Abstract My general topic is whether limitations in olfaction’s conceptual and generally mental capabilities hinder its suitability for playing significant and sophisticated roles in theatrical productions of the standard narrative type. This is a big question and I only scratch the surface here. I begin with a brief look at smell’s most prominent roles in the theatre, as illustration and to evoke mood and atmosphere. Next, I consider the relation between smell and the experience of space, looking first at a kind of power it has that is sometimes overlooked. Third, I examine a conundrum about what the objects we smell, as opposed to the objects we see, do and do not represent in a theatrical performance. Finally, the conundrum leads into a deeper discussion of whether scents or the objects we smell do the representing in theatre. One of the first things you are told when studying theatre in English-speaking countries is that the word ‘theatre’ derives from the ancient Greek theatron meaning a place for viewing. It is, of course, a place both for viewing and for performing, for being viewed. As Paul Woodruff puts it, the art of theatre is the art of watching and of making actions worth watching.1 If anything would seem to be at the core of theatre, it is vision. Vision is powerful. It is sensitive to colour, shape, texture, movement, speed, direction, distance, relative distance, location, orientation, and size. We can follow many narratives through vision alone, by watching acting and mime. With visual aids, such as magnifying devices, we can visually detect the microstructure and micro-operations of virtually any entity. Estimates are that, for sighted people, vision is responsible for 80–85% of the information we obtain about the world.2 Vision is the ‘bully’ in the sensorium. In the theatre, vision’s accomplice is audition, especially with respect to spoken language, which has an extraordinary potential for expressiveness and beauty, as well as for conveying a broad range of meanings. Together, like most bullies, they tend to obscure the powers of their companions—in this case, the other senses. Nevertheless, touch, taste, and smell have all been used to theatrical effect, especially in participatory and immersive theatre. I focus here on smell and its potential for use in theatrical productions—in particular, in productions of standard narrative plays, rather than more esoteric, experimental pieces. Standardly, there is a separation of stage and auditorium; a performer does something or something is presented on stage that seated members of the audience see and hear, and the seeing and hearing plays a role in the audience’s appreciation of the performance. Similarly, I am interested in cases where performers do something or something is presented on stage that seated members of the audience smell, and smelling it plays a role in the audience’s appreciation of the performance. Yet, given that the use of smell in theatre is rare, almost any use is likely to be considered non-standard to some extent: what is standard may well be relative and a matter of degree. Historically, there are several explanations for smell’s limited use. One has to do with the technical difficulties of production, dispersion, and removal of odours. I note, however, that in small venue theatres where there is less distance between stage and auditorium, and when the distance is deliberately lessened and blurred, such as in theatre in the round, these difficulties, though still substantial, are not as great: the odour does not have to be as strong; it does not have to be dispersed over so wide an area; and it is more easily eliminated. Another explanation for the limited use of smell is the common idea that it is ‘primitive’. It is evolutionarily early and appears not just in the so-called higher animals; indeed, ‘chemosensory systems [such as smell] are expressed in every living animal known’.3 Yet it is often assumed to be primitive in other senses; for example, that humans are supposedly able to detect only a limited number of types of odours and that the information we can get from them is pretty basic—having to do with food, danger, and potential mates. This primitivism, however, is easily refuted. There are about 350 different types of olfactory receptors in the epithelium—in the nasal cavity—and they have a combinatory effect, resulting in a capacity for distinguishing, it is commonly estimated, about 10,000 different odours.4 Though this number is subject to dispute, we can document the skills of professional perfumers, who may distinguish as many as 800 different scents in addition to grades of each.5 In any case, most of us are world-class olfactory underachievers, and we are arguably kept down in large part by the bully in the sensorium. Sighted people do not need to smell: eyes and ears provide virtually all the information we need.6 Indeed, we seem to be losing—in evolutionary terms—what olfactory capacities we have, or used to have. About half of human olfactory receptor genes are pseudogenes, that is, nonfunctional, a kind of ‘sensorial appendix’. And guess whose fault this is. The title of a research paper from 2004 leads back to the bully: ‘Loss of olfactory receptor genes coincides with the acquisition of full trichromatic vision in primates.’7 Social explanations for the limited use of smell—technological hurdles, mistaken ideas about primitiveness—are one thing. More interesting philosophically is the possibility that smell’s limited use is due to its limited conceptual and generally mental capabilities. My general topic is whether such limitations hinder its suitability for playing significant and sophisticated roles in theatrical productions of the standard narrative type. This is a big question and I will only scratch the surface here. I begin with a brief look at smell’s most prominent roles in the theatre, as illustration and to evoke mood and atmosphere. Next, I consider the relation between smell and the experience of space, looking first at a kind of power it has that is sometimes overlooked. Third, I examine a conundrum about what the objects we smell, as opposed to the objects we see, do and do not represent in a theatrical performance. Finally, the conundrum leads into a deeper discussion of whether scents or the objects we smell do the representing in theatre. Just to be clear, I am not concerned with the possibility of olfactory art, that is, whether there can be artworks that are experienced predominantly through smell, a subject that has recently been examined by Larry Shiner and Yulia Kriskovets.8 And I am not concerned with whether what Frank Sibley calls ‘smells’ can have aesthetic properties, a question he examines in ‘Tastes, Smells and Aesthetics’.9 Rather, I am interested in the potential that smell—that is, the olfactory system and its operation—has for contributing to the complex whole that is the experience of theatrical performance, and hence to the performance itself. I focus mainly—though not exclusively—on some things it can and cannot do with respect to the experience and representation of space, an area where it is generally held to be deficient. But I do not mean to imply that space is the only or most important use of scent in the theatre, or that these relationships are the most important philosophically. A few terminological notes and clarifications are necessary before I begin. I use the word ‘smell’ only in relation to the sensory system or its operation. I distinguish between the things that we smell (the objects of our sensory