the Age of Enlightenment, or what Foucault terms the "classical" age, with its reliance on the principle of mastery through visual representation (46-77), genius is inextricably interwoven with misanthropy and wickedness, and history, including that of Suskind's protagonist, Grenouille, is the history of 'gifted and abominable personages.'
The narrator presents Grenouille as representative of the Age of Enlightenment, even though the character's sensory forte lies outside the domain of sight. Grenouille's deeds are not intrinsically less noteworthy-that is, less gruesome- than those committed by 'more famous blackguards' of eighteenth-century France, but since he accomplished these deeds in the realm of the olfactory, a sensory sphere whose impressions the Enlightenment attempted to suppress, they are not recorded in its history. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud explicitly associates the rise of civilization with the suppression of olfactory stimuli; and the juxtaposition of this emergence and repression is expressed in Perfume by the paradox that the history the novel narrates at once exemplifies the Enlightenment's historical sensibility and is marginalized by that sensibility.
In Perfume, there is a reconstruction of a history that has left no vestiges whatsoever in official history. Insofar as the novel is concerned with the recollection and documentation of what has been wiped off the slate of historical memory, it pursues a project of critical recollection. It is no coincidence, moreover, that this counter history relies specifically on the documentation of olfactory data, since it is a commonplace of modern osphresiology ( the science of odors and sense of smell) that of all the senses, olfaction is the one most intimately connected to the function of memory. It is generally recognized that Das Parfum was inspired in part by Alain Corbin's study of the relation between odor and the French social imagination, The Foul and the Fragrant. Besides borrowing certain specific motifs from Corbin, for example, the stench of Paris in the eighteenth century and the especially attractive fragrance attributed at that time to redheads and virgins- Suskind replicates Corbin's historiographic strategy: both works attempt to tell the hidden but all-important history of olfaction in the Enlightenment. Suskind projects the career of Grenouille, the abominable olfactory genius with no scent of his own, onto the historical backdrop of the Enlightenment, therefore allowing him to uncover certain "deep-historical" practices and epistemic (or methods of acquiring knowledge) routines inherent in the culture of the period. In other words, the anecdotal story of the scentless Grenouille and his hypersensitive nose acts as a fictional foil to throw the prejudices and obsessions of enlightened thought into critical relief. In this parable of the nose demon who destroys living creatures to capture and control their "spirits" or "absolute essences," Suskind dramatizes the consequences of enlightened reason's destructive dialectic. Enlightenment logocentrism ( a philosophy holding that all forms of thought are based on an external point of reference which is held to exist and given a certain degree of authority) names an epistemological (branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge) canon according to which knowledge must be disclosed and organized to be accepted as true or valid. The cornerstone of this knowledge regime is formal logic, the “great school of standardization,” which provided Enlightenment thinkers with 'the schema of the calculability of the world'.
Within this system of knowledge, the modern "subject," whose central characteristic is the drive to control, manipulate, and dominate the totality of its natural environment, is born as the rationally organizing center of an objectified world. But, human beings as enlightened subjects pay for the increase in their power with alienation from that over which they exercise power. Enlightenment behaves toward things as a dictator behaves toward human beings: he knows them insofar as he can manipulate them. In this logically controlled universe, uniqueness disappears, and individuals are reduced to mere placeholders in an artificially inducible, infinitely iterable (capable of being repeated) formal structure.
Being is viewed under the aspect of manufacture and administration. Everything-even the individual human being, not to mention animals-becomes a repeatable, replaceable process, a mere example for the conceptual models of the system. The solidification of Enlightenment thinking occurs as the formulation and formalization of a specific language that no longer expresses but “calculates, signifies, betrays, and incites to murder.” In his development from naive sniffer to master perfumer, Grenouille exemplifies the enlightened subject in the historical process of perfecting technological knowledge as a formulaic "language" of control. The self-destruction with which he pays the price for this rise to dictatorial power encapsulates that absolute self-alienation which is a logical consequence of enlightened rationality.
Viewed in this context, Perfume appears as an inverted, indeed perverted, bildungsroman: the novel relates the progressive integration of its singular protagonist into his sociohistorical and epistemic environment, but it depicts this process negatively, showing Grenouille appropriating and applying reason to establish an egocentric reign of terror.
The successive refinements he accomplishes "in the conventional language of perfumery' consolidate his knowledge of the world of scents, and he cunningly exploits his knowledge to gain power over his fellow human beings.
In his 'Anthropology Regarded Pragmatically,' Kant registers the inescapability of smells and condemns olfaction as "opposed to freedom" and hence unworthy of cultivation. Like the Enlightenment philosopher Kant, Grenouille too recognizes smells as unavoidable, but it is precisely for this reason that he considers olfactory sensations the most effective medium for influencing and manipulating sensate creatures. On the basis of this recognition, Grenouille formulates his olfactory program for tyranny:
He [Grenouille] would be the omnipotent god of scent, just as he had been in his fantasies, but this time in the real world and over real people. And he knew that all this was within his power. For people could close their eyes to greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they could not escape scent. For scent was a brother of breath. Together with breath it entered human beings, who could not defend themselves against it, not if they wanted to live. ... He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men. (189).
