Part I: A Sensory Critique of Freudian Theory

Part II: A Sensory Biography of Sigmund Freud


The Trobriand Islands are one of the most famous testing grounds of Freudian theory. It was on the basis of data gathered there in the 1910s that Malinowski shook the psychoanalytic establishment by questioning the universality of the Oedipus complex. In the Trobriands, Malinowski (1924) claimed, it is not the case that the male child wishes to kill his father and marry his mother, but rather that he wishes to marry his sister and kill his mother's brother. Malinowski represented this alternative complex as consistent with the matrilineal social organization of the Trobrianders, and suggested that the Oedipus complex proper be seen as tied to the "patriarchal" organization of the family in the West.

Malinowski's challenge provoked a strong attack from one of Freud's disciples, Ernest Jones. Jones' critique led Malinowski to qualify his position. For example, he came to allow that father-hatred could underlie the hostile feelings toward the maternal uncle and that these sentiments were simply "displaced" onto the latter. Malinowski's original position received another blow when Gza Rheim published his account of what appeared to be a full-blown Oedipal complex among the matrilineal Duau people of nearby Normanby Island.1 However, the hardest blow came in 1982 when Melford Spiro published Oedipus in the Trobriands. Spiro used Malinowski's own material against him to "prove" that the Oedipus complex was just as firmly implanted in the Trobriand psyche as in the Western psyche, if not more so.

In recent years, Spiro's refutation of Malinowski has been questioned by Stanley Kurtz (1991). Kurtz challenges Spiro for failing to make use of Malinowski's detailed data on early childhood sexual activity and development, and presents a highly acute analysis of this material in support of his own interpretation of the "Trobriand Complex." That body of material also provides the principal basis for the present intervention in the Trobriands Oedipus debate, a somewhat cheeky attempt to indicate how the anthropology of the senses can stand Freudian developmental theory on its head.

At issue is the applicability of Freud's "erotogenic zone" theory of psychosexual development to Malinowski's Trobriand material. Freud first articulated the erotogenic zone theory in the course of revising his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1915, and considered it one of his most important contributions to psychology. As we shall see, while Freud's theory purports to be universal, it is in fact grounded in a particular (Western) construction of the sensorium. The biases inherent in this construction cause the theory grief when the attempt is made to apply it to the interpretation of facts informed by a different arrangement of the senses, such as Trobriand culture presents. As we shall see, the sensory organization of the Trobriand psyche during the period ranging from infancy to the end of adolescence diverges in certain key respects from that of the Western psyche (as described by Freud), and these divergences are conducive to the emergence of the alternative social organization of the psyche described by Malinowski in his original 1924 paper on the Trobriand complex. Instead of simply dismissing Freud, however, this chapter shows how Freudian theory can be adapted to the Trobriand context. It is true that what emerges from this process of adaptation may no longer be recognizable as Freudian theory in the eyes of those who remain committed to extending that theory transculturally with all of its sensory and other biases intact (e.g. Roheim; Spiro; Lidz and Lidz; Gillison). The counterposition, which I tend to favor, is that we should seize the opportunity to critique, emend and otherwise nuance that theory in light of the resistance it encounters in cultural contexts like that of the Trobriands.

A few caveats should be registered before proceeding. First, to bridge the gap between Freudian-Western and Trobriand or Massim psychology, and permit some sort of dialogue between the two traditions, I have taken the liberty of coining a range of new psychoanalytic terms, such as "nasality" (the Trobriand equivalent of "anality" in Feudian theory) and "exuberancy period" (the Trobriand equivalent of Freud's "latency period"). These terms are certain to sound strange at first, but should become familiar with use. Second, the discussion which follows only concerns the male Oedipus complex: this restriction is primarily for want of adequate data on the so-called female Oedipus (or Electra) complex. Thirdly, it will be noted that, as in the chapters of Part II of Sensual Relations (Howes 2003), this chapter incorporates data from other Massim societies besides the Trobriands, such as Duau and Dobu. These "extraneous" references are included partly to bridge gaps in the Trobriand material, and partly because my aim is to show that the developmental pattern described here is not unique to the Trobriands, but rather appears to have some currency throughout the Massim world.


Being in Bad Odor

One of the distinguishing features of Trobriand (and Massim) gender relations is that "Trobriand women are not considered polluting agents and their sexuality is not thought to deprive men of their strength" (Weiner). This is very different from the situation found elsewhere in Papua New Guinea, where all sorts of debilitating effects are attributed to the presence of the female sex, and in particular the smell of menstrual blood (Meigs; Biersack; Lidz and Lidz).

The most repulsive smell in the Trobriand olfactory register is that of excrement: "Unpleasant smells and unclean matters disgust them, especially if they are of an excretory nature" (Malinowski). Thus, for example, the greatest hardship of mourning is said to lie in the prohibition on leaving the house to defecate. The widow or widower's relatives by marriage must dispose of the bereaved one's excreta for the duration of the mourning period, which lasts anywhere from six months to a year. Similarly,

The duty of receiving the excreta of small children in receptacles, with the liability of becoming soiled and the necessity of carrying the dirty matter into the bush, is often mentioned as one of the hardships which give to parents, and especially the father, a permanent claim on the gratitude of the child. It is also quoted as a reason why the child should look after the parents later on, and incidentally repay these particular services in kind should they fall ill (Malinowski)

As this quotation attests, the profound repulsion Trobrianders feel towards the stench of excrement makes risking olfactory pollution by caring for a child a source of "permanent" obligations -- obligations grounded in feelings of gratitude which, according to Trobriand psychology, the child can never forget.

The father's olfactory self-sacrifice in caring for the child is comparable to the gustatory self-sacrifice involved in eating sparingly. The latter act makes more food available for sharing with others, principally children and overseas visitors. Parents -- especially fathers -- are, in fact, remembered for their generosity as providers of food (Malinowski, Weiner, Munn, Thune). Nonetheless, their highest claim on their children's gratitude would appear to be the one based on cleaning dirty bottoms. It is in recognition of this sacrifice that, as part of the traditional mortuary ritual, the sons suck the decaying flesh from the bones of the exhumed corpse of the father, prior to laying the bones to rest permanently (Malinowski). Similar practices have prevailed elsewhere in the Massim region, such as on Duau where the "belly" of the deceased is eaten by the kin (Rheim).

