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PAST SENSE: HISTORY IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES BY ANDREW HESS A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree History Bachelor of Arts Under the spo nsorship of Brendan Goff, Ph.D. Sarasota, Florida May 2012
ii For Charlie and Carla Marie
iii Acknowledgements I would like to thank my family and friends, because I do not do that enough. I love you guys.
iv Table of Contents Abstract............. ...........................................................v Introduction..................................................................1 1. On the Habit of Sensory History..............................8 2. Sensing the "Great Divide".................... ................26 3. Sensing Marx.........................................................45 Conclusion.................................................................64 Bibliography..............................................................68
v P ast Sense: History in the Realm of the Senses Andy Hess New College of Florida, 2012 ABSTRACT This thesis assesses a growing trend in the writing of history, which attends to the various roles and conceptions of the senses throughout history. Pr oceeding from a discussion of the sometimes unique and sometimes standard methodologies of the habit of "sensory history," the various implications and problems of such an approach are suggested and explored using a once widely accepted historical framewor k known as the "great divide." Imbuing this once black and white binary with the lost textures and experiences of sensory detail and evidence, a similar treatment of the life and work of social theorist Karl Marx is attempted. The results challenge and enh ance our understanding of his theories and indeed even how he might have experienced his own sensory world. While sometimes raising more questions than it answers, it would be wise for historians or really anyone interested in academic research to pay atte ntion to the specter of the senses of the past. Brendan Goff Division of Social Sciences
1 Introduction Getting a Sense of the Past "The sensuous world is, not a thing given direct from all eternity, remaining ever the same, but the product of industry and of the state of society in the sense that it is a historical product." 1 If we are to accept Karl Marx's assertion here, then the senses seem to be a worthwhile manner through which to address the past. Is it possible to ascertain the way p eople in the past regarded their world through their senses? Will there ever come studies that capture what seventeenth century Austria sounded like or how smell affected the lives of eighteenth century Parisians? A recent surge in historical scholarship i n the realm of the senses has come to take seriously such endeavors. Sensory history, as it is sometimes referred to, has become a somewhat burgeoning subject just recently, despite having deeper roots in the work of the Annales School, and the amount and breadth of work available now as compared to the turn of the century is staggering. We now have volumes on the roles of smell in classical antiquity, 2 touch in early modern Europe 3 and eighteenth century America, 4 sound in the mechanical 1 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology ed. R. Pascal (New York: International Publishers, 1947), 35. 2 Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Scenting Salvation: Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006). 3 Laura Gowing, Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in Seventeenth Century England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003). 4 Mark M. Smith, "Getting in Touch with Slavery and Freedom," Jou rnal of American History 95 (2008).
2 age 5 and taste in medieval England 6 and in eighteenth century Caribbean 7 while visual studies for a variety of places and time periods continue to abound. 8 There have even been some publications which attempt to extract the interrelatedness of the senses throughout history 9 Despite the range of these works, they do share some common threads. These sensory histories, coming from various subfields and differing approaches, emphasize the primacy of context in elucidating the role a particular sense played in the past. What m ight offend a medieval Englishman's nose may not have the same reception today in England. A sensory history must distinguish what was defined as sound or noise, what was called "stinky" and what was aromatic, what ways of touch were determined acceptable and which were not, and what specific foods tasted like while keeping in mind that the reception of these sensations was entirely dependent upon who received them. Also, a sensory historian must understand the value various technologies hold in indicating the nature of sensory relations in a given time while being aware of the various political, economic and social contexts that influenced sense perception and its meaning. Sensory history does not suppose the senses to be universal or suprahistorical, as t he senses do not transcend time and place but rather are completely contingent upon their historical context. As such, the senses change constantly. Sensory history seeks to probe 5 Karin Bijsterveld, Mechanical Sound: Technology, Culture, and Public Problems of Noise in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008). 6 C.M. Woolgar, The Senses in Late Medieval England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007). 7 Donna R. Gabbacia, Colonial Creoles: the Formation of tastes in Early America," in The Taste Culture Reader: Experiencing Food and Drink ed. C. Korsmeyer (New York: Berg, 2005). 8 Robert Jtte, A History of the Senses: From An tiquity to Cyberspace trans. James Lynn (Malton: Polity, 2005). 9 Mark M. Smith, Sensory History (Oxford: Berg, 2007).
3 the many meanings given to sensory experience from a variety of peoples at c ertain points in time and place. Sensory histories also share a common understanding that sight tends to dominate thought about the senses, supporting a hierarchal understanding of the senses. Thus, sensory history pays particular attention to the "lower" senses in order to reinvigorate our understanding of the historical sensorium with their once marginalized roles. Sight is typically seen as the dominant sense because of intellectual traditions following the print revolution and the Enlightenment, which brought the eye above the rest as the best sensor of truth and the establisher of perspective and balance. Buoyed by inventions which extended, enhanced and crystallized visuality such as the telescope, microscope and camera, visual dominance came to be ac cepted as a progressive element of the modern age, an inevitability of reason and logic. It follows that the perceived efficacy of the other senses declined so that this "revolution" of the senses came to be defined by an elevation of the eye as the arbite r of truth while the other senses came to be associated with an emotionalism that hampered their applicability and intellectuality. Thus, a great deal of historical scholarship up until recently has tended to focus only upon the visual, attempting to see t he world of the past through the lenses of its actors. Only within the last few decades has any attempt been made to glean nonvisual sensory evidence from similar sources. Body of Sense' This thesis acts as a meter of the recent trend of sensory analysi s in historical scholarship. Equal parts literature review, demonstration, and application, I attempt to
4 offer a fair assessment of the state of an academic shift in history which tends to offer very interesting analyses and conclusions. It is a practice s till very much in gestation, yet already has so much to offer the historian willing to pay attention to the nuances of the sensorium in a particular period and place and how it turn affects and is affected by the vagaries of society. The tools, techniques and methodologies of the practice, which indeed differ from more traditional approaches to historical writing, offer a compelling place to start the investigation. The idiosyncrasies of the practice, perhaps better described as a particular "habit" of wri ting history, are worthy of an entire volume unto themselves, but the form of sensory history is still constantly shifting as more and more historians take on sensory histories, thus adding their own touch and unique methods to the gradually expanding body of sensory history. Certain methodologies have crystallized and seem to guide this sort of historical writing, while others complicate, detract or foreground further applications of sensory history. Sensory historians are still far from a consensus regard ing the approach and presentation of their work and there are serious implications as to the end result of their labor. Is sensory history supposed to simply reproduce sensory aspects of the past which might now be lost to the march of time, or should sens ory history be more intent upon recovering the ways in which such sensory aspects would have been experienced in their time, the influence they might have exerted, and the manner in which they were addressed culturally, socially, politically, etc.? Both ap proaches have their merits: the former lending itself to more accessible presentation in museum venues which increasingly attempt to incorporate and use sensory elements while the latter encourages an entirely new academic rigor. It would appear that these approaches could be
5 combined. However, the latter intrinsically questions the exact point of approximating a past sensorium when we ourselves could not possibly receive, say, the taste of a fruit by someone prior to the proliferation of sugar in the same manner. Issues of usability and authenticity aside, the writing of sensory history relies on an incorporation which rewards the historian who utilizes a variety of historical methods, as well as work beyond the realm of history which addresses the sensate. The primary sourcing of sensory history relies upon traditional written records and many historians have had great success in analyzing evidence in the form of popular literature, personal diaries, medical records, etiquette manuals, etc. and such diverse sources require a wide knowledge of a broad subject range that must expand from history to other social sciences, humanities, and even the natural sciences. While the trend of sensory history is still rather new, the senses have long figured pr ominently in philosophy, religion, medicine, and social theory. As such, there are certain theories regarding the senses and their place in the scheme of history, society and culture which must be addressed in order to assess their viability. The work of M arshall McLuhan looms largely over the whole of sensory history, as his work on technological determinacy centers upon the senses and provides some of the most useful ideas and terminology for attending to the senses in historical inquiry. However, a rathe r striking aspect of McLuhan's work casts a pall over the historicism of the senses: McLuhan posits that the invention of the printing press splits the history of sense perception into a before and after scenario in which humanity came to rely more on the eye following the print revolution as opposed to a more oral/aural tradition previous. While such binaries can be highly attractive in their explanatory power, the notion of this "great divide" has been
6 particularly contentious to many a sensory historian, particularly because it precludes studies of the wide ranging sensory nuance of the modern ages and assumes the sensory construction of preliterate society to be dominated by the ear. Whether explicitly or implicitly, all works of sensory history address the great divide to a degree, with the effect of attenuating the tenets of the theory or flat out refuting McLuhan's findings. Indeed, the great divide theory provides an effective proving ground for a majority of the work discussed here, allowing for a de monstration of many a scholar's work up against a (once) widely accepted theory of history. The implications of social theory lend themselves synergistically to the work of sensory history. These distillations of the grand movements and direction of histo ry typically incorporate the role of the senses in elucidating the inner workings of society and its constituencies. Such is the case of the work of Karl Marx, perhaps the most influential of any social theorist if the predicative nature of his writings is any indication. While he provided the ideological basis for countless uprisings, the senses provided a physical basis for his critical analysis and concept of historical materialism. The importance and efficacy of the senses created a philosophical founda tion for Marx from which he theorized upon the alienation of the worker via the effect of factories upon the senses of the workforce. Ironically, however, there exists somewhat of a great divide in Marx's own work. An epistemological break in his writings distinguishes the sensuous thrust of his earlier writings from the more scientific tone and formulae of Capital and subsequent works. While Marx might have gained a critical edge in creating a new science to break down the effects of commoditization, he l ost a sensory dimension that proves to be crucial in understanding the highly sensuous nature of consumer capitalism.
7 Reflecting upon Marx's context and his own corporeality, it is possible to hint at what may have made him reconsider the senses. (Not Ju st) Looking Back The undertaking of sensory history means the participation in an ongoing project which could influence the whole of historical writing, and as such it requires careful attention to the methods and processes vital to its production. Mindful of how all the senses exerted themselves on the experience of society and likewise how culture and society tempered and arranged the senses, there are near limitless implications for a historian to consider in examining any given time, place and people. T he effort it takes to undo the puzzle of sensory relations throughout time is made more problematic by the existence of certain social theories, which can either guide or mislead the sensory historian. Whether it is dealing with the blind divide of McLuhan or understanding Marx's sense, this thesis argues that academia must adapt to the mission of sensory history, as more and more work is continued in making sense of the past.
8 Chapter One On the Habit of Sensory History History as a practice evolves cons tantly. Indeed, it has benefited greatly from the methodological and conceptual shifts preventing the historical method from becoming much like its subject matter, stale and dusty. These shifts typically have come about through oppositional reactions to th e dominance of political history, that is that which emphasizes "the institutional organization of the state, the competition of factions and parties for control over the state, the policies enforced by the state, and the relations between states." 10 Histor ians' preoccupation entirely with the actions of societal elites necessitated movements which would attenuate the aims of historical research to represent experiences beyond what the state precipitates or observes. Reactions to this paradigm have been appr opriate: women's history recovers the historical force of gender left out of histories ostensibly made for and by men, African American history takes seriously the primacy of race and the agency of African Americans in histories where whites were seen as t he sole historical mover, micro history challenges nationally defined narratives, environmental history considers the influence of the natural world when history was only anthropogenic, and so on. However, the recent flurry of interest in how the senses fa ctor into historical understanding lacks this oppositional foundation. This is not to say that sensory history is without focus nor merely the flourish of vivid effect in writing. The growing body of scholarship which falls under the umbrella of sensory hi story represents a fast crystallizing habit through which any sort of inquiry, such as any of the formerly mentioned fields, can be framed. As such, if a great deal of the current literature is any inkling, it offers a highly rewarding avenue through which to guide any 10 John Tosh and Sean Lang, The Pursuit of History (Edinburgh Gate: Pearson, 2006), 115.
