Olfactory Fictions: Smell, Culture and Literature in the Modern West
English Department lecture by Professor Sebastian Groes (University of Wolverhampton)
Olfactory Fictions is a multidisciplinary research project that offers literature as a new critical perspective on the ways in which our sense of smell is changing in contemporary Western societies (see Henshaw 2014). Writers at the beginning of the twentieth century (Proust, Woolf, Joyce, Lawrence, Orwell, Camus et al.) were obsessed with smell. My research aims to show that modernity sees a cultural shift in how our senses, and olfaction in particular, function in relationship to language, culture and society. My contention is that in post-war and 21st century literature we see increasingly less references to smell occur compared to the other senses: there is a decrease in olfactory observations in post-war fiction. This generates questions about the fraught relation between language and smell, and changing olfactory language and cognition. Olfactory Fictions will consider the implications of our changing attitude to olfaction and takes its cue from Italo Calvino, who warned against this sensory dissociation in his cautionary short story ‘The Name, The Nose’ (1986): ‘the noseless man of the future’ will lose emotions and have a reduced ability to make sense of life altogether. One possible cause of this loss of smell awareness is that modern Western societies are subject to an increased hygiene regime resulting in the increased sanitisation, masking of smells and artificial scenting of public and private spaces, and the human body. This drive to disguise has led to changing forms of sensory perception in our modern experience, the consequences of which need to be investigated as our relationship to other people and the world depend on, and are profoundly shaped by, our sense of smell.
All UvA students, staff and members of the public are welcome to attend.
Sebastian Groes is Professor of English Literature at the University of Wolverhampton, where he is also Director of the Centre for Transnational and Transcultural Research (CTTR), https://www.wlv.ac.uk/research/institutes-and-centres/cttr---centre-for-transnational-and-transcultural-research/. His interests focus on twentieth and twenty-first century Literature, Culture and Theory, with a particular emphasis on Modernist and contemporary writing, and a growing interest in the Digital Humanities, and the intersections between science and the arts and humanities. He is Principal Investigator of the Memory Network, an AHRC and Wellcome Trust-funded Research Network bringing scientists, arts and humanities scholars, writers and artists together to think critically and creatively about memory in the twenty-first century. He is Series Co-Editor of Contemporary Critical Perspectives (Bloomsbury), and author of The Making of London (Palgrave, 2011), and British Fiction in the Sixties (Bloomsbury, 2015). He has also edited volumes on Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and two volumes on Kazuo Ishiguro's work: Kazuo Ishiguro: Contemporary Critical Perspectives (Bloomsbury, 2010) and Kazuo Ishiguro: Critical Visions of the Novels (Palgrave, 2011). His next book project, The Prosthetic Gods (Yale UP), explores cognition and memory in the digital age.
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