Sunday, January 4, 2009

Crashing the Clock: Scent and Timelessness

In trades driven by craft and artistry there is no quality more desirable than timelessness. Timelessness transcends boundaries and restores eternity in a world obsessed with “keeping time”, (just stand on the corner of 57th and Park Avenue in New York City and you can witness the cultural mania for time on the façade of Tourneau). There is a distinct hurdle inherent in embracing timelessness. It requires a willingness to embrace the past and the future while living in the present. Where are you when you encounter something timeless? The answer to this question depends on the source. If scent is the source the realities multiply.

Memories and the smells linked to them are activated at first sniff. The past is filtered through the experience of the present as emotions and associations intermingle. An anticipatory state arises that is linked to the expectation that something will be received thorough the act of smelling; be it pleasure or aversion. It is at this point that the mind begins to shape the future. If a scent makes you feel attractive, nostalgic, holy or powerful, you will begin to manifest the associated trait and the signal will be received by others. Past, present and future exist simultaneously in this state, as a variety of archetypes are activated.

Emotions elicited by scent further shape the feeling of time, occasionally intensifying experience to the point where time seems to stand still. This is especially true of scents associated with a loved one who is no longer alive. The deepest emotions we experience as human beings are tied to the sense of smell because of its link to memory. Under the spell of scent we experience something invisible that is tangible to our limbic system and shapes our perceptions. There is no buffer between scent and emotion. You smell something and react immediately, whether you like it or not. In this respect encountering scent crashes the traditional notion of time because a person’s response is drawn from the past, experienced in the present and projected into the future. (Can you hear all of those oversized hairsprings and ratchet wheels at Tourneau clattering onto the sidewalk as the clocks explode in confusion?)

Is there such a thing as a timeless fragrance? In truth, every scent is timeless because of the way fragrance shapes multiple realities. This doesn’t mean that every fragrance is a potential “classic” when it comes to perfumery. If you are a fragrance marketer, you may want to organize a séance instead of a focus group in order to answer this question. Timothy Leary could lead a discussion with Stephen Hawking, David Bohm, Brian Greene, and a few other experts on string theory. Imagine the possibilities. Perfumistas everywhere could throw out their watches and keep time by their noses.

Anyone know a good medium?


For an insightful and entertaining look at the meaning of time, Glass Petal Smoke highly recommends watching the movie What the Bleep do We Know—at least twice.

The website Everything Forever is based on a fascinating book written by Gevin Giorbran. It's a great place to explore the notion of timelessness.

String theorist Brian Greene is the author of The Elegant Universe. The book was turned into a three-hour miniseries on Nova. If you are inclined towards physics (and the unification of quantum mechanics and relativity) the site will keep your brain quite busy.

"Exploding Clock" by Roger Wood. An assortment of imaginative clocks for sale can be found on Klockwerks, the artist's website.

Image of Tourneau from Jewelry and Watch Jobs.