9 historical inquiry. While not contending to vastly revolutionize the practice of history, it still relies on the same written evidence typically utilized in history. There exists some disagreement about the manner in which the habit should be employed and presented. It does provide an avenue to better nuance and texture our historical understanding as it "pricks consciousness and questions assumptions about what to examine and how to examine it." 11 This approach encourages a self consciousness and hyperawareness which can only broaden and sharpen our understanding of the past and its operation. Definition and Examples: "Organs of connection and protection" It is no doubt a tall order, employing our own senses to reconstitute a sphere of time a nd place as it would have been experienced then. After all, what is more contingent on time and place than the manner in which that context was perceived then? In the introduction to his primer on the subject of sensory history, Mark M. Smith extracts from his reading of sensorial anthropologist Constance Classen the extremely confined and limited nature of the senses, writing that "the senses are not universal, are not transhistorical, and can only be understood in their specific social and historical cont exts." 12 If we already accept that the disjuncture of the development of the senses from how things are perceived today, what would be the point of a historical investigation? Perhaps the difficulty in answering this question accounts for the complete lack of sensory detail in a majority of U.S. history textbooks prior to the 1970s. But in reality, it may be that history has dismissed a great deal of sensory detail because of the stigma 11 Mark M. Smith, Sensory History (Oxford: 2007 ), 5. 12 Ibid., 3.
10 attached to strong sensations. In other words, the etiquette of our tim e has caused historians to overlook the importance of similar frameworks in the past. To deodorize is a social norm, a necessity to occupy any place in polite society, just as bad breath, awkward speech, and sloppy appearances would be an utter embarrassme nt to the sensibilities of western civilization. "Foul smelling rubbish appears to threaten the social order, whereas the reassuring victory of the hygienic and the fragrant promises to buttress its stability." 13 These sensibilities and normative behaviors are what make it possible for Jacob Riis to appear as an objective observer of the squalor of tenement housing to the typical history student. The middle class socialization of Riis bemoaned the filth and odor of the tenements, while the experience of ins piration was received by the inhabitants from the music of street organ grinders or the appetizing waft from the hot potato and corn vendors. The previous generation of reformers likewise diminished the experience of the downtrodden of tenement housing to that of "moral and physical contagion" by using sensory detail as a normative measure. The sensory perspective of the middle class here is accepted uncritically. 14 And yet in the west at least, sensation is suppressed and "hardly ever considered as a polit ical vehicle or a medium for the expression of class allegiances and struggle." 15 For the same reason that strong odor may be demonized, so has sensorial explication been avoided in historical texts. Even still, the senses were instrumental in the formation of social distinctions, it would not be until later in the twentieth century that 13 Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination (New York: Berg, 1986), 5. 14 George H. Roeder, Jr., "Coming to our senses," The Journal of American History vol. 81, no. 3 (1994), 1115 1116. 15 Constanc e Classen et al., Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell (London: Routledge, 2003), 161.
11 the sensate would be treated with more weight in history textbooks perhaps as historians became aware of the reflexivity of their relatively sweat less profession. 16 Urban hi story seems a likely candidate for a sensorial analysis, as numbers of people concentrated in a single area lends itself to pushing the extremities of sensation by volume alone. The approach is equally as fruitful in applications which isolate a specific p eculiarity of human existence. Leigh Eric Schmidt's work on the influence of aurality on developing religiosity in the American Enlightenment demonstrates just how tangibly sensory expression inflected history. Using the example of Protestant revivalism, h e explores how religious sound was used and defined by different classes and social groups. One would not usually consider such societal cleavages on sensorial terms beyond visibility, but sound played a crucial part in evangelicals' religious expressions to the point that it became a crucial aspect of their otherness. Antirevivalists decried "the Groaning, crying out, falling down and screaming" of the evangelical congregation, chalking up the jubilant heights of meetings to mere disorientation from sensor y overloads. But the noisy fervor of revivals represented an openness and readiness to hear for their participants and a key component to bearing one's soul for salvation. 17 Sound here plays a pivotal part in the construction of otherness. In a similar trea tment of the French countryside, French cultural historian Alain Corbin demonstrates how class differences came to be expressed acoustically in a small commune in Normandy called Lonlay l' Abbaye. In this example, the local peasants grew accustomed to the wail of a siren keeping their schedule and ordering their work, as the 16 Roeder, "Coming," 1113. 17 Leigh Eric Schmidt. Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 66 70.
12 more traditional bell tower had been destroyed in World War II. However, the inhabitants of the bourg sought the return of the bells in preference to their aesthetic quality and emotion al power. In contrast, the peasants found the sirens more practical in that they could be heard more clearly and from greater distances than the bells. The resulting rabble revived old divisions much like that of the upper class "Gaullists" and the lower c lass "Ptainists." This episode reveals a "social dichotomy in the use of the senses, in the perception of thresholds of tolerance, and in the significance of noises." Suggesting that sensory elements play an elementary role in class distinctions, the sou nd of the sirens became irreplaceable to the peasantry while the city dwellers wished to moderate the din with tradition. 18 Indeed, issues of modernity form a great deal of the impetus for a more keen awareness of the senses' place in history. In fact, cult ural historian Emily Thompson is able to trace an arc to modernity on purely aural terms. In The Soundscape of Modernity Thompson locates the shifts in how people listened to sounds through the technological mediation of scientists and engineers [who] di scovered ways to manipulate traditional materials of architectural construction in order to control the behavior of sound in space." In her example of the building boom of the early twentieth century, controlling the acoustic properties within these struct ures became such a priority that by 1930 companies expressly dealing with the development of materials capable of absorbing and reducing reverberation flourished, and consequently "animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms alike were plundered to create thes e strange new materials for controlling sound." Shifts in how sounds would be controlled in our built environment predicated an increased 18 Alain Corbin, Time, Desire and Horror: Towards a History of the Senses trans. Jean Birrell (London: Wiley, 1995), 183 184.
13 strain upon our natural resources as well as changed the culture of hearing in built spaces. 19 Sensory history can be h elpful in broadening our interpretive basis of historical issues, conflicts and movements, these examples merely glance at the implications of sensory application. By better fleshing out the concerns of methodology and presentation of sensory history, its wide ranging utility revealed itself as qualified by some of the particular problems of its execution. Approach and Presentation Even though its roots can be traced back nearly a century, sensory history is still a relatively young field. As such, it is given to the contentious grappling of its trailblazers in an effort to define the methods of the practice explicitly. For historians such as Guy Thullier and Peter Hoffer, examining the sensory past has largely been of an archival nature. Their approaches attempt to recover and depict sensoriums no longer extant. Hoffer wishes to recover a "lost world of the senses," an "immediate past reality" made experiential by a highly descriptive catalog of the sensory elements present at one time. 20 While Hoffer focu ses on early America, Thuillier developed just such an inventory of the sounds and their relative intensities a mid nineteenth century villager in the Nivernais region of France may have heard. These approaches represent positivist attempts to delineate th e evolution of the sensory environment 21 and in of themselves are of little issue as they add to the whole of history a more comprehensive perspective; an 19 Emily Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity (Cambridge: MIT Press 2002), 190. 20 Peter Hoffer, Sensory Worlds in Early America (Bal timore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 17. 21 Alain Corbin, Time, Desire and Horror 183.
14 immersive element which reduces the risk of anachronistic fallacies for other researchers. There is al so a certain respect to this exercise. Even as these catalogs brush upon the perceptual influences of the day, they do not assume to be able to recreate the perspectives on sensate relations or the order of sensory awareness which would have colored recept ion. This approach is tailor made to be presented to the public, aiding in the creation of living museums and adding to the "authenticity" of historical reenactments presumably, that is, if sensation can be approximated. Indeed, from the 1980s onward, an increase in exhibitions and focus on engaging the senses (beyond just that of sight) is apparent, for example, in the Basel Museum of Design series as "Aroma, Aroma" (1995) and "Touch Me" (1996), the Ingolstadt Museum of Medical History's Scent and Touch G arden, A Garden of the Five Senses at Valloires, the Hunterian Museum's "Senses in Touch," and so on. 22 While Hoffer's work focuses on issues like colonialism, race, religion, and revolution, his assertion that historians can "sense directly" the past is a bold statement which gives way to the previously mentioned exhibitions. 23 It is precisely this type of reproduction that most concerns the preeminent historian of the senses, Mark M. Smith. The particular problematic of these current reproductions of past sensory environments revolves around their consumption when they are, according to Smith, "beyond consumption." Smith admits that the reproduction of an approximate sensory world is, of course, possible and is typically accomplished through artificial mea ns. However, Smith contends that "it is impossible to experience those sensations the same way as those who heard the hammer or music, tasted the food or 22 Robert Jtte, trans. James Lynn, A History of the Senses (Malton: Polity, 2005), 2 3. 23 Hoffer, Sensory Worlds 17.
15 smelled the dung." 24 The world that shaped what sensory elements existed and colored the manner in whic h those sensations were perceived by different constituencies has long since disappeared, even while some of these elements may have persisted into the current time. Smith is wary of our apparent need to consume as it strips sensory history of the constel lation of implications it encompasses. To counter these tendencies, Smith and other like minded historians make their objective to historicize the senses. 25 Robert Jtte describes the need to "break with the aprioristic assumption of the naturalness' of s ense perception," meaning that we cannot automatically conclude that any aspect of the sensorium can be considered detached from its context and that our own senses have been a nonbiased biological constant. In addition, the physical experience of said sen se perception and the manner in which it is preserved must be differentiated by researchers in order to properly address the meanings people had for their sensate reflection. Jtte addresses the issue of this distinction and the tendency of some histories to fall on the other side of Hoffer's and Thuilier's catalogic approaches and proceed from an ideological standpoint. The product of such an approach, labeled as a history of the mentalities by Lucien Febrve, is inevitably "a pure history of ideas," useful in a similar way as inventories of sensation. Ultimately, the troublesome nature of these approaches is due to their non historicity, in that they do not construct an accurate portrayal of the past but merely pick at either side of the margins of human ex perience. However, this is not to say that there exists only one whole conglomeration of human experience. Smith is highly attentive to the corrupting influence of certain devices of language. He disdains the use of the pronouns "us" and "we" in considerin g 24 Smith, Sensory History 120 1. 25 Ibid, 118.
16 the sensory past because it implies once again that there exists a universal understanding and ordering of the senses today. 26 Likewise, he holds in a similar regard for the word "is" when used to speak about the senses as it "does enormous violence to th e central idea that senses were lots of things." 27 French historian Alain Corbin puts forth a similar methodology for sensory inquiry. It is similar in that it is rife with concern over the use of language, calling on readers to be fully aware of the signs that indicate the sensory system and the sort of functions these signs hold in their textual arrangement. The historian is a "prisoner of language" who must avoid the traps set by the inertia of words by way of careful consideration. To detect a shift in t he perceptual basis of a people requires that the historian be aware of certain peculiarities which "condition the frontier between the spoken and unspoken." For instance, there are some things an observer or diarist may take for granted in their sensory e nvironment, the common and accustomed urban denizen is not likely to note the existence of traffic noise in their descriptions of a big city. Attention must be paid to the effects of banality on the subject's addressing of the sensory aspects of existence. It follows, then, that historians embarking on a sensorial investigation must find ways to tease out these everyday and banal aspects which observers may gloss over. Corbin also sees the "inertia of language" as a potential trap for historians, as is ofte n the case, it causes the use of expressions and metaphors that no longer reflect the world they perceive and experience. Losing the meaning of their signification deters our understanding but this inertia of words informs Corbin's views on transformations or shifts in the way senses are used as detected through written 26 Ibid, 122. 27 Ibid, 3.