This last rite of anthropophagy may seem a rather exaggerated way to express filial gratitude, and it is regarded as excessive and disgusting by the Trobrianders (Malinowski). There is reason to it, however, when one considers how deeply conflicted and shame-ridden the act of eating is in the Massim world. As we saw in chapter 3, the only thing a person is thought to derive from eating is pleasure, not nutrition or energy, and the only thing eating leads to, besides heaviness and sleep, is having to defecate; there is no positively valued result, such as beauty or fame, to eating one's fill. In fact, the way to fame is precisely through not eating, and thus being able to distribute food to others, which explains why there are so many forms of appetite-suppressing magic to be found in the Massim world (Malinowski; Young). The Trobriand adult is, therefore, acutely conscious of the act of food consumption as being intrinsically "wasteful." Its negativity is summed up in its most salient effect or "yield", the stench of excrement.

Could it be that the motivation behind the ritual act of sucking the father's bones clean is the overwhelming feeling of shame that the adult son experiences at the thought of his father having had to clean his bottom when he was a babe in arms? While admittedly speculative, this construction neverthless makes strong sense. One of Malinowski's informants rationalized the ritual as follows: "It is right that a child should suck the father's ulna. For the father has held out his hand to its excrement and allowed it to make water on to his knee" (Malinowski). The emotions which the mourner works through while performing this most odious of rites are thus rooted in the memory of a scene from childhood -- that of excreting on the father -- which appears to leave an indelible mark on the Trobriand psyche. It is as if the picture of children excreting were the "primal scene" of Trobriand psychology.

Primal Scenes

According to conventional Freudian theory, the "primal scene" consists of the image of the parents copulating. This vision is said to arouse such conflicted sentiments in the child (wanting to sleep with the cross-sex parent and murder the same-sex one) that the only way to cope with them is to banish the scene from consciousness. Hence the onset of the "latency period" at age four to six, which is shot through with repression and amnesia.

As suggested above, the Trobriand version of the "primal scene" would appear not to fit this picture, and to center around the image of children excreting instead. The evidence for this consists not only of the memory at the core of the traditional mortuary ritual, but also of two other practices. The first has to do with what the Trobrianders call "copulation amusement", which will be treated next, and the second with the socialization of the excretory functions and the child's birth into language, which will be discussed a bit later on.

In the Trobriands, sexual acts are not shrouded in secrecy or necessarily hidden from young eyes. One indication of this is the term "copulation amusement." This word is used to refer to the sexual antics of children aged three to six when they play at imitating the sexual behavior of their seniors (Malinowski). For the Trobriand child, therefore, the sexual activity of the parents is not a source of conflict-ridden angst, as Freud would have it. Rather, it is a source of amusement, in that children find that they can make people laugh by imitating the sexual behavior of their elders. This implies that the "latency period" of Freudian-Western psychology corresponds to what can only be described as an "exuberancy period" in the Trobriands. The "exuberancy period" is marked by heightened bodily and social awareness, rather than repression.

According to Freudian theory, the "latency period" represents the culmination of a process that begins at birth, when the infant's "sexual instinct" or libido is already present, but exists in an undifferentiated or "polymorphously perverse" state. The first orifice to which the libido attaches itself in a definitive way is the mouth, followed by the anus, and then (by around age three) the genitals, as each of these "erotogenic zones" is discovered by the child to yield more pleasure than the preceding one, and thus assumes primacy (Freud).

Notably missing from this list of bodily orifices is the nose. The exclusuion of the nasal apparatus would be considered a major lacuna, from a Trobriand perspective. Indeed, the nose, and not the oral cavity or mouth, is the primary "erotogenic zone" of the Trobriand body. This ranking can be seen reflected in the way Trobrianders express affection by rubbing noses, as opposed to kissing each other on the lips. In fact, like numerous other Melanesian peoples, they find the idea of kissing rather silly and insipid (Malinowski). Another reflection of the privileged role of the nose in Trobriand erotica is the idea that genital odors are a major motive of sexual excitement. For example, one informant pointed out to Malinowski that when a woman discards her grass petticoat in the dark, "desire may be aroused" in her male partner, even though the latter cannot see her genitals, because the "smell of her vagina" reaches his nostrils (Malinowski).2 This exchange suggests that the Trobrianders would have little difficulty accepting the theory that human sexual behavior is governed by the exchange of chemical signals called pheromones. By contrast, it has been a struggle for this theory to win much support among Western scientists to date (Wright).3

The anus is not counted among the erotogenic zones of the Trobriand body. Indeed, the Freudian interested in finding evidence of "anality" in Trobriand culture is bound to be frustrated. Malinowski baldly states: "Feces have no place in magic, custom, or ritual; nor do they even play any part in sorcery." The roots of this dismissal can be traced to early childhood, for as Malinowski notes elsewhere: "I have failed to find any traces of what could be called infantile indecencies, or of a subterranean world in which children indulge in clandestine pastimes centring around excretory functions or exhibitionism." Trobriand culture is thus characterized by a certain "denial of anality." There is no pleasure, not even sublimated pleasure, in elimination or its products.

Probing further we find that parents typically shame their children into observing proper excretory etiquette by means of the standardized expression (translated literally): "Odour of excrement! Not thou wipest thy remnant of excrement, odour we (excl.) smell!" (Malinowski). The intensity of the Trobriand sensitivity to smells may be attributable to the formidable impact this expression would have on the child's sense of group membership. The child henceforth associates the use of the addressee-exclusive form of the pronoun "we" with itself as the source of an excremental odor. This "expulsion from language" coming at a time when the child has only just discovered its own ability to communicate through language must prove a traumatic experience. The child wants to identify with other language-users, not be individuated from them! It is easy to imagine how a wish never to smell of excrement (perhaps never even to defecate) again, could take shape in the young one's mind as a result of this incident.4

The "olfactory anxiety" instilled in the child as of the moment it learns the meaning of the addressee-exclusive form of the pronoun "we" has clearly had an impact on the development of the Trobriand psyche -- to the point of eliminating any trace of an anal phase from the maturation process. Such is the importance attached to "being in good odor" in Trobriand culture that anal erotism is ruled out and a kind of "nasal erotism" comes to take its place -- or to put this another way, "nasality" eclipses anality.

Interestingly, when Gza Rheim mentioned to Freud that Malinowski said there was no evidence of anal erotism in Trobriand culture, the latter was shocked. "Was, haben denn die Leute keinen Anus?" (What have the people no anus then?) the Father of Psychoanalysis exclaimed. It was simply unthinkable to him that any people (or individual) could somehow bypass the anal phase. From the standpoint of Trobriand psychology, of course, the question would be whether Freud had any nose. How else to explain Freud's failure to recognize the rightful place of the nose among the erotogenic zones of the body? How else to account for his perverse "denial of nasality," as it were? The question of Freud's denial of nasality is a legitimate one, with far-reaching implications, but let me reserve further comment on it until the conclusion to this chapter.