experience or distal stimuli: roses, bacon, and basil), an object’s olfactory properties, which I will call its scent, and olfactory experiences (the way something smells to a particular person on a given occasion). Scents occupy an ontologically tricky middle ground (as does any sensible property). Roses, basil, and perfumes all have a scent. They shed molecules or chemical compounds into the air, which are carried by inhaled air to the epithelium, where they stimulate the olfactory sensory receptors. Researchers call these chemical compounds ‘odorants’, which are not the same as an object’s scent, though scent, I take it, is a function in part of the physical properties of odorants and the capacities of the human sensory system (since we are talking about human smell). Both odorants and scent are distinct from a person’s olfactory experience.10 1. Illustration, Mood, and Atmosphere According to Sally Banes by far the most common use of olfaction in the theatre is as illustration.11 For example, in the Broadway musical Waitress, from 2016, the action takes place in a diner and the scent of an apple pie baking in a convection oven off stage periodically wafts into the auditorium.12 In Philadelphia-based Renegade Theater’s Glass: Shattered, their 2015 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, Amanda sprays herself with perfume as she prepares to go out; a moment later, the scent of the perfume floats towards the audience. Fundamental to the dictionary definition of ‘illustrate’ is the aim of clarification, and it bears noting that the root concept of illustration is to brighten or lighten, which is visual: drawings and diagrams and maps are illustrations, or visuals that make something easier to understand. However, this epistemic purpose does not seem to fit these theatrical uses of smell. With the apple pie and perfume, the point of the olfactory effect is not to clarify what that sort of experience is like. We already know what apples and perfume smell like. Rather, the point seems to be to provide an experience of a certain type—to bring it to mind—as an experience of that type, but not to enlighten us about something that we do not already know. Used as illustration, olfaction does serve a theatrical purpose: to represent something, and, roughly speaking, the olfactory experience represents itself. Nelson Goodman calls this ‘exemplification’: an example refers to properties that it possesses. It is not doing merely what the marketing industry calls ‘scenting a space’—but it represents the qualitative character of the experience it is.13 It is discouraging that illustration is the main function of smell, since its aim is artistically thin: unimaginative and uninteresting. The problem is not just with smell; illustration is artistically thin no matter what sense modality is used. Set designs, for example, may be used to illustrate the place of the action. Recently, after a performance at a popular theatre that has successfully attracted large audiences, I heard the artistic director of a small, struggling theatre company murmur, ‘Look at that set. It must have cost $40,000, and they didn’t even use it.’ She was right. The setting was rural England, with little thatched cottage facades on stage—elaborately detailed, visually charming, but basically ‘eye candy’. The set was used to illustrate a visual experience of a certain type, but that is all. It did not relate to how the actors moved in any significant way. If we judge the potential of olfaction on the basis of illustration, it is no wonder that it comes off badly. The use of olfaction in the theatre is often described as a component of scene design.14 In The Essential Theatre, a widely respected manual of theatre production and appreciation, Oscar Brockett and Robert Ball describe several uses of scene design, yet illustration is not among them. It is not that scene design is never used as ‘eye candy’, it is just not something to which a good scene designer should aspire. In contrast, a use of scene design they do mention is the creation of ‘mood and atmosphere’, which Banes cites as the second most common use of scent in the theatre.15Waitress is not just after the scent of apple pies, but the inviting, cozy, friendly feeling the aroma evokes. (The smart money has freshly-baked mini apple pies available for purchase at intermission, and also ‘appletinis’.) An olfactory stimulus can take the ‘fast track’ through the olfactory tract directly to the amygdala and hippocampus, evoking memory and emotion, before a signal reaches the frontal cortex, which enables one to identify an odour. Smell is a powerful generator of memorial affect, and though the variability of associations among different people for a great range of odours might in some cases compromise its potential, there may be an appropriate ‘cognitive stock’ informing many olfactory experiences and their associated affects just as with vision. Banes provides a more interesting example: David Esbjornson’s 1996 New York production of Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane used strawberry-scented room spray to create ‘a tacky ambience’.16 It is important that the audience’s experience is as of strawberry-scented room spray, and not merely as of strawberries, which happens to be generated for the purposes of the production by using room spray. Just as examples are used to illustrate some of their properties, but not others, a mood may be created by sensitivity to some olfactory properties rather than others. 2. Olfaction and Spatial Awareness Much more can be said about mood and atmosphere, but I want to look at smell in relation to another function of scene design that Brockett and Ball mention: helping to define the performance space.17 The set directs the audience where to look, indicating where the performance will take place and what is part of the show. The performance space may be defined by the stage, but also extend beyond it, typically in ways that are indicated visually but often also through the use of sound. Upon hearing voices or music at the rear of the auditorium, for example, we look back and see actors coming down the aisles. The aisles are recruited as part of the performance space, so that we see the characters approaching the place represented on stage. Olfaction would not seem to be useful in a comparable way. It is a widely accepted psychological fact that olfactory nerves are so arranged that smell cannot convey three-dimensional spatial extension or arrangement—at least not for an immobile nose. Let us assume that this is correct. A scent coming from a particular direction—unlike a sound—would not signal an audience member to ‘look over there’. If allowed to move around and ‘follow your nose’ it might be possible to detect such things as direction, and possibly a rough approximation of extension or size, but requiring an audience to track a scent would be ‘non-standard’ for a theatrical performance. Nevertheless, I propose that smell has potential with respect to spatial awareness on the part of the audience, even though smell does not delineate a performance space and even if the audience is immobile. We see and smell objects and events in the world, such as flowers and food. When we come to smell something we had not smelt before, either something happened (to produce a scent), or something that has a scent has come closer to us—close enough that we can smell it (or we have got closer to it, if we are mobile). Vision, too, normally indicates that something is close enough to be seen, but theatre