17 documents. The emergence of innovation does not necessarily denote a transformation, merely "the crystallization of new rhetorical forms." However, the proliferation of these forms and "the proxility of the discourse and the system of norms which it propagates help to determine its later uses," which, of course, are subject to outmoding, balancing, or outright removal prior to their ultimate fruition. 28 There are more direct and less abstract routes to address the approaches of sensory history, which Edward Cullen Rath exemplifies with his work How Early America Sounded In the introduction to the volume, Rath describes his approach to the aural element of the early American sensorium as a stu dy of "ways" that is, "the paths, trajectories, transformations, meditations, practices and techniques" that were used by people to understand and express their attitudes and beliefs about their soundscape. Rath wishes to avoid the circular logic that can plague the sensory historian, particularly when considering the intent and construction of the human aspect of the early American soundscape. Regarding the sense of hearing, he rates the underlying beliefs as historically inaccessible and is not concerned with their concrete expression. 29 He disavows the semiotics of this sense to focus on its reception on a case by case basis, producing broad observations about the general interpretations of sound by specific groups. In the instance of thunder, Rath uncove rs three different conceptions of a higher, intelligent being's expression in the material world: the voice of God or a demon to Anglo Americans, the actual presence and identity of gods to Native Americans, and an animated and 28 Corbin, Time 189 191. 29 Edward Cullen Rath, How Early America Sounded (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003), 2.
18 judgmental force to African Americans, 30 while still recognizing the range of experience encompassed by each label. The inclusion of a chapter collecting and analyzing testimony of the natural soundscape, thunder being just one such aspect of it, is a necessary exercise. As the aural nature of modernity is being explored more thoroughly in recent works, there will be a need for chapters such as Rath's to compare to works such as The Soundscape of Modernity to form better and more comprehensive perspectives of the position of aurality a nd aid in the tracing of its historical arc. Hopefully, the development of the sort of insight that does not suppose to plasticize the senses or contribute to other such ahistorical meanderings will ensue. The approaches of Rath and Thompson highlight ano ther key aspect of most historical undertakings in the realm of the senses: the tendency to focus the study on one isolated cultural conception of a sense. Thus, the recent glut of sensory histories have typically endeavored to focus solely on sight, smell or hearing. While tasting and touching have received considerably less attention, 31 it can be expected that they will get their due service eventually even if only in comprehensive attempts at sensory history. Isolation likely has been a reaction to the i nitial difficulty of dealing with a new practice. The isolation of sound in particular has become a trend, one which peaked with the publishing of Smith's anthology Hearing History a compilation featuring the work of twenty aural historians, not including the editor. Sound likely has been the first to receive such a thorough historical treatment as commentary on one of the most noticeable aspects of urban modernity, noise pollution, and as a criticism to the occularcentrism of the social sciences. The pred ominance of such microhistorical approaches is natural and fruitful in 30 Ibid, 173. 31 Jtte, History of the Senses 12 13.
19 general for sensory history. In the same way that local histories can be used to synthesize total histories, so can studies such as Corbin's The Foul and the Fragrant and Karin Bijsterv eld's Mechanical Sound can be reincorporated into more comprehensive histories of the senses. As it stands, differentiation seems to be the order of the day, and the Hearing History reader make another facet clear about the field of aural history and that of the senses in general. There is a distinct lack of research on, for instance, African or otherwise nonwestern nations, communities, and so on. So, the scope of a great deal of the recent boom of sensory histories is necessarily fractured both in a globa l and sensorial perspective. Evidence The fractured nature of sensory history so far can be attributed to the relative youth of the practice, but the evidence on which the field must rely also factors greatly. After all, the nature of all sensation is in trinsically evanescent. Bruce R. Smith's contribution to the coda of Hearing History gives a better idea of the problem: "sounds rapidly dissipate into nothing. For an historian interested in the sounds of the past, there would seem to be nothing there to study." 32 The transience of sensation itself, that is besides sight, does seem to preclude any serious historical inquiry through the "lower senses." But historians have utilized a plethora of sources, some obvious, some subtler, and some ingenious to circu mvent this issue of extreme transience. The likelihood of finding sensory specific testimony in documentary form is of course low, but by casting a 32 Bruce R. Smith, "How Sound is Sound History?" in Hear ing History ed. Mark M. Smith (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004), 389.
20 wide net it is possible to extract bits and pieces to reconstitute an accurate translation of that world's s ensorium. These bits and pieces tend to be of two different sorts. The first kind deals with the reconstitution of the sensory environment's perception for a particular group, culture or even individual. This evidence gives a good idea of what regimes of influence are responsible for the general ordering of the sensorium. Corbin criticizes historians for not paying enough attention to the "evolution of systems of appreciationthe respective configurations of the agreeable and the disagreeable, the fascinat ing and the repulsive, the sought after and the rejected," etc. He finds that it is possible to get at the representations of the self and other within a culture via fiction, which exposes the sensual logic of a culture. Though nonfictional sources abound as well in his case of nineteenth century France, he uses a variety of hygiene manuals and etiquette guides, all of which include chapters on the percepta 33 Such educational texts are not exactly ubiquitous throughout history, but Jtte indicates some more of such normative texts: "health manuals, moral theological and philosophical treatises." 34 These guides detail a given culture's ordering of the senses, indicating what sensory restrictions exist and what is tolerable and intolerable to a particular sense Of course such guides only tend to be written from the perspective of the elite. Even still, Rath is able to recover from Richard Allestree's widely circulated seventeenth century book of manners, an aural aspect of a servant's disapproval as expressed through grumbling. A master was supposed to avoid such begrudging obedience by using a "cool, reasoned and calm" inflection. 35 It is also crucial to note how the physical dimensions of 33 Corbin, Time 184 185. 34 Jtte, History of the Senses 13. 35 Rath, How Early America Sounded 6.
21 a built, modified or natural environment can affect and shape its appar ent sensory elements as Thompson notes in the architectural evidence which comprises the bulk of her research on the culture of listening in the radical advancements in early twentieth century. 36 While contemporary views on the ordering and balancing of th e senses can be construed from the educational, moral, philosophical, and even fictional literature, there are a variety of sources which indicate how individuals addressed their sensory world and faculties, private and otherwise. Autobiographical sources and other sorts of self documentation are extremely useful in this manner. The records of Herman Weinsburg, a Cologne city councilor who endeavored to take full stock of the effects of aging on his body and health at the close of each decade of his life by paying particular attention to the state of his senses, are a perfect example of a source whose personal orientation gives perspective to the inner life of an individual as related through the senses. Such a source enables an historian to ascertain discre pancies and reflections of a society's conceptions of and ordering of the senses. While Weinsburg was disturbed by the growing muddiness of his hearing, he was especially gripped with fear due to his increasingly failing vision. 37 Other private sources, suc h as diaries, can be effectively utilized, or as Corbin puts it: "There is no better source for anyone who seeks to understand the ways in which the senses were educated and employed." 38 The gamut of evidence that a sensory historian can use is perhaps en capsulated by Bruce Smith's list of his sources which he mined for his The Acoustic World of Early 36 Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity 2. 37 Jtte, History of the Sense s 13, 112. 38 Corbin, Time 186.
22 Modern England: Attending to the O Factor : "travelers' accounts, estate maps, letters, diaries, sermons, plays, poems, fictional narratives, ballads from ora l tradition and architectural remains." 39 To this list, medical and other anatomically inclined scientific manuals can be added. Such a broad swath of documentary, cultural, procedural and medical evidence allows for a general conception of a particular tim e, place and people's sensory regime while more individuated sources allow for comparisons and contrasts to the accepted societal sensory ordering. Sensory history essentially approaches the same expository evidence which most inquiry utilizes but with a p articular attention paid to the sensory aspects of these documents. From here, the manner the senses were ordered, inflected and employed can be extracted. Sensory history as a pluralist habit It is not possible to regard sensory history as a field per se. However, the nature of a great deal of sensory research breaks down the notions of field specific study: approaching the senses in history necessitates a breadth of knowledge that incorporates other historical disciplines, as well as extra disciplinary work in the humanities, social and natural sciences. A sensory history must necessarily, as Mark Smith notes, "bring into dialogue historians and scholars from a variety of fields who have attended to the sensate." 40 For the sensory historian, disciplin ary and extra disciplinary pluralism means mindfulness of a variety of issues, a hyperawareness it certainly derives from social history. In his chapter on the anthropology of the senses, Alain Corbin laments the 39 Bruce Smith, "How Sound," 390. 40 Smith, Sensory History 4.
23 impractical but necessary nature of acquiri ng broad forehand knowledge, as well as a broad inter and intra disciplinary basis before proceeding with sensory inquiry: "All this constitutes a jumble of facts; it is still wise to recall them." 41 While in that quotation's context, he speaks specifically about the need to be aware of the influence of prominent ideas in medical science regarding sensate perception, the sentiment applies to the whole of the habit or sensorial historical work. Mark Smith, once again acting as the guru of the habit, attribute s this to the influence of social history. Recalling Eric Hobsbawm, Smith writes: The intellectual historian may (at his risk) pay no attention to economics, the economic historian to Shakespeare, but the social historian who neglects either will not get far." 42 Sensory history then presents itself as a formidable apparatus through which one can approach the field of social history. As social history endeavors to explain the sometimes imperceptible cleavages which shepherd experience throughout history, sen sory history proposes that the modes of perception we define as senses are as integral to social class formation as economics, politics, intellectual, and other more abstracted societal constraints. Indeed, all the examples employed throughout this paper a re most accurately described as social histories. Thompson indicates this about her research by stating, "Any exploration of a soundscape should ultimately inform a more general understanding of the society and culture that produced it." Corbin considers s hifts in thresholds of hearing which are based on class relations in part. Schmidt's religious focus suggests social cleavages within social groups predicated on sensory elements. None of these works necessarily have to be 41 Corbin, Time, 189. 42 Mark Smith, "Making Sense of Social History," The Journal of Social History vol. 37, no. 1 (2003), 168.
24 socially preoccupied, but their b ottom up as well as top down approach via sensory history inevitably reproduces contemporary conceptions of society in their respective focuses. 43 Sensory history is fruitful for myriad reasons, not the least of which is that it better textures social histo ry. While historians of many disciplines fill in the massive holes in historical record largely ignored and propagated by mainstream political histories, sensory history better equips the historian engaged in this activity in that it inspires the questioni ng of how social groups perceive themselves and the other in their time and place. While not constituting its own field of research with explicit goals, sensory history exists as a habit which through its pluralist nature more fully crafts our understandin g of the past. Modernity is more than just the dominance of an economic structure, and factors such as economics do not exist in a vacuum unaffected by our perceptions of material reality. While utilizing the "usual suspects" of evidence, sensory history, perhaps more than any other historical mindset, attempts to incorporate a variety of social phenomena such as class divisions, the construction of otherness, etiquette, religious experience, and so forth into a cohesive framework mediated through the diffe rences in interpretation of sensation throughout time. Despite its utility, sensory history is still a fledgling habit and one which is still in the process of concretion of its approaches and presentation. But as this body of scholarship grows, it would n ot be unlikely to expect sensory focuses to become a regular component of the practice of 43 Ibid., 177 178.
25 history in general. As Karl Marx puts it, "the forming of the five senses is a labour of the entire history of the world down to the present." 44 44 Jtte, Histor y of the Senses, 8.