Olfactory Anxiety

Given the existence of a sort of exuberancy period in the Trobriands, as documented earlier, the question arises: Does castration anxiety have any role to play in the formation of the Trobriand psyche? According to Freudian theory, castration anxiety works visually. The sight of female genitalia provokes the fear of being castrated in the boy, because the latter interprets this sight as the consequence of castration. This fear induces the boy to give up the wish to kill his father, and start to identify with him instead. The desire to have the mother as a sexual partner is also relinquished as of this moment, supplanted by the desire for somebody to function as her substitute.

The situation in the Trobriands is quite different. Visual images do not have the same horrific grip on the unconscious there. For example, the vision of the father copulating with the mother, so emphasized by Freud, carries very little weight. Indeed, the son's primary recollection of this scene is probably tinged with the laughter he remembers having provoked in his elders when he used to play at imitating it with his friends. As for the sight of female genitalia summoning up fears of castration, it is difficult to say if the link is made (however much Spiro may protest). What we do know with certainty, however, is that the one memory that makes every son cringe with guilt is the thought of having excreted on the father as a child. Indeed, the son is reminded of his own selfish pleasure (and his father's kindness and self-sacrifice) every time he himself defecates, by the odour of his excrement. Rather than castration anxiety, therefore, the Trobriand subject is burdened with acute olfactory anxiety linked to defecation.

While the hypothetical character of the preceding remarks must be underlined, the conclusion nevertheless follows that the sensory conditions of childhood in the Trobriands are not conducive to the formation of an Oedipal complex, for there is not the same stress on forbidden sights or the same omnipresent threat of castration that is allegedly found in the West. It remains to be seen how the alternative organization of the senses in the Trobriands combines with the alternative organization of society to produce a differently configured psyche.

The Olfactory Origin of Desire

Malinowski (1924) hypothesized that the matrilineal organization of Trobriand society had a profound effect on the organization of the Trobriand psyche, and he found evidence for this in the local mythology. There is no trace of the male in the role of husband or father in any of the origin myths: it is rather the "spontaneous" procreative powers of the "ancestral mothers" that are celebrated. Nor is there any trace of conflict between father and son in the myths. Instead, the focus is all on the antagonism between maternal uncle and uterine nephew (Malinowski 1960). These preoccupations are as one would expect of a matrilineal society, particularly one in which the physiological role of the father in procreation is "ignored" or "denied" (Malinowski; Austen 1934). Under a matrilineal regime, jural authority is vested in the maternal uncle, rather than the father, hence the greater presence of friction in the uncle-nephew pair.

Another departure from the Western Oedipal pattern, according to Malinowski, may be seen in the way it is the sister, rather than the mother, who provokes incestuous desires in the boy. The reason for this is that the sexual attachment, if any, to the mother is given up spontaneously by a boy, since normal erotic impulses find an "easy outlet" throughout the period during which, according to Freudian-Western psychology, the mother is supposed to emerge as the "primary love object" -- that is, during what I have called the latency period. The result is that the selection of a primary love object is postponed until puberty. By this time the boy is conscious of how he has been forced to avoid his sister all his life, which makes the mystery and desirability of having her as a sex partner all the more intense, according to Malinowski..

It is consistent with these social facts that the theme of mother-son incest is absent from the Trobriand myth which accounts for the origin of sexual desire, and that the theme of brother-sister incest takes its place. The myth in question is called the Sulumwoya Myth (Malinowski). In Oedipus in the Trobriands, Melford Spiro provides the following summary:

According to the relevant aspects of this myth, a boy prepared a concoction of love magic in his hut. Later, his sister entered the hut and accidentally brushed against the vessel containing the concoction, causing some of it to fall on her. As a result she was consumed with lust for her brother and, despite his repeated attempts to elude her, she relentlessly pursued him until, finally, he capitulated to her desire and they committed incest.

Spiro's summary is admirably succinct, but unfortunately leaves out the two most relevant aspects of the myth, from a Trobriand perspective -- namely, what happened to the couple after they committed incest, and what the specific ingredients of the concoction were in the first place. As we shall see, failing to take these two aspects into account seriously undermined the integrity of Spiro's interpretation of the myth.

To begin with what happened to the couple after they committed incest, it is recorded that:

ashamed and remorseful, but with the fire of their love not quenched, they went to the grotto at Bokaraywata where they remained without food, without drink, and without sleep. There also they died, clasped in one another's arms, and through their linked bodies there grew the sweet-smelling plant of the native mint (sulumwoya) (Malinowski).

Following a vision, a man from the island of Iwa went and discovered the mint plant growing out of the lovers' chests, and passed it, together with the spell that activates its power, on to his kinfolk, who continue to receive royalties for its use.

Spiro was not impressed with the Sulumwoya Myth. He felt that it did not support the interpretation Malinowski placed on it: "rather than reflecting the special power of the libidinal attraction of the boy for his sister [as Malinowski claimed], the myth shows the special power of this type of love magic to overcome inhibitions arising even from the incest taboo" (Spiro, emphasis added). Spiro is, of course, correct to protest that the myth does not disclose any special instinctual attraction between siblings. Had he only followed his nose he would perhaps have understood why (the attraction is magical, as we shall see below). In any event, Spiro goes on to rest his own claim that the boy never stops burning with passion for the mother on Malinowski's "failure" (by Spiro's standards) to provide convincing evidence of incestuous desire for the sister.

The first problem with Spiro's interpretation is that he assumes -- in total disregard of Trobriand or Massim conceptions -- that love is something physical rather than magical. We get a sense of just how magical love is from a remark of Fortune's concerning the Dobuan theory of sex: "Without a love charm to arouse and create desire, desire does not exist according to native theory" (Fortune). By way of illustration, Fortune records that the men of Dobu were not in the least concerned about their womenfolk being sexually attracted to him, for they knew this to be impossible (as long as he had no charms).

