The phenomenon of olfactory time

Eddie Bulliqui, associate with Scent Culture Institute, published on 24 November 2016 this essay on the phenomenon of olfactory time:

Perfume is a time art in the same way that film and music are time arts. In order to qualify as perfume or film or music, each must engage its medium with transitions, displacements, and modifications that indicate a debt with time. Without time’s passing, perfume would have no means to realise itself, leaving two options: either existing as unrealised potential on the skin (or bottle, or blotter) that never reaches the nose, or pervading as an omnipresent flat sensation that never changes. Transience, development, and diffusion are absolutely fundamental to the olfactory experience. Whilst perfume has to testify to time, what kind of time and how it does so is the subject of this discourse.

Originally delivered as a lecture at the artistic perfumery conference Esxence in March 2016, this paper is in response to the premise that our experience of time is not universally consistent and stable but rather is a homogenisation of discrete individual temporal landscapes that are continually distorted by sensory and cerebral fluctuation, recollection, and anticipation. Its focus is the phenomenon of olfactory time in particular; treating the perception and feeling of time in fine fragrance as a phenomenon. As such, there are three main aims: to reveal that there are alternative ways of thinking time other than just clock time; to encourage methods of feeling time in perfumery; and to propose that art, including fine fragrance, can change the we way feel and perceive time.

The inspiration for this essay was multiple. Firstly, I was very motivated by a talk late 2015 from Satish Padiyar, Senior Lecturer in European Art at the Courtauld Institute, on the eighteenth-century French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard and time, the same Grassoise artist on whom the Fragonard perfumery is named. Secondly, I was reminded of a story about a friend of mine who is a violinist. During his university interview to study music, the first question asked was ‘what is musical time?’ My friend said that he paused, considered his direction for a moment, and then inquired ‘do you mean in terms of rhythm, meter, tempo, signature markings?’ The professor in front of him apparently gave a slow resigned side tilt of his head, suggesting ‘yes, but think harder, think more, give me an answer that treats the question with the respect it deserves’. On hearing this story, it made me realise that this deceptively simple question is in fact one of the hardest questions you can possibly ask in music. ‘What is musical time?’ In fact, it is one of most challenging, intricate, and multifaceted of questions that you can ask in any art. This inspired me to face the question ‘what is musical time’ head on, also in regards to perfumery. Thirdly, it is true that stimulating memories and past emotions is an integral part of the experience of perfume, but I find this cliché so over-used and quite frankly boring. I wanted to approach the subject in a fresh way. It is part of a larger project on how to place perfume in space-time and functions ultimately as an introduction to the subject which requires much refinement as discourses on the philosophy of perfumery develop and advance.

In order to understand the manner in which perfumery negotiates its unfolding in time, and how time is manifest in perfume, it is necessary to first review the different approaches available in the philosophy and metaphysics of time, how they have been applied and developed in the arts, and evaluate their suitability to the olfactory medium. It is not the intention of this paper to provide an exhaustive catalogue of time philosophies and their individual applicabilities to scent. Instead, its goal is to find commonalities, productive avenues, and fruitful strategies of art metaphysics that will enable the emergence of a time philosophy specific to perfumery themes, offering that the olfactory experience can lend unique insight to the study of metaphysics, and proposing olfactory metaphysics as a subset of applied philosophy in its own right.

This is a valid strategy given that the literature of metaphysics is littered with references to the experience of scent as having a fundamental relation to existence and space-time, just as much so as the other arts, but overall the passing mentions are little explored and even less often extrapolated. Martin Heidegger, in his Introduction to Metaphysics, on the subject of the immanence and intrinsic Being of things (in this case a high school), states, ‘one can, as it were, smell the Being of such buildings, and often after decades one still has the scent in one’s nose. The scent provides the Being of this being much more directly and truly than it could be communicated by any description or inspection’.[1] The topic is then dropped and never returned to in the text. What does Heidegger mean with his lazy second clause ‘as it were’? This is symptomatic of a greater marginalisation of scholarship on perfumery that Constance Classen, David Howes, and Anthony Synnott suggest is because [smell] ‘is felt to threaten the abstract and impersonal regime of modernity by virtue of its radical interiority, its boundary-transgressing properties, and its emotional potency’.[2] If even the great Heidegger didn’t feel that perfume had a place in metaphysics, why should we attempt to locate it in metaphysical arguments?

It can be argued that the answer lies in another of Classen, Howes, and Synnott’s statements that ‘the intimate, emotionally charged nature of the olfactory experience ensures that such value-coded odours are interiorised by [members] of society in a deeply personal way. The study of the cultural history of smell is, therefore, in a very real sense, an investigation into the essence of human culture’.[3] It can also be commented that whilst Heidegger does not explicitly tackle perfumery in the rest of his Introduction, there are numerous abstract references to properties of scent, such as diffusion and ephemerality, as a cipher, displacement, disclosing, and agent of something essential to human being-in-the-world, as his rather vague quote of Greek philosopher Heraclitus saying ‘if all beings turned into smoke, it would be noses that would distinguish and grasp them’; as well as his deep agreement with Friedrich Neitzche that the ‘highest concepts’ such as Being are ‘the final wisp of evaporating reality’.[4] It is mainly around the work of the aforementioned Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Jean-Paul Sartre, Georg Hegel, Henri Bergson, and Giles Deleuze that we will revolve.

An important predicate of this address is that the common belief in the spatiality of time, time’s ability to be represented in space and ascertain properties analogous to that of space, is a pretence. By this, it is meant that the truly objective, mechanical, overarching, omnipresent, and immutable properties of time are put into question in favour of a plastic understanding of time. One that is malleable, that can be shortened, lengthened, catalysed, and distorted. Let me give a commonplace example. It is often said that ‘time flies when you’re having fun’. I think everyone can relate to this concept. It is also possible for time to appear stretched when we’re not having fun, for example, the last minute of a workout on a running machine can be brutal, as if time is a sludge. Compare this to the experience of 30 minutes hanging out with your best friends, and sometimes it can feel as if the experienced duration was the same as that last stretch of running, even though the clock time was vastly different. It is almost as if these are two temporal worlds apart. Heidegger also addresses this issue specific to boredom being perceived as a peculiar stretching of time.[5] Taking a phenomenological approach, defined by Kristian Klockars as ‘a philosophy concerned with … essence … of our experience of the world, taken as investigated from the internal perspective of this experience itself’, we can conclude that time itself is a phenomenon; time is plastic; and if, at all, time exists in the arts, artistic time is also a phenomenon.[6] Therefore, olfactory time is also a phenomenon specific to perfume in and of itself.

It will not be discussed in detail here the reasons behind grouping perfumery with the other arts; that is perhaps a subject for another paper. However, I will briefly diverge with two comments on this. Firstly, I do not consider perfume to be artistic simply because it is artificial, as per Chandler Burr’s famous doctrine. This is a facile interpretation of art history and does little to legitimise the subject. Secondly, a story. I was once in the offices of one of the big fragrance manufacturers. I had expressed my opinion that perfume could potentially be artistic. It was clear that the woman I was speaking to disagreed and was trying to tease out her own logic from me. She commented, ‘so, can you now deduce what one aspect of perfume means that it can never and will never be an art?’ I replied, ‘are you referring to its mass-production and global availability’? ‘Yes!’ she exclaimed, ‘now you understand how we work’. I felt like telling her to get over herself. Why does reproduction negate essential artistic value? Why does it have to be rare, misunderstood, unique, or censored to be art? Perfume may not be able to communicate narratives, personify themes, or prescribe symbols in the same way and with the same mechanisms as we know them in other artistic fields, but this alone not does preclude its potential for meaning-making and ethical resonance. Here, we use perfume as an access point to explore facets of time perception otherwise inaccessible from existing art theories.

What is time?

What is time? It is necessary to first ask this general but most important of questions, before plunging into the eddies of perfume time, which will address the first aim of this paper – to reveal that there are alternative ways of thinking time other than just clock time.