26 Chapter Two Sens ing the "Great Divide" Perspectival shifts are nothing new for the practice of history; indeed, they necessarily form the means by which history is "done" in new ways as well as increase the raw material from which history is drawn. Every source, whether produced for and filtered through a religious, bureaucratic, technical, personal or any such innumerable utility, represents an individuated crystallization of a moment. Originally, these sources were only considered historically relevant if they related t o the spheres of politics and warfare. The predominance of political and military histories and their concomitant hero making and "great man" focus would be improved by a broader scope brought about through expansive economic and intellectual histories. Bu t it was not until the Annales school pioneered social history that inquiry changed from a top down approach to a bottom up view that inquiry was reoriented away from the individual to the masses. 45 The recuperation of modern history from the denial of a ve ritable galaxy of experience fueled reclamation of what can be considered historical. Social history and its counterparts in other fields such as cultural, material, environmental and other such foci all have contributed to a project of recovery of histori cally marginalized perspectives. In the same way that these movements have attenuated the essentialist nature of national histories and their ilk, there is a recent wave of academic research addressing the issue of perspective inherent throughout the entir e practice of history. 46 The instruments of perception, the senses, have been the subject of a historical reevaluation of late as a wave of recent publications have put unprecedented emphasis on importance of sensate relations 45 John Tosh and Sen Lang, The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods, and New Directions in the Study of Modern History (Great Britain, 2006), 125. 46 Mark M. Smith, "Making Sense of Social History" Journal of Social History Vol. 37, No. 1 Special Issue (Autumn, 2003), 166.
27 throughout time. 47 This budding branch of historical inquiry has placed both contextuality and internality on equal footing, in seeking the manner in which our sensory world and our relation to it has changed. However, this recent trend in historical writing is not breaking virgin terr itory, so to speak. Most of this recent work has had to address the corpus of twentieth century philosophers of the media, Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong. 48 Through their terminology historians have gained useful tools for their practice, but Mcluhan and O ng's problematic theories have provided impetus for serious consideration of the implications of the sensate throughout history. Before delving into the theoretical aspects of their work, a review of some of the terminology employed generally by social sc ientists addressing the sensorial would be helpful. From McLuhan, we get our modern understanding of the "sensorium," a term which has come to combine its anatomical, environmental and interpretive definitions. It can refer to the seat of sensation, that i s an organism's perceptive apparatus that we have culturally defined as the senses. In the discussion of habitat, it refers to the total character of the constantly shifting sensory elements of an environment. Its typical utilization is highly interpretiv e and combinatory of the previous definitions, referring to the general perception of sensory elements of a certain time and place by a people. Further 47 Leigh Schmidt, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Cambridge, Mass., 2000); Peter Charles Hoffer, Sensory Worlds in Early America (Baltimore, 2003); Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: C lement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago, 2005); Roger Horowitz, Putting Meat on the American Table: Taste, Technology, Transformation (Baltimore, 2006); and Mark M. Smith, How Race Is Made: Slavery, Segregation, and th e Senses (Chapel Hill, 2006). 48 Thomas Porcello, Louise Meintjes, Ana Maria Ochoa, and David W. Samuels, "The Reorganization of the Sensory World," Annual Review of Anthropology (June 2010): 55, doi: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.012809.105042
28 elaboration comes in the form of the "ratio of the senses," a concept by which cultures are determined b y their employment of the senses. 49 It holds that all cultures incidentally lend some dominance to one sense or grouping of senses over the others. As a forefather of sensory anthropology, McLuhan's contributions to the methodology, which overlaps that of s ensory history a great deal, are indispensable. By defining sensorium culturally and introducing intersensoriality by way of the sense ratio, he "opened up analytic room for taking seriously the relationship among the senses." 50 The "Great Divide" But M cluhan did not just offer a framework to examine the sensory from anthropological and historical disciplines. In his books The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1965), he set about constr ucting a grand argument that the different developmental paths of the East and West owe themselves to reorganizations of the sense ratios brought about by revolutions in the technology and modes of communication. The "great divide" theory, as it is someti mes called, follows an historical supposition that the sixteenth century invention of the printing press and movable type not only triggered a revolution in communication but also necessarily the sense ratios, as "a cultural change is impossible without kn owledge of the changing sense ratios affected by various externalizations of our senses." 51 He argues that the subsequent Renaissance and Enlightenment were largely occularcentric, by way of the mass production and 49 Marshall McLuhan The Gutenberg Galaxy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962), 55. 50 Smith, Sensory History (Oxford: Berg, 2007), 125. 51 McLuhan, Gutenberg Galaxy 41.
29 distribution of texts, and that vision cam e to dominate Western thinking. From this time on, a culture based on the printed book would prevail and color the general consciousness of logic, truth and reason. It follows accordingly that the other senses declined in importance. McLuhan views history as defined by certain forms of communication, of which he makes four distinctions. From the oral aural stage of civilization, when the communication basis was speech, humanity began to employ handwriting and entered the chirographic phase. The great divid e emerges in the transformation to a typographic culture and is elaborated in the final electronic stage. In the first stage, the senses of hearing, as well as the proximate senses of touch and smell as people tended to congregate together in order to inte ract and touches and smells, were incorporated into the communicative sphere. All societies, before the issuing of print that is, were oral aural oriented and their sensorium reflected this. The beginning of a visual shift follows with the chirographic sta ge. The establishment of a phonetic alphabet is largely responsible for this, as it gives one "an eye for an ear." 52 But there still remained some synesthetic aspects between sight and other senses that distinguish this phase, such as the tactility implicit in the creation of a manuscript. While McLuhan argued that the modern print age allowed a detachment and distance unprecedented in communication, he found the chirographic stage required the involvement of a variety of senses as well a conscious understan ding of how these senses came into play in the act of reading. Reading was not just by eye alone; rather, it was spoken aloud then, with a great emphasis on the pronunciation while the activity of hearing the words was also extremely important. 52 Ibid 27.
30 The inventi on of the printing press changed all of this, according to McLuhan. Sight came to be the single most important sense in this time while the others further diminished. Due to the ease of reproduction, handwritten forms with their quirks of penmanship disapp eared as texts conformed to accepted types. By offering an effective way to quickly reproduce texts for a wide audience, the peculiarity of sight based communication flourished with the printing press and began to inflict itself on the consciousness of lit erate society. While sound occupies a general area and encompasses the listener, reading is a much more precise and objective form of communication that tends to bolster certain ideas of self. In particular, it fosters a disassociation from what is seen th at allows for distance and calm consideration that inevitably plays a part in the formation of the self. Visual culture thus took hold and the transformation from aural oral society was complete. This is the crucial separation which McLuhan posits as the great divide. The sense ratios would once again shift with the arrival of the electronic age, which revived intersensorialty through the primacy of audio in radio while deeper appreciation of tactility arrived via television. The great divide did a grea t deal for inaugurating the entry of social sciences into the realm of the senses, but to say it is problematic is a vast understatement. It proceeds from certain western assumptions about preliterate society and nonwestern cultures in general and is litte red with vocabulary, such as frequent references to the "tribal" in regards to people from Africa and Asia, that leads one to question just how engaged the author is with his own research. The theory of orality, as the great divide is often called, is expl anatory of this Western sense of the senses through its focus on language and how it relates to the mind's treatment of representation. In orality, primacy is accorded to sound; hearing is the dominant sense; the intellect is associated with hearing; kno wledge
31 has to be cast in verbal formulas, such as rhymes or commonplaces, to be memorable; and the individuation (or rational structuring) of ideas, as of people, is comparatively slight." 53 Typical western condescension muddles McLuhan and Ong's work, but it also offers a great opportunity for historians in particular to address these inadequacies, in essence providing a dartboard at which to throw their own findings, hitting sticking points that temper if not refute the great divide theory while sharpening their own work against a widely accepted, if flawed, theory. It is not hard to understand the attractiveness of a binary theory, especially in the social sciences where establishing a grand articulation of an invisible movement seems to be the golden rul er for accomplishment. Given the subjectivity of most evidence, it is extremely difficult to make an argument with such a clear cut distinction between periods without overlooking something. Still, researchers for years were intrigued by McLuhan's historic al basis in the divide, even if his evidence was highly fragmented and almost entirely based on popular literature, as expected given his doctorate in English literature. His evidence is typically shorn of its context as well, bucking the need for an histo rian of the senses to be hypersensitive to context. 54 There can be a tendency to let the "model drive evidence," but many of the current vanguard sensory have been successful in their work, finding bumps and omissions in the glossy elements of McLuhan's for mulation even as some scholars seem to bolster the cleavage. 55 Filling in the Divide' The primacy of the Great Divide theory has come to be taken for granted in most contemporary discussions about the historicism of the senses. While it may not be 53 David Howes, Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2006), 114. 54 Smith, Sensory History 12 15. 55 Smith, "Listening Back," in Hearing History ed. Mark M. Smith (Athens: University of Georgia, 2004), 395 396.
32 broache d explicitly, almost all major works within the practice address it in some manner. Simply acknowledging that cultures adhere to and are in turn influenced by (while some would go even further to say defined) their sensory regimes or ratios is to utilize o ne of McLuhan's base concepts. However, their work shows that we must not be hasty in declaring modernity as rigidly ocular. The vast majority of work that can be classified as sensory history tends to attenuate the Great Divide, uncovering ways in which o ther senses act in concert or affect culture that do not fit neatly into McLuhan's sensory hierarchy. Through their work we are made mindful of the constellation of circumstances which conduct sense relations in any given cultures. It should stand to be a standard reaffirmation of one the base assumptions of historical inquiry. Any sort of evidence is necessarily reflective and biased along familiar demarcations such as race, class, religion, gender and even the medium of primary source evidence. The loomi ng mass that is the Great Divide Theory is not altogether safe by way of its colossal nature. It can appear "too big to fail," its explanatory power and articulation being such a boon to a practice still very much in a development stage. However, there hav e certainly been works that present some highly provocative ways to question the entire basis of the Great Divide. None more so than the writing of Alain Corbin approaches this sort of refutation of the theory by pointing out perhaps the most basic problem with its formulation: sourcing and evidence. History by elites for elites Corbin's emphasis on context should not be anything out of the ordinary. Is sight considered prominent because modernity has ushered us into an age defined by linear logic or bec ause the vast majority of primary sources employed in studies of the senses tends to come from the position of the elite? Too often this bias dominates works such as McLuhan's and the resultant thesis is thus trapped within the "rhetorical
33 sensory hierarch y sponsored by a given class of a particular place and time." 56 Social, cultural, feminist and other such approaches to history make us aware of the poles or continuum of experiences that exist within any society. But can the same distinction be made regard ing sensory construction and relations at any point in time and place? Corbin specializes in eighteenth and nineteenth century France and draws a general example from the instances of massacre from that period. Such scenes represent paroxysmal events' in which a great range of reactions from a variety of sources can be gleaned. Corbin understands there to be a clear division between the raucous joy of the mob and the horrified gaze of the spectator. The spectator finds disgust in the visual examination of the scene and takes on the spectatorial' detachment enabled by the distance of sight. Conversely, those in the mob who are actively involved in the killing, in its tactile action, cries, and sounds that contribute to "the liberation of the Dionysiac impul ses of the crowd," have no vantage point from which to survey the chaos. Their experience is registered through the senses of smell and touch due to their proximity to the event. These extreme situations hint at the detached nature of sight and the existen ce of socially defined sensory hierarchies. Corbin notes that too frequently we confuse the way in which senses are actually used with the picture' of sense utilization given by the observer. 57 These depictions were created by elites for elites and as such are only concerned for their own understanding of reality. Most of the descriptions we have of the use of the senses reflect this disparity, so to argue that vision triumphs in modernity is to implicitly trust the sources. The need for sources which allow us to engage the senses across a wide swath of society would repair the popular notion of a visually dominated modernity as well as enrich the habit of sensory history a great deal. 56 Smith, Sensory History 16. 57 Alain Corbin, Time, Desire an d Horror: Towards a History of the Senses (London: Wiley, 1995), 186 187.