trades on our visual ability to divorce the spatial distances and orientations represented by the set from our own spatial distance, orientation, and location. (I distinguish space, which is defined roughly in geometrical terms and by measurement, from place, which is defined at least in part in personal, social, cultural or historical terms.18) Audience members occupy the same space as the actors, but that space is (or may be) measured differently from the fictional space occupied by characters. And clearly, audience members occupy a different place from the characters. Vision in the theatre depends on our ability to identify different places (the fictional and the actual), and different spaces (measuring the fictional world differently from the world that I, as an audience member, occupy). Olfaction in the theatre, in contrast, tends to register proximity. In his paper on the use of olfaction in contemporary art, Jim Drobnick observes that: ‘When inhaling aromas, audiences become aware of their own bodies and their relation in space.’19 This awareness provides a distinctive opportunity for smell in the theatre. For example, in Glass Shattered, when I smelled Amanda’s perfume, I instantly felt myself to be in the same space she was in, and in the same room with her, the same place. Further, this awareness of my own bodily presence was relevant to understanding and appreciating the performance. Several aspects of the production were designed to break down the ordinary theatrical conventions that the audience and characters occupy different spaces and places. It was performed in a small space, with the stage area flush with the first row of seats, which tends to make the audience feel part of the action, as opposed to a raised stage, which tends to evoke a more distanced attitude. The narrator incorporated the curtain speech into his framing monologue (retained from The Glass Menagerie) in ways that were deliberately ambiguous between whether what was happening was factual or fictional, such as when his cell phone rang. The scent of the perfume was not just illustration; it was part of a pattern of shifting the audience’s experience of their own bodies to feeling as if being in the same space and place as the characters. Thus, scent brings a bodily component into the experience, but not as a way of redefining the space for performing, since audience members do not become participants in the show. A scent can change how they experience their own body in terms of spatial location, without redefining the function of the space that the body occupies. This kind of spatial experience, evoked by olfaction, does not fit neatly into the function of set design as illustration, creation of mood or atmosphere, or the delineation of performance space. Yet there are times when a scent and its bearer do seem to reach out into the auditorium, extending the character’s presence into the space generally reserved for the audience. Sillage is a term used in the perfume industry to describe the degree to which a scent lingers in the air when it is worn. Derived from the French for ‘wake’, it captures the physical extension (and presence) that some perfumes—and the personalities of those who wear them—can command. April Long, a perfume writer, explains, ‘bold sillage has a sort of room-filling 3-D effect, essentially extending the space you take up in the world’.20 Such fragrances were popular in the 1980s, complementing the big hair and double-decker shoulder pads. Long adds that it ‘requires a certain level of confidence—maybe even self-importance—to pull it off’.21 It is perfect for characters (and actors, such as Carol Channing) with a big personality, characters who seem to invade the audience space. 3. What Does the Representing: Objects or Scents? Another phenomenon also relates to a function of scene design. This phenomenon concerns a curious relationship between the object we smell, the scent of the object (its olfactory properties), and what does the work of theatrically representing something in a performance. In Waitress, for example, we smell an apple pie baking off-stage. The scent illustrates or exemplifies, and hence represents, the scent of pies baking in the diner where the action of the play is set. Perhaps the olfactory experience also illustrates the type of experience had of pies baking in the diner. One might even say that the scent represents pies baking in the diner (not just their scent, but the extended event of the pies baking): in the theatrical production, it is the scent of those pies. But the actual pie, off stage in the oven—the object we actually smell—does not represent anything. It is simply a means for generating the scent, and the scent is what does the work. Contrast the situation where the oven is on stage and the audience can see the apple pie when the oven door is opened. In this case, the oven represents an oven, the apple pie within represents an apple pie cooking in the oven, and the scent represents the scent of the baking pie. Here is what I find curious: the on-stage pie represents one of the diner’s apple pies, but the off stage pie does not—it is just a means for generating the desired scent of pies baking in the oven. Why it is merely a means in the one case but not in the other? There is a conundrum: apparently, the physical object that you see represents something in virtue of the way it looks, but the physical object that you smell does not represent something in virtue of the way it smells. It is tempting to think that the conundrum manifests a prejudice against smell and in favour of vision. However, I propose that no prejudice is involved but that the first half of the conundrum—that the physical object that you see represents something in virtue of the way it looks—is misleading. For, the apple pie we see—like most props and components of a set—does not serve merely as a means for generating a visual experience of a certain nature in the audience. In terms of the functions of scene design already discussed, its scent may evoke an atmosphere or mood, though the pie does not exactly define the boundaries of a performance space. Rather, another function of scene design is implicated: the pie arranges the acting space internally, configuring and organizing its actual spatial properties, which enable and constrain how actors will move around and interact with other actors and objects on stage, within the performance space.22 The actual three-dimensional or spatial characteristics of the scene design are important: not merely how it looks, but how it physically occupies the space. (Especially in small theatres, the physical space of the set is typically much smaller than the physical space it represents, and awareness of this may account for some of the charm of a production designed for a small space.) Configuration of the acting space is what the artistic director of the small company noticed was absent in any meaningful way in the $40,000 set. As ‘mere illustration’ its three-dimensional properties did not help organize how the actors moved around and interacted with each other—it just took up space. Thus, components of sets are not merely seen but also function three-dimensionally, with respect to size, shape, and location. And three-dimensionality (or ‘extension’, in Cartesian terms) is paradigmatically linked to something’s status as a physical object. And crucially, an object’s spatial properties—size, shape, location—are properties that we see. These are the conceptual tools for explaining why the on-stage apple pie