In his seminal lecture Der Bergriff der Zeit (The Concept of Time) delivered to the Marburg Theological Society in July 1924, Heidegger considers,

If we achieve clarity about what a clock is, then the kind of apprehension thriving in physics thereby becomes alive, and so does the manner in which time gets the opportunity to show itself.[7]

… A clock shows time. A clock is a physical system in which an identical temporal sequence is constantly repeated, with the provision that this physical system is not subject to change through any external influence. The repetition is cyclical. Each period has an identical temporal duration. The clock provides an identical duration that constantly repeats itself, a duration to which one can always have recourse. The way in which the stretch of this duration is divided up is arbitrary. The clock measures time in so far as the stretch of the duration of an occurrence is compared with identical sequences on the clock and can thereby be numerically determined. [8]

Before the author proceeds to ponder,

What do we learn from the clock about time? Time is something in which a now-point may be arbitrarily fixed … no now-point of time is privileged over any other.[9]

The clock that one has, every clock, shows the time of being-with-one-another-in-the-world … The time made accessible by a clock is regarded as present – the spatial form is a spatiality of the present.[10]

Clocks constantly demonstrate the present moment in a spatialised form; it is correct to say that they contain within them and their workings no potential for tensed information. Clocks cannot mark the past nor the future. Helen Powell identifies further limitations of the clock, noting that ‘what the clock does not represent or communicate is its experiential dimension. For the time of consciousness, and indeed unconsciousness, contrasts starkly in shape and form with the rationalised world of mechanical measuring devices … Clocks spatialise time: they mark its passing from one moment to the next but offer us no sense of its meaning’.[11]

If clocks cannot show tense but can show the present moment, is it possible to define the present? Let us consider the concept of ‘now’ and ‘nowness’. ‘Now’ is often taken to have the same meaning as ‘present’, but they differ in one paramount respect – their implicit duration. The ‘present’ used as an abstract singular noun is generally agreed to indicate a temporal period that has a very small or if not no intersection into history (or the past), and a slightly greater intersection into the future, with actions and changes that can be immediately undertaken or come into fruition, without advanced planning. William James attempted to define this moment with even greater specificity, terming it ‘the specious present’ (after E.R. Clay) – ‘the prototype of all conceived time … the short duration of which we are immediately and incessantly sensible…We are constantly conscious of a certain duration – the specious present – varying in length from a few seconds to probably not more than a minute, and this duration (with its content perceived as having one part earlier and the other part later) is the original intuition of time’.[12]

‘Now’ is something quite altogether different, and Heidegger clearly separates the two phenomena in his comment that ‘this time of the present is explicated as a sequence constantly rolling through the now; a sequence whose directional sense is said to be singular and irreversible. Everything that occurs rolls out of an infinite future into an irretrievable past’.[13] Deductions possible from this statement are that the ‘present’ is a duration; ‘now’ is a fixed point in time; the ‘present’ rolls through the ‘now’ from the future to the past. Yet, if ‘now’ is a marked point, it is easy to appreciate that one is always chasing the ‘next now’ as it disappears to the ‘past now’ and brings the ‘new now’ into ‘nowness’. The concept of ‘now’ in everyday life is alienating. Let alone trying to grasp the ‘now’ of art? Or the ‘now’ of a perfume? It is also not to be forgotten that any attempt at feeling ‘now’ locates it in the past; all perception is retroactive; all thought is based on history; not to mention the unavoidable fact that there is an innate delay in the electrical impulses of sensation.

Let us now think about what time is under three headings:

  1. Time is the self
  2. Time is the future
  3. Time is direction

To think about how time is the self, consider Robin Le Poidevin on sensing time.

We see colours, hear sounds, and feel textures. Some aspects of the world, it seems, are perceived through a particular sense. Others, like shape, are perceived through more than one sense. But what sense or senses do we use when perceiving time?

Even if all our senses were prevented from functioning for a while, we could still notice the passing of time through the changing pattern of our thought.[14]

At first it would appear as if time is immune to the senses; as if time cannot be sensed but just is. To pursue our phenomenological line of thought further, it can be argued that if there is not a subject present to perceive time, then time does not exist at all, as time marks a subject’s existence as inextricably as a subject marks time with its actions. Time is grounded in subjectivity in the same way and at the same time as subjectivity is grounded in time.

This sentiment is echoed in Hegel’s assertion that ‘time is the being of the subject himself’, and in Heidegger that ‘time temporalises itself only as long as there are human beings … time temporalises itself only at one time [the present]’.[15] For Hegel, consciousness and its means of dividing thought into computable compartmentalised moments and memories is indicative of how consciousness creates time. He writes,

the self is what persists in and by itself, and its self-concentration interrupts the indefinite series of points of time and makes gaps in their abstract continuity; and in its awareness of its discrete experiences, the self recalls itself and find itself again and thus is freed from mere self-externalisation and change.[16]

Advocating Hegel’s strategy, Charles Ford puts forward that,

In this movement [the cyclical nature of self-consciousness, the dialectic by which it projects itself as an object and then cancels that objectified self by returning to the ‘subjective self’, [in] continuous temporal flux …], self-consciousness breaks up the undifferentiated continuum of ‘external’ time into differences, spans of time or temporal fields, in accordance with its cyclical nature.[17]

It can be theorised that the perception of time, not necessarily time itself, emanates from human being-in-the-world. Heidegger advances on this, claiming ‘Dasein … is time itself, not in time’.[18] Here, his famous noun Dasein designates ‘that entity in its Being which we know as human life; this entity in the specificity of its Being, the entity that we each ourselves are, which each of us finds in the fundamental assertion: I am’, paraphrased by Gregory Fried and Richard Polt ‘as a condition into which human beings enter’.[19]

To recap, point one, time can be thought of as the time of the self.

Point two, time is the future.

To return to Dasein, the condition into which human beings enter, its everydayness, its Being, Dasein has an intrinsic difference with time, producing a paradox if we consider Dasein to be time itself. Human life, Being, comes to an end, whereas time does not. Let us contend with Heidegger’s response to this issue; he notes,

The self-interpretation of Dasein which towers over every other statement … is its interpretation with respect to its death, the indeterminate certainty of its ownmost possibility of being at an end.[20]

Maintaining myself alongside my past in running ahead I have time … With regard to time, this means that the fundamental phenomenon of time is the future. In order to see this without seeing it as an interesting paradox, each specific Dasein must maintain itself in its running ahead.[21]

Fundamental human existence [Dasein] is not concerned with the now, but in the futural running ahead to the past. In this model, now is Nothing. To compensate, the everyday [Dasein] concerns itself with the clock in now, to forget Nothing [futural running ahead].[22]

The past remains closed off from any present so long as such a present, Dasein, is not itself historical – this points to temporal modes which cannot be crossed so long as consciousness is embedded in clock time, but there lies the hypothesis that if clock time is disengaged with consciousness, the temporal modes could be crossed.[23]

The author later encapsulates this thought pattern with his term ‘future historical Dasein’.[24]

Here is our first mention of a logic for temporal malleability. If time is not the self, then time could be the future, for this reason given by David Hugh Mellor, analysing John McTaggart’s idea that time doesn’t actually exist,

An event which is yesterday, for example, cannot also be tomorrow. Past, present, and future tenses are mutually incompatible properties of things and events. But because they are forever changing, everything has to have them all. Everything occupies every A series location, from the remotest future, through the present, to the remotest past. But nothing can really have incompatible properties, so nothing in reality has tenses.[25]

The only tense which is not inherently incompatible is the future as it is absolutely the future in its state of being futural, untainted by the interference of present and past, which have already undergone temporal transformation into incompatible categories. The future is not incompatible in and of itself, but becomes incompatible through its interaction with human Being. Let me repeat,

Fundamental human existence [Dasein] is not concerned with the now, but in the futural running ahead to the past.[26]

But even if the true essence of time is to be found in the essence of the future, it can only truly coming into Being through contact with human being-in-the-world. Refer to point one: time is the self. A possible resolution between the two ideas is that time is in fact direction. Not that time has a direction but is direction. Consider this hypothesis from John Campbell,

