What makes good material literature? It’s when a piece of writing effectively encapsulates the essence of sensations, emotions or experiences with an emphasis on their physical dimension. In the case of Perfume by Patrick Süskind it’s obviously the sense of smell that is at the center of our attention. However, I found one paragraph which gives a fantastic description of what solitude is and how it feels like, and it goes like this:
His heart was a purple castle. It lay in a rock-strewn desert, concealed by dunes, surrounded by a marshy oasis, and set behind stone walls. It could be reached only from the air. It had a thousand private rooms and a thousand underground chambers and a thousand elegant salons, among them one with a purple sofa when Grenouille – no longer Grenouille the Great, but only the quite private Grenouille, or simply dear little Jean- Baptiste – would recover from the labors of the day.
It’s simple, poetic and violently accurate. Solitude is hiding in yourself, far from the outside world, to find one on the inside. In your guts. In your heart, or brain, whether you prefer to surround yourself with German romantic literature and suffer or write papers on analytic philosophy. And suffer. The fragment above presents the moment in the story when Grenouille finds a place where he can finally be far from the horrendous odor of humanity, where he can emerge from his bodily shell and be alone with his sweet memories and recollections of scents. Unfortunately, such transformation turns out to be impossible as he discovers a terrible truth about himself and his body. The plot goes on.
Good material literature makes a point about materiality of our world and carnality of ourselves. We cannot escape them. We’re trapped inside our bodies, trapped by the gravitational pull of earth, and so on. At least above the level of quantum mechanics, we’re governed by the laws of biology, and all we need to do is to realize and accept those laws – death, desire, the fact that every time I’ll go to the kitchen I’ll open the refrigerator even if knowing that nothing new did not suddenly appeared there but it’s a habit now and I accept that. Grenouille’s relation with the materiality was corrupted from the very beginning and that was the sole reason of his downfall.
I’ve seen the film adaptation of Perfume back in 2007 or ’08 when I was a teenager giggling at the orgy scene and surely I couldn’t fully appreciate this story until I’ve read the book just now. The Penguin Essentials edition’s cover is beautiful as well, soon I’ll probably check out Süskind’s Pigeon and I’ll give a feedback.