With cold-blooded deliberation, Grenouille formulates a plan to rule humankind through the inevitable entrancement-Kant's "unfree" quality- resulting from particular olfactory sensations. Because scents enter into the very being of anyone who perceives them (Kant, Anthropologie 452), they represent an ideal means of colonizing the emotions of others by establishing control from within. Suskind fictionally documents as a dialectic of "enscentment" the methodological, systematic, and logical principles that account for the degeneration of the dream of technological "progress" into a nightmare of technocratic despotism. Perfume can be divided into four sections, each containing a specific developmental station through which Grenouille must pass on his way to becoming an olfactory tyrant.
In keeping with the bildungsroman model, each is organized as an educational encounter between the protagonist and one or more representatives of his sociohistorical environment.
Moreover, the stations correspond to particular stages in the history of Western aesthetics; Grenouille's progress in the art of perfumery parallels the progression from classical to modernist art, culminating in the commodity aesthetics of the culture industry.
This imbrication (or overlapping) of enlightened reason and aesthetic modernism constitutes the primary critical thrust of Das Parfum.
As Huyssen has argued, "[P]ostmodernism's critical dimension lies precisely in its radical questioning of those presuppositions which linked modernism and the avant garde (new or innovative) to the mindset of modernization" (183), and it is this linkage that Siuskind interrogates through the fictional history of the olfactory artist and terrorist Grenouille. The first segment of the novel (chs. 1-8) relates Grenouille's birth and early childhood.
The second section (chs. 9-22) deals with Grenouille's apprenticeship to the perfumer Giuseppi Baldini and ends with Grenouille's attainment of journeyman's papers, his departure from Paris, and the catastrophe that befalls Baldini.
The third section (chs. 23-34) portrays Grenouille's retreat from the world into the realm of his olfactory imaginings, his subsequent return to civilization, and his experiences as a guinea pig for the marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse.
The fourth part (chs. 35-50) depicts Grenouille's perfection of his perfumery skills, his triumph over Antoine Richis in the competition for possession of Richis's daughter, and the olfactory metamorphosis of Grenouille's execution into a bacchanalian (in ancient Rome, festivities in honor of Bacchus that involved orgiastic celebrations) rite. This section concludes with a chapter that recounts Grenouille's return to his birthplace, the Cimetiere des Innocents in Paris. Here he dons his artificial aura, the perfect perfume, and thereby "inspires" a mob with the same deadly passion that has motivated him throughout his life, causing the crowd to dismember and devour him. At the novel's conclusion Grenouille thus meets the same fate as his countless victims have, falling prey to his own will to mastery.
While the second, third, and fourth sections of Das Parfum each depict Grenouille's socialization by juxtaposing him with a single primary antagonist (Baldini, Taillade-Espinasse, and Richis, respectively), the first section disseminates the role of antagonist among a number of characters.
This diffraction is consistent with the purpose of the novel's introductory segment, to provide an atmospheric description of the decades leading up to the French Revolution, which function as the sociohistorical backdrop for Grenouille's story. Indeed, one antagonist is this sociohistorical context itself. In the opening pages of the novel Suskind draws on Corbin's social history of odor in evoking the putrid smells of civilized Paris. The infernal stench pervading the metropolitan center of the European Enlightenment parallels the infernal lovelessness Suskind attributes to the city's populace The-Fish-Market-Joachim-Bueckelaer Without exception, the secondary characters of this opening section-from Grenouille's mother to Father Terrier, from the nannies Jeanne Bussie and Madame Gaillard to the tanner Grimal-perceive the child Grenouille either as an unwanted burden to be disposed of in the quickest and easiest manner possible or as a material "good" to be exploited for profit. The unadulterated heartlessness of this "civilized" society is concretized in the efforts of Grenouille's mother to bury the product of the "eklige Geburt" 'revolting birth' shortly after bearing him (7; 5).
The reifying (to regard or treat as real) attitude this society takes toward human beings is suggested by the demeanor of Grenouille's mother, who icily refers to the infant as a lump of "blutige Fleisch" 'bloody meat' and as a "neugeborene ding" 'newborn thing' (8; 5-6). The state, which punishes Madame Grenouille for her reckless brutality, acts with a similar disregard for human life: "aus RationalitdtsgrQnden" (emphasis added) 'for reasons of economy' it transports as many as four foundling children to the state orphanage in a single bark basket, even though this method of transport is known to drive the mortality rate extraordinarily high. Grenouille is spared the horror of such a transport only because a "Reihe von Schwierigkeiten buirokratischer und verwaltungstechnischer Art" 'whole series of bureaucratic and administrative difficulties' cause him instead to be handed over to the cloister of Saint-Merri (10; 7). As depicted by Suskind, the secular institutions of prerevolutionary France manifest a coldhearted bureaucratic reason that accepts a higher mortality rate as the price of greater efficiency, and the same coldheartedness characterizes the ecclesiastical institutions of that era.
