Robert R. Cheatham
“During swallowing we do not breathe into the lungs; but if, at this moment, one closes one’s nostrils, the auditory perception of external sounds is altered. Thus Understanding is opened up. [Trans.: in French the word for understanding — entendement — shares the same root as entendre, to hear or to understand.] This is not mere supposition but the secret of the occult effect of pronouncing certain words. The reason is that the Eustachian tube, which provides air to the eardrum (middle ear) is usually closed and opens only at each swallowing movement . . . .
However, for swallowing to take place there must be a liquid medium; the production of saliva is thus of great importance…..
This phenomena of `the calling to the inner ear’ may be compared with the gesture of `swallowing one’s saliva’ in moments of extreme concentration, when one finds oneself hard pressed for an answer..”
R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz
If nothing else, this seems to be an age in which “one always finds oneself hard pressed for an answer.” Being paranoid (preeminently a situation of being aware of other systems as well as being inhabited by them), it is an age that suspects that `behind the scenes,’ intermittent with the swallowing, an opening and closing of events that has become so rapid as to effect a strobing of reality, the effect of which is, much as in the visual effect itself, a stopping of reality, confirming, in fact, multiple and diverse realities confined behind the stoppage of the swallow. And yet: this is NOT a visual effect, not a by-product of rationality, and hence a product of, as it is commonly theorized, modernity and the flat visuality of surfaces, even post modernity as the clutter and bric-a-brac of old and new surfaces jammed together.
We might characterize this other system as rhinological, encompassing all the nosological analyses which can only be pointed to (ala Wittgenstein’s famous dictum considering the point of last resort in `explaining’ art; certainly odors — and the alliance with taste — would go far beyond even art’s reliance on antecedent mechanisms of parousia-like structures. And even more problematic than Shakespeare’s `un-hinged times’ is Hamlet’s keen nosological apparatus: `there’s something rotten in Denmark’, `rot’ being an uncanny concatenation of presence — literally molecules of a `foreign substance’ — in the nasal mucosa, combined with the becoming-visible of depth-in-surface, an interstitial mechanism that finally announces itself–after it is too late–as the Last Coming before complete dissolution back into the mineral kingdom. The nomination of this rot by institutions asrot is always a more-than-negentropic attempt at constraint of this othersystem of total Otherness — one based perhaps more on Novalis’ conception of the obdurate mineral nature of a heavy metal deity, a place where there would be NO line of sight, having collapsed into itself, absolute presencing rather than absolute absencing — as de Certeau maintains as the “game of the institution. It lodges rottenness at the same time as it designates it. It assigns it a place, but a circumscribed one, constituted as an internal secret: between us, you’re nothing but a slut, you’re only a subject who is supposed to know. By lodging this `rottenness’ within itself, the institution takes charge of it, limiting it to a truth that is known and pronounced on the inside, while allowing another discourse on the outside, the noble discourse of its theoretical manifestation.”1 This `institution of rot’ has defined a whole arena of abject art [one is tempted to just say: modern art], all defined by a certain performativity –whether performance art or no — of this osmotic slippage, and all generated by these interstitial mechanisms of modernity. But. Even so: the smell remains, of both decay and flowers. And as the twentieth century well knows, they are most often mingled, and nowhere least than at the peaks/glan[d]s of eroticism.)
And yet elided in this oscillation by a slippage not aligned with vision and hearing is, more disturbingly, the olfactory. Yes, tympanum etc. having been given a hearing, woven back into the flexed chiasmus of the optic and — even if it has its skiatropic aspect, photographing even the shadows, even the x-rays — the x always reveiling/revealing/refilling the chiasmatic relationship of shadow and substance. A whole system, almost Hegelian in its defiances and subsumptions. 2 However, the nose knows no fort/da, the reptilian hindbrain not being known for any dialectic, no matter how sublimated. The “calling to the inner ear” and the “swallowing of one’s saliva” may pass each other but that hardly makes for a dialectic.
But…there are moments when one catches a whiff of something else. Webster’s last definition of smell is “that which suggests the presence or existence of something; a trace; a suggestion.” The sense of smell is a literal mechanism: bits of the substance, molecules, float free of the main body of the substance and enter the nose where the molecule fits into slot which only it can fit into.