represents an apple pie and the off-stage pie is only a means for the production of a scent. The spatial properties of the on-stage pie—its size, shape, and location—serve to define and configure the acting space. Though we can see these properties, it is not simply in virtue of the fact that we can see them that the pie represents; it is rather that the pie, in virtue of its having those properties, plays a role in defining and configuring the acting space. In contrast, by hypothesis, we cannot smell the pie’s size, shape, or location, and hence, as something used to generate a scent, these spatial properties do not help to define or configure the acting space. So the physical properties of the pie are not important, except to generate a scent, and the scent does the work: creating an atmosphere or representing pies baking in an oven. In Waitress, the convection oven is located just outside the doors to the orchestra seating, which the aroma designer determined was the most effective way to channel the scent to the audience. The scent emerges when the orchestra door is opened, but the location and extension of the pie have no meaningful relation to the acting or the acting space. 4. Olfactory Experience of Space The explanation I offered in Section 3 for why entities used just to generate a scent do not represent the object that (fictionally) has the scent is predicated on the supposition that we cannot smell an object’s spatial properties. But this supposition needs qualification. Here is one reason why. Researchers distinguish between two types of conditions under which olfactory spatial abilities may be measured. One is when the nose is fixed; a fixed nose is achieved for testing purposes by immobilizing the head. It is generally agreed that a fixed nose cannot smell direction, location, size, or shape.23 Various philosophers and psychologists take the operations of the stationary nose and what it presents at a moment in time, rather than through time, as identifying the capacities of ‘pure’ olfaction.24 And some restrict smell to what stimulates the olfactory receptors alone. The epithelium, which contains the olfactory receptors, also contains trigeminal nerve receptors, which are responsible for pressure, pain, and temperature sensations. The great majority of odorants also produce a trigeminal response.25 Though identifying pure olfaction may be useful for some purposes, immobilization of the head and upper torso, momentariness, and the restriction to stimulants of only olfactory receptors all unduly constrain what smell can contribute to theatrical performance and our experience of it. Theatre is, after all, a temporal art form; everything is presented through time, and temporal relationships are essential regardless of the sense modality, including sight and hearing. Time, movement, and other sensory systems may all affect olfactory experience, which is a function of more than just the operations of olfactory receptors. Olfaction’s contribution is not merely what it can do momentarily, or alone. The second type of circumstance under which olfactory spatial abilities are measured is with a mobile nose, such as when tracking a scent, and a mobile nose necessarily operates over a period of time. With time and mobility—whether of the whole body, or just of the head or upper torso—comes the possibility of smelling spatial properties such as direction, location, and size. So it is fitting to consider whether spatial properties of what one smells, when one can smell them, might serve to define and configure the acting space, and hence whether off-stage, unseen objects whose spatial properties we smell could have a representational function. I explore that possibility here through a set of four examples that isolate different circumstances under which olfactory experiences may or may not have spatial characteristics. The first example, Till Birnam Wood, a one hour adaptation of Macbeth presented during the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in 2015, illustrates how an olfactory experience of an object can have a spatial character even though the object generating the scent does not have the spatial properties that the audience experiences it as having.26 An olfactory experience having spatial characteristics may be enough for that experience to represent something having those properties, but not necessarily enough for the external object that we smell, the object that generates the scent, to represent something having those properties. The second example is of smelling a monster. Here again the olfactory experience has a spatial character, but several factors turn out to be relevant to whether what generates the scent, the object you smell, represents the monster. I discuss four different possibilities, which I argue provide confirming evidence for my thesis that the object you smell represents what you (fictionally) smell when you can smell its spatial properties and these properties help to define or configure the acting space. The first example helps to focus on spatial powers of olfaction in part by evicting the bully from the sensorium. This might not seem possible as long as theatre is conceived as a place for viewing and being viewed, but some theatre does not involve viewing (and does not reduce to radio plays). The price of admission to Till Birnam Wood included an eye mask. Audience members, all masked, sat in a single row of seats arranged in an oval that was open at each end. Actors spoke and there were sound effects. Sound perception is strongly directional, so there was an experience as of actions taking place in a space, and indeed in spaces and places much more expansive than the space of the room in which the audience sat. The sense of presence at the events was palpable, assisted by bodily sensations, such as the breeze created by the witches passing around and behind the audience, as they recited their incantations. It helped that there was no distancing effect from vision.27 Towards the end of the hour, I thought I caught a whiff of pine. I took a deep breath: definitely pine. Birnam Wood had come to Dunsinane. And it clearly came from my left. That is, the phenomenology of the experience was definitely spatial. I suspect, however, that the spatial character of this olfactory experience was not due to a pine-scented object coming from my left, but due to cueing, that is, when a contextual factor affects a perceptual experience in a way that is congruent with the cue. Cueing may be visual (effects of colour stimuli on taste perception are well documented), verbal (especially with affectively or hedonically charged terms), and otherwise. In this case, the cueing was auditory, in the form of clamouring voices coming from a particular direction. Audition is, after all, the bully’s accomplice. I do not think the cueing was also verbal, though it might have been. My recollection is that I figured out I was smelling Birnam Wood, and then listened for references to it, but such memorial reconstructions are notoriously fallible. In any case, phenomenologically, the voices were clearly coming from my left, and my experience of the scent was coordinately as of from the left. However, I do not know where the scent was actually coming from. It could have come from the right or in front of me. Since sound is directional, the actors needed to be on the left, and perhaps the acting space was so crowded there that the apparatus for generating the scent needed to be located elsewhere. What I experienced could have been an olfactory