These are represented by Father Terrier, whom the narrator explicitly identifies as an enlightened thinker, a man who relies on his critical faculties and who does not shy away from 'making use of his reason' to combat 'the superstitious notions of the simple folk' (18-19; 16).
The references to reasoned critique and the struggle against superstition, as well as the allusion to Kant's famous definition of Enlightenment as the "making use of one's own reason" identify Father Terrier with the Enlightenment spirit. Consistent with this is Terrier's valorization of 'sharp eyes' capable of perceiving 'the light of God-given reason' over the 'primitive organ of smell,' which he, like Kant, identifies as 'the basest of the senses' (20; 17).
Although Terrier is prudent, God-fearing, and reasonable, the uncanniness of the scentless infant Grenouille gets the better of him, and he too casts the child off, arranging to have him reared by Madame Gaillard. Madame Gaillard proves to be the perfect nursemaid for Grenouille in one respect: having lost her sense of smell as the result of a childhood beating administered by her father, she is unaware of Grenouille's peculiar scentlessness. She lacks not only her sense of smell, however, but also human passion (25; 22).
This absolute emotionlessness, the narrator suggests, is related to her 'merciless sense of order and justice,' a virtue central to Enlightenment culture (26; 23). As if these characteristics were not enough to throw into doubt Madame Gaillard's suitability as a nursemaid, the reader also learns that she is motivated to perform her duties neither by pity nor by charity but by the desire for profit: she lays aside half the payment she receives for the expenses of each child to save enough to provide herself with a "private" death.
It is symptomatic of the bleakness of this world that Madame Gaillard's efforts are ultimately in vain. Her dream is swept away by the rampant inflation that accompanies the introduction of paper money, and she dies the same public death at the Hotel Dieu that befell her husband.
The narrator's digression on Madame Gaillard's ignoble demise elucidates not only the general hopelessness of the sociohistorical conditions within which Grenouille's story takes place but also the futility of systematic calculation and long-term planning in a world governed by unforeseeable forces. Madame Gaillard's fate thus undermines the Enlightenment belief in the inherent ability of human beings to control their own lives through reasoned deliberation.
Madame Gaillard's fate thus undermines the Enlightenment belief in the inherent ability of human beings to control their own lives through reasoned deliberation. The three persons largely responsible for Grenouille's childhood development-- his mother, Father Terrier, and Madame Gaillard--represent the values Suskind associates with enlightened society in the mid-eighteenth century: egocentrism, calculating rationality, emotionlessness, orderliness, "justice." Given this context, it is small wonder that Grenouille decides with his first whiff of the rank effluvia of civilized society to privilege self-interested calculation over humanitarian feeling.
The cry that followed his birth, the cry with which he had brought himself to people's attention and his mother to the gallows, was not an instinctive cry for sympathy and love. That cry, emitted upon careful consideration, one might almost say upon mature consideration, was the newborn's decision against love and nevertheless for life. Under the circumstances, the latter was possible only without the former, and had the child demanded both, it would doubtless have abruptly come to a grisly end. (24)
The narrator's condemnation of enlightened society could scarcely be stated more explicitly: he depicts this world as one in which love and life are mutually exclusive. Throughout the novel love is dialectically intertwined with brutality and death. Grenouille's murders, committed to preserve and eternalize the attractive power of love, exemplify this dialectic, as does the novel's conclusion: the lustful mob that tears Grenouille apart is said to act out of love (320; 310).
From the very moment of his birth, the gifted and abominable Grenouille embodies in exaggerated form the dark underside of "enlightened" society. Grenouille's first act, the calculated, egocentric cry with which he calls attention to himself, concretizes the pernicious dialectic of enlightened rationality: the cry both marks the possibility of Grenouille's self-preservation and leads directly to the death of another human being. It is this darkly cynical vision of the inception of Enlightenment culture-a vision shared by Corbin, the early Foucault, and the authors of Dialektik der Aufkldrung-that lurks behind the often ironically humorous facade of Das Parfum. The chapters depicting Grenouille's birth and childhood establish the alienating, reifying (to make real) interpersonal relations characteristic of enlightened society, and the chapters dealing with Grenouille's years of virtual enslavement to the tanner Grimal narrow this focus by concentrating on the socioeconomic conditions of emergent industrial society.
Aware that Grenouille, if forced to work with the caustic, often poisonous fluids used in the tanning process, would have little chance of survival, Madame Gaillard experiences 'not the slightest twinge of conscience' when she sells her eight-year-old charge to Grimal for fifteen francs (38; 33). In Grimal's shop Grenouille is forced to work for a meager keep and constantly subjected to his master's physical brutality. In this environment, in which human beings are an expendable natural resource, Grenouille comes to understand intimately the rule of tyranny, recognizing that his life “consisted only of whatever utility Grimal ascribed to it' (41; 36).
