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Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum: A Postmodern Künstlerroman
by Manfred R. Jacobson
Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum: A Postmodern Künstlerroman
Manfred R. Jacobson
The German Quarterly
Updated: January 14th, 2013
University of Nebraskc~Lincoln
PatrickSiiskind'sDas Parfum: A PostmodernKiinstlerroman
Its immense popularity notwithstanding, the critical reception of Patrick Suskind's Das Parfum has been quite mixed, as well as fraught with contra- dictions and disagreements. Is this novel a "brilliant fablenl or "a ridiculously improb- able piece of verbose lapt trap'?^ Is it an "allegory of the Third IEeicY3 or a treatment of the totalitarian personality?Q Is one of its most significant themes that "hell is other people?'15 Is it a '%iiinstlerroman?'* Is Suskind's narrative technique conventional' and he an epig~ne,~
or do "we close the book with the presumably postmodern feeling of having been twitted'?g These are just a few of the many opinions found in reviews of Das Pcqhm. Interestingly, the novel seems to allow, even encourage, all of them, and many others besides.
In his review, John Updike correctly speaks of the novel's many subtexts,lO and these do seem to have caused much of the confusion experienced by readers and re- viewers alike. Nonetheless, among its many themas one seems to be central and dominant: the portrait of an artist. That even this aspect of the novel has led to un- certainty and confusion is the result of the unusual and playful way it is treated, i.e. Siiskind's postmodern orientation. While, with very few exceptions, Parfum's review- ers have been at pains to underscore how traditional, even dated, Siiskind's style and narrative technique are, no one hasrejected thesuggestion that this is not true, and that this novel is fundamentally a postmodern work, as scathingly as the novelist Hanns- Josef Ortheil:
Im 'Merkur" hat ein jugendlicher Witzbold Postmodernes in . . . man darf raten . . .in Siiskinds "Parfrn" entdeckt. Siiskind! Aus rechnet. Ich verliere kein Wort dariiber. P
Ironically, and this should appeal to the postmodernsensibility,in the same general- ly very perceptive article Ortheil supplias a definition of Postmodernism that provides the basis for my own readingof Parfum asa ptmodern novel:
Die wstmoderne Antwort aufdie Moderne bestkht in der Einsicht und Anerkennung, daR die Vergangenheit, nachdem sie nun einrnal nicht zerstart werden kann, da ihre Zerstiirung zurnSchweigenf*, ad neue Web ins Auge gefa13t werden md3, mit Ironie, ohne unschuld.12
As one reviewer put it: 'Die Methode des Duft-Morders Grenouille, sich den odor feminae zu destillieren, ist auch ein wenig die Methode des Erzahlers Suskind. Grenouille plundert tote Eute, Siiskind tote ~ichter."'~
It is true that Siiskind "plunders deadpoets,"but, one must continue, with the purpose of taking a fresh look at them, without naivete, andwithconsiderable irony. What has not yet been pointed out is that he is particularly interested in plundering the tradition of the Kunstlemman, bursting its traditional limits by revealing that earlier portrayals of artists have been timid. Siiskind's conventional style is elegant and measured, thus onone level"dated,"but this, too,is part of the game, providing a splendid counterpoint to, and thus heightening the effect of, the absurdity and exaggeration of his own story.
