We are often embarrassed by the protruding olfactory equipment on our faces. But noses shape our loves, lives and memories like no other part of the bodyby AL Kennedy / December 13, 2018 / Leave a comment
In Nikolai Gogol’s story “The Nose,” a civil servant called Kovalyov wakes one morning to discover his nose is missing; in its place there’s only a smooth, flat space. Without a nose, Kovalyov finds he can’t work, can’t eat, he’s scared even to go outside. As for his girlfriends—well he discovers that noselessness, apart from being a kind of facelessness, seems to imply other, lower, deficits. Worse still, freed from Kovalyov, his nose is swanning around St Petersburg dressed for success in a “gold-braided, high-collared uniform, buckskin breeches, and cockaded hat.”
Gogol himself had a famously generous nose—but this tale is less a personal statement and more an absurdist satire on tsarist Russia’s obsession with rank. Still, there’s plenty of nose-related wisdom here. Humans may be hard-wired to love infantile faces—ones with big eyes, big foreheads and not much nose—but we all have multiple reasons to treasure our noses.
They go bravely before us throughout our lives, gently drooping and appearing to grow as time passes, perhaps to indicate increasing maturity and resourcefulness. The nose helps to form our expressions and our faces seem so strange to us if we lose or damage them that we have a long history of fashioning cosmetic replacements. Sixteenth-century astronomer Tycho Brahe had a brass one. British troops disfigured in the First World War were supplied with carefully painted tin noses and rudimentary skin grafts. The earliest recorded graft—replacing the tip of a nose—was achieved in India around 1795. Plastic surgery can now do a great deal to create or reconstruct our noses. The immense popularity of elective rhinoplasties—nose jobs—indicates how important this most public organ’s perceived perfection is to our self-esteem.
The sense of smell our nose enables conjures memories faster than conscious thought and puts flavour in our meals. Much of what we taste actually comes from scent. Try eating an apple while, for example, smelling petrol if you don’t believe me. Patients who develop anosmia, an inability to smell caused by accident or disease, will generally report diminished appetite and somewhat joyless meals. Smell can change your mind. Studies have shown that inhaling the scent of garbage can affect moral judgments and make you more politically conservative. Being forced to smell warmed vanilla by a wily…