Slippage is a moment of particularity, granularity even in the visual system of modernity (in the moist nether regions of modernity, slippage turns into something quite else). A thing of the eye, where causalities can be readily determined, where faultlines, and `whences’ and `heretofores’ can be properly adjudicated into their positions on various scales of judgment and the propré , vision subjugating all other senses — and hence cognitions — to its realm of the planar, a continual high noon of thought…as even now we follow these trudging marks across the expanse of white, its desert blooming inside us. The very nature of the incisions at fundamental odds with the parousia which the nose offers, the bits and pieces of otherness becoming-stuck in the wet cavernous darkness–anathema to us moderns and the reign of the ubiquitous, odorless, granular-not-glandular Machine. (whatever recognition of those swamp lands makes its way from Plato’s cave to Nietzsche’s veils and the mysteries/esotericisms of Wo/man being firmly tamped-down with gender/queer studies. More machine-work and desert-reclamation projects: who would–who could??–build in the swamplands? From Hypocrites in de Lubicz: “Thus the glands, profiting from the superabundant hunger of the rest of the body, find a suitable nourishment. And, therefore, where there are swampy parts of the body, there are found the glands; and proof of this is that where there are glands there also are hairs. Nature produces glands and hairs. Glands and hairs are equally useful: glands for the affaent humor, as has been said; hairs, having precisely what the glands furnish them, spring up and grow, gathering the superfluity which seethes toward the extremities. But there, where the body is dry, there are neither glands nor hairs.” 3 )
But was it slippage when Freud and Fliess collaborated on Fliess’s nasal reflex neurosis theory?4 The early Freud’s discourses around modes of unmediated presence — telepathy, the seduction theory, and Fliess’s’ nasal reflex neurosis — certainly suffered slippage when it became Jung’s turn to offer the glove to be smelled, causing considerable confusion over what was a new age, what was an old age, and what was simply a `rising tide’ of black gunk smelling up the place. We are still in slippage –no doubt a form of denial, and to reverse the old joke and to agree with de Lubicz, perhaps it is a place (or at least a “system” in Egypt 5 ).
Modernity’s confused attempts to extirpate smell, to deny rot, has only meant that: (1) its gestation period for the mycorhizal mass6 has been increased — and facilitated — by the machinic and (2) the `noble discourse’ of rot is beginning to slough off the human in favor of the Novalisian granitic immediacy and simultaneity of the uncanny inhuman of the technical media and the global kybernetes, `dead helmsman’.
One could indeed come to grief from one’s own body, especially as it comes to be inhabited by the new electronic mycorrhizal mass. We may yet all turn out to be Schreber’s children.
1. Michel de Certeau, “The Institution of Rot” in Psychosis and Sexual Identity: Toward a Post-Analytic View of the Schreber Case(Albany: SUNY,1988), p. 98.
2. The dangers of `theorizing’ any such anti-body `system-within-a-system’ are well know by now, the Zen-like exhaustion which they bring about well explored . see Paul Mann, The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991).
Derrida has enacted this trepidation/impassibility/re-colonization in regard to alien systems thusly:
“The concept of Chinese writing thus functioned as a sort of European hallucination. This implied nothing fortuitous: this functioning obeyed a rigorous necessity. And the hallucination translated less an ignorance than a misunderstanding. It was not disturbed by the knowledge of Chinese script, limited but real, which was then available.
At the same time as the ‘Chinese prejudice,’ a ‘hieroglyphist prejudice’ had produced the same effect of interested blindness. The occultation, far from proceeding, as it would seem, from ethnocentric scorn, takes the form of an hyperbolical admiration. We have not finished verifying the necessity of this pattern. Our century is not free from it; each time that ethnocentrism is precipitately and ostentatiously reversed, some effort silently hides behind all the spectacular effects to consolidate an inside and to draw from it some domestic benefit. The astonishing Father Kircher thus devoted his entire genius to opening the West to Egyptology, but the very excellence that he recognized in a ‘sublime’ script forbade any scientific deciphering of it.”
Jacques Derrida (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976) Of Grammatology, p 80.
This, of course, solves no problems but merely aporetically restates them. The systems of the eye can thus be endlessly stated and re-stated, all within the terrain of vision and geometry (reaching the mystical null-set of its apotheosis in mathematics and the quantum universe), western culture depends on it; but how would one even be able to start to formulate the system of the nose within the borders of the rhinological?
3. R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, The Temple In Man: Sacred Architecture and the Perfect Man (Rochester: Inner, 1977). p. 97.