A further problem with Spiro's interpretation is that he assumes that lust can exist prior to the culturally coded signals that evoke -- that is, create -- and channel it. This is where the significance of the actual ingredients of the love potion comes in. The potion was made from the leaves of the sweet-scented sulumwoya and kwayawaga plants boiled in coconut oil. As Malinowski observes,

Whenever a substance is to be medicated for the purpose of charming, seducing or persuading, as a rule sulumwoya is used. This plant figures also in several myths, where it plays a similar part, the mythical hero always conquering the foe or winning a woman by the use of sulumwoya (see also Fortune).

Thus, in the Trobriands as in Dobu, desire does not exist unless and until it has been evoked and directed by the smell of sulumwoya.

The most serious problem with Spiro's interpretation has to do with the centrality he ascribes to the act of sex. This fixation on the sex act causes him to ignore the sensory experiences which, according to Trobriand aesthetics, should lead up to having sex, and those which should follow after. Reviewing the Sulumwoya Myth with particular attention to how the senses are engaged in the course of a sexual encounter, we find the myth lays down a definite order. That order is that smelling leads to copulating, while eating and drinking (i.e. sharing a meal) should come afterwards, or a couple will never enjoy any peace. As will be recalled, in the myth, the brother-sister couple do go without rest. This is because their liaison was an illicit one, and they were therefore barred from ever sharing the meal in public that would consummate their relationship and seal their marriage (see Malinowski and Rheim on Massim marriage customs). Thus, it was not because they were too interested in making love to think of anything else that they died, but because they knew that they could never, according to Massim custom, sit down and share a meal. Their last thoughts would thus have been of food, not more sex: the "impossible object" of their love was a marriage feast.

The suggestion that having sex is not the telos of human psychosexual development in the Trobriands, while sharing a meal is, flies in the face of Freudian orthodoxy. The Freudian is committed to regarding the search for "oral gratification" as "pre-genital." In the Massim world, however, it is the reverse: youths are free to engage in a wide range of sexual activities but must on no account indulge in cross-sex commensality, until they are grown-up enough to marry (Malinowski). This means that genital gratification is typically "pre-oral" in the Massim world.

Phases of Psychosexual Development

Figure 8 tabulates how Trobriand and Freudian-Western psychology diverge with respect to the discrimination of the erotogenic zones of the body and the ordering of the phases of "psychosexual development".


Phase 3 Oral Genital

Phase 2 Genital Anal

Phase 1 Anal Oral

Figure 8: Contrasting Constructions of the Erotogenic Zones of the Body and Phases of Psychosexual Development

The rationale for positing a nasal phase at the outset of the developmental process is given in the Sulumwoya Myth. The myth is clear in stating that genital desire (i.e. true lust) is unknown until it has been evoked and directed by the magic of sulumwoya -- that is, by the scent of mint. Given that it is not until adolescence that youths are initiated into the use of love magic, it follows that sexual (in the sense of genital) attachments between individuals do not take shape until after puberty, just as Malinowski suggested.

The Sulumwoya Myth also explicitly states that the initial progression from smelling to copulating should have been followed by a further progression, from copulating to eating together. However, this outcome was arrested on account of the sister accidentally brushing the oil of mint prepared by her brother (and therefore being consumed with sexual desire for the boy) instead of it being used on the foreign woman, as the brother had intended. Barred from ever indulging their gustatory impulses in concert, the couple starved to death. While the brother-sister pair may have broken the incest taboo, therefore, they nevertheless comported themselves in strict conformity with the (apparently even stricter) taboo on pre-marital food-sharing relations.

The preceding account suggests that "orality" is a greater focus of repression and anxiety than sexuality in Trobriand psychology. This can be seen in the way the Sulumwoya Myth is as much about "forbidden orality" as it is about forbidden sex. It also makes sense that orality constitutes a more central preoccupation than sexuality in Trobriand culture given the paramountcy of orality in terms of the phases of the developmental process. It is interesting in this regard to note that Spiro was able to discover only two Trobriand myths suggestive of "castration anxiety" (neither of them very compelling) whereas myths that are not simply suggestive of, but explicitly about, "cannibal anxiety" abound in the Trobriand corpus (see Spiro; Malinowski). This is as one would expect of an "oral culture" (in the Freudian sense of the term).

For the Trobrianders, the regulation of oral gratification is the essence of civilization, just as in the Freudian view of things civilization depends on the regulation of the sexual instinct. It is by overcoming one's immediate desire for food that one is able to engage in social exchange and display in the Trobriands, just as in the West everything is said to depend on the sublimation of sexual desire.

The Polysexualization Thesis

Stanley Kurtz (1991) has advanced a "new approach" to the Trobriands Oedipus debate, which is of interest both for its critique of Spiro's universalist position and its affinities with the approach advocated in this chapter. Kurtz does not question the universality of the Oedipus complex, but he does urge us to consider how different cultures may have developed different ways of resolving it. Central to Kurtz's approach is the concept of "polysexualization," defined as the process whereby "attachments to infantile pleasures and objects are broken by means of multiple sexual relationships at higher stages of sexual development" (Kurtz). The concept of polysexualization -- sometimes also referred to as "group seduction" by Kurtz -- is meant to alert us to the possibility of there being other actors involved in the Oedipal drama (and the stages leading up to it) than those we are familiar with in the West. It is also meant to suggest that the stages of infantile sexuality (with their distinct kinds of pleasures and emotional interests) are more varied in content than the traditional psychoanalytic account would allow.

Kurtz accepts Spiro's argument that the question of how and why the Trobriand boy relinquishes his phallic attachment to the mother is not very satisfactorily explained by Malinowski's "natural maturation" theory, and proposes an alternative theory to account for this transition. Briefly, Kurtz's hypothesis is that the Trobriand boy is drawn out of his incestuous attachment to the mother by virtue of his entry into the Trobriand play group at some point in his third or fourth year. The play group is a troop of boys and girls age three to six whose relations with each other are characterized by a "precocious genital sexuality, by Western standards" (Kurtz). Right from the moment of first admission to the group, when one of the older girls steps forward and takes the new boy in hand, various forms of genital stimulation are practised, including intercourse -- or as close an approximation to intercourse as the little boy is capable of. Hence, Kurtz concludes, "the group seduces a child out of immaturity by offering and imposing on that child multiple experiences of sexual pleasure at a level more mature than that to which it is attached." It should be noted that Kurtz's approach assumes that genital pleasure is more "mature" than the "other" pleasures of an oral and anal nature to which the child would up till then have been attached.

