Turning up our noses

Prospect Magazine

Turning up our noses

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From Aristotle to Kant, intellectuals have delighted in denigrating the sense of smell. In doing so they have dampened the boundless pleasures of the olfactory. It is time we rediscovered our noses

The fallen sons of Eve

Even the smell of roses

Is not what they supposes

But more than mind discloses

And more than men believe.

GH Chesterton, “The Song of Quoodle”

I plead guilty to Chesterton’s charge. Mine is a mediocre specimen of a post-lapsarian nose. As a fallen daughter of Eve—or, more accurately, a fallen granddaughter of a sharp-nosed chimpanzee—I am conscious of smell only a few times each day. I put on perfume in the morning, but because I use the same concoction every day and therefore suffer from what the perfumers call “nasal fatigue,” I apply far more than I should, and end up fatiguing the noses of my fellow passengers on the train en route to work. Occasionally I sniff the milk to see if it’s off, but more often I just glance at the sell-by date. Visual clues are more reliable than olfactory ones for

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Lara Feigel

Lara Feigel is a writer and academic 

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