illusion, a systematic way in which the perceptual experience misrepresents the actual properties of what I smelled. Some philosophers have questioned whether there are olfactory illusions, but the evidence for them, especially as an effect of perceptual and verbal cueing, is well established.28 My point is that even though the olfactory experience has a spatial quality, its having that quality is not due to the spatial properties of the object smelled. This is true, of course, even if what I smell is actually on the left; I may perceive it as such, but this spatial property was not detectable by olfaction—by my sensory system as I sat stationary in my chair (even moving my head and upper torso). Thus, though a calculated spatial effect in a theatrical production may be enough for the olfactory experience to represent those properties or something having those properties, it is not enough for the external object that I smell—whether a can of spray or pine branches rubbing together—to represent something having those properties. A second example—in this case hypothetical, rather than actual—highlights a different type of spatial characteristic. Consider a play in the horror genre, in which the characters are afraid of a vicious, putrid monster that lurks nearby. As in the movie Jaws, where the audience do not see the shark until halfway through the film, in this play, we do not see the monster until late in the play. In the first act, however, while the children are playing innocently in their backyard, we smell it—we smell the monster approach, and the odour increases in intensity as it comes nearer. Then, to our relief, it goes away. In this case, the olfactory experience has spatial characteristics: it is as of something coming closer and then retreating. The spatial characteristics of the experience are not due to cueing, but they do depend on past experience. Past experience of the correlation between, respectively, the increasing or decreasing intensity of an odour and the greater or lesser proximity of the thing one smells becomes part of one’s ‘cognitive stock’ and comes to alter the qualitative character of the experience. Note that if you smell the odour only as becoming more and then less intense, you have missed something. A fuller appreciation of the performance involves having an olfactory experience as of something approaching and then retreating. Yet, it is not possible to tell on the basis of what has so far been said whether the spatial properties of the thing we smell play the appropriate role in generating the olfactory experience, and hence whether the object we smell represents the monster or whether it is just a means for the production of a scent. What we do know is that the experience of the audience is spatially inflected. I here explore four different variants of this example to illustrate how the spatial properties of what generates the scent might affect the spatial characteristics of the olfactory experience, and hence their varying significance for the representational potential of what generates the scent. Suppose then, for the first case, that the scent is made more intense by injecting more of the scent into the air and not by the approach or retreat of the object we smell, that is, the device dispersing the scent or aromatized liquid into the air. It is then like the Birnam Wood case: the spatial properties of what generates the scent are not responsible for the relevant spatial qualities of the experience. The olfactory perceptual experience as of something coming nearer is a misperception—or an illusion, if one includes such cases as illusions—just as was the experience of Birnam Wood as coming from the left. The olfactory experience may represent the monster as approaching then retreating, but what produces the scent does not. A second case is quite different. Suppose in this case that the audience is seated on bleachers in front of the stage, and a person wearing the relevant scent—clad in black so as to remain unseen and shod in fleece so as to remain unheard—assumes a position under the bleachers at one end. The intensity of the olfactory experience of any given audience member depends, to a relevant degree, on where the black-clad person wearing the scent is. The audience at the end where she first appears certainly smells the monster before the audience at the other end does. Further, the intensity of the experience abates after the black-clad person moves under the bleachers to the other end. (The scent needs to be of a type that is devoid of much sillage, so it will not hang in the air too long after the person changes position.) The scent has affected the audience experience in a way that affects the theatrical space of the performance, that is, it delimits the acting space. As part of the scene design, scent can tell us where to direct our olfactory, visual, and auditory attention. At a minimum, the scent prompts audience members to figure out where to direct their attention, to figure out where the action is taking place. Scents have effects on motor dispositions: we move our heads and sniff in an effort to discover where and what a scent is coming from. Louise Richardson argues that the act of sniffing is partly responsible for the character of the olfactory experience as of something external to oneself, something mind-independent.29 Seeing the responses of others in the audience can also affect one’s own motor response, one’s tendency to sniff, and hence one’s olfactory experience. It would be interesting to know if the physical explorations of olfactory curiosity tend to be stronger when the audience can smell something that the characters do not, or when the bully in the sensorium has been temporarily rendered ineffective so that the audience cannot see where the scent is coming from. As Clare Batty observes, ‘a thorough analysis of the nature of olfactory experience would have to consider the investigative nature of olfactory perception—e.g. our active engagement in figuring out’ where the objects we smell are located.30 Even traditional theatrical productions may trade on such inclinations, which can function to reinforce feelings of presence, and not just at the scene of the action, but in conjunction with other members of the audience. Going to the theatre is a communal activity, thanks in large part to sight. One effect of wearing eye masks (such as at Till Birnam Wood) is to heighten one’s personal experience of presence and remove the communal sense of being at a performance. Some of what olfaction contributes to the theatre is in the form of olfactory experiences, even when those experiences are a function of more than just the operations of smell. And some of what it contributes may be in the form of activity, or at least impulses to activity, on the part of the audience, to satisfy one’s olfactory curiosity. In Glass Shattered, the olfactory experience of the perfume made the audience feel as if they were in the space and place of the action represented on stage; it did not redirect the audience’s attention. In the horror play, the olfactory experience is as of a monster that has encroached on the audience’s space, as of the action having come to them. Because the source of the scent is not visible, the action appears to be taking place somewhere other than on the stage. Insofar as the audience has olfactory access to the spatial location of the person in black—if the audience can smell where she is—it does seem as though she represents the monster, and does not merely generate its scent. But it would