In support of his thesis Kurtz points to the Trobriand depiction of life on Tuma, the isle of the dead. On Tuma, everything revolves around sex. Kurtz suggests that the "erotic paradise of Tuma is a conscious depiction of the adult Trobriander's unconscious childhood memories" of initiation into the play group. When one considers how orgiastically the recently deceased spirit is greeted on Tuma, this suggestion makes good sense. The Trobrianders say that the new spirit still yearns for his earthly spouse, but the other spirits, knowing this, conspire to break this attachment by aggressively seducing him. They send the most beautiful one of their company, a "hostess-spirit", forward and her first act is to wave a magical scented potion (bubwayata) under his nose:

The scent enters his nostrils, carrying with it the magic of bubwayata. As with the first sip of the water of Lethe, so this scent makes him forget all that he has left on earth, and from that moment he thinks no more of his wife ... Erotically inspired by the bubwayata spell, he yields [to the entreaties, caresses, and violent yanks of the hostess-spirit] and a scene is enacted ... (Malinowski quoted in Kurtz).

The "scene" in question involves the newcomer copulating with the hostess-spirit right on the beach, in open view of the other spirits. This sight is said to stimulate the latter to do the same, and the reception quickly transforms into a sexual orgy.


There could well be something to the parallels Kurtz identifies between the initiation of the new spirit on Tuma and the initiation of the child into the play group. However, it is troubling that Kurtz fails to make any sense of the scented potion the hostess-spirit uses to arouse the newcomer's desire; that is, while Kurtz takes the trouble to quote the above passage from Malinowski at length, he does not work this sensory fact into his interpretation, choosing (like Spiro before him) to pass over it in silence.

Kurtz's attempt to enlarge the discourse and focus of psychoanalysis did not meet with the approval of Melford Spiro. The latter shot back with the essay "Oedipus Redux," which basically contradicted and denied all of the points Kurtz had tried to make. This did not help the Trobriands Oedipus debate, but one good thing to come of it was that it provoked Kurtz to publish a rejoinder in which, among other things, he elaborated upon the role of the father in the "Trobriand Complex," as he dubbed it.

According to Kurtz, "early Trobriand [child] rearing is radically unlike Western rearing in that much of what we think of as `mothering' is actually performed by the Trobriand father" (1993: 99). The Trobriand father (in contrast to the Father of Freudian theory) is intimately involved in the physical care of the child, feeding it mashed food while it is still breast-feeding, for example, replacing the mother in the child's bed during the period of weaning (which occurs at around age two), and often continuing as the child's bed-mate afterwards. In Kurtz's view, the father thus "seduces" the child away from its infantile attachment to the mother's breast and draws it into the next stage of psychosexual development. In Freudian terms, this next stage would be the anal phase, but in the Trobriand case, Kurtz suggests, we should call it "the kopoi phase", after the Trobriand term for paternal care. The ultimate symbol of this care is the image that has surfaced again and again in the course of this analysis -- the symbol of the father receiving the child's excreta into some receptacle (or failing that, his own hands), and otherwise attending to the child's cleanliness.

Kurtz goes on to speculate concerning what meanings the child derives from the father's care:

I argue that the Trobriand child subjectively equates the food he receives from the father's hands with the urine and feces that he returns to the father's hands ... the Trobriand child's subjective experience of the father's early nurturance, or kopoi, centers around the idea that father and child are exchanging pleasing and/or dangerous edible gifts.

These speculations are, in turn, worked by Kurtz into a novel interpretation of the unconscious roots of one of the principal institutions of Massim society -- the Kula Ring.

In his rejoinder to Spiro, Kurtz goes on to break with the olfactory silence of his first article on the Trobriand Complex and proceeds to weave certain speculations about the kopoi phase into a general explanation for why smell magic figures so prominently both in the context of kulaing and in Trobriand representations of the orgiastic reception that awaits them in the next life. "In my view," he states:

beneath the image of the most beautiful female spirit on Tuma, carrying a sweet-smelling potion that can draw a man away from his previous lover, there lurks the seductive Trobriand father, whose early physical care helps to draw the child away from his mother and toward the larger group, and whose feeding and cleansing of the child is experienced as a pleasant-smelling exchange of anal gifts (Kurtz).

As we shall see presently, this is a view no Trobriander would be able to share.

Cross-culturalizing Psychoanalysis

Stanley Kurtz makes a strong case for the importance of recognizing "numerous, culturally particular paths of [psychosexual] development where before we have tended to see various cultures making either tenuous or confident advances along a single, universal path to maturation," and hence for "the need to culturally reshape psychoanalytic theory" (Kurtz). However, to allow that there are different paths while at the same time assuming that there is only one destination, "psychosexual maturity," may not be to go far enough. My principal critique of Kurtz's approach is that he fails to subject the standard Freudian assumption that maturation is a process of growing into one's sex to the same critical scrutiny as the other tenets of Western psychoanalytic theory he treats. But before delving into this critique, let me comment briefly on what I consider to be the principal theoretical advances made by Kurtz's "new approach."

Kurtz's most basic insight is that: "child `training' practices, traditionally classified as harsh or mild by Western standards, are best conceived as motivated by culturally specific principles -- principles not necessarily animated by Western-style relations of love and discipline between individuals" (Kurtz). The search for the pertinent "culturally specific principle" in the Trobriand case led Kurtz to the concept of polysexualization or "group seduction," which is noteworthy for the way it revises conventional psychoanalytic assumptions about the identity and number of actors involved in the Oedipal drama, as well as the roles they perform.

In addition to being sensitive to the cultural variations in the social relations that underpin the Trobriand complex, Kurtz's approach is sensitive to some of the cultural variations in the sensual content of the phases of psychosexual development; for example, he picked up on the challenge to Freudian theory posed by the Trobriand equivalent of the latency period being one of exuberance (or "precocity"), and of the anal phase being one of cleanliness (kopoi). He even picked up on how pervasive and persuasive a role smell plays in Trobriand erotica, although here, I would argue, he showed a failure of imagination. For Kurtz treats the Trobriand smell data within the framework of an unreconstructed Freudian theory instead of listening to what the Trobrianders have to say about the power of smell in human affairs, and revising his model accordingly.

The crux of the problem here is that Freudian psychology, including Kurtz's restatement of it, does not make sufficient allowance for how the different senses may be weighted or constructed differently in different societies, and it therefore fails to comprehend how alternative sensory orders may impact on the experience of the body, obviating some erotogenic zones (for example, the anal) and creating others (for example, the nasal), while at the same time re-arranging their sequence. As we have seen, the endpoint or telos of the developmental process in the Trobriands is not sexual maturity but "oral maturity" -- the mastery of gustatory impulses.5 We were able to see this because we did not simply assume that maturation is a process of growing into one's sex, but instead sought to interpret and give effect to Trobriand definitions of the developmental process as one of growing into one's senses. Had Kurtz been more resolute in his search for "culturally specific principles," I suspect he would have come to the same conclusions.