A paradigm of Darwinian adaptability, Grenouille adjusts even to these abject conditions. His obsequiousness earns him the freedom to explore Paris in search of fresh scents for his olfactory vocabulary. It is during one such interlude of relative independence that Grenouille first detects the scent that promises to provide an 'aesthetic principle' to help him organize the chaos of his olfactory imagination (48; 43). He had the prescience of something extraordinary -this scent was the key for ordering all odors, one could understand nothing about odors if one did not understand this one scent, and his whole life
would be bungled, if he, Grenouille, did not succeed in possessing it. He had to have it, not simply in order to possess it, but for his heart to be at peace. (45) Grenouille is driven not by lust for possession but by passion for systematic knowledge: his need to capture this supreme scent reflects an obsession with order, a compelling impulse to organize his olfactory sensations into an austere and inviolable system. Following the aromatic trail, Grenouille is led to a beautiful-that is, beautiful-smelling-redheaded girl who sits in a garden along the Seine cleaning yellow plums. As he inhales the scent of unadulterated beauty, he recognizes that without its elementary presence all his "edifices of odors” are doomed to remain meaningless (55; 49).
In pursuit of this absolute meaning, the transcendental signifier without which his entire catalog of olfactory sensations remains without significance, Grenouille becomes a murderer: he kills the girl, the source of this fragrance, to revel in her aromatic beauty undisturbed. This murder triggers in Grenouille an epiphany of rebirth as he discovers his mission in life: acknowledging for the first time his own olfactory genius, he envisions himself as a revolutionary in the world of scents, potentially the greatest perfumer of all time (57-58; 51). The night after his first murder, Grenouille formulates as his life project a rationalist systematization of the entire domain of scents. He arranges the uncountable scent fragments in his memory in a "systematic order,” establishes a hierarchical "catalogue of odors ever more comprehensive and differentiated,” and erects "the first carefully planned structures of odor”(58; 51).
The vocabulary Grenouille uses to articulate his program betrays his reliance on the logic of enlightened codification, and he reflects the shadowy aspect of this epistemic formation in his incognizance of or indifference to the relation between his plan and the act of murder that makes it possible. If enlightened rationality attains mastery over nature only at the price of increased alienation from it, Grenouille must kill the natural source of this ethereal essence he wishes to dominate. But Suskind also goes beyond Horkheimer and Adorno's analysis and approaches the ideas of Foucault and Corbin insofar as he implicates the domain of aesthetics in the pursuit of rational systematization: for Grenouille's desire is to capture the essence of beauty, to establish a pure and systematic aesthetic. Tannery The second section of Das Parfum, which describes the symbiotic relationship between
Grenouille and the perfumer Baldini, forms the historiocultural core of Suskind's text. The
account focuses on a paradigm shift in the art of perfumery, a historical transformation parallel
to the aesthetic revolution that gave birth to bourgeois modernism in the second half of the
eighteenth century. Initially, Baldini represents a character whose ideas regarding creation are dependent upon his adherence to a canon; his aesthetic conception is tied to a professional self-understanding informed by the regulative authority of the guild. Although aware that the perfumer's trade is undergoing revolutionary changes as it turns away from traditional artisanship toward daring innovation, Baldini upholds a conservative position. He expresses his convictions through attacks on his adversary, Pelissier, whose originality and productivity strike Baldini as distastefully "unpredictable” (68; 63). Baldini is suspicious not only of this “inflationist of scent,” whose reckless creativity represents a threat to the ancient trade of perfumery, but also of the fashion consciousness and profit mongering his rival represents (69; 64). Pelissier is everything Baldini is not: whereas Pelissier manifests inspiration, originality, experimentation, aesthetic anarchy, mass production, fashion, and a market orientation, Baldini reveres tradition, the age-old rules of his trade, the rigidity of the guild system, artisanship, and perpetuation of the tried-and true.
The philosophy of subjective creativity and infinite production promulgated by the "modernist" Pelissier contrasts with the philosophy of rule-governed imitation and limited reproduction advocated by the classicist Baldini. Because Pelissier's attitudes correspond more closely to those disseminated by enlightened, promodernist culture, Baldini the classicist is reduced to the status of a mere epigone (disciple), surviving only by copying the novelties Pelissier's genius concocts. Baldini's increasing marginalization is reflected in the deterioration of his business, and it is not surprising that he lashes out at Enlightenment thinking, which he considers responsible for his decline. “In every field, people question and bore and scrutinize and pry and dabble with experiments. It's no longer enough for a man to say that something is so or how it is so-everything now has to be proven besides, preferably with witnesses and numbers and one or another of these ridiculous experiments” (67-68). Baldini identifies the debilitating crisis that the Enlightenment's relentless questioning unleashes; to his way of thinking, this "century of decline and degeneration” is intimately connected to the ideas of such enlightened "scribblers" as Diderot, d'Alembert, Voltaire, and Rousseau (76; 69). Baldini predicts with oracular authority: "'But that was the temper of the times, and it would all come to a bad end' (75; 69).
What he does not yet know, however, is that he himself will be converted to this new philosophy and that this conversion, true to his prophecy, will result in his annihilation. Grenouille's arrival marks a radical turnaround in Baldini's fortunes.
Much like Grimal, Baldini is motivated solely by the desire to exploit Grenouille's talents. With Grenouille's help, Baldini successfully outmaneuvers his rival, Pelissier. Justifying the acquisition of this apprentice by pointing to the theory of "division of labor and rational systematization,” Baldini recognizes that he is fighting his enlightened adversary with his adversary's own weapons (115; 106).
