A BLOOM AMIDST THE STENCH – LIVING IN TIMES OF INFELICITY
There’s a novel, not a bad one, called The Perfume by Patrick Suskind. It tells the story of a man born into the filth and squalor of 18th-century France, while in possession of a hyper-developed sense of smell. Dog-like, the protagonist can sense a person approaching from away and follow trails of scent all the way up to their remote origin. As a human perfumer, he can concoct incredible, almost magically complex scents, mixing urine and cat turd to achieve a scent of invisibility, or blending umm… other ingredients… to invoke an unsuppressible scent of pure love and beauty.
Again, not a bad novel. It begins, in any case, with a wonderful and olfactorily-effective opening describing the stench of France:
In the period of which we speak [18th century], there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. The streets stank of manure, the courtyards of urine, the stairwells stank of moldering wood and rat droppings, the kitchens of spoiled cabbage and mutton fat; the unaired parlors stank of stale dust, the bedrooms of greasy sheets, damp featherbeds, and the pungently sweet aroma of chamber pots. The stench of sulfur rose from the chimneys, the stench of caustic lyes from the tanneries, and from the slaughterhouses came the stench of congealed blood. People stank of sweat and unwashed clothes; from their mouths came the stench of rotting teeth, from their bellies that of onions, and from their bodies, if they were no longer very young, came the stench of rancid cheese and sour milk and tumorous disease. The rivers stank, the marketplaces stank, the churches stank, it stank beneath the bridges and in the palaces. The peasant stank as did the priest, the apprentice as did his master’s wife, the whole of the aristocracy stank, even the king himself stank, stank like a rank lion, and the queen like an old goat, summer and winter.
You probably guess where I’m going with this. Aren’t you, dear reader, similar to that miserably gifted sensitive nose? Am I not him? Are we not, like him, doomed to live amidst the stench of a dying culture while possessing good sense?
Can we not come up with an opening of our own, adapted to our times? “In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities such stupidity that would have been barely conceivable to men and women of more fortunate ages. The streets were haunted by vulgar advertisements featuring corpulent shrews in undergarments; the stores were repelling and loud with the blasting of horrid sounds fit for the training of captive baboons; business offices were crowded with slick empty types without cultural attainment or literacy of numbers – swarms of starlings chirping cliches about “business transformation” while pecking on avocado toasts. The schools were a stultifying horror of intellectual abuse – luring one in through the seduction of prestige then mutilating him through the force-feeding of ten thousand stupidities. Movies were stupid, television was stupid, books were stupid, and ‘serious’ art – of corroded metals welded together into a death-begging chimera, or of cans of excrement placed on pedestals – was even stupider.”
And so forth.
Spoiler alert – it does not end well for the protagonist of The Perfume. After a murderess path of much misery and anguish, he finds his death being torn into pieces by a mob, charmed into a frenzy by one of his own perfumes.
So perhaps don’t model your life after the example of that book. But the problem it describes in allegory is indeed acute and real: how to live well during a time of obvious winter? How to retain sanity and even joy when beauty, wisdom, and virtue are washing away?
Fortunately, good sense, a conservative disposition, and an appreciation for beauty are not as rare as a supersense of smell. We, the children of winter, can find one another and find comfort in each other. To an extent, we all do this online. But it is not quite the same and not enough – we can do it in the real world by joining the fraternities of the similar-minded and by moving to areas where the control of ugliness and stupidity are not all-powerful just yet.
Take comfort in realism too. Yes, advance your career to the extent of your abilities, but if you choose the vacuous “business” path, know that Ashley, the DEI enthusiast, will probably reach loftier heights. It is what it is. She’ll make Managing Director before you, you’ll remain a Director and be known as a “doer” but not a “leader” who can “manage his relationships (totally fictitious! hehe hehe he…).
Stoicism is a good path to explore. Realize that all can change and decay, but for your own virtue and noble character. Believing in God is much the same. Try Venner who believed in the immortality of civilization’s seed if you wish.
And family, of course, is one’s most natural and greatest fortress. Like a rose blooming from the gutter, your dynasty shall be the flower of these seeds you plant in winter.
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