One "principle" he certainly would have discovered is that the origin of desire, as of repulsion, in the Trobriand scheme of things is to be looked for in the olfactory domain. Recognizing this would have saved him from committing a number of fundamental errors (from a Trobriand perspective). For example, he would have seen how culturally implausible it is to posit any sort of connection between excreta and the sweet-smelling bubwayata potion (given what we now know of the Trobriand denial of anality). He might also have come to recognize how culturally impossible it would be for any two individuals to form a genuine sexual attachment without recourse to the aphrodisiacal power of the smell of mint (as is very clearly laid down in the Sulumwoya Myth). Following his nose in this way, Kurtz might even have come to suspect that Freud's theory of the erotogenic zones of the body was missing some organs (in particular, the smell organ) which brings us back to the question of Freud's "denial of nasality."

Freud's Nose, or The Denigration of Olfaction and the Birth of Psychoanalysis

Did Freud have a nasal complex? Did some event or series of events in his personal life cause him to deny or repress his nasality? Supposing Freud did have such a complex would explain why, for example, he devotes a section to "Touching and Looking" but says nothing of smelling in his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. It would account for the dearth of references to smell in Freud's published work generally.6 Above all, it would help explain the virulence (or overdetermined character) of Freud's denigration of olfaction in a pair of footnotes to chapter IV of Civilization and Its Discontents, which he added near the end of his career -- as if to rationalize the olfactory silence of all his previous writings.

"The organic periodicity of the sexual process has persisted, it is true, but its effect on psychical sexual excitation has rather been reversed," writes Freud in the first footnote:

This change seems most likely to be connected with the diminution of the olfactory stimuli by means of which the menstrual process produced an effect on the male psyche ... The diminution of the olfactory seems itself to be a consequence of man's raising himself from the ground, of his assumption of an upright gait; this made his genitals, which were previously concealed, visible (Freud).

The gist of Freud's argument (incorporating the second footnote as well) may be summarized as follows: 1) the assumption of an erect posture and exposure of the genitals made sight paramount among the senses as well as the primary vehicle of sexual excitation, and relegated smell to a diminished and devalued position in the human sensorium; 2) the fact that visual excitation is continuous, whereas olfactory excitation is intermittent or cyclical, meant that henceforth males would find their female mates sexually attractive all the time -- a development which paved the way for the emergence of the family as the basic unit of social organization; 3) the original "organic" antipathy toward menstrual effluvia extended to include excremental smells, and eventually all odors which emanate from below -- that is, from the genital region -- came to bear the same stigma in the interests of advancing civilization.

Freud's account of the displacement of smell (like some other elements of his theory of human sexuality) has become part of Western popular wisdom, an ide fixe, as it were. Never has any critical attention been paid to the soundness of Freud's arguments, or the biographical reasons for his nasal-loathing, or, for that matter, the historical reasons for the initial acceptance and subsequent popularity of his denigration of olfaction. In what follows an attempt will be made to correct these various oversights, and in the process a hidden history of psychoanalysis will be revealed.


Let us begin our examination of the soundness of Freud's arguments by briefly reviewing the empirical basis (or lack thereof) for Freud's three claims, starting with the third. Freud saw the taboo on menstruation as an "organic" expression of disgust, but recent anthropological research into menstrual taboos contradicts this suggestion. It appears that rather than exemplifying repression, and being rooted in disgust, the taboos on women cooking for or having contact with men during their menses may well constitute "sex strikes," and occasions for women to develop culture independently of men (Knight). For example, in certain West African societies the "cuisine of menstruation" is said to possess a particularly delectable aroma and taste, but one which can only be enjoyed by women (men not being allowed to partake) (Buckley and Gottlieb). Thus, Freud was simply wrong to assume that menstrual taboos possess the same valence everywhere. The Trobriands are a case in point. There, as will be recalled, menstrual effluvia are not supposed to have any ill effect on men, and it is in fact excremental smells towards which Trobrianders feel the deepest antipathy.

Freud's second claim may also be disputed on the basis of the Trobriand material. Trobrianders say that the eyes are "that which makes us desire to copulate" and "A man with his eyes closed will have no erection" (apparently confirming Freud's suggestion), but they also hold that the nose can sometimes replace the eyes, such as "when a woman discards her grass petticoat in the dark" and desire is aroused in her male partner just the same because the "smell of her vagina" reaches his nostrils (Malinowski). According to Trobriand theory, then, olfaction is continuous, whereas vision is an intermittent motive of sexual excitation, susceptible to being interrupted by darkness.

Finally, Freud's first claim, which holds that sight took over from smell as the sense of sexual excitation in some long-ago period of human evolution, can also be contested from a Trobriand standpoint. According to Trobriand theory, olfactory excitations can overcome visual inhibitions. Malinowski records the case of Gomaya, who liked to boast of his amorous successes: "I am ugly, my face is not good-looking. But I have magic, and therefore all women like me." (Malinowski). The magic in question would have involved the native mint plant, sulumwoya, the most seductive scent in the Trobriand olfactory register. Being a master of this magic, Gomaya's unsightly appearance was no barrier to his being a great seducer.

Freud situated the decline in the valence of olfactory stimuli -- or visual eclipse of smell -- in the prehistory of the human species. However, his speculations on this subject belong to a specific historical moment, and are, in fact, laced with a number of biases which were peculiar to the European culture of his time. For example, the idea that olfaction is an animal sense whereas humans rely more on vision, or the way in which -- on Freud's account -- men look while women smell, are not so much biological facts as ideological constructs, manifestations of the visualism and sexism which were so deeply embedded in nineteenth century Western culture (Classen). Rather than pertaining to the "natural history" of the species, therefore, Freud's speculations should be analysed as projections which were motivated by the cultural history of the senses and the sexes in fin de sicle Vienna.


Cutting Off the Nose

But before exploring further the cultural and historical context of Freud's projections, there are some considerations of a personal or biographical nature which merit attention by way of explaining his curious denigration of olfaction. Let me preface this glimpse into the development of Freud's thought by noting that according to E.M. Thornton in The Freudian Fallacy, Freud would never have arrived at his theory of the sexual origins of the neuroses had it not been for the pioneering example of Wilhelm Fliess' theory of the nasal origins of the neuroses.