Baldini thus assumes the role of a Faust figure who sells his soul to the modernist progressivity symbolized by Grenouille's infinitely creative, Mephistophelian genius. With the help of this "sorcerer's apprentice” (117; 107), Baldini ultimately commits the very acts he found distasteful in Pelissier: he asserts his preeminence by flooding the market with an endless stream of novel perfumes, and his commercial success is so great that he must eventually open a small factory in which his fragrances are produced and bottled on an assembly line (131; 121-22). This new enterprise manifests not only a sellout of classicism for aesthetic modernism, but also the shift from the individually crafted product of the guild system to the mass production of the industrial age. What Suskind illustrates in the career of Baldini is the birth of the culture industry out of the spirit of modernist aesthetics, the strategic harnessing of modernism's aesthetic principles as the motor driving the productivity and profit of industrial modernization.
Baldini's meteoric rise to wealth and power ends as abruptly as it begins: the night the perfumer releases Grenouille from apprenticeship, the bridge on which the shop is located collapses, and Baldini and all his wealth disappear into the Seine. While the narrative makes no causal connection between this "minor catastrophe” (144; 135) and Baldini's new loyalty to enlightened modernism----aside from obliquely implying that the sheer weight of his hoarded riches may have compounded the stress that caused the bridge to fall (143; 133)- Suskind develops an elaborate allegory that explicitly suggests this association.
On the eve of Grenouille's arrival, Baldini stares into the river and imagines it washing millions of gold coins in his direction (84; 78); suddenly, however, this image of boundless wealth reverts to one of impending doom: "The view of a glistening golden city and river turned into a rigid, ashen gray silhouette” (85; 78). Baldini correctly interprets this vision as an omen and impulsively decides to sell his shop the next day. Instead, however, he is seduced by the profit to be gained by exploiting Grenouille's remarkable olfactory genius. With this betrayal of his prior values and acquiescence in the principles of the "degenerate" modern age, Baldini unwittingly sets the stage for the realization of his vision: his "golden" rise to unimaginable wealth is the harbinger of his "ashen" demise, with which it is inextricably coupled. Baldini's story thus lays bare the linkage between enlightened progress and human self-destruction, manifesting the inescapable "principle of fatal necessity,” which Horkheimer and Adorno identify as the internal dynamic of instrumental reason (14). Grenouille and Baldini are joined in a relationship of mutual benefit: as Baldini profits from the fruits of his apprentice's genius, Grenouille learns from his master techniques that will enable him to distill the olfactory essences of natural objects. From Baldini, Grenouille expects to acquire the two prerequisites for creating the perfect perfume: "the cloak of middle-class respectability” in the form of his journeyman's papers and knowledge of the perfumer's craft, of the way scents are produced, concentrated, preserved, and thereby made available for "higher ends” (121; 111).
Through his association with Baldini, Grenouille learns to liberate the "scented soul” of living objects from the "stupid stuff” of their material being (125; 114). Grenouille's obsession with the ethereal "essences" of things and his disregard for their empirical existence represent a caustic satire of the "essentialism" characteristic of Western metaphysics, which privileges soul and spirit to the detriment of the physical body. Indeed, Grenouille's artistry concretizes the alliance of essentialist metaphysics and technological intelligence that Horkheimer and Adorno consider the heart of enlightened rationality. The third stage of Grenouille's Bildungsroman begins with an interruption of his training as a perfumer: instead of traveling to Grasse to complete his technical education, Grenouille sets out on a Romanticist journey inward, taking refuge for the duration of the Seven Years' War in a mountain cave where he is insulated from the effluvia of civilization.
This retreat is motivated not only by Grenouille's growing disgust with human society but also by his desire to indulge in the fantasies of his olfactory imagination. In this self-imposed isolation, Grenouille plays the part of the autonomous modern artist who retreats from the banalities of the empirical world to cultivate undisturbed the empire of his imagination.
Grenouille articulates his newfound aesthetic sensibility even before leaving Baldini's shop, designating as his artistic purpose the free expression of his olfactory fantasies: “He was not out to make his fortune with his art; he didn't even want to live from it if he could find another way to make a living. He wanted to empty himself of his inner most being, of nothingless than his innermost being, which he considered more wonderful than anything else the world had to offer.” (130) The Cave Grenouille's project has obviously undergone a radical shift in emphasis: whereas his technological education in the art of perfumery is directed outward toward the appropriation of the "essences" of objects in the empirical world, his attention is now trained on the subjective domain of his internal being. No longer concerned with olfactory mimesis, the re-creation of objectively detectable scents, Grenouille becomes fascinated with subjective self-expression. The numerous allusions to Romantic literature in this portion of the text reflect Grenouille's passage through a decidedly Romanticist phase. This stage of his development is characterized by the solidification and fortification of his “innermost empire,” a process that culminates in a grandiose fantasy of self-apotheosis (to make divine). Grenouille pictures himself as the God of scents, as Grenouille the Great, the absolute ruler of the olfactory universe.