Suppose you are lost and finally pull out a map and try to get your bearings, an ordinary ordnance-survey map, say. What you have to do is to bring the information on the map into some kind of congruence with the spatial information that you have from perception. The map uses a frame of reference, the ordnance survey grid, to specify spatial relations. Through vision, you know some things are near, some further away, some up and to the left, some in front, and some behind. What you have to do is bring the two systems into congruence, so that you can say, ‘This is the telephone box here, the church is a good way behind us, and that is Wheatley over there. So the path must be off to the left down here’. When you manage that, you have orientated yourself with the frame of reference used in the map …

Can we make sense of a similar procedure in the case of time?[27]

It seems a ridiculous idea; even if there was a framework where a time-map could be possible, the most pressing issue would be how to account for change on the map. As we learnt above, time’s sequence has directional sense which is singular and irreversible. The space-constituting properties of space are unlikely to change so significantly that the tenants of the space-map do not hold; the same cannot be said of time. Take Le Poidevin and MacBeath on space, ‘it is a commonplace that time, not space, is the dimension of change … Purely spatial variation, for example the distribution of various colours in a patterned rug, does not count as genuine change’.[28]

They go on to note that,

Causal theories of time rely on the casual relation’s being asymmetric: that is, if A causes B, then B does not cause A. Only if the casual relation is asymmetric can the casual theorist explain the direction of time …  causal theorists … offer that time has a direction because causation has a direction. We might also add: time is the dimension of change because all changes involve causally connected states of affairs and time is the dimension of causality.[29]

The stream metaphor of time is important here, famously debated through Husserl. Yves Mayzaud notes that

Husserl’s primary concern is the conceptual necessity of metaphor. In order to conceive of time, Husserl has to embody it as a spatial form. Two hypotheses are possible: (1) there may be a limit to human understanding such that … the incapability of theoretically objectifying space apart from time and vice versa; (2) or, it is impossible to separate time and space … In other words, it would be necessary to assume that the temporalisation of consciousness involves its spatialisation.[30]

And continues, ‘the stream metaphor is therefore not just a classical trivial image but also a methodological device to grasp the ineffable in ordinary language’.[31]

Klockars develops on the direction theory of time by asking if perhaps ‘time [has] a direction because consciousness has a direction to objects?’[32] Powell notes that for Bergson, our experience of time is never unidirectional but rather, like the tide on a beach, it moves back and forth and any one moment of our lives is constituted by a revoking of the past and the potential offering of the future.[33]

We come back full circle to time being the self itself.

No conclusion can be reached; the best Heidegger could offer is that ‘in so far as time is in each case mine [is Dasein], there are many times. Time itself is meaningless; time is temporal.[34]

We must take the argument forward with these proposals for time’s identity in mind. Time is the self; time is the future; time is direction. Importantly, these theories present alternatives to clock time. If for nothing else, they are indications that perhaps art doesn’t function in clock time either but in another one of our aforementioned temporalities. Does perfume function in an alternate temporality?

What is artistic time?

So how does this help us understand time in the arts? Where is art’s time to be found? Is each art in its own time? How does an art’s medium affect its time-system? Film, as the quintessential time art in which every aspect of its making is directly engaged with time as a theme, will be addressed first. The plastic arts, and painting in particular, will come last as in many ways they are the most difficult to find common ground with existing time theories, and with perfumery. Lastly, a proposal for theorising olfactory time will emerge through evolution and integration of the art metaphysics discussed, how they specify temporal processes and structures in their respective arts, and implicating the olfactory experience as both a crucial and divergent portal to temporal malleability and transgressive metaphysical understanding.

What is cinematic time?

Directed by Damien Chazelle, scene from Whiplash, 2014

Powell’s analysis of cinematic time in her text Stop the Clocks! Time and Narrative in Cinema, in tandem with that of Deleuze, is foundational. She begins by addressing that ‘cinema is worthy of study in relation to our understanding of all matters temporal as it … has sought to grapple throughout its history with the representation of the personal, inter-personal, experiential and philosophical nuances of time’.[35] In recounting the history of temporal representation in cinema, Powell notes that the classical Hollywood narrative embodies a specific representation of temporal flow, rational and linear in its construction and that ‘fiction cinema also tends to distinguish between diegetic time and screen time, rarely brought together except in the few attempts at ‘real-time’ film making’.[36]

She continues,

As cinema evolved there was ‘a shift from presentation and monstration (simple time / real world model) to representation and narration (with a point of view and a more complex temporal model) …

Editing techniques provided a cinematic shorthand to move the spectator through space and time while seeking simultaneously, under the classical model, to avoid either defamiliarisation or distortion of one’s sense of place within the scene.[37]

Editing is one of the principle means to control time within film. Editing, particularly continuity editing such as rapidly cutting from shaving to dressing to eating breakfast to illustrate a character’s morning routine, functions to determine how much time a film will occupy and an early realisation of its effectiveness came in terms of how ‘narrative time could be accelerated or decelerated, intensified and concentrated by trimming away ‘dead time’’.[38]

Later in her text, Powell proposes that there are three layers of temporality contained with any film image: the time of registration (production); the time of narration (storytelling); and the time of its consumption (viewing).[39] Films that directly draw attention to the triad of cinematic temporal layers, and provide an alternative to the classical Hollywood linear model of time achieved through continuity editing, therefore present a substitute form of time within the history and normalcies of film. Donnie Darko is used as an example for which its time is frequently out of joint, slowed down, speeded up, and is visually foregrounded, more so than the proceedings which are held within its grasp, as well as cult classics Pulp Fiction and The Usual Suspects for foregrounding the relationship between ‘the temporality of the story and the order of its telling’.[40]

David Martin Jones tells us that Deleuze’s aim was ‘to categorise the different formal ways in which cinema expressed our changing conception of time’.[41] He draws attention to Deleuze’s distinction between two types of film image that he called the time-image, ‘broadly speaking … cinema … [that] experimented with discontinuous narrative time’, and the movement-image, ‘broadly speaking an unbroken, linear narrative, based upon the continuity editing rules established by the Hollywood studio system’.[42] In detail he explains,

Often time-image films have a formal experimentation with narrative time, and a meditation on character memory.[43]

The movement-image provides an indirect expression of time. To retain narrative coherence, it illustrates time through a character’s movement through space … The causal movement of the protagonist – from the perception of their surroundings, to an action based upon this perception – is used as a means of indirectly expressing time’s passing.[44]

No matter how disjointed the spaces are through which they travel, or how elliptical the narrative’s movement between them, the physical actions of the protagonist provides the logical link [in the movement-image]… and the passing of time is rendered subordinate to a character’s movement through space.[45]

In the words of Deleuze himself, ‘the essence of the cinematographic movement-image lies in extracting from vehicles or moving bodies the movement which is their common substance, or extracting from movements the mobility which is their essence … the indirect image of time’.[46] By contrast, in the time-image ‘it is no longer time that depends on movement; it is aberrant movement that depends on time’.[47] Deleuze qualifies this by stating that ‘a direct presentation of time does not imply the halting of movement, but rather the promotion of aberrant movement … on the basis of the disproportion of scales, the dissipation of centres and the false continuity of the images themselves’.[48]

Deleuze’s cinematic theory works in tandem with his theory of time. For Deleuze, time exists in a virtual state, but what we generally perceive of as time is its actualised form. Thus we will normally only be aware of one actualised path through the many that exist in the virtual labyrinth of time.[49] In the time-image, through its self-awareness and self-reference, time becomes actual alongside multiple, divergent paths with each fork in the labyrinth of time. Each such movement cannot help but falsify at least one of the pasts that preceded it.[50] Deleuze states that ‘our actual existence, then, whilst it is unrolled in time, duplicates itself along with a virtual existence, a mirror-image. Every moment of our life presents the two aspects, it is actual and virtual, perception on the one side and recollection on the other’.[51] The point at which time splits Deleuze terms the ‘crystal of time’.[52]

The more directly and visibly a film addresses time’s labyrinth, the closer it gets to the time-image. Patricia Pisters offers Fight Club (1999) and Pulp Fiction (1994) as ‘time images “disguised” as action-images’.[53] Whilst the scene from Whiplash embedded above shows itself as time-aware, bringing the awareness of time systems to the fore, it does not qualify as a time-image because its diagetic time (the time-telling of the story) is still linear. I believe that both the 2003 and 2004 volumes of Kill Bill and Birdman from 2014 can be considered time-images.