be even clearer that she represented the monster if the scent not only defined but also configured the acting space. A third case presents such a scenario. There is the same set-up with the bleachers and a black-clad person moving under them. However, in this case there is an actor on stage and the production requires that the black-clad person, for each performance, assumes her position randomly under the bleachers at one end or the other, and that the actor does not know at which end she will be. The production calls for the actor to track the scent carried by the black-clad person in order to represent the character searching out and then locating and following the monster. By hypothesis, the on-stage actor is able to detect, by the intensity of the scent, at which end of the bleachers the person in black is positioned, even though there will be some diffusion of the scent by the time it reaches the stage. That there may be questions about the plausibility of the hypothesis shows how difficult it is to create scenarios where the conditions are met for the object generating the scent to do the representing. But given the hypothesis, the spatial properties of the black-clad person both define and configure the acting space, and hence that that person represents the monster. In the fourth and final case the set-up of the bleachers is again the same; the difference is that the actor does not track the scent but knows in advance where the black-clad person will first position herself. The actor is supposed to act like someone tracking the scent: the character tracks the scent even though the actor does not. The behavior of the actor makes it fictional that the scent is more intense at the place represented at one end of the stage than at the place represented at the other, whereas in the previous case the scent’s actually being more intense at one end of the stage both makes it fictional that the scent is more intense at that end and determines what the actor is to do. This is why the scent configures the space in the previous example but not in this one. In the fourth case, the scent is not necessarily more intense at one end of the stage than at the other, and the production does not depend on the intensity of the scent to make a difference in what the actor does. So the scent does not configure the acting space in this way. Yet it is also a relevant consideration that, by hypothesis, at least some audience members (unlike the actor) are more likely to be close enough to the scent’s source to detect its greater and then lesser intensity, and hence they would be able to smell the monster as being closer or further away. For this reason, if the production is to be coherent, the spatial location and movements of the person in black need to be coordinated with the movements of the actor. Thus, it is reasonable to think of what the audience can smell as not directly but indirectly configuring the acting space. What they can smell is planned in advance to be in accord with what the actor does, and the effectiveness of the performance is in part linked to the responsiveness of the audience to the intensity, and hence the spatiality, of the scent. The intensity and hence spatiality of the experience of the scent depends, of course, on the whereabouts of the person clad in black. Her location, as the source of the scent, and the movements of the actors are mutually coordinated, so there are some grounds for saying the scent configures the acting space in this case, though the situation is less clear cut than cases where scent directly configures the acting space. Mistakes and unexpected events will occur during live performances and they often call for improvisation. In the fourth case, the production has worked out in advance how the actor is to move in in relation to the person in black, who carries the scent of the monster. Intuitions about whether the person in black represents the monster may change when considering the variety of things that might happen if a performance of the fourth sort of case does not go as planned. Suppose the person in black—carrying the monster scent with her—goes to the wrong end of the bleachers. The fact that the scent is in the wrong place makes it the case that the location of the monster is represented (via olfaction) as being somewhere other than where it is supposed to be in relation to the actor. The actor needs to decide whether to orient towards where the scent is, or towards where, according to the production, it is supposed to be. One reason to do the former would be to ensure that audience members’ olfactory experiences are consistent with their visual perceptions of what the character is doing. If the actor decides to improvise by following the smell, which indicates where the monster is, the black-clad person’s movements are (directly) configuring the acting space. The actor actually tracks, and does not merely act like he is tracking, the movements of the black-clad person. This particular performance would then exemplify the third kind of case, where the scent both defines and configures the acting space, only in this situation it is improvised rather than part of the production. It is even plausible that such improvisations can heighten the feeling of immediacy when sensed by the audience that the actor is actually responding to the monster as an embodied presence, as in the third type of case. Suppose, on the other hand, that the actor decides to move as determined by the production, rather than in accord with where the black-clad person is located. Clearly, in this performance, the scent no longer configures the acting space. The scent may still represent the monster, and perhaps also where the monster is, to the extent that it is in the space of the audience, but not with respect to its being closer to the place represented at one end of the stage or the other. Whether the monster is in the place represented at one end of the stage or the other is indicated by the actor’s movements and not by the intensity of the scent, even if an audience member experiences the scent as more or less intense when the black-clad person is closer to or farther away from him. This particular performance then ends up looking more like the second type of case, where the scent defines but does not configure the acting space, and hence is not optimally clear on whether the black-clad person represents the monster. I began by discussing the role of smell as illustration, which is not its most interesting use theatrically or philosophically, and by commenting briefly on its role in creating a mood or atmosphere. In Part II, I looked at how smell can alter the audience’s experience of being in a space and in a place. I then raised a conundrum about representation in the theatre, an apparent prejudice in favour of vision and against smell: an external physical object that you see may represent something, but an object that you smell (generally) does not. I proposed that for the physical object that generates the scent to theatrically represent what we smell, we must be able to smell (some of) its spatial properties and those properties must play a theatrical role for the audience or for the actors, such as defining or configuring the acting space. Because we normally and easily see an object’s spatial properties, those objects can readily play such a role, but because we do not typically smell an object’s spatial properties, the things we can smell do not typically play such a role. In Section 4 I explored some cases where olfactory experiences