It is especially apparent in this section of the work that the literary allusions in the narrator's discourse do not simply stitch together a textual pastiche but in fact serve a strategic purpose: they reflect the state of Grenouille's soul and underwrite the historicizing thrust of the novel by situating the distinct stages of the protagonist's artistic development in specific epochs of the history of aesthetics.
Grenouille's Romantic-aesthetic retreat to the sanctuary of the imagination ends suddenly with an "inner catastrophe”(170; 163) precipitated by the realization that aside from all the smells he has cataloged in his olfactory memory, one scent has escaped him: his own odor. Capable of detecting the subtlest fragrance at great distance, Grenouille is paradoxically unable to perceive his own odor, that most intimate and omnipresent of all smells. In the fictional universe of Das Parfum, to lack odor is to lack essence, and the final product of Grenouille's phase of Romanticist self-obsession is the knowledge that he has no essence. This gives rise to an anxiety hitherto unknown to him, "the fear of not knowing anything much about himself' (175; 167). With this, Grenouille is catapulted from the magnificent, self-aggrandizing vision of himself as Grenouille the Great to the reality of his inability to attain genuine self-knowledge: he is doomed to remain ignorant of any stable and enduring "essence" that might be identifiable as his self. French Gentleman's Ensemble The self-critical awareness that he is by definition a man without qualities impels Grenouille to return to the civilized world and resume his quest. But in the wake of his sudden insight, this pursuit assumes a new dimension: Grenouille's aim is no longer simply the acquisition of the technical knowledge that will enable him to create the perfect perfume; he now sets his sights on the development of an artificial "essence" that will compensate for his natural scentlessness. His next mentor, the eccentric marquis de La Taillade- Espinasse, performs the important function of awakening Grenouille to the significance of semblance in human relations. In the scientific quacksalver Taillade-Espinasse, Suskind presents a caricature of the experimental scientist bred by Enlightenment culture. Subscribing to the theory that the earth emits a “fluidum letale” that deteriorates living organisms, Taillade-Espinasse believes he has discovered in Grenouille whose physical condition degenerated markedly during his seven years in the cave-incontrovertible evidence to support his hypothesis. Like all Grenouille's previous mentors, the marquis is interested only in exploiting Grenouille. For him Grenouille is merely a scientific specimen to be put on display. Using Grenouille, he hopes to accomplish the "veritable divine act” of transforming a beast into a human being by dispelling the fluidum letale (184; 175). When his ventilation treatment effects no perceptible changes in Grenouille's condition, however, Taillade-Espinasse sets about altering the superficial details of Grenouille's appearance: he has Grenouille bathed, given a set of fashionable new clothes, shaved, coiffed, fitted with a shoe to compensate for his crippled foot, packed in makeup, and-last but not least doused with the marquis's personal perfume. On examining himself in the mirror after these alterations, Grenouille is astonished at how absolutely normal he appears: “And suddenly he knew that it had not been the dove bouillon nor the ventilation hocus-pocus that had made a normal person out of him, but solely these few clothes, the haircut, and the little masquerade with cosmetics .... And Grenouille himself found that the gentleman in the mirror, this odorless figure dressed and made up like a man, was not all that bad either; at least it seemed to him as if the figure
-once its costume had been perfected-might have an effect on the world outside ....” (176-77) What Grenouille learns from his encounter with the marquis is the importance of semblance and dissemblance in human relations. In an enlightened world in which the truth of the “seen” is indubitable, clothes indeed do make the man. What matters in this environment,
Grenouille recognizes, is not what one in essence is but what one appears to be, since one is judged not according to one's visually imperceptible being but only according to the impression one makes on others.
Thus Grenouille comes to understand the importance of acquiring "a practiced routine for lying,” that is, of learning to use semblance to manipulate others' sensibilities (204; 195). This realization brings with it a final transformation in Grenouille's aesthetic program: abandoning the self-expressive, autonomous aesthetics of Romanticism, he embraces instead an aesthetics of reception that valorizes semblance in the name of rhetorical effect. In short, Grenouille learns that aesthetic illusion is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of the demagogue. In keeping with the peculiarities of his genius, Grenouille transfers this insight from the realm of the visual into that of the olfactory. This displacement, however, produces a significant shift in meaning; whereas visual deceit as dissemblance amounts merely to disguising essence behind an arbitrary mask, olfactory delusion as "disenscentment" involves adopting an entirely new "essence."
It is at this point that Suskind's strategy of enciphering the visual prejudices of
enlightened thought in an allegory begins to pay high critical dividends; for, once displaced into the domain of smells, the dichotomy between semblance and essence that dominates enlightenment metaphysics collapses: in the moment of aesthetic reception artificial scent becomes "essence" in a double sense, both as fragrant mask and as intrinsic being.
In his encounter with Taillade-Espinasse, Grenouille thus solves the crisis of self-identity that disrupted his Romantic fantasy world in the cave: he arrives at the crucial insight that "essence" is a function not of the real but of what Jean Baudrillard has termed the "hyperreal."