Wilhelm Fliess was Freud's closest friend and confidante during the watershed years of 1892 to 1900, when most of the germinal ideas of psychoanalytic theory occurred to Freud. Fliess was a medical man, like Freud, only his specialty was in ear, nose and throat medicine, with a side interest in sex. The two men tended to be highly effusive in their praise for each other's ideas and accomplishments. They held "congresses" (because they lived in separate cities) and produced a copious correspondence (which was published posthumously). However, Freud and Fliess had an extremely bitter falling out in the spring of 1900, largely over the issue of Freud's appropriation and careless dissemination of Fliess' novel theory of bisexuality, which resulted in another of Freud's associates beating Fliess into print with it (Brome).

While Freud apparently did appropriate Fliess' notion of bisexuality and saw fit to develop it, after their split he came to dismiss the two other major ideas associated with Fliess' name that had been formulated during the period of their intimacy -- the idea of a naso-genital relationship, and the idea of periodicity. As we shall see, this dismissal (or denunciation, really) of his former friend's pet theories actually forms the subtext of the footnotes in Civilization and Its Discontents.

Fliess formulated his theory of a naso-genital relationship, or more specifically "nasal reflex neurosis," in 1892. Physicians had long recognized that nasal congestion frequently accompanies menstruation (and the later stages of pregnancy), and that nosebleeds occur in both sexes at puberty and sometimes during sexual activity (Stoddart). However, Fliess went further. He claimed to have found evidence that a wide range of symptoms were caused by swelling of the nasal mucosa and pathology of the turbinate bones in the nose, and that they could be cured (or at least diminished) by either cauterizing or anesthetizing these "genital spots" with cocaine. The symptoms ranged from heart trouble and respiratory difficulties to various gynecological complaints including dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) and hysteria in women, and neurasthenic complaints such as migraine (which at the time was associated with masturbation) in men.

The "Fliess Syndrome," as it became known, created a flurry of interest in "naso-sexual medicine." Over 220 articles and books, mainly in German, were published on the subject over the next few decades (Stoddart). One of the consequences of the heightened attention to the naso-genital connection, however, was its dissolution. Scientific medical research disclosed that the cause of Fliess' syndrome was, in fact, the method of its cure:

The effects Fliess attributed to reflex action were ... in reality, those of the action of cocaine on the brain. The dramatic amelioration of the pains of such conditions as dysmenorrhea or migraine by nasal applications of cocaine resulted from the action of the drug on specific brain centers and had no connection with the nose itself. No reflex mechanism was therefore involved (Thornton; see also Stoddart).

Fliess' theory of periodicity grew out of his research on the relationship between the nose and the sexual apparatus, and was published in a book entitled The Relationship between the Nose and Female Sexual Organs in 1897. In keeping with the prevailing fashion for incorporating mathematics into biology, Fliess postulated a 28 and a 23 day cycle -- the former being linked to the menstrual cycle in women and the latter to a corresponding cycle in men -- both of which were present in all human beings, and indeed every living cell. The action of these cycles was believed by Fliess to be manifest in all life's fluctuations. The rhythms determined everything from dates of illness and other life crises or "critical periods" to the date of death, not to mention a person's sex (Fliess). More numerological than mathematical, and mystical than biological, the grandiose generalizations which made up Fliess' theory of periodicity in human life were not well received by the scientific community, and his calculations were found to be all too easy to pick apart (Schur).


The validity of Fliess' theories was never an issue for Freud during the early to mid 1890s, when their friendship was at its peak. Indeed, Freud believed in Fliess' "laws of periodicity" so completely that he worried himself sick about the forecasted date of his own death, and other "critical periods" predicted by Fliess' magic numbers (Anzieu). Freud also suffered from many nasal complaints, as well as migraines and heart trouble, during this period, and entrusted himself to Fliess' care. His correspondence with Fliess is dripping with references to suppurations, congestion and pains in his nose (Masson). While some of Freud's nasal complaints would have been alleviated by Fliess' surgical operations on his turbinate bones and by Freud's frequent applications of cocaine to his nasal mucosa (also prescribed by Fliess), it is probable that these treatments did more to exacerbate Freud's nasal and other conditions than cure them. Nevertheless, Freud found solace at being able to attribute the migraines and heart troubles to his diseased nose, since this etiology at least held out the possibility of treatment (i.e. more cocaine, more operations) whereas there was no cure for the migraines or heart disease per se.

A decisive moment in the Freud-Fliess friendship and major turning point in the history of psychoanalysis came when Freud called in Fliess to treat one of his female patients, Emma Eckstein, who presented various neurotic symptoms which Freud diagnosed as having a sexual etiology. Fliess duly operated on Eckstein's nose, and in a horrific case of medical malpractice, left a long string of gauze in the wound when he sewed up. Another surgeon had to be summoned to diagnose the cause of the alarming hemorrhages from which the patient suffered following the operation. Freud was present, and fainted at the sight of the gauze being extricated from Eckstein's nose. It turned out that she had been conscious throughout the operation, and when Freud came round, greeted him with the "patronizing" (to his ear) remark: "So this is the strong sex."

This episode in turn gave rise to the famous "dream of Irma's injection," which Freud had in the early hours of July 24, 1895. That dream, with its strange scene of a laryngeal-cum-gynecological examination of Irma's throat by Freud, and of an injection with an unclean syringe by a certain Otto, was the inspiration for Freud's elaboration of the "wish fulfillment" theory of dreams -- a cornerstone of psychoanalytic theory. Freud interpreted the dream as expressing the wish to exculpate himself of responsibility for Irma's malady. But as Freud's personal physician and disciple Max Schur has pointed out, this interpetation concealed a deeper wish -- the wish to exculpate Fliess -- which Freud either remained unconscious of, or willfully suppressed, in the account which appears in The Interpretation of Dreams (Schur; see also Anzieu).

Of all Freud's sense organs, there was probably no organ which gave him more pleasure (when he treated it with cocaine, for example) or more pain and discomfort (when it seeped pus and catarh) than his nose. It was a mutual "medical" (but also curiously sexual) interest in noses that drew Freud and Fliess together as friends and it was a botched operation on a nose that caused the rupture of their relationship. The dream of Irma's injection was inspired by the latter incident, and so Freud owed one of the most fundamental insights of psychoanalysis to this event. But this event was also perhaps the most traumatic incident in his life: given his embarrassment at having fainted at the sight of the bloody gauze being extricated from Eckstein's nose; given Eckstein's taunt to his masculinity; given how his confidence in his friend Fliess (whom he had worshipped up to that point) was shattered; and, given how torn he felt between needing Fliess and blaming him.