34 Another problem arising from a majority of available evidence is the sor t of cultural/linguistic inertia that can cement sensory bias within a culture's language. After all an historian is "a prisoner of language," perhaps more so than any other discipline, and it can be hard if not imperceptible to judge the reliability of a source's word choice. Words and phrases that refer to or describe what is no longer perceptible or experiential can find their way into the cultural lexicon despite their irrelevance and inapplicability. 58 Constance Classen finds just such a thread in her compilation of the cultural and social components of touch, The Book of Touch She notes an ancient abundance of words which express thought explicitly through touch such as comprehend, ruminate, cogitate, conceive, grasp, mull and ponder and other words s uch as intelligent and clever whose roots come from the physical activity of picking and cutting things apart, respectively. But she traces the rising prevalence of the sort of visual metaphors which tend to pervade academia to the Enlightenment "when the cultural importance of sight was on the rise." The detached observational nature of sight which figures so prominently in McLuhan's analysis 59 stems from the Enlightenment proliferation of the visual metaphor, so one could argue that he is simply observing the waves from a period of significant cultural change and not the cataclysmic tipping point of the invention of movable type. While this is certainly a favorable point to argue, it is almost impossible to debunk the theory based on evidence alone. It is a theory of popular media and thus based on the popular literature and print which of course would be unique to a post printing press world. McLuhan essentially offers an intellectual history of the senses proceeding from the seventeenth century, that, uns urprisingly, has appealed to intellectuals and suffers from the same shortcomings that plague most intellectual histories. 58 Ibid., 190. 59 McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaaxy 19.
35 Underrating Sense Ratios While still very much so a fledgling practice, the project of sensory history certainly has done its part in correcting the many oversights (pun unintended) of orality theory. The work of this recent vanguard of sensory historians does much to attenuate the extreme binary construction of the great divide by attending to the dimensions of intersensorality and d iffering sensory constructions apparent in a variety of cultures throughout history. McLuhan's understanding and those who champion him tend to imply that the other senses besides sight lost a great deal of their authority and relevance because of the prin t revolution. But cultural and social analyses of the historical sensorium show that the other senses were not necessarily denigrated by the supposed triumph of vision in modernity. Often they reinvigorated, worked in concert or even trumped sight. Even th e Enlightenment was not clearly ordered by a sensory hierarchy with vision at the top. While certainly the period is well known for the ascendancy of the eye, there existed distinct strains of thought within it that demonstrate a captivation with the other senses that would go on to flourish in subsequent centuries and into modernity. Jessica Riskin's Science in the Age of Sensibility argues that the Enlightenment never lost touch with the senses. French scientists of the eighteenth century were purveyors o f a "sentimental empiricism" that was preoccupied with an active and emotive sensory field (add evidence here) as the surest route to truth. The sensorial experience was needed to inform knowledge and popular debates arose regarding the senses, the most pr ominent being Molyneux's Problem, which judged the relative importance of sight and touch. While sight was regularly perceived as the winner (Denis Diderot even went so far as to say those without sight were dehumanized), touch certainly had its own place. At the turn of the nineteenth century, physiologist Philippe Pinel contended that touch was essential to the intellect, noting that
36 it is much more reliable than sight in many instances, including certain medical treatments. Indeed, doubts about the relia bility of ocular judgment were quite plentiful. 60 In his Meditations Ren Descartes took all the senses to task, and sight was no exception. While Descartes is known well for his support of sight's nobility, especially in light of the telescope's empowerme nt of the eye, he backed off his position that the eye was the ultimate verifier of truth in his philosophical writings. He afforded more authenticity to touch, or at least held that it was "less vulnerable to error." 61 Likewise, eighteenth century thinking about the essence of the body and soul was not always within a clean, visual framing. Bodies were highly sensuous, and "subject to disciplinary protocols elaborated not simply around the way they looked but also how they smelled, felt and sensed." 62 All of the senses, then, were integral to understanding the nature of the world through truth, nature and society and formed the heart of a great deal of Enlightenment thinking. This period, while seemingly occularcentric, should not be seen as a complete triump h of the visual and presents a unique opportunity to consider the importance of the rest of the sensate, all too often glossed over. If we take the lack of the other senses for granted, we lose touch with the complete reality of the Enlightenment and accep t a very skewed perspective. This fragmented viewpoint may reinforce McLuhan's tendency to link modernity and sight, as well as downplay the importance of the other senses in modernizing epochs such as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. A growing numbe r of scholars have taken to task these assumptions through social and cultural treatments 60 Jessica Riskin, Science in the Age of Sensibility: The Sentimental Empiricists of the French Enlightenment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 22 23. 61 Anthony Synnott, "Puzzling over the Senses: From Plato to Marx," in David Howes ed., The Varieties of Sensory Experience: A Sourcebook in the Anthropology of the Senses (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 70. 62 Smith, Sensory History 32.
37 of those periods that either touch on elements of the sensorium or center their analysis entirely on the historical use of the senses. Constance Classen leads this v anguard, finding that the supposed development of sight's primacy in the Renaissance was largely a gendered issue and therefore scholarship should be hesitant to conclude that the period as a whole fostered a universal occularcentrism that would develop fu rther. Women in this period were more often than not related to the lower' senses, they were restricted from the ocular as their roles kept them in domestic realm of the "home, nursery and kitchen were reinforced through their association with the senses of smell, touch, and taste." Highly visual activities such as "reading, writing, [and] traveling" were considered strictly male enterprises. Women who did pursue such interests were generally viewed with great suspicion in line with the violation of normat ive gender roles as exemplified by Margaret Cavendish, an English writer and philosopher. Her writings intertwined a variety of sensory experiences and she even challenged the traditionally visual bent of writing by comparing it to the tactile activity of spinning. 63 Thus, a huge portion of the population was excluded from the ocular and its privilege. There was no uniform strengthening of ocular sensibilities, rather the perceived shift to a visually dominant sensory ratio tends to apply only to educated ma le elites. It cannot be expected for this sample to account for such vast swaths of experience from other people. However, not even all evidence from such sources can be classified as supportive of the great divide theory. Medical history, for instance, c hallenges many aspects of the theory. There is much that shows vision was elevated to a more important role in medical practice during and following the eighteenth century: The patient's body was to be presented fully bare in order to be "read," symptoms w ere noted in writing, touching 63 Constance Classen, The Color of Angels: Cosmology, Gender, and the Aesthetic Imagination (New York: Routledge, 1998), 105.
38 was to be avoided, anatomical illustration was used more and more, and a general belief that vision was the best medium from which to judge someone medically. However, this was complicated by the fact that other senses contin ued to be integral in medical practice. Indeed, the nineteenth century proliferation of the stethoscope did distance physicians from women and lower classes, but this visual distance obviously owes itself to hearing. Also, there existed some continuities f rom the primitive medical practices of premodern times to modern, clinical medicine. Interviewing and consultation certainly had their places, while touch had its purpose in treatment and diagnosis. Smell, of course, never lost its relevance to medicine an d remained one of the first indicators that something may be wrong with a patient. Moreover, the medical gaze' had nothing on the metaphysics and theology of medicine of the time. 64 Likewise, studies of Renaissance literature and language have revealed a great deal of messiness in the neat distinction of the great divide theory. The advent of print culture did not instill a hegemonic way to see the world in the realm of writing. In his investigation of the sense of hearing (and the past) in Renaissance tex ts, D. R. Woolf finds just that. Observing numerous instances of aural metaphors as compared to a relative lack of visual metaphors, he concludes that the literature of the Renaissance was intended to convey the authorial voice of the writer to the reader who was to be more like a member of an audience. Woolf notes a perceptual equilibrium' that withstood the visual assault of print and fostered itself in the later medieval mind instead of "shifting from one mode of perception to another." 65 Woolf's example complicates the great divide by indicating that print culture mourned the loss of aurality to typographic media 64 David Howes, "The Senses in Medicine," in Medicine and the Five Senses ed. W.F. Bynum and Roy Port er (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 132. 65 D.R. Woolf, "Speech, Text, and Time: The Sense of Hearing and the Sense of the Past in Renaissance England," Albion 18 (1986), 159 160.
39 and thus developed a continuum of sensory perception to address this new visually dominated epoch. Even in the nineteenth century, while the ey e gained more authority scientifically, vision's power came into question more and more. This time period can be argued to have experienced the greatest influx of visual media and technology for a multitude of reasons: the proliferation of cheap print thro ugh publishing companies, the spread of spectacles and visual stimuli provided by stereoscopes, daguerreotypes, and photographs, newly developed methods to see across distances never before imagined, the ability to travel to places previously invisible, th e gift of new perspectives of familiar sights offered by railroads and balloons, etc. All of this proved to enhance the accuracy and authority of sight. However, seeing was still far from believing, as technology such as telescopes and microscopes made the imperceptible clear at the expense of the unaided, pure human eye. Thus, popular perception reflected this disparity between what the eye can see and what really is there, leaving sight with little trustworthiness in a time when its utility was peaking. S ome cues from Romanticism held over into the beliefs of the Victorians, as well. Imagination and memory often infected vision so that the physical act of seeing could be vastly distorted unbeknownst to the seer. 66 In her Victorians and the Visual Imaginatio n Kate Flint shows how the question of sight's reliability figured prominently for the Victorians. Even while sight seemed to be the best sense for surveillance, codification and classification, English elites were increasingly coming to balk at its simpl icity. While this age was certainly given to some visual stereotyping, namely that one could judge the character of a person by looking at his or her body and reading the characteristics physiologically, Flint discourages the belief that mid Victorians ac cepted 66 Kate Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (Camb ridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 5.
40 such values across the board. The ease of visual deception made them weary of judging someone by just looking at them and perhaps falling for a disguise. "Identity came to be recognized as something which was not innate, but performative." 67 More was needed than just a visual to verify what one thought they were seeing. The Victorians were fearful of what they could not detect with the eye, whether it be systems of raw sewage percolating beneath them at all times or the constant threat of class discon tent to bubble over undetected until too late. Both represent highly volatile underground movements with distinct sensory elements, particularly that of smell which Victorians associated with disease. For them, the character of smell and sound, to envelope and surround, was at odds with the linear logic and perspective of vision. In reaction, English elites saw to the recording of histories on subjects that they found disconcerting in order to stabilize the unseen dangers present in the everyday threat of s ewer contamination or revolution. They had to bolster their sight with visual histories in order to soothe anxieties about the perceived insidious underbelly of society. The Victorians also deployed new public technologies in order extend the usefulness of sight, but their efforts backfired on them somewhat. The impenetrable shroud of night disturbed Victorians who thought it might mask the maneuverings of a disgruntled working class. The introduction of gaslight was to be the solution to this problem and m odernizers set to work on bringing light to the dark in London. Making night visible did not impose order on it, however, or at least not in the way that Victorians hoped it would. It revealed the shaky state of class relations in Victorian London amidst the growth of unchecked industrialism and urban blight. The nocturnal activities of prostitutes, gamblers and other criminals came to be a highly visible indicator of the failings of Victorian 67 Ibid ., 18.
41 modernity while the maddening effects of a mechanized age becam e increasingly hard to downplay. 68 Visuality thus became a double edged sword for London Victorians. East/West Divide The effects of the print revolution, of course, were not just contained within Europe. But there also existed distinct trends elsewhere i n the world that indicate sight once again did not achieve complete dominance of sensory ratios. It follows that additional sensory detail was needed for either authentication or criticism of what was seen, even while sight continued to provide the best wa y to survey the natural world. 69 Such is the case in the United States' history of segregation. Attempting to separate people along the lines of race and racial identity, designations that were highly problematic in that they were largely fictional, represe nted a modern effort at societal arrangement. Such an effort did much to show that a distinct line between black and white was impossible and the idea of race was an extremely fragmented understanding of identity. Consequently, the primary tool for assessi ng race, the eyes, proved to be highly suspect. The example of Peter Zeigler is just one instance of such confusion. Zeigler had been living in a small town in Georgia for about a month before being asked to leave because of his race. Though many citizens had judged him to be white through their experiences with him, a visitor to the town identified him as a Negro who formerly lived in her city. After leaving, Zeigler returned with a group of relatives and influential friends who confirmed his race as "whit e." Race shifted so easily because the eyes of the segregationist were so fallible. 70 There are plenty of instances of such crossovers 68 Lynda Nead, Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth Century London (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 87. 69 Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Tw entieth Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 3 4. 70 Mark M. Smith, How Race is Made: Slavery Segregation, and the Senses (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2006), 166 167.