Directed by Quentin Tarantino, scene from Kill Bill: Volume 1, 2004

With its jumbled episodic nature, frequent flashbacks, slow motion, fast forwarding of story time, and prominent themes of revenge and inevitability, Kill Bill demonstrates time-image film-making through significant temporal malleability. And with Birdman, in this scene that nears the very end of the film, time almost comes to a standstill, as if the protagonist’s ability to perceive time is out of control, spilling across premonition and recollection, dreaming, euphoric and apocalyptic, references from earlier in the film return to climax the viewer into considerations of truth and reality, building into a distinctly atemporal finale.


Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, scene from Birdman¸ 2014

What is literary time?

Due to cinema’s inherent need for visual representation and tendency towards mimicking real world space, it is easier to think through and accept a shared temporal landscape with that of the real world. It is more difficult with literature. As Gregory Currie notes, ‘fictional events can only be present with respect to the time of their own world … If worlds are temporally connected we would expect them to be causally connected also, which they are generally assumed not to be’.[54] Literature functions quite autonomously in its own time. However, the delimiting and designation of literary time is problematic. It is difficult to locate fictions in the A Series (meaning tensed information of past, present, and future), but easy in the B Series (untensed – simply noting events that happen earlier, at the same time, or later than one another).[55]

Adam Mendilow has noted that the concern for time reveals itself in every art.[56] Nineteenth-century novelist Henry James once wrote, ‘… that side of the novelist’s effort – the side of most difficulty and thereby of most dignity which consists in giving the sense of duration, of the lapse and accumulation of time … This is altogether to my view the stiffest problem that the artist in fiction has to tackle’.[57] For the novelist, language is his medium, immanently consisting of consecutive units constituting a forward-moving linear form of expression that is subject, in Mendilow’s opinion, to three characteristics of time – transience, sequence, and irreversibility.[58] However, for Bergson, the cuts between words deny [language] the smoothness of durational flow, and thought is a movement, so there is a disconnect between the workings of time and the workings of the novel through the medium of language.[59]

This is compounded through Mendilow’s analysis that,

Bergson’s theory of durée … is a contribution not only to metaphysics but also to many of the fundamental problems of fiction. According to Bergson and his school, the intellect is an instrument forged by evolution to render action in a world of continual flux possible. It congeals the living flow of reality into a congeries of discontinuous acts, or hypostatises it into forms and concepts. The natural bent of our mentality tries to derive movement from a primary stasis, whereas movement is original and fixed states are secondary abstractions derived from it.[60]

One of the originary problems of literature, therefore, is communicating a sense of movement and duration through a static medium, removed from all visual cues of kinesis, to a consciousness that falsely believes that stasis is equilibrium, and movement is exceptional. It is another paradox.

In what is generally taken to be the climax of Sartre’s Nausea, his protagonist Antoine Roquentin is sitting in the municipal park contemplating reality. Just before this moment, Roquentin is on a tram, and considers,

This thing on which I’m sitting, on which I leaned my hand just now, is called a seat … This huge belly turns upwards, bleeding, puffed up – bloated with all its dead paws, this belly floating in this box, in this grey sky, is not a seat. It could just as well be a dead donkey, for example, swollen by the water and drifting along, belly up on a great grey river, a flood river; and I would be sitting on the donkey’s belly and my feet would be dangling in the clear water. Things have broken free from their names’.[61]

And in the park itself, he thinks,

It was there, installed on the park, tumbled into the trees, all soft, gumming everything up, all thick, a jelly. And I was inside with the whole of the park? I was frightened, but above all I was furious. I thought it was so stupid, so out of place, I hated that ignoble jelly. And there was so much of it, so much! It went up as high as the sky, it flowed away everywhere, it filled everything with gelatinous subsidence and I could see it going deeper and deeper, far beyond the limits of the park and the houses and Bouville, I was no longer at Bouville or anywhere, I was floating. [62]

In conflating narrative times, and extensive use of surprising extended metaphor, Sartre produces a text which is dense, rich and interpretative. Grammatical times are swapped and implemented freely; the reader is encouraged to plasticise the pace at which they read, sometimes faster, sometimes slower; and the pulsed return and disappearance of motifs serves to set the text into kinesis.

What is musical time?

As we have done for film and literature, let us consider the medium-specific boundaries that music imposes on itself to understand Charles Ford’s assertion that ‘musical time is how time is for music and its listeners. [That] music forms phenomenological time’.[63]

Mark Delaere helpfully clarifies some basic musical terms in his 2009 paper on time in twentieth-century music. The bare minimum for a rhythm simply constitutes two tones delineated by two separate attack points that may or may not correspond to a beat. A beat is defined by implicit rhythmic groupings of equal wholly divisible recurring durations. Meter constitutes multiple consistent beats. Tempo is meter applied to clock time.[64] He goes on to note that ‘curricula in conservatoires of music and university music departments have subjects such as harmony, counterpoint, and ear training, with a focus on pitch intervals and chords, but it is hard to find a course on tempo, meter, and rhythm’, which is odd considering that time is arguably the principle vehicle for musical communication.[65]

Justin London states in the opening pages of Hearing in Time that,

The guiding hypothesis of this book is that meter [the formation of multiple consistent beats] is particular kind of a more general behaviour. The same processes by which we attend to the ticking of a clock, the footfalls of a colleague passing in the hallway, the gallop of a horse, or the drip of a faucet also are used when we listen to a Bach adagio, tap our toes to a Mozart overture, or dance to Duke Ellington. As such, meter is not fundamentally musical in origin. Rather, meter, is a musically particular form of entrainment or attunement, a synchronisation of some aspect of our biological activity with regularly recurring events in the environment … Meter is one of the ways in which our senses are guided in order to form representation of musical reality.[66]

London then produces a refined definition of meter as ‘first and foremost grounded in the perception and production of a pulse or a tactus … But a tactus, in and of itself, is insufficient for a sense of meter. [Here he means a pulse which is always a downbeat 1, 1, 1, 1] … At minimum, a metrical pattern requires a tactus coordinated with one other level of organisation [and here he is implying a regular time signature of 2/4 – 1 2, 1 2, 1 2, 1 2]’.[67] This can be said to form normative, linear, potentially ‘natural’ meter.

As documented by Edward Campbell, in the composer Pierre Boulez’s Darmstadt lectures (which are undoubtedly the most systematic formulation of his ideas), Boulez identifies two main pitch space states, which he terms striated space and smooth space.[68] Striated space is marked by a standard, regular measure, which creates clear perceptual landmarks for the ear to orient itself, whereas smooth space is free, irregular, and dispenses with all points of reference. There is a clear comparison here to be made between striated and smooth musical space, and Deleuze’s movement and time film-images.

In fact, [Deleuze and Guattari] use Boulez’s opposition of striated and smooth pitch space as models to enable them to articulate the concepts of striated thought and smooth thought.[69] The distinction of pulsed and non-pulsed time is related by Deleuze and Guattari to that of Chronos and Aion, two distinct, yet complementary conceptions of time which Deleuze, after Goldschmidt, believes originate with stoic philosophy.[70] Whereas Chronos ‘is composed only of interlocking presents’, Aion ‘is constantly decomposed into elongated pasts and futures’.[71] In this model, events have ‘no present. [They] rather retreat and advance in two directions at once, being the perceptual object of a double question: what is going to happen? What has just happened? What is going to happen? What has just happened?[72] Boulez engaged with these ideas as a writer and composer. Boulez suggests that smooth and striated time are ‘capable of reciprocal interaction, since time cannot be only smooth or only striated’.[73] A contemporary of Boulez, the composer Gérard Grisey said ‘real musical time is only a place of exchange and coincidence between an infinite number of different times’.[74]

Boulez was not the only composer to become interested in musical time theory. In his Treatise on Rhythm, Olivier Messiaen sets out his three laws of experienced duration:

  1. Experience of duration in the present: the more events in the present, the shorter our experience of duration for that moment in the present; the fewer events, the longer our experience of duration.
  2. Retrospective evaluation of time passed: the more events in the past, the longer our experience of duration for that moment in the past; the fewer events in the past, the shorter our experience of duration for that moment in the past.
  3. The relation onset / duration: a short tone followed by a rest seems longer than a sustained tone of the same duration.[75]

In terms of concrete musical examples of these ideas, Campbell illustrates that it is perhaps only with Claude Debussy that composition moves at significant moments beyond playing with pulse to something which creates the sonic illusion of a static music.[76] Vladimir Jankélévitch (Bergson’s one-time pupil) enumerates a long list of Debussy’s compositions where the temporality is static, including the end of Prelude from Pour le piano, The Snow is dancing and Jardins sous le pluie.[77] For Jankélévitch, Debussy’s Parfums de la nuit ‘sprawls voluptuously as if time no longer existed’.[78]

Claude Debussy, excerpt from ‘Parfums de la nuit’ in Images pour orchestra (Ibéria), 1905–1908

However, as with striated and smooth thought, as well as Deleuze’s crystal of time, the condition of completely unpulsed time is more an aspiration than something that is achieved definitely in any artwork, just as is the time-image in film.[79]

What is painterly time?