In light of all this baggage, is it any wonder that Freud chose to cut the nose out of psychoanalytic theory, and to seal off that whole painful period of his life? A sort of nasal taboo took the place of the fascination with nasality that had so occupied him and Fliess throughout the 1890s. As a result, Freud never did come to terms with his own nasality and, it appears, he even projected his own arrested development in this domain onto the human species!7

The Decline of Smell in the West

But it was not simply for biographical reasons (influential as these may have been) that Freud privileged visuality over nasality and continuity over periodicity in the footnotes of Civilization and Its Discontents where he put forward his theory of the assumption of an erect posture leading to the "diminution of olfactory stimuli." There are also reasons of a historical nature for his denigration of nasality and cyclicity.

As regards cyclicity, Donald Lowe has shown how "development-in-time" emerged as the dominant "epistemic order" of bourgeois society in the nineteenth century. "The temporalization of reality underlay such new conceptualizations as the evolution of species, the ages of human life, and the development of society" (Lowe). Henceforth, changes in reality had to be accounted for immanently -- that is, by reference to causes from within the temporal process itself. This had the effect of obviating explanations in terms of, for example, teleology, eschatology, or cyclicity. The Freudian theory of phases of psychosexual development fit nicely with this new epistemic order, whereas Fliess' notion of cosmic periodicity was doomed to appear archaic and outmoded. Similarly, the conflict between Fliess' view that periodic processes of a biological nature are the preciptiating factor in neuroses and Freud's view that psychic conflict is the decisive etiological factor was bound to be resolved in the latter's favor, because Freud had history (read: "development-in-time"') on his side (see Schur; Andieu).

As regards nasality, Freud's views on smell were also very much in keeping with historical trends. There had occurred a precipitous decline in the cultural significance of smell during the nineteenth century. Many of the meanings formerly invested in smell were stripped from it during this period. For example, whereas bad smells spelled disease and good smells served as cures in premodernity, Louis Pasteur's discovery of the germ theory of disease severed the connection between olfaction and infection, and smells lost their life and death significance (Classen, Howes, and Synnott). As another example, the meaning of the odor of sanctity, which in premodernity was a sign of spiritual grace, was inverted, and came to be interpreted as a sign of mental and physical illness -- a hallucination, or the emanation of a condition such as diabetes (Classen). Or again, the deodorization of the environment brought on by advances in personal hygiene and sanitation and the new fashion for vegetable scents (in place of animal ones) lay the foundation for "the bourgeois control of the sense of smell and the construction of a schema of perception based on the preeminence of sweetness" (Corbin).

The net result of these developments was the destruction of the elaborate olfactory semiotics of premodernity and its replacement by an olfactory hedonics -- a simple calculus of relatively pleasing and displeasing aromas and stenches. A significant by-product of this shift was the way in which the nose came to be conceived of completely independently of its function as the smell organ and exclusively in terms of its visual shape in the "scientific" classifications of races promulgated by Freud's contemporaries. "Look at the nose and you will see the basic sign of humanity in all its variety!" (quoted in Gilman). Thus, the nose assumed prominence as a visual sign of racialized difference just as the significance of olfactory differences in and to the European imagination receded.

This decline in the meanings carried by smell made conditions ripe for the reception of Freud's argument concerning the "diminution of olfactory stimuli." Of course, Freud's argument also contributed to the decline by forging an association between an overactive interest in smells, particularly strong smells, and man's animal past as well as perversion. This animalization of the sense of smell pushed it beyond the pale of culture. Freud's personal inability to come to terms with his own nasality has thus transformed into a cultural legacy.8

Saving Fliess

Anthropology can sometimes show how what is animalized, considered mad, or supposedly lodged in the unconscious in one culture may be treated as civilized and the subject of extensive (and quite conscious) cultural elaboration in the next (Lvi-Strauss 1992). Wilhelm Fliess' theories are a case in point. They were ridiculed by his contemporaries, and even modern sympathizers, like Sander Gilman, feel compelled to say that they "appear to us as more than slightly mad" (Gilman).

Fliess could have found a more receptive audience for his ideas had he gone among the Melanesians. For example, his fascination with nasal swellings would not have been considered so bizarre among the Ommura of the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The Ommura are constantly watching each others' noses for signs of swelling. They differ from Fliess, however, in the way they ascribe a social as opposed to purely sexual etiology to such manifestations. According to Ommura conceptions, a swollen nose is a sign of blockage in a man's exchange relations with his relatives by marriage (Mayer).

Fliess' theory of the periodic nosebleeds of men and women as expressions of "general body rhythms" akin to menstruation would also have enjoyed far more currency in Melanesia than it ever did in Berlin. For example, as we saw in chapter 5 of Sensual Relations, Kwoma men periodically phlebotomize (i.e. bleed) their penises and tongues in explicit imitation of women, whom they consider to have a certain advantage over them in terms of health. Women are understood to possess a "natural mechanism" for purging their bodies of stagnant blood -- namely, menstruation, whereas men and boys must resort to the artificial (but also therefore more cultural and valued) technique of phlebotomy.

The Kwoma also introduce an interesting twist to the naso-genital relationship discovered by Fliess. As will be recalled, they posit a connection between the nose and the penis that is the reverse of the conventional interpretation of the nose as a sign of the penis. To the Kwoma, the penis is a nose, as evidenced by the manner in which the two members are represented identically in Kwoma sculpture, and the notion that "phallic objects," such as a spear, have the capacity to sniff out their targets.

As a final example, the link between nasality and periodicity is a subject of extensive cultural elaboration among the Ongee of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. The Ongee conceive of time in terms of a cycle of smells (their calendar is a calendar of scents), and attribute a wide array of life processes to the ebb and flow of odors. For the Ongee, the identifying characteristic and life force of all living beings resides in their smell (Classen). Unfortunately, none of these connections can have much resonance for most contemporary Westerners due to the primitivization of olfaction and deodorization of sexual attraction by Freud and his contemporaries. Fortunately, however, a growing number of artists has contested this silencing of smell and dedicated themselves to championing its powers.

* The final version of this essay appears as Chapter 7 of Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2003). Please see that chapter for figures, references and bibliography, and please only cite the published version of this essay.