Common Scents

Poetry, Modernity, and a Revolution of the Senses

Expected to ship: 2024-10-01

Attends to the much-neglected sense of smell in and around modern poetry to suggest the possibility of a revolution of the senses.


The sense of smell has long been the most neglected of the human senses in literature. Common Scents sets out to undo this forgetting of olfactory sense-making by tracing the appearance of odors in modern German and French poetry. Jonas Rosenbrück argues that smell's persistence undermines modernity's self-image as an ocular age and shows how scents index a veritable "revolution of the senses." Such a revolution, as a redistribution of the senses, would make the common and shared character of our existence in scented atmospheres perceptible.

Bringing contemporary ecocritical interest in atmospheres, air, and the senses into dialogue with literary criticism, theories of modernity, and political philosophy, Common Scents provides novel interpretations of figures such as Friedrich Hölderlin, Charles Baudelaire, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertolt Brecht. These readings demonstrate how all terrestrial life is interlinked in the aerial commons that escapes the privatizing grasp of what Karl Marx called the "sense of having." Reformulating Bruno Latour, Rosenbrück argues that we have never been deodorized. In attending to this fact, Common Scents reconfigures subjectivity, corporeality, and politics.

Jonas Rosenbrück is Assistant Professor of German at Amherst College.


"Common Scents makes a very original contribution to the field of modern European letters. Picking up on Walter Benjamin's (and Marx's) hypothesis of the historicity of the senses, Rosenbrück claims the revolutionary potential of (the figure of) smell, pointing to the possibility of an 'emancipation of the senses' in a coming revolution. The book goes beyond any sort of thematics of smell and argues instead for a real politics of smell—not just an 'olfactory turn,' but a re-ordering of the senses that would be a dis-ordering revolution." — Susan Bernstein, author of The Other Synaesthesia

"Common Scents offers a penetrating analysis of how smells, rendered in their ephemerality in poetic language, point the way out of the prosaic strictures in which capitalist modernity emplaces us by intimating insurrectionary, revolutionary other ways of relating to ourselves and to the world in and around us. Its revisions of influential readings of four major poet-thinkers discover in them new figures—from a 'latest' Hölderlin and 'exhaustive' Baudelaire to Nietzsche's 'olfactory genius' and Brecht's odorous body—for whom olfaction is both fundamental and transformative. As Common Scents shows, smell can therefore no longer be relegated to the margins or subordinated to any of the other senses; rather, its poetic inscriptions are timely reminders that the deodorization modernity seeks to impose on us can barely, if at all, inure us to the sense of a different order to come, one that is, as it were, right beneath our noses." — Julia Ng, coeditor of Toward the Critique of Violence: A Critical Edition, by Walter Benjamin