Hegel proposed that music, because of its temporal nature, does not stand over and against us like a statue, painting, novel, or poem.[80] The plastic arts are implicated in his statement as spatially and temporally static. Yuri Lotman’s appeal that in every art which employs vision and iconic signs there is only one possible artistic time – the present – is on a different theme but shares the sentiment that the plastic arts are somehow limited and reduced by their own static material-specific boundaries.[81]

Brendan Prendeville has analysed temporality in regards to Henri Matisse. He claims that Matisse did not seek to represent temporal change; that the artist ‘understood that duration inhered in the attentive acts of painter and viewer respectively, with reference to an inescapably static object’. [82] An adjacent view is taken by Eric Alliez who argues that Matisse demonstrates, ‘as no one else before, the plastic reality of time and the temporality of the event in art’, making clear his approval of an art that avoids what it cannot achieve in his view (marking temporal change) in favour of a reflexive approach that highlights the temporality of the making and the viewing of a painting, in a similar fashion to Powell’s cinematic temporal layers.[83] In corroboration of this, Matisse himself in ‘Notes of a Painter’ observes that,

… a man hurling a discus will be caught at the moment in which he gather his strength. Or at least, if he is shown in the most strained and precarious position implied by his action, the sculptor will have epitomised and condensed it so that equilibrium is re-established, thereby suggesting the idea of duration … Movement is in itself unstable and is not suited to something durable like a statue, unless the artist is aware of the entire action of which he represents only a moment’.[84]


Henri Matisse, Interior with Aubergines, 1911, oil on canvas, Musée de Grenoble

From this framework, Alliez attempts his analysis of Matisse’s Interior with Aubergines, as follows:

[the painting] presents itself as an explosive and discontinuous multiplication of stacked or nested planes that are quasi-rectangular, but often slanted and covered in swirling or lightly suspended motifs … [it] carries out an un-framing of any view or staging whatsoever of an ‘interior’…. Its duration is no longer extensive (i.e. a distribution of objects narrating a whole life within an interior). It is entirely, and intensively, processual: a diagrammatisation of all the forces that make the Painting-Form explode.[85]

… form is that which slips away and, in its place, we have colour-forces in a constant vital confrontation, colour-forces that push beneath forms and beyond the painting, in the manner of tensors. The generalised tensitivity of space, which is thereby open to the entire expressive matter of duration as well as to its plastic condition of real experience, results from its appropriation by the processuality of a vital energetics that replaces the aesthetics of forms composed (fixed) in space.[86]

Alliez sees tensitivity, one of the basest forms of information, in the remarkably simple painterly technique of foregrounding colour, a tenant of the painting medium, over almost everything else in the painting. Temporality in this model is to be found in the interplay of formalism over iconography.


James McNeill Whistler, Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, 1862, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Edouard Manet, Luncheon on the Grass, 1863, Paris, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay

James Day takes a different approach to seeking time in art. He reviews two paintings: James McNeil Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1862) and Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass (1863). Day responds to the fact that both paintings were scandals at the 1863 Paris salon, the academy denying them wall space.[87] He sees their temporalities existing through the specific iconographic symbols and motifs which these artists borrowed, tempered, and transformed, and indeed those that went on to inspire later artists through the works’ enduring visual language that ‘actually anticipates the work of art historians’.[88]

Specifically, Day states,

Both paintings contain past and future art objects and writings, which surge through their canvases … For example in Luncheon on the Grass there is Giorgione / Titian’s Pastoral Concert (c. 1509), Marcantonio Raimondi after Raphael’s Judgement of Paris (c. 1515 – 16), Antoine Watteau’s Tranquil Love (1718), and Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) …


Titian / Giorgione, Pastoral Concert, c. 1509, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris


Marcantonio Raimondi after Raphael, Judgement of Paris, c. 1515 – 16, engraving, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Antoine Watteau, Tranquil Love, 1718, oil on canvas, Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin


Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art, New York

And in The White Girl, Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s White Duck (1753), Watteau’s Pierrot (Les Grand Gilles) (1717-19), and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Immaculate Conception of the Escorial (1678).[89]


Jean-Baptiste Oudry, White Duck, 1753, oil on canvas, stolen 1990


Antoine Watteau, Pierrot (Les Grand Gilles), 1717-19, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris


Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Immaculate Conception of the Escorial, 1678, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid

His conclusion is based on the novel notion that the time of each of these paintings, in fact any work of art, is transformed by historical referents and future uses – what it appropriated and what will appropriate it; as if the act of remembering past works and future remembrance elasticises its temporal shape, extending it though an art historical canon. The noteworthy notion that the artists themselves affect their work’s inherent sense of artistic time by anticipating and hoping for material and scholastic appropriation transitions nicely into Catherine Malabou’s understanding of the French idiom ‘voir venir’ and its necessary application to art.

Writing in the preface to Malabou’s 1998 text on Hegel, Jacques Derrida champions his student’s explication of the term plasticity in reference to Hegelian philosophy, and the lexical shorthands ‘voir venir’ [to see what is coming] and ‘devenir essential de l’accident / devenir accidentel de l’essence’ [becoming essential of accident / becoming accidental of essence’.[90] Malabou defines plasticity as ‘first of all the excess of the future over the future … plasticity … describes the nature of that which is ‘plastic’, being at once capable of receiving and of giving form … Plasticity’s native land is the field of art … The plastic arts are those whose central aim is the articulation and development of forms’.[91]

Derrida and Malabou view ‘voir venir’ [to see what is coming] as the ultimate plastic phrase – heavily engaged with time, it perfectly represents Deleuze’s temporal labyrinth opening the future to infinite possibilities and then instantaneously alienating the one true present by falsifying all other lost potential histories. Yet, it does more than that. It inserts within Deleuze’s idea the potential, just as you reach the crystal of time, just as future splits into present, history and lost history, that you will know what is coming. That you will, for a brief moment, time travel.

Plasticity in art and theory is important because time is plastic. Time corresponds to Malabou’s refined definition of plastic as ‘things … that … preserve their shape … once given a configuration, [they are] unable to recover [their] initial form’.[92] If plasticity is a property of time, that which is plastic keeps closer to a truer character of time than that which is not plastic. Under first inspection it appeared that painting was far from our discourse; in fact, could painting be an even truer time art? To the question, what is artistic time, we can say – artistic time is plastic time; time is plastic.

What is olfactory time?

Finally, to the climax of this paper – to attempt to answer the question, what is olfactory time? To recap: we surveyed the multiple metaphysical approaches for defining what time is before exploring applications of theoretical time in art-making. Where might we now look to make sense of time in perfume? Should we look to James’ specious present, Heidegger’s future historical Dasein, Husserl’s stream metaphor, Deleuze’s crystal of time, or perhaps Bergson’s durée? Does it even matter?

What we can say. Yes it does matter. It matters because time is the essential primordial recourse from which consciousness emanates. Turning away from time is to turn away from consciousness. To repeat some deductions from the beginning of this thesis. Time itself is a phenomenon; time is plastic; artistic time is a phenomenon. Therefore, olfactory time is also a phenomenon specific to perfume in and of itself. Perfume is a time art in the same way that music and film are time arts – perfume must unfold itself in time. Perfume is intimately connected with selfhood. Under certain conditions, time can be defined as the self. Time, in its actualised form, appears to necessitate direction. Perfume also must have a directional olfactory development. Perfume forms phenomenological time. Given these strategic clues, in order to arrive at a more precise definition of how time is for perfume, we must consider how perfume time is constituted in real olfactory experiences.

