Marginalia, no.166

The proximity of the gods was signaled by a particular odor, called the ‘sweat of God.’  The hieroglyph for ‘joy’ is a nose.

~ Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen, Masterpieces in Detail

One wonders if the odor in question was commonly met with and recognized by all (which would make the gods’ presence pervasive, if invisible), or if it was occult knowledge, passed by oath and threat from one generation of priests to another.  For all we know, an Egyptian subdeacon milling about Saqqara nose-drunk on incense and roast ibis might recognize the divine perspiration in our modern combo of diesel fumes and fried chicken.  But our godforsaken era lives in ignorance.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Marginalia, no.166

  1. As to odors, the gods, civilization, and all things else, I give you (rather digressively) the ever-presumptuous Freud, from “Civilization and Its Discontents”: “The organic periodicity of the sexual process has persisted, it is true, but its effect on mental sexual excitation has been almost reversed. This change is connected primarily with the diminishing importance of olfactory stimuli by means of which the menstrual process produced sexual excitement in the mind of the male. Their function was overtaken by visual stimuli, which could operate permanently instead of intermittently like the olfactory ones. The taboo of menstruation has its origins in this organic repression, which acted as a barrier against a phase of development that had been surpassed…This process is repeated on a different level when the gods of a forgone cultural epoch are changed into demons in the next. The dimunition in importance of olfactory stimuli seems itself, however, to be a consequence of man’s erecting himself from the earth, of his adoption of an upright gait, which made his genitals, that before had been covered, visible and in need of protection and so evoked feelings of shame. Man’s erect posture, therefore, would represent the momentous process of cultural evolution” (emphasis mine). Freud may or may not be what Nabokov called him, The Quack of Vienna (or words to that effect). He may or may not shed light, here, on the Mosaic book of Leviticus (let’s say that Moses’ “nose” led the chosen people out of Egypt, on the scent of one God, as against “the gods”). But this passage is essential reading for anyone who would understand Eliot’s early poetry, what its misogynistic revulsion at “female smells in shuttered rooms,” etc. Which I whimsically suppose explains why he “erected himself” into the Anglican church in the late 20s. There is an essay to be written under the title “T.S. Eliot’s Nose.” For indeed, though he went in fear of what he left, that nose led him to an English God, whose odor he apparently preferred to all others. But “joy”? I doubt his distinctive nose ever led him to the like of that.

  2. Ian Wolcott

    Thanks for the note and the Freud quote, Mark. Freud’s suggestions certainly open some peculiar and fascinating doors for exploration.

    I really wanted to have something intelligent to say in reply but every time I read the word “excitation’ I hear the Beach Boys in my head.

  3. That’s a good one, Ian. Funny thing is, “Pet Sounds” has been in heavy rotation on my iPod these past two weeks. Well, that and Patti Smith’s “Horses.”

    Happy Xmas from Japan, though War is Not Over––
    Mark

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