Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why the Nose Knows No Art

While this does not have to do with literature, it does have to do with the arts, including the interesting fact that while there are visual and auditory arts (to which does literature belong? -- first the latter, then also the former? -- or is it properly an "imaginative art"?) there does not seem to be olfactory or taste arts. This short piece in Scientific American, Feb. 2011, may explain why. It seems that there is an extreme amount of variability in odor receptors in humans. As smell became deemphasized by evolution, random mutations simply took out some. Since there was no selective pressure one way or the other, we have a wide variety of knockouts. How can one have an art when there is no commonality in perception? (The rare exceptions of color blindness and tone deafness are not the same as a consistent, widespread variability such as this.) If beauty is variety in unity and unity in variety (Francis Hutcheson), then this touchstone of what makes something an art is literally impossible to achieve, since there is no unity in human perception of odor (or, by extention, taste, since smell affects it). Considering that no art developed in relation to this variety-only sense, this suggests something about variety-only theoriest of art, such as postmodernism -- which has properly been termed the Anti-Aesthetic. Art needs variety, but it seems that without unity, there can be no art at all.

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