Let us start with its medium-specific properties, how that leads to its temporal structure, and therefore temporal effects. Charles Sell’s text Understanding Fragrance Chemistry is an outstanding piece of work that sets out the most challenging aspects of fragrance chemistry with enthusiasm and clarity. To quote him at length,

The odour families are considered to fall into three larger groups, based largely on their volatility [top, mid, base] … A well-constructed perfume will have notes that blend well and run into each other successfully as the perfume evaporates.[93]

Persistence and tenacity refer to the length of time that a perfume or perfume ingredient will remain detectable. It depends to a considerable degree on its volatility. The more volatile (lower boiling) a substance is, the more easily it will evaporate and thus be lost by diffusion in the air. Two main factors determine volatility. The first is molecular weight; the heavier a molecule is, the more difficult it is to move it from the liquid phase to the gas phase. Molecules with fewer than eight carbon atoms in their structure are mostly too volatile to be of use in perfume. Similarly, those with more than 18 carbon atoms are usually not volatile enough to reach the olfactory receptors in the nose. So, as a general rule, perfume ingredients have between eight and 18 carbon atoms in their empirical formula.[94]

Volatility is also affected by the ability of molecules to form non-bonded interactions between each other and to any surface or medium on which they are placed. The more polar a molecule is, the more easily will it form electrostatic bonds, such as hydrogen bonds, to other molecules around it, whether they are other fragrance molecules, cellulose (e.g. paper or cotton fibres), or proteins (e.g. skin or hair). Therefore we can look at the size of a fragrance molecule and its polarity, and from these estimate how long it will persist of a perfumer’s blotter.[95]

Impact is the intensity of perceived sensation and is a very subjective phenomenon … It can only be measured using human subjects … no simple physical measurement such as concentration exists. The way in which intensity varies with concentration can be shown as … the psychophysical curve or psychophysical function of a material. [96]

These are the property-specific margins from which the medium of perfume can come into being, comparable to film’s visual movement, literature’s lexicon, music’s pitch and rhythm, and painting’s form and colour. The formal rudiments of perfume are scent character (prescribing categories such as woody and effects such as creamy) and volatility (which in turns codifies longevity and projection). However, the olfactory experience presents a paradox that causes significant problems for time determination in fragrance. Whilst changes and movements (whether they be rhythmic, kinetic, or otherwise) can be objectively tracked in other artistic mediums, the olfactory event can be considered an unachievable myth as its sensorial perception is vulnerably subjective and highly constituted by fluctuating memory and expectation. It is very possible to smell materials that don’t exist in a formula, to not smell those that do, or to feel a specific accord lingering through the base of composition because it was detected in the opening, whereas others smelling the dry down do not register it at all.

Committing to a phenomenological stance, it must be recognised that real-life olfactory experiences are very different from theoretical olfactory formulae and that any attempt to form an epistemology must reside in the former. Change and causation are the prime indicators of time (through events), but is it near impossible to specify them in fragrance experiences. How does one know when bergamot has fully left the skin and sandalwood takes over? How can one be sure that now is the exact moment when rose takes on greater impact than iris, or when the banana facet of jasmine exposes itself? This is not even to mention the genuine neologisms that can be created through note combinations. That said, it cannot be ignored that perfumes do change over time, some journeying from volatile to heavy components legibly quickly like Habit Rouge by Guerlain and 1697 by Frapin, others taking the entire day to expose the base, for example L’Air du Desert Marocain by Tauer Perfumes and Miss Dior Le Parfum by Christian Dior; perfumes such as Le Parfum de Therese by Frederic Malle and Absolue Pour le Matin by Maison Francis Kurkdjian undulate across many different themes, whereas Cool Water by Davidoff and Black Orchid by Tom Ford decrease in clarity and strength at a steady gradient from detergent fanfare to soft cleanness, and interstellar dark chocolate oriental to more grounded oriental, respectively.

Development in scent is always incremental, gradual, and often barely perceptible until it is over, revealing itself through intersections between accords, material subclasses, and seamless curving balances rather than compartmentalised and neat scent segments. The fragrance triangle may be a useful educational tool but it is entirely defunct at explaining perfume time and the manner in which it is felt and experienced. I suggest that one reason a scent vernacular has never been officially established is not due to perfume’s communicative inability and innate necessity for simile, as is so often assumed, but more to the fact that it is so painstaking to pin down identifiable olfactory events, changes, markings, and sections.

It may not be possible to determine olfactory events as they take place, but it is possible to anticipate them and therefore locate oneself in a perfume in respect to the concurrent moment of smelling, in respect to now. The olfactory differs from other sensorial and artistic experiences in one outstanding respect – its inherent future-willing vista from a locus of interlocking presents. No matter the composition nor smell type, regardless of how complex or opaque an impression, fragrance will always allow the recipient instantaneous insight into its structure from point of access (moment of olfaction) looking forward to the end of its life (no material left to detect); the ability to smell through fragrance structures and to literally sense what is coming makes perfume highly unusual in its temporality and like no other time art. A perfume’s development can never be surveyed but it can always be foreseen. This is not synonymous to predicting a cinematic car crash from a frenzied police chase, nor assuming a perfect cadence in Beethoven from the suspension. The paramount difference is that, with perfume, one can actually smell through to the future before it has arrived.

The olfactory experience has the genuine potential to confound clock time, and that is perhaps one reason why it is so evocative for memory and why Heidegger commented (as previously referenced) ‘one can, as it were, smell the Being of such buildings [a high school], and often after decades one still has the scent in one’s nose’.[97] His indecisive but crucial clause ‘as it were’ indicates that perhaps Heidegger was not referring to the literal process of olfaction and the biochemical mechanisms of smelling, but instead to how olfaction is for consciousness (intrusive, involuntary, fleeting) and the way olfaction works (temporally indeterminate, future-facing, potential clock-time transgression). Both Being itself and scents themselves are subject to encapsulation by Heidegger; the high school’s Being (over its history) is embodied by its smell, and the high school’s complete scent is embodied by a single scent experience over a limited temporal range and restricted spatial access (i.e. not every single smell of every part of the building from its construction until now). Is Heidegger correct to represent the olfactory whole from a snapshot? I believe the answer to this question provides validity for a neo-adverbalist theory of olfactory time that allows recognition of change, causality, movement irrespective of the unqualifiable olfactory event.

In her 2001 text How Things Persist, Katherine Hawley outlines methods the philosopher can implement to index objects into temporal intervals ‘in much the same way as they occupy spatial regions’.[98] Her prime case study is that of a banana and its metamorphosis from green to yellow to brown as it ripens. Application of perdurance theory would hold a supratemporal approach that the banana in fact never truly exists in the present and that its different colour states speak out against and over time, marking the green, yellow, and brown bananas as entirely sovereign objects linked by the presence of consciousness.[99] In contrast, Hawley advocates endurance theory which proposes the opposite in that

the banana persists as wholly present regardless of time, through time, and stands atemporally in different relation to different times – the being green at relation to times on Monday, and the being yellow at relation to times on Friday. How the banana is at different times is made true or false by those relations between the banana and the times.[100]

Endurance theory announces a ‘relation to times’ response to the problem of change, holding the time index that object O satisfies the predicate ‘is F’ at time t, giving the time-indexed property F-at-t.[101] Adverbalism shifts the emphasis of the time index so that instead of an object’s properties being relative to the time in which it exists, ‘the having-of-property is relative to time’: [O is F-at-t] becomes [O has F t-ly].[102] In this model, time is adverbalised to conclude, in the most traditional existentialist sense, that existence precedes essence, and it is possible to glimpse a stable and exact core meaning of a thing at any point across its lifecycle despite inevitable corruptions and superficiality by different temporal states. In other words, snapshots do represent the whole.

