Das Parfüm

I was chatting with my Mediendidaktik course students about the meaning of multimedia and had gotten to the topic of the sense of smell. Is it possible or even useful to incorporate smell into a learning situation? I'm sure there are lab courses in chemistry or biology that teach students the difference between the smell of one thing or the other, but we can't faithfully reproduce that. Can we even define smells in some sort of Cartesian space such as the RGB space for defining some colors? Chat was over, everyone disappeared, and I still wanted to talk about smell.

One of my faithful Skype correspondants was online and perfectly willing to talk with me about transmitting smell over the Internet. We looked at various silly and crazy suggestions that have been made before and companies that actually tried to produce something and went broke. You can send smell in the mail with Scratch 'n Sniff, but over the Internet? What would be the R and the B and the G of smell? I was postulating roses, lemon and old, used sports socks (or skunk, which is pretty much the same thing).

He noted that there was a book about this, "Das Parfüm" by Patrick Süsskind. Oh yeah, I remember, we bought that a few years ago. Must bring this to the top of my reading list, I go and get it. My husband is extremely pedantic and writes the date he reads a book on the flyleaf. It says "Nov. 1987", the year we bought the dishwasher. "Few" = 19 ......

So I was shamed into reading right away, and fascinated by the book. Such a strange story, this description of a person who can discern smells. And discouraging - with all of the different essences he describes in just the perfumes that are made in the book, I realize that making a smell apparatus will not be trivial at all. The book plods along nicely, describing Paris of the 1700's so clearly that I begin to actually smell it (so he does manage to induce a smell transfer!). A sudden jolt happens when the first girl is murdered. The book returns to the story and nothing really happens about the murder. Grenouille, the murderer, spends years enjoying his memory of the girl's fragrance, but irritatingly enough, there is no punishment, no remorse.

Grenouille snaps out of his 7-year-hermitage and continues on to Grasse, where we learn how different essences are produced. Yuck - it does make sense and appears to work, but when I spray on my perfume in the morning I don't like the thought of the molecules having been worked through fat, I have this fantasy of them being somehow cleanly collected from the morning dew on fragrant petals.... another illusion dashed. And suddenly, he kills a dog. And now I know what is coming, but I can't stop reading. You now know what will happen, and it does happen, but it is strange all the same. I can't quite see how he gets to the perfume that so bedazzles his punishers - he was in prison from the time he was captured, wasn't he? Did someone bring him the bottle? Did I miss something, as I was reading so fast to get it over with?

The final scene back in Paris is horrible, I just brush it, it gives me shivers down the spine. I close the book, well past midnight, and try to get to sleep, awakening during the night at every sound.

A great book, really!

1 comment:

http://evaluatinglearningobjects.edublogs.org/ said...

Once there was iSmell, but I haven't heard from this idea anymore for years.

PS: It's difficult to write here having a weblog at another place ;-(