The German Quarterly 65.2 (1992) 201
Suskind makes it clear from the outset that the subject of his novel is the life of a man who is a creative genius, as well as a monster. He compares Grenouille to de Sade, Saint-Just, FouchB, and Bonaparte, with the distinction that Grenouille as a distiller of perfumes has left no trace for posterity. Grenouille's unusual specialty lays the foundation for most of the novel's strategies. First, it provides a basis for the pretense that Grenouille is actually a his- torical figure, since the evanescence of per- fume makes it impossible for the reader to demand evidence of his existence outside the pagesof the novel. That Siiskind wishes to tease the reader with Grenouille's pos- sible historicalexistence is suggasted by the fact that he gratuitously provides us with precise dates for his birth and death, July 17,1738June 25,1767. At the very least, one is, or at least this reader was, tempted to research these dates in the hope of dis- covering whether they apply to any par- ticular historical figure. Second, it gives the novel its most original dimension in intro- ducinga character who is most probably the only olfactory genius in literature. Third, placing Grenouille's genius in the domain of smell provides the novel with the basis for most of its metaphors, puns, ploys, and inventiveness. The most important, or central, of these is the phrase, 'jemanden nicht riechen konnen,"in both its literal and figurative meaning. While this phrase has some resonance in the first part ofthe novel, it comes to dominate the second.
While the novel is clearly and over- whelmingly concerned with odors and per- fumes, thus Grenouille's creative genius on the literal level, the metaphorical implica- tions of all this are not unambiguous. Com- paring Grenouille to so varied a group as the historical figures mentioned above in- tentionally blurs the nature of his genius. Is it political or social?14 Should the per- fumes he creates be compared to sym- phonies (as the narrator eventually does), paintings, novels, or are they to be under- stood and valued more as a kind of rhetoric for their impact on people, as is in fact the case at the end of the novel, where Grenouille uses perfume to exert complete control over a large crowd? Does the evanes- cence of perfumes indicate that the portrait of this particular artist, at least, if not of artistic genius per se, is also to be understood as evanescent? Siiskind discourages absolute certainty for any one of these in- terpretations at the same time that he en- courages the reader to entertain all of them, and this vagueness, or blurring, is basic and essential to the novel's richallusiveness and engaging playfulnese.
Das Parfum, in that it is about an artist who is a murderer, fuses the genres of Kiinstlerroman and Krimi. In this respect, its one conspicuous antecedent is E.T.A. Hoffmann's Das Frtiulein von Scuderi.15 The large number of striking similarities between these two works makes ines- capable the likelihood that Siiskind had Hoffmann's novella in mind when he created Grenouille.16 Although it does not make use of the features of the Krimi, Thomas hhnn's Tonw Kriiger also makes much of the notion of the artist as criminal.17 That these novellas, among the many other works that Suskind "plun- dered," are not straightforward influences, but are played with in a postmodern fashion, becomes evident. Tonw Kroger and Das Frtiulein von Scuderi are only two of the many works, events andconceits having to do with genius or the artist that Suskind engages in a kind of parodic dialogue, but the connections between them and Paqfum are much more compelling than those be- tween any other work and Paqfum. One reason for Siiskind's particular interest in these two works may well be that these small masterpieces contain some of the most radically jaundiced characterizations of the artist in German literature. By going them one better, Siiskind exceeds all pre- vious limits. My main concern in this essay is to give some examples of where and how Suskind engages them in his parodic dialogue. Another is to show something of the contours of the new portrait of the artist that emerges from the ashes ofthe tradition of Kiinstlerliteratur:
The early portions of Das Pwm,particularly those dealing with Grenouille's birth and childhood, offer a wealth of obser- vations on the nature of creative genius, its genetics, sociology and psychology, or psycho-pathology. Some of these are astute and insightful. Others are parodies or sim- ply intended to twit the reader. All of them, however, are part of an elaborate game that, in addition to engaging us in various ways, should result in a new, more playful, per- ception of an attitude toward the creative genius. Grenouille is delivered by his mother under her gutting table, among the f~h
offal and the stench, and left to die.18 It is suggested that this trauma is what shapes his artistic gift and calling. There would seem to be a plausible connection, but it is not borne out or developed else- where in the novel. We should therefore con- clude that the connection is actually spe- cious. The episode calls to mind the one in Das F'rtiulein von Scuderi in which Car- dillac's mother, who is pregnant with him at the time, finds herself locked in the embrace of a dead man to whose bejeweled chain she had been irresistibly drawn. In Das Fralein von Scuderi, however, this episode does establish a relationship between prenatal trauma and Cardillac's ar- tistic as well as criminal makeup. What Hoffmannpresents is intended as acredible psychological explanation of an artistfiller for an early 19th-century audience:
Weise Manner sprechen vie1 von den seltsamen Eindriicken, deren Frauen in guter Hoffnung Ehig sind, von dem wunderbaren Einfldl solch lebhaften, willen- losen Eindrucks von aul3en her auf das ~ind."
