Remembering with our Nose

The unconscious is unpresentable. It is non-logocentric. It is Asemiotic and therefore remains undecidable. Lacan has taught us that the unconscious is not identical to language but is structured like a language. The examination of our relationship with the internet seems to suggest that the unconscious is extended into the internet in its dissolved state. This means the content, signs and significations in the web seem to remain in a semiotic black hole until we google to semiotize (bring meaning to) the same. This thought is extending Lacan’s view that the unconscious is not within us but is between us. A society that has taken to the culture of forgetting manifests how we mindlessly scroll on the touch screen of our smart phone trying to semiotize a desemiotize experience of reality. The internet in its undissolved state is colossal and inexhaustible, although its boundaries are finite. It is still excessive and intensively overloaded like a black hole waiting to explode. It is a crypt till we google to activate it. While the tall claim of extending the unconscious to the workings of the internet may be contested. It is just a hypothesis. I wish to introduce the grammar of Derrida to understand it as a writing. This exercise might open us to this hypothesis. Derrida himself seems to liken it to an allegory of an archive. Maybe my proposal can be interpreted allegorically. 

Armed with Derrida’s methodology of grammatology, let us try to understand the unconscious as a form of writing. It is a semiotic and non-logocentric writing and hence it is difficult to put it into phonocentric writing. But language can mime if not represent. Therefore our effort is to mime the unconscious. Hence, epistemology cannot assist us. Derrida has already called out the limitations of epistemology and opened a road towards epithemia ( desire). In order to mime the workings of the unconscious, we shall try to think with our nose. The sense of smell is thought but we are used to thinking with our eyes alone. As a result our thinking is conditioned by logocentrism. Scholars say that olfaction or smelling is more intimate than taste. Kant thinks of smell as taste at a distance. Although, the term taste may capture olfaction but it remains inadequate. One of the most important features of smell is it fails our memory. We can remember the rose in the garden but we cannot remember its smell. Smell is non-logocentric and is profoundly instantaneous and works non-semiotically. The sense of smell writes in a manner that does not depend on the decoding of signs. 

Smell is recognized but not recalled. The failure of memory in the case of olfaction is supplemented by the evocative power of smell. This means smell thinks in a different way. Smell holds our attention but reorients it to what surrounds us. Pleasant odours attract us and unpleasant odours repel us. This means smell functions like a symbol, pointing at something through itself without pointing at itself. Thus it gives rise to thoughts of other than itself in the way Ricoeur has already taught us. This is why we have to agree that smell works like a mnemonic tool evoking sentiments and recollections that we may withhold from public communications. Smell is profoundly intimate. It provides supplementary access to memory. This is totally different from our memory that is ordered in a linear way. It has a disruptive effect. Smell therefore works by evocation and not by direct invocation. 

Olfaction may give us insight into the workings of the unconscious which seems to be evocative rather than invocative. Daniel Sperber who has studied the semiotic mode of olfaction uses it to support Lacan’s teaching that states that the unconscious is structured like a language. The unconscious sets up metonymic chains of associations rather than direct concepts which can be empirically verified. Hence, we may say that the unconscious thinks with the nose. Grammatologists may say that the unconscious writes with the nose. Maybe we can see how the internet, also being semiotic, is evocative. It refers to the previous memories, sentiments and values and we resemiotize them as we surf it. This insight may also explain why we experience a memory failure in the face of information overload. In fact grammatology is evocative. All we have to do is to try to view how we write in devious ways. Hence, looking at the unconscious as an archive where we write our traumatic losses becomes instructive and insightful. It might illuminate why we are constantly attached to the touchscreen of a smartphone. The smart phone and the internet seems to have become our mode of accessing our unconscious. 

Our society today seems to have moved into the world of aesthetics. Some may say it has led to the animalization of humanity. The world of aesthetics is sensible but remains beyond the intelligible without ceasing to be intelligible. We need the mind to come to our senses. It has taken us from the senses to the sensible on the wings of the smartphone and the internet. We are now remembering with our nose. This is why we experience memory failure. Perhaps, with the rise of the internet and the smart phone we have come in touch with our unconscious as never before. The more we depend on the artificial memory tools the more we shall build a culture of amnesia. The fact that we remember with our nose, we have become vulnerable to evocative politics. The evocative stimulus puts us into mindless action often reinforcing bias, hate and violence. We have begun to think with our nose. Only once we realise that we are thinking with our nose, perhaps we might save ourselves from vulnerabilities of the reigning evocative politics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


If you are not paying for the product, then you are the product.

That's Big Data Analytics.

- Fr Victor Ferrao