Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sensing heritage - "fragre" in the writing of Iain M. Banks

I do find that science fiction writers are often finely attuned to heritage concepts.  Here is an interesting discussion from Iain M. Banks' Transition about how heritage feels - a form of aesthetic significance, I suppose.

It is in a sense the sense of history, of connection, of how long a place has been lived in, a feeling for the heritage of human events attached to a particular piece of landscape or set of streets and stones.  We call it fragre 

Part of it is akin to having a sharp nose for the scent of ancient blood.  Places of great antiquity, where much has happened over not just centuries but millennia, are often steeped in it.  Almost any site of massacre or battle will have a whiff, even thousands of years later.  I find it at its most pungent when I stand within the Colosseum, in Rome.  However, much of it is simply the layered result of multifarious generations of people having lived there; lived and died, certainly, but then as most people live for decades and die just the once, it is the living part that has the greatest influence over the aroma, the feel of a place. 

Certainly the entirety of the Americas has a significantly different fragre compared to Europe and Asia; less fusty, or less rich, according to your prejudices. 

I'm told that New Zealand and Patagonia appraise as terribly fresh compared with almost everywhere else.

This leads me back to earlier musings about the senses impacted by space.  Would any space places acquire fragre in Bank's terms?  Or would it just be the scent of burnt metal?  The International Space Station is longest occupied space place; lunar landing sites are really ephemeral camps.

What about the fragre of Maralinga? (which I'm thinking about also, as I have to write a conference paper on it in the next few weeks).


  1. Anonymous2:26 am

    This discussion makes my vomeronasal organ tingle...

  2. Which reminds me of the marvellous book by Michael thingy, The Scented Ape, in which he explores the frequently overlooked role of the vomeronasal organ in human behaviour. I have been thinking about this again recently because of Wilhelm Fliess' theory of the relationship between the nose and sexuality, which it seems that psychoanalytic historians dismiss as nonsense. (OK, I confess, I'm reading Jeffrey Masson. I like his work a lot even though as a person he appears to be an arrogant dickhead. How could Catherine McKinnon have gone out with him?).