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Scenting a Subject: Odour Poetics and the Politics of Space

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)544 - 563
Number of pages20
Issue number4

King's Authors


Olfactory studies are truly multidisciplinary, from anthropology to zoology. What literary criticism can offer is analysis of the language of smell and the discourses of olfactory practice which give smell meanings. In this paper I explore the poetics of odour in selected contexts in the developed West of the twenty-first century. I argue that the language of smell is elusive, contradictory, disguised: nonetheless, it deploys metaphor, story, personal meaning and social meaning, all frames that 'nest' together. I demonstrate contradictions of olfactory practice with reference to urban space and technologies of scent, acting on bodies and places. I argue that a relationship between scent, identity and space can be understood in terms of an olfactory sublime, to which there is also resistance, sanctioned by new laws. In public space, the complexity of deodorisation appears in the conflict between fragrance-free and compulsory olfaction, as I argue with reference to Halifax, Nova Scotia and to the London Underground.

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