have spatial characteristics. In some of those cases, we still do not smell an object’s spatial properties; they are cases of olfactory illusion, misperception, or accidentally correct perception. In other cases, the audience, by hypothesis, smells a (black-clad) person coming closer or going away, and the actions of that person may define the acting space at least minimally by indicating a general region where the audience is to direct their attention. Clearer still is the case where an actor can also smell a person coming closer or going away, and tracks the scent of the person, thereby tracking the monster that the person—not just the smell—represents. Even if the actor merely follows the scent ‘extensionally’, where the production dictates that the actor act as if he is tracking the scent of the monster, the coordination of the actor’s movement with the audience’s sensitivity to the spatial characteristics of the scent and to the location of the person carrying the scent motivates the view that the scent both defines and at least indirectly configures the acting space, leading to the conclusion that the person wearing the scent—the entity we smell—represents the monster. I take the analysis of these four cases to support the thesis that for the physical object that generates the scent to theatrically represent what we smell, we must be able to smell (some of) its spatial properties and those properties must play a theatrical role for the audience or for the actors, such as defining or configuring the acting space. Thus, it is not just a prejudice in favour of vision and against smell that leads us to say that an external physical object that you see may represent something theatrically, but an object that you smell (generally) does not. Rather, it is due to the rarity of cases where smell can actually define or configure the acting space. This is at least one arena where the limitations of olfaction hinder its suitability for playing significant roles in standard theatrical productions.31 Footnotes 1 Paul Woodruff, The Necessity of Theater: The Art of Watching and Being Watched (New York: OUP, 2008), 18–19. 2 Unfortunately, the source, and even the meaning, of this claim remain elusive. 80–85% is a popularly reproduced statistic apparently based on how much information is processed by a given sense during a given period of time in comparison with the other senses (with 11% hearing, 3.5% smell, 1.5% touch, and 1% taste). But claims about what the 80–85% figure actually means vary. For example, I have found the following on various websites: ‘Research estimates that eighty to eighty five percent of our perception, learning, cognition and activities are mediated through vision’ (Tomas Polizer, ‘Vision is Our Dominant Sense’ (published online 6 November 2008) <https://www.brainline.org/article/vision-our-dominant-sense> accessed 11th March 2018); ‘experts say that roughly 80 percent of what a child learns in school is information that is presented visually’ (Bob Murphy and Gary Heiting, ‘Learning-Related Vision Problems’ (published online April 2017) <http://www.allaboutvision.com/parents/learning.htm> accessed 11th March 2018); ‘Your eyes will process 24 million images in your lifetime: Overall, they contribute toward 85 percent of your knowledge’ (NursingSchools.net ‘15 Fascinating Facts About Your Five Senses’ (published online 12 June 2011) <http://www.nursingschools.net/blog/2011/06/15-fascinating-facts-about-your-five-senses/> accessed 11th March 2018); and ‘90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual’, (Thermopylae Sciences and Technology ‘Humans process Visual Data Better’ (published online 15 September 2014) <http://www.t-sciences.com/news/humans-process-visual-data-better> accessed 11th March 2018). 3 Donald A. Wilson and Richard J. Stevenson, Learning to Smell: Olfactory Perception from Neurobiology to Behavior (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins, 2006), 4. 4 Smell psychologist Avery Gilbert traces the commonly-cited number to a 1927 paper by Ernest C. Crocker and Lloyd F. Henderson, ‘The Analysis and Classification of Odors: An Effort to Develop a Workable Method’, America Perfumer and Essential Oil Review 22 (1927), 325. Gilbert questions the assumptions used to reach this number in What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life (Fort Collins, CO: Synesthetics, 2014), 3–4. See also C. Bushdid, M. O. Magnasco, L. B. Vosshall and A. Keller, ‘Humans Can Discriminate More than 1 Trillion Olfactory Stimuli’, Science 21 (2014), 343, 1370–1372. But this too is disputed. See, for example, Richard C. Gerkin and Jason B. Castro, ‘The Number of Olfactory Stimuli that Humans Can Discriminate is Still Unknown’ eLIFE (2015), 4, e08127 (published online 7 July 2015) <https://elifesciences.org/articles/08127> accessed 14 October 2017. 5 Roja Dove, one of the finest noses in the world, claims to be able to distinguish about 800 different scents, blindfolded. See Libby Banks, ‘Perfume, in This Case, “Made by Nose”’, The New York Times (published online 3 November 2013) <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/04/fashion/Perfume-Made-by-Nose.html> accessed 12 April 2017. 6 Noël Carroll suggests something along these lines as a reason why ‘the nose has never caught on as an aesthetic organ’. See ‘Cleaning up Her Act’, in Living in an Artworld (Louisville, KY: Chicago Spectrum Press, 2012), 239–240, at 239. 7 Yoav Gilad, Victor Wiebe, Molly Przeworski, et al. ‘Loss of Olfactory Receptor Genes Coincides with the Acquisition of Full Trichromatic Vision in Primates’, PLOS Biology 2 (2004), 120–125. 8 Larry Shiner and Yulia Kriskovets, ‘The Aesthetics of Smelly Art’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65 (2007), 273–286. See also Jim Drobnick, ‘Reveries, Assaults and Evaporating Presences: Olfactory Dimensions in Contemporary Art’, in Parachute: Contemporary Art Magazine 89 (1998), 10–19. 9 Frank Sibley, ‘Tastes, Smells and Aesthetics’ in John Benson, Betty Redfern, and Jeremy Roxbee Cox (eds) Approach to Aesthetics: Collected Papers on Philosophical Aesthetics (Oxford: OUP, 2001), 207–255. The objects of his ‘concern are particular or individual tastes or smells, or combinations or sequences of these’ (208), and not ‘objects or stuffs or substances that have the tastes or smells, things as various as tobacco, pork pies, daffodils, wines, or bottled perfumes’ (209). Sibley claims that the discussion of tastes and smells as aesthetic is prior to the question whether they can figure in works of art (207); concentrating on the former, he ‘bypasses all questions about art’ (209). But he also thinks that artworks are composed of ‘colors, shapes, sounds, etc.,’ rather than by physical things or events like canvas, paint, marble, and human actions. 10 Bence Nanay observed during discussion that these distinctions are not merely terminological and that the nature of the objects of smell and the status of scents or odours are subjects of debate in philosophy of perception. Such disputes are endemic to the analysis of any sensible property, not just olfactory ones. (See, for example, Barry C. Smith’s discussion of ‘tastes’ as properties of food and wine and ‘tasting’ as the experience a person has in ‘The Chemical Senses’, in Mohan Matthen (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Perception (Oxford: OUP, 2015), 314–352, at 321–322.) The issues in the philosophy of art raised in Sections 3 and 4 are couched in terminology I define here; there may be alternate ways to define the terms of debate, reflecting different views in philosophy of perception, that enable one to address these issues. 