42 throughout U.S. history and they serve to show one facet of the highly flawed logic of a system which attempts a black an d white designation. Obviously the idea of race was intellectually unstable, yet its preservation somehow managed to be touted as one of the necessities of modern life. Segregation showed that race sometimes could not be "seen," and this context led race t o be identified along the lines of new technologies and new ideas. Photographs, microscopes and germ theory revealed the limitations of the eye, so formal segregation set out to insure that race could be classified in a way beyond sight alone. Take the ca se of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the cornerstone of state sanctioned, institutional segregation, as an example, where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Louisiana's 1890 statute that provided for "separate but equal" compartments for blackand white train passen gers. The case was a test of the law in which a man, Homer Plessy, who appeared white yet held some African ancestry attempted to seat himself in a "white" compartment. His lawyer, Albion W. Tourge, argued that because Plessy could not be defined visually as black, why should he be subject to a law that cannot possibly by enforced by any sort of measurable standard. Louisiana's Assistant District Attorney had a ripe remark: "I might not be able to see that he is black, but I can certainly smell his racial identity." Thus, one of the most influential cases in the history of the United States was decided by one's ability to "sniff out" racial identity. So in essence, segregationists had to maintain that premodern, "white" noses were more reliable than "white eyes in determining race. Modern segregation was founded upon a visual deficiency that it could never reconcile in trying to affix racial identity. 71 In this same time, it was widely accepted that any trace of African ancestry was enough to label one blac k. While many southern states adopted this criterion in the 1920s, it was of 71 Ibid. 73 74.
43 course impossible to see one's genealogy. The sense of sight was once again proven inapplicable to the system of segregation to which many states in the South clung. Segregationi sts then came to rely on the other senses in their identification of their own construction of race. When they could not see racial identity, they simply resorted to taste, touch, smell or hearing in making their designation. Of course, the sensory fixing of a race was fiction, just as a race was (and continues to be) a construction. There is no distinctive odor by which to distinguish blackness, no genetic sound profile, and no signifying skin texture just as the case of Zeigler shows. Segregationists live d in a fantasy that race was a radiant thing that was apparent to the senses in a deep, emotional manner. The triumph, if you can call it that, of sight was thus very far from uniform throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In some instances, i t even dredged up supposedly premodern sensory beliefs. The trials and tribulations Russia went through in introducing artificial illumination to its cities in the 1850s attest to that. It took many city dwellers to accept the light as beneficial and real as early gas and electric lighting was often associated with the devil in peasant folklore and Russian literature. If Jerusalem needed no light beyond that provided by the sun, why should St. Petersburg? They referred to the lights as "electric suns" and c haracterized them as ungodly and unnatural affronts to creation. They considered them dead and inanimate objects and argued that faces illuminated by such light did not have their "natural healthy appearance." False and hardly enlightening, they found tha t the lights cast the past dusk St. Petersburg in a fiendish glare. While they eventually found acceptance, it was not until mid twentieth century that the city dweller "became a pragmatist who demanded
44 only one thing of the street lamp: that it light pave ment and road for people, buses and cars at night." 72 More histories of specific cities reveal the obvious limitations of arguments for a universal acceptance of light and seeing under modernity. Cities such as Valparaiso and Santiago in Chile and La Plata in Argentina quickly took to artificial lighting, but the meaning it imbued and the manner it was embraced varied considerably from city to city. As a wave of modernization, they were the most visible way to show the populace that they were attempting to k eep pace with other European and North American cities. The city of Valparaiso, a port frequented by sailors and migrants with many sloping narrow streets and alleys that seemed to cover up nocturnal criminal activities, had its installation guided by the police and property owners in order to light the night in the right spots to keep night travel safe (and economical). The lights of the planned city of La Plata's lights were more of an aesthetic and ideological statement of Argentina's avowedly modern ben t whileSantiago's case combined both the need to establish the city's modernity and help combat the crime that ran rampant in the darkened corridors of the city by night. Conclusion As satisfying as it is to sort history decisively along the lines of pre literacy and print, sensory history has come to scale back this reductive conception of cultural development. The sensorial complexity of preliterate society was not necessarily completely overridden by a visual modernity and the electronic age does not ne cessarily mean we have returned to a "tribal" lifestyle of a united sensorium. There are just too many counterexamples to the great divide's stark binary. 72 Andrei Toporkov, "The Devil's Candle? St reet Lighting," History Today 46 (November 1996), 36.
45 Chapter Three Sensing Marx In addressing the great divide theory, many historians have reinvigora ted its stale binary with a vastness of sensory experiences once overlooked or mischaracterized by its binary. While the habit of sensory history is still developing, it seems that its techniques may be useful to a variety of well established frameworks an d theories which influence such a great deal of historical inquiry and analysis. A sensorial treatment can add so much to the historicity of social, cultural, environmental, feminist, intellectual and other such approaches while also tending to braid such threads together into a more inclusive history. The sensorium acts as the cultural medium through which reality is processed and recorded, and as such it cannot be removed from its relevance to almost any aspect of human history. This fact was never hidden from critical thought, as the senses formed the crux of a great deal of integral philosophy and social theory. Indeed, the senses informed and were the subject of a great deal of speculation and interpretation from a variety of schools of thought since an tiquity, from the sensual decadence of Aristippus to the mortification of the senses in Christianity. The senses are a common predicative theme for philosophy (What could be more introspective, yet at the same time universal, than addressing the means and manner through which we apprehend the world?), and can even form the cornerstone of some influential historical frameworks. Karl Marx's historical materialism is the best example of such a theory, built upon the idea that our sensing of the world to fulfi ll our biological needs is a precondition for material life. This somewhat obvious point contrasted starkly with the whole of previous western philosophical tradition which presumed that thought alone affirmed humankind
46 objectively. 73 The sensory causation that propels Marx throughout his writing should be examined, both in the context from which Marx wrote and in its application throughout history. Proceeding from some of the more useful devices from Marshall McLuhan's work with the media and the senses wh ile mindful of the techniques, methodologies and insights of the recent flurry of scholarship dealing with sensory history, it would be highly profitable to undertake a sensorial treatment of historical materialism. What emerges from such a treatment is hi ghly revelatory of Marx's development of his theories in relation to his own experience and influences, while also complicating the image of capitalism he sketches throughout his writings. Several insights become apparent via sensorial approach to Marx and historical materialism. Despite Marx's tendencies towards social revolution, he did not support a similar upheaval of society's generally accepted sensory construction. And while the senses factored so heavily into his early writings, Marx gradually phase d out this dimension of his theorizing in favor of a more scientific formulation of his ideas. This led him to a critical omission of the sensory elements so crucial to capitalist exchange in its use of spectacle and in the social and cultural relations im bued in materiality. Marx's Common Sense The senses hold a special place in the Marxian scheme. As the oft cited quote goes, "the forming of the five senses is a labor of the entire history of the world down to 73 Anthony Synnott, "Puzzling over the Senses: From Plato to Marx," in David Howes ed., The Varieties of Sensory Experience: A Sourcebook in the Anthropology of the Senses (Toronto: University of Toron to Press, 1991), 74.
47 the present." 74 It is a weighty statement that comes with a universe of implications, but before unpacking it, an elucidation of the base sensory aspects of historical materialism would be in order. Marx's privileging of the senses did not come from a vacuum or necessarily from his own experience and observation. The influence of a couple of his contemporaries is apparent. Regarding the presupposition of sensory formation's integrality to life, fellow German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach had previously written that one does not only experience natu re and the material world through one's senses but also that one's self is "an object of the senses." 75 Marx can also credit his assessment of the state of modern, industrial sensory relations to the writing of Charles Fourier, whose ideas of utopia centere d around the ability of a society to please and advance its members' senses. Fourier was of the popular opinion that modern society degraded the senses, arguing that all people regardless of social status are constantly faced with unfavorable sensory extre mes, such as the odor of sewage or the racket of the city. While the prosperous can afford some sensory luxuries, the vast majority of people would be unable to enjoy such refinements as their senses would be stunted and dulled by brutal sensory experience Fourier attributed this sensory degradation to society's desire to amass private property despite injury to the wellbeing of society. 76 Fourier's concerns were crucial to the formation of Marx's theory of alienation under capitalism. Marx held that worke rs had to contend with the sensory deprivation and 74 Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 ed. D.J. Struik (New York: International Publishers, 1987), 109. 75 Ludwig Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future trans. M. Vogel (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merri l, 1966), 58. 76 Charles Fourier, The Passions of the Human Soul and their Influence on Society and Civilization trans. J. Morell (New York: A.M. Kelly, 1968), 270.
48 assault that came with working and living amid all the filth and sewage of society so much that they would eventually be stripped of their sensory linkage to the world until they "no longer know any need but the need to eat." 77 In his description of factory conditions found in Capital he elaborates that the sensory and bodily injury of the worker comes from "the artificial elevation of temperature, by the dust laden atmosphere, by the deafening noise, not to mention the danger to life and limb among the thickly crowded machinery Is Fourier wrong when he calls factories tempered bagnios'?" 78 The degradation of the proletariat's sensorium is hard to argue with, even as Marx's observation comes from a privile ged perspective that would necessarily question the working class' perceptive sharpness. But even the bourgeoisie were unable to find contentment for their senses. According to Marx, the capitalist fixation on, well, capital captivates the senses so that t he enjoyment of one's prosperity in food, drink, sport, art and so on is surpassed by the accumulation of wealth. The sacrifice of pleasure for the pursuit of capital seems to be the credo of capitalism, even despite its annihilating logic. 79 Following the lead of Fourier, Marx attributed the degradation of the senses to the problematic nature of private property in capitalist society and dreamed of a "transcendence of private property" that would free the senses from the affliction of capitalism. Marx soug ht the elimination of capitalist property relations so that "humankind's species being' [would] come into its own." 80 He felt that humanity's 77 Marx, Manuscripts, 117. 78 Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy volume 1, trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1954), 401 2. 79 Marx, Manuscripts 118 19. 80 Ibid ., 108, 139.
49 ability to be fulfilled via the senses could be developed beyond the need for material gratification with the sen ses confirmed as the essential powers of man. 81 Commoditization of the Senses In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels gave their vision of society just prior to the collapse of capitalism. The omens of its undoing would be greater and greater concentra tions of the proletariat, a volatile social atmosphere spurred by constant revolutions in production, and the complete commoditization of personal worth. In effect, the faade of the coherence of bourgeois society would fall to reveal the contradictions th at hold it up. Today, as capitalism is more deeply engrained in the fibers of modernity than it ever was, the predictive powers of the Manifesto are hard to ignore. In one section, Marx and Engels describe the process by which capitalism is exported to new countries and locales, leading to an interlinking system of production and consumption like a "universal interdependence of nations" to be accomplished by "the rapid improvement of all instruments of production" and "by the immensely facilitated means of communication." Marx and Engels foretold globalization, from the supermarkets of America and Europe filling up with foodstuffs from "distant lands and climes," 82 to the intertwining systems of exchange and capital between nations and their conglomerates, an d finally the "common property" of popular cultural objects produced by Hollywood. 83 81 David Howes, Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Pre ss, 2006), 207. 82 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto intro. A. J. P. Taylor (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967), 84. 83 Mike Featherstone, "Postmodernism, Cultural Change, and Social Practice," in D. Kellner ed., Postmodernism/Jameson/Crit ique (Washington DC: Maisonneuve Press, 1989), 102.