To applications of adverbalism. Literature is the simplest medium through which to understand alternative diagetic times; it is quite easy to accept that a literary protagonist could be driving in the past, speaking in the present, or even running in the fictional future, and of no consequence if the diagetic time is different from the time of consciousness as the text is read. Diagesis is much more problematic for non-narrative non-representational forms. However, one deducible tautology is that perfume, like music, has a quantifiable beginning and an end and that these brackets must coincide diagetic and earthly times. When the music ends, its Being is incarcerated both within musical discourse and in the concert hall. Perfume, unlike film and literature, lacks tensors defined by movement in nature. The phenomenon that perfume has a future-willing vista, that one’s anticipated future olfactive and present olfactive are conflated in one detection in the nose (are simultaneous) reflects an unnatural relationship with tense and clock-time nowness, and means that it is impossible for perfume to have narrative tense given the untensed simultaneity innate to the olfactory experience. It is therefore more correct to speak about perfume in terms of the B series (earlier, at the same time, later) in considering its diagesis.

The ontological pathway presented above demonstrates that fragrance perception is intimately linked with temporal perversion as we know time in the conscious, social, and spatial worlds. My theory presented here is that it is possible to locate oneself in perfume’s own idiosyncratic diagetic time and its relationship to ‘real’ time by applying an adverbalist temporal-subset determinant under the following guide: the more a perfume exposes how time really is (fragmented, incompatible, dissolution of the concept of now), rather than the way in which consciousness bends it to appear (regulated, accessible, consistent), the smoother it becomes in the Deleuzian sense (a direct image of time) and therefore the closer it is to the originary nature of Being-ness as defined by Heidegger; the more a perfume conforms to expected editing and exact synchronisation of scent character and volatility (e.g. citruses diffusing impactfully into moderate-strength flowers and soft long-lasting woods), the more striated it is (an indirect image of time) and therefore more in-line with the paradoxes of clock time.

Metaphysical smoothness (uncovering time’s discontinuous essence) is proposed by the dialogue between perfume’s medium-specific rudiments (scent character and scent volatility) and their coincidence and / or discordance with each other at different moments in a fragrance’s development. As determining the completion of events in perfumery is counterintuitive, the dialogic of scent rudiments is in turn coded primarily by adverbial propositions and not by noun-based facts; not ‘the spicy facet of Pour Un Homme’s lavender has subsided to sweetness’ but instead how quickly / slowly / obviously / subtly has lavender’s spicy facet subsided? How simply or complexly, how intensely or weakly, how predictably or surprisingly? The opposition of smooth and striated philosophical thought remains as relevant to fragrance as it is for cinema, music, and art.

The adverbalist temporal-subset determinant assesses, at the hypothetical present in which one encounters a scent, whether it is smooth or striated and as a result defines the adverb in the time index [O has F t-ly]. Heidegger was correct; the snapshot represents the olfactory whole in so far as temporal modes are distorting real-time olfactory properties (such as the speed at which notes blend) as long as its ultimate teleology remains true (all scents die away to nothing in a negative exponential). Compare Fils de Dieu du riz et des agrumes by Etat Libre d’Orange with La Colle Noire by Christian Dior. Whilst their notes and effects reflect very few similarities, both scents play with the relationship between accord transitions and expected note diffusion. The former’s structure is very unique – combining a bracingly fresh tart top (ginger, coriander, lime, shiso, bergamot), with a cocooning grainy floral heart (rice, coconut, rose, cardamom, jasmine, cinnamon), on a soft but animalic base (tonka bean, vetiver, musk, amber, leather, castoreum). Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this fragrance is its melodramatic development through time. The contrast of the exuberant fresh opening to the dark sensual dry down would have one think they are experiencing an entirely different scent. With so many antagonistic complex materials of differing fragrance families and groupings, facet emphasis constantly changes as the more volatile materials give way quickly and abruptly to heavy, high-impact, low-projection base notes. Fils de Dieu foregrounds its relationship to time (it could have been a cologne but changed character; it could have been a floral but changed again; it could have been savoury gourmand; but settled on a leathery oriental base) and in doing so finds commonality with smooth Deleuzian time.

In a similar manner, La Colle Noire defies expectation for rose-based fragrances by handling its main material in a peculiar manner which extends the rose effect across the whole cycle of the fragrance. Upon application, La Colle Noire has very low diffusion and weak intensity, centring on rose de mai with soft citric lift. Through its development, the scent remains remarkably stable in strength and effervescence. The peripheral materials come and go as one would expect on a normal evaporation curve as per stereotypical rose fragrances, but unusually the rose itself never lessens, probably achieved through a high dosage of natural rose absolute combined with low levels of lemon to avoid exaggerated brightness, and a significant amount of musks. With each iteration of a new theme, the unwavering rose is there as accompaniment, providing a substantial challenge to the way in which note groupings are generally expected to flow over time. This is in contrast to scents such as My Burberry by Burberry and Chergui by Serge Lutens that both perfectly synchronise their materials to the generic allotted diffusion zones of the archetypal fragrance triangle. The result is highly regular and neat, and suggests the workings of a striated space in which temporal mechanics are sublimated in favour of championing nowness and hiding inconsistency.

What implications does an evaluation of smooth olfactory time have on the way we feel time in the real world? It has been repeatedly suggested throughout this paper that when the arts fall into applications of clock time, as in Hollywood cinema’s linear time sense or Boulez’s striated pitch space, they verge into an internal dialectics that is inward-facing and in doing so they are unable to recover awareness of Dasein’s real constitution, or being-in-the-world, both in art and in philosophy. However, following the formation of an autonomous artistic canon of clock time, manipulating an art’s medium-specific time properties, such as losing musical meter or dispensing with painterly form, can produce an abstraction which is somehow closer to pure Being-ness. Yet, it is valid to question what this common strand indicates across the arts? Why is the norm often defined by clock time, across the different arts, and throughout history? Is this suggestive of an ultimately natural way of contending with time in art and perfume, grounded in realism, tending away from abstraction, and in simple truths such as music must have meter and painting must have form?

In fact, I believe, yes. And here is one possible answer as to why. In metaphysical discourse, objects of contemplation must be put into conversation with time, space, and Being. Yet, Being and language are inextricable – if you analyse consciousness you must at the same time always be aware of analysing language also. This is because consciousness, funded by the paramount principle of language, is logocentric. I am referring here to the proto-Saussurian notion that logos, the originary ground of reasoning and deduction often implemented as speech and signifier, has its essence in binary relations. Words only attain meaning in their difference to other words; a shark is only a shark because it is not a whale; each and every aspect of human consciousness has an antonym as point of difference which gives it meaning; the present is only the present because it is not the past.

Consciousness is the ultimate logocentrism as it unfolds only in relation to its Other which is death. In a world of consciousness, our world, every world that can be known to us, words and things are plunged into particularity in relation to difference. The adjective ambiguous, for example, irrespective of what it signifies in the codes of language, has an absolute relation to itself – there is no other word that can be more like-the-adjective-ambiguous than the adjective ambiguous itself.  Let me repeat – words have absolute relations to themselves; but have a relational difference to everything else. Time is not like words, or objects, or consciousness – my personal contribution to metaphysics in this paper is to argue that time is not logocentric.  It is absolute to everything else and only becomes relational to itself (in this case meaning its splitting open into the triad of past, present, and future) through its contact with consciousness. Time has no Other. Even if time did not exist in this or that universe, the concept of time would still be ticking.

We have been supposing that perfume can be grouped together with the arts – that perfume is an art. I stand by that. Through consciousness, art is logocentric, and perfume is logocentric too. That said, we have seen how, in a most peculiar fashion, art is able to verge away from clock time and hint at alternate temporalities through its manipulation of its own time properties – the almost disappearance of the pulse in music; literature’s very nearly kinesis; painting’s call to formlessness and appropriation; film’s foregrounding of time in the time image; perfume’s disjunction between scent character and volatility. However (and if you take nothing else away from this paper then I would like you to take away this), as in the words of Edward Campbell ‘the condition of completely unpulsed time is more an aspiration than something that is achieved definitely in any artwork’.[103] 

Art and perfume can never break time. Art and perfume must always be in time; however, it can be proposed that when an art hints at alternate temporal layers through plasticising its capacity to represent time, then art and perfume initiate a rupture in time.