4. “The question of the source of the states of stimulation in the nasal organs now arises. The idea suggests itself that the qualitative organ for olfactory stimuli may be Schneider’s membrane and the quantitative organ (distinct from this) may be the corpora cavernosa. Olfactory substances — as indeed, you yourself believe, and as we know from flowers — are breakdown products of the sexual metabolism; they would act as stimuli on both these organs. During menstruation and other sexual processes the body produces an increased Q of these substances and therefore of these stimuli. It would have to be decided whether these act on the nasal organs through the expiratory air or through the blood vessels; probably the latter, since one has no subjective sensation of smell before migraine. Thus the nose would, as it were, receive information about internal olfactory stimuli by means of the corpora cavernosa, just as it does about external stimuli by Schneider’s membrane: one would come to grief from one’s own body.” letter from Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, January 1, 1896. In Jeffrey Masson, ed., The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904(Cambridge: Harvard, 1985) p. 161.
5. The Kantian postulates of the modern encapsulation, versus de Lubicz’s `moist,’ nasal Egyptians, are stated thusly by Joel Whitebook :
“The Egyptians discovered certain geometric laws empirically and pragmatically [….] It is argued, however, that the validity of those geometric laws has nothing to do with their pragmatic usefulness; validity can only be established by completely independent procedures, namely, the proofs of Euclid. The Kantian insistenceon a strict separation between genesis and validity is born out of the fear that the introduction of genetic questions (histroricism, sociologicism, psychologicism, anthropologicism, economicism, and so on) into the consideration of a theory’s validity would have two undesirable consequences. First, it could jeopardize the validity of that particular theory — that is, the theory could not be maintained to be valid unconditionally, independent of the contingent conditions that produced it. Second, it could threaten the very notion of validity.” Joel Whitebook Perversion and Utopia: A Study in Psychoanalysis and Critical Theory(Cambridge: MIT, 1995) p. 223.
For another very interesting approach to an alternate — literally genetic — communication system which would, disconcertingly close to a Spinozist Immanent Substance, undercut many `validities’, see Jeremy Narby, The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge (New York: Tarcher, 1998). Here, the visual itself seems to become rhinological in its communion of `presence’ (cell-to-cell phototic communication by DNA). `Hallucinatory’ knowledge always hangs under a scientific dark cloud; such `knowing’ alway appears to be `rotten’ from the moment that science takes its first `whiff’, even though, paradoxically, such `rotten knowledge’, whether Egyptian, chemical, or some other phantasmagorical agency–including the fictive `self’–, unites `genesis’ and `validity.’
In fact, the presence of something like Spinoza’s monstrous Substance within many alternate discourses, from contemporary horror and science fiction movies (all the way from all the remakes of Invasion of the Body Snatchersto more recently The Faculty) to Deleuze and Guattari is fascinating. The nose would appear to be the leading edge in discovering this triangulated (and according to popular media culture, monstrous) `generality’ folded under our surface Attributes, ready to take over the specificities of subjectivity and institute its own smelly collective subterranean mass. The olfactory –and its symbologies–is at the very heart of a sacramental sharing of Substance, since its mechanism of `communication’ is accomplished through morcellating some other.
6. While `rot’ and `fungus’ are not exactly co-terminous, it is hard to conceive of one without the other. We can allude to this other subterranean system at the moment, even if it has given rise to a whole theoretical approach, the Deleuzian rhizome. Preeminently a mycological phenomena, it’s connection with what one might call the sorceric literature is voluminous and is the very definition of a skiatropic organism one might say. It also forms a system which, though perhaps not the antithesis of modernity, is certainly its antipode. As a further aside within an aside, etymologically speaking, -mycetes refers generally to a large group of fungi; Mycetesmeans `to bellow’. For now, I will leave it to the reader to further connect the dots between Daniel Paul Schreber, bellowing, mushrooms, technology, secret mycorhisal masses, rot, and ancient egyptian systems of particularized calculus. The processes of verification and validation which science brings to bear to `reality’ rests on the necessity for a continual `state of emergency’ derived from this Kantian-like split between genesis and validation, fiction and fact, self and other, the phantasmic and the real, the rotten and the solid; in other words, a reliance on a certain performativity which constantly re-enacts this split thereby certifying the `fact’ of the world. There are places of leakage and rot however all thoughout the culture, a mycellium of `communicating vessels’: “…it is as if the taint of tautological nonsense, the performative force that pertains, at some level, to all institutions and the social facts they sponsor, has begun to leak beyond all `normally’ circumscribed space and to dissolve the intitution’s capacity to provide a credible context of meaningful reality. At such moments we are at the threshold of a psychotic universe where the subject has become unable to forget, unable (primordially) to repress, the drive dimension of symbolic function, which expands into a general state of rotteness and decay.”
Eric L. Santer, My Own Private Germany: Daniel Paul Schreber’s Secret History of Modernity (Princeton: Princeton, 1996) p.43.