How our sense of smell engages with philosophy, psychoanalysis, and political economy—and how it can help enrich our understanding of the nature of truth, language, economy, and sexuality.
Why is it that, in Indo-European languages at least, we have no language to describe smells, leaving us (and famously Juliet) no choice but to call the scent of a rose simply “sweet”? In What's That Smell?, a groundbreaking exploration of the intersection between philosophy, psychoanalysis, and the oft-neglected sense of smell, Simon Hajdini sets out to answer this complex question. Through new readings of traditional and modern philosophical texts, Hajdini places smell at the very center of a philosophical critique of the traditional notion of truth, challenging the idea that smell is the antiphilosophical sense par excellence.
Through fresh engagements with fundamental philosophical issues, original analyses of modern literature and film, and the novel use of scientific research into smell within a humanities context, Hajdini situates problems of olfaction at the very point of inception of cultural life. He proposes that ontology, civilization, and capitalist economy alike can be said to amount to "shit management." And only by following the philosophically most deplorable of the senses, the book argues, can we better understand the central philosophical, psychoanalytical, and political issues of truth, sex, and exploitation.
Simon Hajdini is Senior Research Associate in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana. He is the author of two books in Slovene and several research articles in contemporary philosophy, social and political theory, German idealism, and psychoanalysis.
“What's That Smell? traces the scent at issue in a series of brilliant philosophical reflections that yield a new history of Western philosophy as the compulsive effort to deodorize concepts and sterilize the air of the space of reasons. Hajdini offers us an entirely original and philosophically consequential scentimental education.”
Eric L. Santner, Philip and Ida Romberg Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago
“What if we were to think about theorizing on the model of smelling rather than seeing? What new worlds of sense would such a move open up? Let Simon Hajdini lead you by the nose and see—olfactorily!”
David Howes, Centre for Sensory Studies, Concordia University, Montreal
“An unanswerable question lies at the core of both philosophy and psychoanalysis: What' s in a name? With its constitutive resistance to naming, smell operates as a limit-sense that draws out the limit of sense-making and offers a means of re-approaching philosophy and culture from behind. As the philosophical counterpart of a gastroenterological specialist, Hajdini takes us on a colonoscopic tour of the sensing-body-cum-body-politic, finding in an examination of its extruded material a portrait of the tightly regulated diet of concepts on which it depends as well as the intolerances associated with its violent indigestion. In the paradigm of 'shit-management' that emerges, we find that following Freud's fundamental rule to speak whatever comes to mind is ultimately secondary to following one's nose wherever it goes."
Eric Reinhart, MD, Psychoanalyst, and Political Anthropologist
“To get at the truth, it is necessary to exit the highway and explore the tangle of small off-ramp roads. This book does this splendidly. By doggedly following the scent of scent through various philosophical hamlets, large and small, Hajdini exposes surprising truths about the deviousness of language. All interested in linguistics, philosophy, and psychoanalysis are advised to read it.”
Joan Copjec, Professor of Modern Culture, Brown University
“What's That Smell? is brilliant, wide-ranging, playful, and beautifully profane. To say, with Hajdini, that the problem of smell inspires philosophy from Heraclitus to Hegel, or that osmology is central to Marx's critique of political economy, Freud's invention of psychoanalysis, and Lacan's reformulation of that discipline, doesn't even begin to describe this audaciously original book. There's so much here—an effluvious epistemology of sensation, an aromatic anatomy of language, an ontology of the olfactory, a scratch-and-sniff sexology, an anthropology of the order of odor. After reading What's That Smell? you will be emboldened to stare into the stinking abyss and aver, What's not that smell?”
Andrew Cole, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature, Princeton University; author of The Birth of Theory