Here we have the beginnings of an olfactory metaphysics that makes sense of perfume time in its own right.


[1] Heidegger M., Introduction to Metaphysics trans. Fried G. and Polt R. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000) p. 36.

[2] Classen C., Howes D. and Synnott A., Aroma: the cultural history of smell (London: Routledge, 1994) p. 5.

[3] Ibid, p.3.

[4] Heidegger, Introduction, p. 141.; Ibid, p. 38.

[5] Ibid, p. 12-13.

[6] Klockars K., Sartre’s Anthropology as a Hermeneutics of Praxis (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 1998) p. 66.

[7] Heidegger M., The Concept of Time (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1992) p. 2.

[8] Ibid, p. 4.

[9] Ibid, p. 4.

[10] Ibid, p. 17.

[11] Powell H., Stop the Clocks! Time and Narrative in Cinema (London: Tauris & Co., 2012) p. 2.

[12] James W., The Principles of Psychology ed. Burkhardt F., Bowers F., and Skrupskelis I. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981) p. 603.

[13] Heidegger, The Concept of Time, p. 18.

[14] Le Poidevin R., ‘The Experience and Perception of Time’ in [accessed 15:42 9th April 2016]

[15] Hegel G.F., Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art trans. Knox T.M. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974) p. 908.; Heidegger, Introduction, p. 89.

[16] Hegel, Aesthetics, p. 914.

[17] Ford C., ‘Musical Presence: Towards a New Philosophy of Music’ in [accessed 15:48 9th April 2016]

[18] Heidegger, The Concept of Time, p. 13-14.

[19] Ibid, p. 6.; Fried G. and Polt R., ‘Translators’ Introduction’ in Heidegger, Introduction,p. xii.

[20] Heidegger, The Concept of Time, p. 11.

[21] Ibid, p. 14.

[22] Ibid, p. 16-17.

[23] Ibid, p. 19.

[24] Heidegger, Introduction, p. 99.

[25] Mellor D.H., ‘The unreality of tense’ in Le Poidevin R. and MacBeath M. eds., The Philosophy of Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) p. 51.

[26] Heidegger, The Concept of Time, p. 16.

[27] Campbell J., Past, Space, and Self (London: The MIT Press, 1994) p. 37.

[28] Le Poidevin R. and MacBeath M. eds., The Philosophy of Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) p. 1.

[29] Ibid, p. 6-7.

[30] Mayzaud Y., ‘The Metaphor of the stream: critical approaches’ in Lohmar D. and Yamaguchi I. eds., On Time – New Contributions to the Husserlian Phenomenology of Time (London: Springer, 2010) p. 146.

[31] Ibid, p. 137.

[32] Klockars K., Sartre’s Anthropology, p. 73-74.

[33] Powell, Stop the Clocks, p. 18.

[34] Heidegger, Introduction, p. 21.

[35] Powell, Stop the Clocks, p. 3.

[36] For ‘the classical Hollywood narrative’ see Ibid p. 2-3; Ibid, p. 8.

[37] Ibid, p. 20.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid, p. 3-4.

[40] For ‘Donnie Darko’ see Ibid, p. 37.; Ibid, p. 117.

[41] Martin-Jones D., Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity: Narrative Time in National Contexts (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006) p. 7.

[42] Ibid, p.2.

[43] Ibid, p. 3.

[44] Ibid, p. 20.

[45] Ibid, p. 21.

[46] Deleuze G., Cinema 1: The Movement-Image (London: The Althone Press, 1986, edition 2005) p. 24-31.

[47] Deleuze G., Cinema 2: The Time-Image (London: The Althone Press, 1989) p. 41.

[48] Ibid, p. 36-37.

[49] Martin-Jones, Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity, p. 24.

[50] Ibid, p.25.

[51] Deleuze, Cinema 2, p. 79.

[52] Ibid. p. 68.

[53] For Fight Club see Pisters P., The Matrix of Visual Culture (California: Stanford University Press, 2003) p. 79; for Pulp Fiction see Ibid, p. 104.

[54] Currie G., ‘Tense and Egocentricity in Fiction’ in Le Poidevin R. ed., Questions of time and tense (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998) p. 272.

[55] Ibid, p. 268.

[56] Mendilow A.A., Time and the Novel (London: Peter Nevill Ltd., 1952) p. 12.

[57] James H., Notes on Novelists (London: J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1914) p. 349.

[58] Mendilow, Time and the Novel, p. 32.

[59] Day J., ‘Durational Rhetorical Movement’ in Mullarkey J. and de Mille C. eds., Bergson and The Art of Immanence: Painting, Photography, Film (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013) p. 156.

[60] Mendilow, Time and the Novel, p. 149.

[61] Sartre J-P., Nausea trans. Baldick R., (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2000) p. 179 -80.

[62] Ibid, p. 192.

[63] Ford, ‘Musical Presence’ in [accessed 15:48 9th April 2016]

[64] Delaere M., ‘Tempo, metre, rhythm. Time in twentieth-century music’ in Delaere M., London J., Decroupet P., Brubaker B., and Pace I., Unfolding time: Studies in Temporality in Twentieth-Century Music (Portland: Leaven University Press, 2009) p. 18.

[65] Ibid, p. 13.

[66] London J., Hearing in Time: Psychological Aspects of Musical Meter (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) p. 4.

[67] Ibid, p. 17.

[68] Campbell E., Music After Deleuze (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013) p. 71.

[69] Ibid, p. 75.

[70] Ibid, p. 103.

[71] Deleuze G., The Logic of Sense trans. Lester M. and Stivale C. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990) p. 61-62.

[72] Ibid, p. 63.

[73] Boulez P., Orientations: Collected Writings trans. Cooper M. (London: Faber and Faber, 1986) p. 87.

[74] Grisey G., ‘Tempus ex machina: a composer’s reflections on musical time’ in Contemporary Music Review 2 (1), p. 274.

[75] Messiaen O., Traité de rythme, de couleur, et d’ornithologie I (Paris: Editions musicales Alphonse Leduc,1994) p.21.

[76] Campbell, Music After Deleuze, p. 122.

[77] Jankélévitch V., Debussy et le mystère de l’instant (Paris: Plon, 1989) p. 130-131.

[78] Ibid, p. 133-4.

[79] Campbell, Music After Deleuze, p. 130.

[80] Hegel, Aesthetics, p. 893-909.

[81] Lotman Y., Semiotics of the Cinema trans. Suino M. (Ann Arbor: University of Michegan Press, 1976) p. 77.

[82] Prendeville B., ‘Painting the Invisible: Time, Matter, and the Image in Bergson and Michel Henry’ in Mullarkey and de Mille eds., Bergson and The Art of Immanence, p. 196.

[83] Alliez E., ‘Matisse, Bergson, Oiticia, etc.’ in Mullarkey and de Mille eds., Bergson and The Art of Immanence, p. 64.

[84] Matisse H., ‘Notes of a Painter’ in Flam J. ed. trans., Matisse on Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) p. 37.

[85] Alliez, ‘Matisse’ in Mullarkey and de Mille eds., Bergson and The Art of Immanence, p. 65-66.

[86] Ibid, p. 67.

[87] Day, ‘Durational Rhetorical Movement’ in Mullarkey and de Mille eds., Bergson and The Art of Immanence, p. 148.

[88] Ibid, p. 152.

[89] Ibid, p. 148.

[90] Derrida J., ‘Preface: A time for farewells. Heidegger (read by) Hegel (read by) Malabou’ in Malabou C., The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic trans. During L. (London: Routledge, 2005) p. xii.

[91] Malabou, The Future of Hegel, p. 6-8.

[92] Ibid, p. 8-9.

[93] Sell C., Understanding Fragrance Chemistry (Illinois: Allured Publishing Corporation, 2008) p. 210-12.

[94] Ibid, p. 213.

[95] Ibid, p. 214.

[96] Ibid, p. 215.

[97] Heidegger, Introduction, p. 36.

[98] Hawley K., How Things Persist (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001) p. 10.

[99] Ibid, p. 13-14.

[100] Ibid, p. 15-16.

[101] Ibid, p. 21.

[102] Ibid.

[103] Campbell, Music After Deleuze, p. 130.


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