50 Or as Marx and Engels succinctly put it, "the bourgeoisie creates a world after its own image." 84 Yet, while Marx was highly aware of this visual dimension of cultural homog enization, his gaze betrays his analysis somewhat. Focused on the demystification of the capitalist mode of production through the factory and the stock market, he neglected another marked element of capitalism that goes beyond the manufacturing process an d wage labor. Commodities rely on their presentation as much as their use value, as exemplified by the waves of department stores and world exhibitions starting in the mid to late nineteenth century. These modern day innovations herald the idea of consum ption as we know it today, quite different from the industrial capitalism of Marx's day. Marx clarified the exploitative face of capitalism in its reliance on surveillance and extraction of use and value from the worker. But another crucial and sensuous as pect of the capitalist mode is left unexplored: the creation and control of consumer desires through spectacle. 85 The essence of this new form of consumption found a perfect venue with the arrival of department stores. Using theatrical lighting and alluring window displays, department stores beckoned the pedestrian into multi level buildings loaded with highly accessible merchandise and accessories. As an image of abundance and availability, it contrasted sharply with the former ways in which stores were ope rated, with all the products behind the counter so that customers typically had to know what they wanted before they entered the store and their entrance implied that they would be making a purchase. The department store placed all of the goods out in the open and one could 84 Marx and Engels, Manifesto 84. 85 Rachel Bowlby, Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing and Zola (New York: Routledge, 1985), 101.
51 enter simply to browse. The intended result was that the plentiful displays would seduce even those "just looking" into making a purchase, giving into the palpable atmosphere of pleasant decadence. Theodore Dreiser lent an aural aspect t o the effect of such stores in his novel Sister Carrie in which the tender whisper of a lace collar implored a shopper, "don't give me up." 86 The appearance of the department store was made possible by the constant leaps in commercial mass production, na mely the techniques that allowed for the production of styled goods. Items that were once only available to the superrich were now attainable by the bourgeoisie and even the working class. While these items may have lost some of their value in their plenti tude, the area of their distribution expanded exponentially and mass consumption took hold as a result. To further illustrate this new form of consumption, the concept of the flneur is useful. As the male counterpart to female window shoppers of the nine teenth century, the flneur treated the entire city as a department store, browsing idly through the spectacular exhibitions of goods on any given corner. The writer Henry James typified the flneur as one caught up in the "simple, sensuous, confident reli sh of pleasure." The flneur thus was the prototypical recipient of the spectacle of consumption, deriving sensory pleasure from the act of viewing alone. The visual display may have dominated the sensory regime of consumer culture, but sight alone does n ot make a purchase. The sense of touch soon came to be embraced by marketers as a sensory edge which would reach out to customers. Such is evidenced in the influential, Depression era book Consumer Engineering wherein business professors 86 Remy Gilbert Saisellin, The Bourgeois and the Bibelot ( New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1984), 36.
52 Sheldon and Arens note that, after the eye of course, the hand is "the first censor to pass on acceptance." Everything that is bought must necessarily be handled and the open nature of the department store meant that the consumer could experience most any product's tactili ty prior to purchase. While something pleasing to the eye could garner attraction, touch sealed the deal. They advised their readers to make sure their products "snuggle in the palm." 87 Similarly, the highly influential industrial designer, Raymond Loewy, w rote that design should hinge upon appealing to the senses of the consumer just as the curves of a Coca Cola bottle offer "a delightful valley for the friendly fold of one's hand." 88 Thus, products are just defined by much more than their usability or use v alue. And designers have become more and more aware of the need to interface products in order to appeal to the sensorium of consumption. Increasingly, engineering began to consider "beauty in interaction" over "beauty in appearance." 89 This new sensorial a esthetic overrides the persuasion of the fl neur to just "look, not touch." Physical contact leads to break down in consumer distance and thus defense. Through the appeal to a proximate sense, the consumer is brought that much closer to a purchase. Sensory appeal of a product via its materiality becomes another aspect of that product's value, adding to its usability and its raw worth. Commodities then are not just the summation and concealment of the network of social relations involved in its production. They outwardly express social relations and 87 Stuart Ewen, All Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture (New York: Basic Books, 1988), 49 50. 88 Jane Fulton Suri, "Designing Experience: Whether to Measure Pleasure or Just Tun e In?" in Pleasure with Products: Beyond Usability eds. W.S. Green and P.W. Jordan (London: CRC Press, 2002), 163. 89 K. Overbeeke, et al., "Beauty in Usability: Forget about Ease of Use!" in Pleasure with Products: Beyond Usability eds. W.S. Green and P .W. Jordan (London: CRC Press, 2002), 11.
53 identity through their materiality, the sensorial characteristics that differentiate one product from another. For instance, the sensory qualities of a variety of fabrics typically differ in social stratification in their quality as well as in their gendering. A fabric meant for males is heavy and a light fabric is meant for females, while the overall fineness of the product distinguishes it as high or low class. 90 The sensual differentiation between products makes gender sensible while expressing social identity as well. Jackson Lears further accentuates this understanding of materialism when he discusses "the nearly universal human tendency to make cultural meaning from material objects." He relates this to Marx's interest in the "fetishistic qualities of goods" as a driving force of consumerism, such qualities which provided a "sense of the intimate relatedness to the material world." Indeed, the "fetishistic qualities" of goods are contained in their sensuous mat eriality. 91 This is hard to reconcile with a Marxian theory of value which does not take into account the sensuous aspects of the commodity in its formulation of exchange values. This is perhaps because the type of industrial complex which Marx observed in his day was so focused on free market exchange and the value of a commodity. To Marx, a stripping of the sensuous occurs in the moment that an object is commoditized so that it becomes "supersensible," an abstraction of the object so that it is now exchang eable with any other commodity or money. 92 By analyzing only the use and exchange values of commodities, Marx loses the sensory depth which so marked his 90 Michael R. Solomon, Consumer Behaviour: Buying, Having and Being (Scarborough: Prentice Hall, 1999), 55. 91 Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America (New York: Basic Books, 1994), 4 5. 92 Thomas Keenan, "The Point is to Exchange It: Reading Capital Rhetorically," in Fetishism as Cultural Discourse eds. Emily Apter and William Pietz (Ithaca: University of Cornell Press, 1993), 165, 181.
54 original conception of historical materialism. The physical act of consumption is omitted in Marx's abs traction, pointing to more critical sensory dimensions in his work that must be examined in greater detail. Louis Althusser notes that a certain change occurred in Marx's thought around 1845. He describes this epistemological break as dividing Marx's work between an early "ideological problematic" as in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and a "scientific problematic" which characterized his work from that point forward, as in his seminal Capital In the years following 1845, Marx proceeded t o downplay the role of the senses in his thought and his original concerns about sensory alienation as his interest in the birthing of a "new science" took hold. 93 Marx's Own Sensory Alienation The early essays of Marx are practically characterized by hi s attention to the unique sensorial elements of modern life and the historical construction and organization of the senses. He calls the senses a "historical product," cultural constructs meant to address physical reality which he describes as "the sensuou s world." This world and its sensory elements were not static either but the "product of industry and the state of society." This is an astute assessment of the relationship between the sensory elements of the environment and humanity's sensing of the worl d. 94 That there are social factors at work in the sensory construction of any given world is a direct critique of Feurbach's conception of reality as pure sensation. In one passage, Marx takes Feuerbach to task for 93 Louis Althusser, For Marx Trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Vintage, 1969), 17. 94 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology ed. R. Pascal (New York: International Publishers, 1947), 35.
55 his "sensuous certainty" regarding his imm ediate environs. While Feuerbach looked at a cherry tree and saw the world as a vibrant, spontaneous occurrence, Marx saw that same cherry tree as a transplant of commerce, the result of a definite action to shape the world in a certain way. 95 Here, Fourier 's influence upon Marx is apparent, as Fourier was highly attentive of the manner in which commerce affects the "sensescape." This incorporation of Feuerbach's more philosophical interpretation of the senses with Fourier's emphasis on the political and eco nomic elements of the seneses seemed to indicate that the senses would center further Marxist analysis in alignment with his key influences. Yet, as his work progressed, there is a definite phasing out of his ideas regarding the importance of the senses. H ow do we account for this? Perhaps Marx was not so comfortable with such a position because of his own social position. Marx was necessarily a part of the society he critiqued, and as such he tended to be guilty of bourgeois moralizing as well as given to the notions of life's "higher" fulfillment and purpose. 96 Thus, Marx was particularly wary of Fourier's ideas of utopia and sensual love while Feuerbach's focus on particular sensory conceptions, namely that food encapsulated the whole of life's essence. M arx worked within a decidedly vague framework when it came to addressing the material relationship between humanity and the outside world, while Feuerbach and Fourier were prone to bend their analysis to the specifics of sense relations. 97 Like so many thin kers before and after Marx, he adhered to a sensory ratio which placed the proximate senses of taste, touch and smell below that of vision and hearing. 95 Ibid 96 Francis Wheen, Karl Marx (London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), 74. 97 Frank Manuel, A Requiem for Karl Marx (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995), 167.
56 And just like them, he associated the lower senses with primitive social organization while sight and he aring provided more "civilized" modes of perception. He sought to bring about revolution with his work, and this revolution entailed a vast reordering of the worker's sensory regime so that the worker, who operated in a sensory realm inundated with the low er senses and only felt "himself freely active in his animal functions eating, drinking, procreating," 98 would be elevated from such a deficient sensorium to the "higher" senses of sight and hearing. The proletariat would develop a deeper appreciation of the refinement of these senses, "a musical ear, and eye for beauty of form," 99 and eventually they would move on to social critique and other abstract realms of thought. 100 Marx attached the supposed higher senses to consciousness, and the only way to free th e worker from the primitive mental bonds of capitalism. Even though he wrote primarily to incite revolution, Marx did not want this social upheaval to be reflected in his sensory regime. He was not prepared for a sensory revolution, but Fourier argued the exact opposite. If the working class was interested only in the "eating, drinking, procreating" aspects of the sensorium, then it was not because of a lack of moral turpitude but rather a preference for the "physical and social primacy of taste and touch." 101 The utopia Fourier envisioned, Harmony, was to be a place rich in ways to satisfy these senses. He favored these senses and believed that their satisfaction was not necessarily all from their immediate physical interaction, but rather that they could be used in the process of intellectual development by providing stimulation in a tactile, material manner. In Fourier's world of Harmony, the position of philosopher 98 Marx, Manuscripts 74. 99 Ibid ., 108. 100 Marx and Engels, Ideology 22. 101 Howes, Relations 230.
57 would be replaced by someone with a highly advanced sense of taste, but underdeveloped senses of sight and hearing. This inversion of the typical sensory ratio has a concomitant social reordering that Fourier felt would prove to be beneficial for everyone. 102 Feurbach exhibited a similar regard for the "lower" senses, albeit it in a much less radica l sense. Perhaps best known for originating the phrase "you are what you eat," Feuerbach did not just mean this in the purely nutritional, physiological way that it is understood today. Feuerbach attached great social weight to the act of eating, citing i t as the foundation upon which culture and identity developed. 103 That is why, in his Principles of the Philosophy of the Future he felt that the "lowest" senses of smell and taste could be capable of an elevation to scientific and intellectual relevance. He, like Fourier, felt that philosophers undervalued the gustatory, saying they "fail to see that [their] teeth long ago cracked the nut upon which [they] are still breaking [their] heads." 104 Food constituted the materials of life and knowledge for Feuerbac h so that "food is the beginning of wisdom." Still, in the gaze of traditional philosophy and other such conventional viewpoints, such emphasis upon the "lower" aspects of the sensorium would be viewed as a degenerate understanding of the senses that enlig htened little simply because it was not visual. Marx would have come from such a perspective as a more or less staunch traditionalist in his philosophical leanings. 105 Still, it is even more likely that Marx's eventual divorcing of the sensory from his theo ry of capitalist exchange came from his own struggles with the necessities of life and 102 Constance Classen, The Color of Angels: Cosmology, Gender and the Aesthetic Imag ination (New York: 1998), 27 30. 103 Sidney Hook, From Hegel to Marx (New York: Humanities Press, 1958), 270. 104 Ibid ., 269. 105 Ibid ., 267.