11 Sally Banes, ‘Olfactory Performances’, in Sally Banes and André Lepecki (eds) The Senses in Performance (New York: Routledge, 2007), 29–37, at 31. She writes that a scent may illustrate ‘words, characters, places, or actions’, that is, a ‘dramatic or visual text’. 12 Michael Paulson, ‘Fresh-Baked Pie Has Aromatic Role in “Waitress” Musical’, The New York Times, 26 April 2016, C4. 13 The lead producer of Waitress, Barry Weissler, apparently conceived of using the scent of apple pie in the production merely to ‘scent the space’, but it actually does more. See Paulson, ‘Fresh-Baked Pie’, C4. 14 See, for example, the interview by Dillon Slagle with scent designer David Bernstein, ‘Can You Smell That Smell? It’s Theatrical Scent Design’, The Clyde Fitch Report (published online 28 July 2014) <http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2014/07/scent-design-theatre-play-audience/> accessed 16 February 2018 15 Oscar G. Brockett and Robert J. Ball, The Essential Theatre, 8th edn (Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2004), 362; Sally Banes, ‘Olfactory Performances,’ 31. A scent, like components of a set, may of course be used in multiple ways. 16 Banes, ‘Olfactory Performances,’ 31, cites Ben Brantley, ‘A House Guest Inspires not so Maternal Feelings’, The New York Times, 22 February 1996, C13. 17 Brockett and Ball, The Essential Theatre, 361. 18 For this distinction between space and place see Yi-fu Tuan, Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974), and Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977). 19 Drobnick, ‘Reveries, assaults and evaporating presences’, 17. 20 April Long, ‘The Fragrance Trail: How to Find Your Perfect Perfume’, Elle (published online 16 November 2011) <www.elle.com/.../the-fragrance-trail-how-to-find-your-perfect-perfume-610001/> accessed 15 August 2016. 21 Long, ‘The Fragrance Trail’. 22 Brockett and Ball describe this as creating a floor plan (The Essential Theatre, 361). Sets typically organize and characterize the acting space. They do not merely illustrate the look of something, but help turn the acting space into a fictional place. These functions are commonly intertwined. 23 Even here a caveat is in order. Lee Sela and Noam Sobel have studied human directional ability with an immobile nose and from olfactory sensors only. See Lee Sela and Noam Sobel, ‘Human Olfaction: A Constant State of Change-Blindness’, Experimental Brain Research 205 (2010), 13–29. They write that ‘we found that humans could in fact distinguish left from right even when using pure olfactory stimuli, but performance was only slightly yet significantly above chance’ (17). Olfaction’s ability to detect spatial characteristics is often described as, for example, rudimentary, primitive, degenerate, or weak. None of these descriptions entails that the ability is non-existent; in fact, they imply that olfaction can detect spatial properties, but not in the robust way that, for example, vision does. 24 Clare Batty is interested in ‘the “static” olfactory experience—the experience one has when one is not moving about, exploring one’s environment’ in ‘What the Nose Doesn’t Know: Non-Veridicality and Olfactory Experience’, Journal of Consciousness Studies 17 (2010), 10–27, at 15, n. 9. Mohan Matthen also privileges the static nose in Seeing, Doing, and Knowing: A Philosophical Theory of Sense Perception (Oxford: OUP, 2005), 284, as does William G. Lycan in ‘The Slighting of Smell (with a Brief Word on the Slighting of Chemistry)’, in Nalini Bhushan and Stuart Rosenfeld (eds), Of Minds and Molecules: New Philosophical Perspectives on Chemistry (Oxford: OUP, 2000), 273–290. Casey O’Callaghan uses the capacities of ‘fully static orthonasal olfaction’ to decide on whether olfaction is a form of object perception in ‘Objects for Multisensory Perception’, Philosophical Studies 173 (2016), 1269–1289, at 1281. 25 J. Enrique Cometto-Nuñiz and Christopher Simons, ‘Trigeminal Chemesthesis’, in Richard L. Doty (ed.), Handbook of Olfaction and Gustation, 3rd edn (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2005), 1091–1112, at 1092. 26 The original production was at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in 2014, directed by John Schultz. I attended the 2015 production, which was somewhat revised and, crucially, performed in a different venue. 27 The experience also involved various affective and emotional responses—including feelings of tension, unease, and vulnerability—that likely emerged due to blocked vision. 28 Batty, for example, in ‘What the Nose Doesn’t Know,’ argues that the distinction between visual illusions and hallucinations has no analogue in olfaction. For a critique, see the summary article by Richard J. Stevenson, ‘Olfactory Illusions: Where Are They?’, Consciousness and Cognition 20 (2011), 1887–1898. 29 Louise Richardson, ‘Sniffing and Smelling’, Philosophical Studies 162 (2013), 401–419, at 409–410. I should note that Richardson identifies the external thing as (what she calls) an odour, not the physical object, such as a flower, that has the scent. 30 Batty, ‘What the Nose Doesn’t Know,’ 15, n. 9. Batty also resists the idea that the objects of olfaction are ‘ordinary objects’, holding instead that a smell (perhaps what I would call a scent) is instantiated. Any information gained from exploring one’s environment is ‘bracketed’. Oddly, after observing that, by moving about, ‘I may go on to determine that [a smell] is instantiated in certain parts of the kitchen and not in others,’ she claims that we can localize the sources of odours ‘only in a highly controlled laboratory environment and equipped with the appropriate apparatus’ (15, emphasis added). 31 A previous version of this paper was delivered as the Richard Wollheim Lecture at the 2016 annual meeting of the British Society of Aesthetics. I would like to thank Noël Carroll, Cynthia Freeland, Carolyn Korsmeyer, and an anonymous reviewer for this journal for their helpful advice. © British Society of Aesthetics 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society of Aesthetics. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The British Journal of Aesthetics – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 24, 2018
It’s your single place to instantly
discover and read the research
that matters to you.
Enjoy affordable access to
over 18 million articles from more than
15,000 peer-reviewed journals.
All for just $49/month
Query the DeepDyve database, plus search all of PubMed and Google Scholar seamlessly
Save any article or search result from DeepDyve, PubMed, and Google Scholar... all in one place.
Get unlimited, online access to over 18 million full-text articles from more than 15,000 scientific journals.
Read from thousands of the leading scholarly journals from SpringerNature, Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford University Press and more.
All the latest content is available, no embargo periods.
“Hi guys, I cannot tell you how much I love this resource. Incredible. I really believe you've hit the nail on the head with this site in regards to solving the research-purchase issue.”Daniel C.
“Whoa! It’s like Spotify but for academic articles.”@Phil_Robichaud
“I must say, @deepdyve is a fabulous solution to the independent researcher's problem of #access to #information.”@deepthiw
“My last article couldn't be possible without the platform @deepdyve that makes journal papers cheaper.”@JoseServera