"Essence," like the entire reality of enlightened, industrial civilization, is not merely something that can be reproduced; the real is a simulation, "that which is always already reproduced" (Simulations 146). Taillade-Espinasse is the quintessential representative of the world in which reality disappears behind the simulations of hyperreality.
Thus, although he cannot help knowing that Grenouille has been superficially altered rather than fundamentally transformed through science, Taillade-Espinasse never questions that the transformation is essential to Grenouille's being and that it confirms the fluidal theory. Through Taillade-Espinasse, Suskind exposes the scientific "knowledge" codified by enlightened reason as a series of carefully fostered illusions. Moreover, from this experience Grenouille comes to understand that the power to manipulate other human beings is intimately bound up with the ability to control simulations and their effects. "Since Machiavelli," Baudrillard maintains, "politicians have perhaps always known that the mastery of a simulated space is the source of power, that the political is not a real activity or space, but a simulation model, whose manifestations are simply achieved effects" ("On Seduction" 158).
The lesson Grenouille learns from Taillade-Espinasse is an eminently political one: the secret of controlling the emotions of human beings through simulations calculated to evoke specific responses. To be sure, it is precisely Grenouille's own "essencelessness" that defines his suitability to become a master dissimulator, since the absence of essence makes appropriation of any and all essences possible. Thus, the man without qualities becomes a man with all (artificially induced) qualities, a perfect chameleon, capable of adapting his constitution to the demands of the moment.
Once he achieves insight into reality as simulation, Grenouille-now the modern man par excellence-has at his disposal all the theoretical knowledge required for the formulation of his plan for dominion over all humanity. Yet he still lacks two significant elements for the realization of his design: familiarity with the advanced techniques of enfleurage (using fats to capture fragrances) and a human source from which to distill the keystone scent for his system of olfactory terror. Grasse, France-Lavender Fields In Grasse, the setting of the fourth section of the novel, both these needs are fulfilled, the first through his apprenticeship in Madame Arnulfi's perfumery, the second by his discovery of Laure Richis and her inescapably seductive odor. Grenouille encounters his most challenging adversary in Antoine Richis, the father of his prospective victim. Two factors in particular account for Richis's ability to compete with Grenouille in the game of human mastery: his adherence to the mechanisms of enlightened thought and his ability to empathize so greatly with the murderer Grenouille that he can divine the method nderlying Grenouille's lethal madness. Richis can project himself into Grenouille's thoughts and determine his motive because Richis and Grenouille have fundamentally similar modes of cognition. Both are systematic, methodical thinkers able to map out a tactical plan and pursue it with guile and tenacity
By identifying Grenouille's mode of thinking with that of Richis, the paragon of calculative reason, Suskind underscores once again that his protagonist embodies the principles of the Enlightenment. Richis's description of the murderer's method and motives reads like a general characterization of enlightened rationality: The murderer. . . had a system. It was not just that all the murders had been carried out in the same efficient manner, but the very choice of victims betrayed intentions almost economical in their planning. .... In any case, it seemed to him, as absurd as it sounded, that the murderer was not a destructive personality, but rather a careful collector. For if one imagined-and so Richis imagined -all the victims not as single individuals, but as
Parts of some higher principle and thought of each one's characteristics as merged in some idealistic fashion into a unifying whole, then the picture assembled out of such mosaic pieces would be the picture of absolute beauty, and the magic that radiated from it would no longer be of human, but of divine origin. (246) This efficiency, when combined with precise planning and systematic rigidity, underwrites not only the murders perpetrated by Grenouille but also Richis's plan to achieve economic and political power. Although Richis thinks in visual metaphors while Grenouille follows olfactory pursuits, the structure of their thought remains the same. Enlightened rationality is distinguished by a tendency toward abstraction that reduces real entities to mere idealities. Grenouille's murders, Richis realizes, are predicated on the ability to overlook the concrete singularity of the women he destroys. Grenouille views his victims instead as "parts of a higher principle," that is, as elements in an abstract, formal system. Grenouille's murders exemplify the perverse consequences of abstract idealism run amok. The intellectual similarity between the enlightened thinker Richis and the murderer Grenouille is further exhibited by their essentially parallel undertakings. Grenouille, after all, is not the only calculating strategist for whom Laure forms the keystone in an idealistic edifice: indeed, "Laure was also the keystone in the edifice of his, of Richis's own plans' (261; 248). Richis's "fatherly" love for his daughter is invariably tied to her utility for his self-serving ambitions, since her blossoming beauty provides him with an efficient means to accomplish his plan for sociopolitical advancement. The marriage he has arranged for her with the son of a wealthy aristocrat will enable Richis " 'to found a dynasty and to put his own posterity on a track leading directly to the highest social and political influence' (254; 241).
For both Richis and Grenouille, Laure is a token to be wagered in a game whose stakes are economic and sociopolitical power. Richis, of course, comes out the loser in this contest-not because his rival has more cunning or better methods at his disposal but because Grenouille has cultivated to perfection the principles underlying enlightened rationality.