58 his physical health. Like most philosophers, Marx was determined to transcend the realities of life, the immediate need to feed, clothe and shelter himself and his famil y, in order to focus on his work in critical analysis 106 But even when he could guarantee a minimum quality of life for himself and his family, he was constantly tormented by fetid, damaging abscesses which would appear upon him his whole body over. To say t hat these boils caused him a great deal of mental and physical pain would be an understatement. He was said to suffer from episodes of extreme anguish at least three or four times a day. He confronted the reality of his physical disfigurement daily, taking in the horrible odor of his sores and seeing the "red sores, the swelling and the pus revealed when the bandages were removed and there seemed to be no way of keeping them under control." 107 His personal letters are filled with self loathing disgust at his state and his absolute exasperation at the hope of any improvement. But most of all, Marx could not stand the disruptive effect his disease had upon his intellectual pursuits. 108 Indeed, he was frequently advised by his caretakers to avoid his intellectual work as a treatment for his disorder. 109 It is not insignificant that, as his condition steadily worsened with age, Marx adopted a more scientific attitude in his writings. The peak of his affliction coincided with the arrival of this scientific phase in wh ich the sensing of the body was either marginalized or completely left out of his analysis. Indeed, it is well known that he had to finish the last few pages of the first volume of Capital hovering around his desk because 106 Peter Stallybrass, "Marx's Coat," Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces ed. Patricia Spyer (New Y ork: Routledge, 1998), 183. 107 Robert Payne, Marx (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968), 347. 108 Saul Padover ed., The Letters of Karl Marx (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1979), 174 76. 109 Manuel, Requiem 81.
59 he could not sit down as an explos ion of sores around his buttocks made it impossible. 110 It is understandable that he would develop a deep seated animosity towards his body, the physical body in general and even materiality. Science without Sense But this alone does not account for the o verlooking of the senses in his later work. Marx harbored a growing desire to present his work as scientific, detached from the vagaries of the subjective, and in accordance with the general laws of nature. He effectively disembodied his work just as he wi shed to be removed from his unsatisfactory vessel. The science of Marx's day was dismissive of the senses, or viewed them as unimportant and subjective when compared to the accurate, precise and quantifiable values of measures such as weight. Such a lack o f the sensorial in the sciences was noted by Alfred North Whitehead, who once remarked upon the "soundless, scentless, colourless hurrying of the material" in his profession. 111 The general idea was that, in order for fundamental principles to be extracted from materiality, sensoriality needed to be surpassed. It is by no mistake that Marx began to eschew sensory values in his work; he wished his economic theory to be taken as science and thus he took on the guise of scientific formality in his employment of an incorporeal vocabulary and assessment. As he wished for Capital to be the herald of a new science, it abounds in "analogies to the physical sciences" which characterizes the nature of the remainder of his work to come. 112 110 Wheen, Karl 294. 111 Classen, Color 5. 112 Manuel, Requiem 113., Marx, Capital 19.
60 While removing the sensuous from his work certainly had the effect of giving it a more scientific appearance, Marx's great objective to incite action may have been hampered by his inability to present something of a vision of the utopia that would result from his ideal revolution as his influences did. 113 While it is true that he presents a sketch of "a pastoral realm of freedom in which socialist man may be able to hunt, fish and criticize as he pleases," this is never elaborated upon in any of his subsequent work. 114 We have already witness ed how Marx precluded the sensuous physicality of commodities in his formulation of exchange values and thus missed the manner in which the medium codes cultural and social expression. This oversight is magnified when considered in light of Marx's absolute adherence to the principle of practice being the only way to affect change in our social reality. Considering Marx's criticism of Feuerbach's principle of sense certainty as lacking in the understanding of "sensibility as a practical activity," Marx negl ected that the sensorium of objects is necessarily socially mediated 115 when he wrote that the use value of commodities is transparent. He meant that one can pass through all aspects of a commodity's materiality as the sign value assigned to it is only measu red by the amount one is willing to pay for it. While the sensory aspects of commodities have a demonstrable social value, they have no easily reducible measure of their worth quite like an item's value. Marx's illumination is intended to remove the myster y around commodities, but he is not interested in the way an object can be utilized or experienced. He felt this added nothing to an object's commoditization because "so far 113 Thomas Kemple, Reading Marx Writing: Melodrama, the Market, and the "Grundrisse" (Stanford: Stanford University Press,1995), 22. 114 Marx and Engels, Ideology 22. 115 Hook, From Hegel 293 95.
61 as it is a value in use there is nothing mysterious about it." 116 There is only the activity of exchange and the value determined by that activity. It is then that the commodity is shorn of its physical, sensuous form to become an abstracted value devoid of materiality. 117 Or as Marx writes, "as use values they are merely different quantiti es and consequently do not contain an atom of use value." 118 However, Marx is never able to properly remove commodities from corporeality, and their neglected sensory dimensions persist as phantoms. Marx personifies commodities, saying that they send "wooing glances" at money while warning consumers not to mistake their shells as use values. 119 Even while he phased out the sensory in his later works, he still relied heavily upon the visual metaphor. The visual examples that pepper his work reflect the emerging scientific angle of his work in their quantitative rather than qualitative nature. This, of course, has its roots in the Enlightenment linkage of reason and science with the visual field, a reliance that exposes its fallibility to distortions even as it de monstrates its simple, linear logic. Marx was highly aware of this. While he employed visual metaphors to exemplify intellectual clarity, he was most enchanted by the ability of sight to so easily deceive, creating mirror images or flipping a perspective u pside down. He uses the misleading tendencies of vision in order to draw attention to the economic and social processes that deceive society through false facades. In The German Ideology, he uses the idea of the camera obscura to relate the problem of subj ective and objective perspectives: "If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside down as in a camera 116 Marx, Capital 76 117 Keenan, "The Point," 173 74. 118 Marx, Capital 45. 119 Ibid ., 112, 87.
62 obscura this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their p hysical life process." 120 By the time we arrive upon Capital Marx has only increased his allusions to visual deceptions and delusions. His obsession with mirrors pervades this volume, in which Marx describes a world steeped in false semblances in desperate need of his penetrative gaze to acquire the truth lies beyond superficial mask of appearances. 121 He even claims scientific fact to be paradoxical when it is judged by one's everyday experience, since life, as it is experienced, is too deluded by material a ppearances. 122 Thus, the emphasis upon the sensory which he inherited from Feurerbach and informed his early work was gradually phased out and replaced with an adherence to the popular scientific mode of the day. While Feuerbach found that sensory certainty confirmed by the sight of a cherry tree and consumed by the tasting of its cherries, guided the world, Marx saw the commercial interests that saw to the planting of that cherry tree. Marx reads sensory experience as false, but finds the natural laws that underlie it as the absolute truth of reality, as obscured by materiality. It is interesting that Marx was so quick to shear the sensuous materiality of commodities in his formulation of Capital considering how important the senses were to his earliest c ritical analyses. But perhaps this eagerness reflected his own longing to shed his "false" corporeal body, so afflicted with skin ailments, in order to allow his intellectual activities to continue unabated. However, Marx's skin condition is almost impossi ble to detach from his own writings. He describes his disease as having a definite 120 Marx and Engels, Ideology 14. 121 Wheen, Karl 305 6. 122 Karl Marx, Wages, Price and Profit (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1973), 42.
63 influence on his writing and Engels has indicated specific passages in Capital in which Marx's disfigurements "left their mark." 123 Even upon his placation to a scientific for mulation of market forces, Marx's physicality is readily apparent. 123 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1987), 382.
64 Past Sense Conclusion "Good analysis cannot isolate the operation of any one particular sense from the operation of all the others. The senses [are] in continual reciprocal depende nce." 124 While this quotation from materialist philosopher Jean Cabanis referred specifically to the operation of the senses in everyday life, it can act as a good rule of thumb for the issue of sensory history as well. While almost every publication that co uld be regarded as a part of the sensorial habit of writing history typically singles out a specific sense to analyze in a given context, the ultimate goal must be to unite the senses in our analyses and to synthesize the fractured perspectives produced by sense isolation. I have attempted to forgo the crutch of sense isolation, thus a variety of sensory evidence abounds throughout this text. Instead, I have relied on the theoretical work of some prominent thinkers to guide my writing. Because of the fruitf ulness of their sensorial analysis several, I believe new pathways for the future of sensory history become apparent. In this thesis, I have attempted to demonstrate the utility of a growing trend in the thought and writing of history. While it may be but a blip on the radar screen of historical practice at present, it has already proven effective in its mission of recovering the sensory dimensions of certain times, places, groups and individuals. The sensorial is not just to be used for rhetorical flourish or effect. It can hold the key to unlocking new understandings and causations from well trodden subject matter. Amending some misleading yet prevalent ideas about the historically shifting sensorium, sensory history establishes that sense relations exist in a continuum that is mediated in turn as it was influenced by a multitude of societal factors. In the instance of Marx's sensory biography, it is apparent 124 Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination (New York, 1986), 139.
65 that one's sense perception can be drastically altered through the course of time, whether it is ac complished physically or ideologically. Thus, theories that attempt to paint the history of the senses with a broad brush lose a great deal of detail and texture about how sensory relations really operated throughout time. Sensory history then can be very effective when applied to social theory, as it can help identify any mischaracterizations committed by the theory due to the omission or misunderstanding of sensoriality. It can also enhance certain aspects of theories into more usable and practical tools. The print revolution did not usher in visualist modernity as Marshall McLuhan purports, and Marx lost his sense of the senses, which so informed his concept of historical materialism. However, both theories have elements that enrich the habit of sensory h istory. From McLuhan, we get the concept of sense ratios, which allows for further analysis of the relationship between the senses (intersensoriality), while the treatment of Marx here indicates a need for further analysis of the materiality of the senses Attending to the sensate in history thus can be a fruitful exercise both in its conclusions and in enriching the habit of sensory history itself. It would be wise for sensory historians to address other key social theories, as well. As more of such works are appended with the sensorial and as more sensory histories are completed in general, the periodic, geographic and even methodological gaps of sensory history will lessen and multi and intersensorial surveys of history may become a reality. In dealing with McLuhan, sensory historians may have to reconsider a once widely accepted historical framework. While the examples cited here may seem to be minor refutations and attenuations of the great divide's binary, the grand project of
66 sensory history continue s forth and will inevitably fill in the great divide and a more complete historical understanding of our complex and constantly shifting sensorium will avail itself. Likewise, by attending to the sensate in Marx, the concept of historical materialism is en riched just as the practice of sensory history. Indeed, it makes sense for sensory history to be applied to another growing trend in the writing of history, the history of materials and commodities. Corn, for example, might prove to be an effective vehicle for the sensory history of a material. As an ancient crop that has figured prominently and crossed innumerable cultural, agricultural, social, political, industrial, economic and geographic categories, it would be highly amenable to sense based analysis. The interesting implications of such a study only grow as corn, simply as a base material with sweeping utilization in food, industry, construction, engineering and energy, pervades the modern world more and more. The project of sensory history is still ve ry much in its infancy, and it is going through growing pains. For instance, throughout the majority of this piece I have relied upon visual metaphors and other such terms that derive from visual bases, sometimes consciously but often times for a sheer lac k of vocabulary that grasps perception beyond the ocular. It would certainly appear that we do exist in a visually dominant age; but, as has been demonstrated, appearances are not always what they seem. The topic of multi and intersensoriality brings the problematic nature of sense relations to the forefront: just how knowledgeable are we regarding the accord and tension of the senses, and how does their interdependence inform and influence the historical sensorium? This primer on sensory history may act a s a sort of launching pad for more thorough investigations into the realm of intersensorality and materiality. All the while, several interesting
67 conclusions emerge from this particular introduction, demonstrating the fruitfulness of sensorial inquiry in h istory in general but also the need for more sensory histories with more novel applications.
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