"Flavours of the eighteenth century"
Viktoria von Hoffmann (Université de Liège) & Mark Jenner (University of York)
In this year’s upcoming annual conference, The Dutch-Belgian Society for 18th century studies will be focusing on the role played by taste and smell, in a century when both theoretical discourse and daily routine were strongly influenced by sensualist ideas. It appears, however, that in the prevalent hierarchy of the senses, taste and smell often took a less prominent position, since 18th-century thought was for a long time primarily defined in purely visual terms (Smith).
Whereas one almost evidently ascribed a mental, and even spiritual dimension to vision and hearing, smell and taste were related to a more bodily, material and animalistic dimension. Despite its status as sensorialité basse (von Hoffmann) the concept of “taste” was in fact often subject to social debate in many different fields of interest. Apart from its metaphorical meaning as “aesthetic judgment” – as Voltaire developed it in his Dictionnaire philosophique (“The taste, the sense by which we distinguish the flavour of our food, has produced, in all known languages, the metaphor expressed by the word ‘taste’ – a feeling of beauty and defects in all the arts”), the concept of (culinary) taste was also discussed from a medical, scientific, religious and philosophical point of view. Research on taste also appears to be an interesting way of reconsidering some of the dominant debates – such as the debate on nature versus culture – in 18th-century thinking. Whereas the central position of Paris as the capital of good taste and culinary innovation has been thoroughly discussed in recent work by Spary (2012) and von Hoffmann (2013), the question remains as to the perception of taste in other, surrounding regions. For instance, how was taste discussed in the Low Countries and what were the specific fields of interest it was most related to? Furthermore, to what extent was taste considered a contribution to the definition of a local, regional or even national identity? To what extent were taste – and culinary habits in general – considered a matter of importance in other parts of Europe and how did their specific approach relate to the prevalence of French taste?
For a long time, the sense of smell as well carried with it an animalistic connotation (Corbin). Odour perceptions were seen as volatile and, as a consequence, thought to have only superficial effects on human beings. Until recently the idea of a gradual deodorization of society prevailed in the historiography, with the double implication that scents were increasingly pushed into the background, simultaneously becoming less relevant in society. Pioneers in the field, such as Corbin, situated the start of this deodorization process in the second half of the eighteenth century. Allegedly, it has continued into the present day and is connected with both the growing attention for hygiene and the distancing from human corporality. However, recent publications, from Jenner and Smith amongst others, call this theory into question. Not only modernity introduced numerous new odours; also fighting stench was already common practice. The question remains then how people in the eighteenth century dealt with the olfactory reality, what place smell and stench occupied in
the many fields of society (private, professional, medical-scientific, government policy), and how smell or specific smells were perceived.
The organizers intend to publish the contributions afterwards.
The organization welcomes papers in either English or Dutch. Candidates are invited to submit a title and abstract of 300 words maximum before November 23, 2015. These, accompanied by the affiliation, preferred language (Dutch or English) and address data of the candidate can be sent to Beatrijs.Vanacker@arts.kuleuven.be and Klaas.VanGelder@UGent.be. Candidates will be informed regarding the acceptance of their proposals by the end of November.
Dr. Beatrijs Vanacker (firstname.lastname@example.org)