Annick Le Guérer

The Power of Odours Publication date : February 1, 1998

Is it true, as has sometimes been stated, that our olfactory sense isless developed than that of our ancestors, or, on the contrary, are we becominghypersensitive to odours, as the increasing number of olfactory-related phobias observed by psychiatrists would seem to indicate? Whatever the answer to these questions, the fact remains that the olfactory sense is in the process of being actively rediscovered in numerous fields, and particularly in the area of health, yet until not so long ago it was regarded as completely insignificant. Readers may remember the numerous articles in the press that were recently devoted to pheromones. In Japan and the United States,laboratories are seeking for ways of treating anxiety and psychotic states with the help of odours. Olfactory disorders have been observed in patients suffering from schizophrenia, hallucinatory psychoses, confused mental states,and from neuro-degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. Whether odours appeal to us or produce in us feelings of disgust, they affect us powerfully and more or less consciously throughout our daily lives. Annick Le Guérer has made a careful study of myths, religions, and cultures, examining them across the centuries and in various socialenvironments. She takes the reader on a voyage of discovery of the world of odours, which is also the realm of ambiguity, fantasy, pretence, and aberrantbehaviour, and demonstrates that odours are at the heart of our most obscure attractions and rejections. She shows, for example, that philosophers' and psychoanalysts' mistrust of the olfactory sense can be traced to ancient fearsof the bestiality traditionally attributed to this sense. First published in 1988 by François Bourin, Les Pouvoirs de l'odeur had been out of print for several years. This new edition, published byEditions Odile Jacob in the "Opus" series, has been completely revised by theauthor. It includes the latest related scientific findings, a new section onthe relation between psychoanalysis and odours, and a comprehensive indexlisting both proper names and subject matter. Annick Le Guérer is an anthropologist and philosopher specialising in the sense of smell, odours and perfume. She is a member of theSociety for Euro-Asian studies at the Musée de l'Homme.