At the same time, Grenouille profits from the insight that visual appearances are fundamentally secondary to olfactory emanations, which are the first stimuli to leave impressions in the infant's brain Grenouille's preeminent refinement of Richis's system consists precisely in transferring visual metaphors and prejudices into the realm of the olfactory. The strategic edge this displacement brings Grenouille is demonstrated by the relative effectiveness with which each man establishes his incognito. Richis and his entourage attempt to beguile potential pursuers as they flee Grasse by changing their clothes; in contrast, Grenouille, who knows the advantages of olfactory dissimulation, disguises himself with an 'odor of inconspicuousness' (272; 259). Renoir Grenouille Grenouille's reliance on olfactory rather than visual sensation constitutes the measure of his superiority over Richis: disregarding visual clues, he tracks down father and daughter by following his nose. Conversely, when Richis discovers Grenouille sleeping in the stall of an inn, Richis's suspicions are dispelled by the olfactory impression of insignificance and harmlessness emanating from Grenouille's artificial "aura." Because of his superior skills of dissimulation, Grenouille subsequently has no difficulty whatsoever in reducing Laure to yet another of his aromatic trophies. The conflict between Richis and Grenouille, with which Das Parfum reaches its apogee, is prefigured in many respects by the competition between Pelissier and Baldini in the second section of the novel. Pelissier and Richis, both paradigmatic proponents of Enlightenmentthought, are defeated by opponents who beat them at their own game. But neither Baldini nor Grenouille, the apparent victors, can enjoy the fruits of his victory for long. Baldini's violent end, is linked with his appropriation of the principles of Enlightenment and of a dialectic that proves lethal.
Ultimately this dialectic affects Grenouille's destiny as well, and in this sense, the fall of Baldini anticipates the fate of the novel's protagonist. Grenouille is at the peak of his power when he dons the perfume created from the scents of Laure and the other murdered women, thereby transforming the ritual of his own execution into a bacchanalian rite at which he is worshiped as a god. Tannery In this moment Grenouille makes real the fantasy of Grenouille the Great that occupied his imagination during the years of his seclusion; but far from being able to relish this triumph, he is overtaken by a pervasive anxiety: “Yes, he was Grenouille the Great! Now it had become manifest. It was he, just as in his narcissistic fantasies of old, but now in reality. And in that moment he experienced the greatest triumph of his life. And he was terrified.” (292)
In the moment when Grenouille's elation gives way to terror he recognizes that his success, like Baldini's, is dialectically coupled with self-destruction. Grenouille's conquest and the triumph of enlightened reason are both ultimately Pyrrhic victories. Like the sorcerer's apprentice in Goethe's poem "Der Zauberlehrling," Grenouille is unable to control the powers that he unleashes. When he is dismembered and devoured in the name of the same abstract, idealizing "love" that motivated his destructive quest, the novel reaches its all too logical conclusion.
Through Grenouille, Das Parfum voices an allegorical critique of enlightened reason and the spirit of industrial modernization. Framing this critique within the history of post-Enlightenment
aesthetics allows Suskind to implicate Western aesthetics in the self-destructive dialectic of Enlightenment. “Precisely by attempting to lend duration to the ephemeral to life-seeking to rescue it from death, works of art kill it' (202). Adorno calls this reflex the "negativity" of the work of art: "'Works of art are a priori negative because of their adherence to the law of objectification;
they kill what they objectify by tearing it from the immediacy of its existence' (201). In this objectifying compulsion modern art participates in the abstracting, alienating mechanisms of the enlightened episteme.
In Das Parfum Suskind points out the parallel between modernist aesthetic practices and the principles of instrumental rationality; indeed, he exposes the destructive impulse inherent in Enlightenment metaphysics by examining its operation in the domain of aesthetics. Das Parfum follows the patterns of that subgenre of the bildungsroman known as the Kuinstlerroman(H allet 285), narrating the gradual perfection of its protagonist's technical skills and aesthetic sensibility in the art of perfumery.
However, the novel relates this artistic education as an evolution unto death, a betrayal of nature for an artificial simulation of nature that is accomplished under the pretext of preserving its absolute essence. In this sense, Suiskind's novel stands in close relation to two of the best-known novels of postwar Germany, Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus and Gunter Grass's Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum). Both Mann and Grass interweave the evolution of their artist protagonists, Adrian Leverkihn and Oskar Matzerath, with the rise of national socialism in Germany, and both novels, furthermore, make use of the technique of historical allegory to present their fictional exposition of the causes and consequences of nazism. Suskind's Das Parfum is indebted in both respects to these literary forerunners, but it is distinguished from them by its wider focus.
Instead of limiting his perspective to Germany's fatal flirtation with fascism, Suskind portrays fascism's propaganda, incongruities and its irrational cult of personality, as a historical consequence of enlightened rationality. In this, Suskind interprets fascism not as a narrowly German phenomenon but as the culmination of a larger historical process.
Das Parfum articulates this more encompassing critique of the modern(ist) world as a history of Enlightenment culture, describing the destructive mechanisms of that culture, through the fictional history of the olfactory genius-terrorist Jean-Baptiste Grenouille The End