On Scent, Part I
Scent is a highly referential sense – the presence of a smell sensation virtually always means that the corresponding object is somewhere near. In other words: if you smell coffee, that means that there is coffee somewhere around. The fact that smell usually comes from a specific object is reflected in the phrasing we use. If you are having an olfactory experience, you are smelling something. You are smelling something – the phrase is not just “you are smelling”. In that way, it seems like scents enjoy a one-to-one correspondence with things in nature – that’s the way we conceptualize them.
The Inuit people famously have many different words for snow, while English basically has only the one. Likewise, we call it the scent of coffee, but different instances of coffee smell different in ways that can appear either physically measurable or emotional. In order to characterize this phenomenon, we do this:
“The sweet, warm smell of coffee steaming on her stovetop.”
“The acrid, empty smell of coffee pervaded throughout the truck stop.”
We are used to hearing smells be qualified in this manner. This pays tribute to the fact that smells have overtones, or to be more specific: the physical scenes in which scents appear and the emotional stage in which they appear both influence each other. Scents refer to concrete objects, but also appear carrying an overtone which is highly emotional. The coffee scent at the truck stop is surrounded by petrol fumes, industrial cleaning solvents, and greasy food.
We might say: it smells lonely in there. It smells bleak in there. It smells dingy in there. All of these characteristics rub off on the smell of coffee through its physical mingling with the other scents present (coffee, the fuel, the cheap food, cigarette smoke all mix together), and its appearance in a certain visual/sonic/tactile milieu (the lighting is efficient and fluorescent; picked for its economical factors and not in order to welcome you with expensive looking artificial light like a good host or expensive restaurant might); and, both of those gain their emotional overtone from the way that you feel, and tend to have felt, while in similar milieu.
Most people are alone at truck stops. The coffee there begins to smell lonely.
The scent scenes which will appear in INVERSES will likewise carry the overtones of the story through subtle machinations of associated scents and overall groups of reference to different objects. The forest is not just a forest but a specific emotional scene; the sea not just a sea but an enveloping feeling; and the rain not only rain but a sort of olfactory absolution. These scents can stand alone, but they carry all the suggestions of the narrative as a whole. Read them too.
Jacqueline is a Los Angeles-based perfumer & the owner of unisex fragrance house Goest Perfumes.