Contemporary readers are likely to see the intent of the episode as naive, and thus Siiskind has an easy time parodying it with his own version. The ultimate object of Siiskind's parody, however, is the con- temporary notion, our notion, that there is a demonstrable connectionbetween formative experiences and creative genius.
Another significant feature of Grenouille's birth is that, although he is born in the midst of horrid stench, and grows up in a city renowned for its varied and vile smells, he is unique among living creatures in that he has absolutely no odor of his own. Ironically, this quality makes him highly offensive to other people. It figures prominently in his life, and he will later devote all of his energies, skill and genius to creating a superhuman odor for himself. Much is made throughout the novel that the absolutely odorless Grenouille is at the same time the absolute master of odors. Even while he is still an infant, the significance of this apparent con- tradictionis underscored. Soon after his dis- covery under the guttingtable, a monk from a local monastery turns him over to a wet nurse, who soon thereafter insists on returning him to the monastery. She com- plains that he sucks her dry, but it turns out that her real objection to him is his odorlessness, which leads her to believe that he is possessed by the deviL20 The monk vigorously rejects this suggastion, but then the infant wakea up:
Das geruchlose Kind roch ihn schamloa ab, so wares!Es witterte ihn aus! Und er kam sich mit einemrnal als stinkend mr, nach Schweilj und Essig, nach Sauerkraut und ungewaschenen Kleidern. Er kam sich nackt und Wlich vor, wie beg& von je- mandem, der seinerseits nichts von sich preisgab. Selbst durch seine Haut schien es hindurchzuriechen, in sein Innerstes hinein. Die zartesten Gef~e, die schmut- zigsten Gedanken lagen bloB vor dieser gierigen kleinen Nase, die noch gar keine rechte Nase war, sondern nur ein Stups, ein sich stlindig kriiuselndes und blahen- des und babendes winzip lijchriges Organ. Terrier schauderte.
Odor here seems to imply humanity, The infant's total lack of humanity apparently is what enables him to penetrate to the depth of the monk's soul, cutting through all defenses, pretenses and illusions, to the darkest regions of his being, explaining Terrier's extreme discomfiture. The monk, in spite of his calling and the odor of sanctity associatedwith it, is revealed asvery human, while Grenouille "nichts von sich preisgab." This ability to see through people (com- parable to "die Macht der Erkenntnis" in TonioKroger)seems somehow to be a basic and integral part of Grenouille's creative genius, even though Siiskind never attempts to establish a connection between it and the creation of new odors on the literal leveL
Grenouille's odorlessness, its probable implication as a mark of inhumanity, and what Grenouille does about it, are paral- leled in Thomas Mann's Tonw Kr6ger. We may recall that it is 'Ibnio who, in his con- versation with Lisaweta Iwanowna, argues that there is a relationship between the ar- tistic and criminality; that there is some- thing about the artist which is as con- spicuous and as alienating as the mark of Cain:
Aber da hilft kein Zivil, Lisaweta! Verkleiden Sie sich, vermurnrnen Sie sich, ziehen Sie sich an wie ein Attach6 oder ein Gardeleutnant in Urlaub: Sie werden kaum die Augen aufzuschlagen und ein Wort zu sprechen brauchen, und jeder- mann wird wissen, daB sie kein Mensch sind, sondern irgend etwas Fremdes, Bef+emdendes, anderes . . .22
He defends his conservative way of dressing as an attempt to disguise the ad- venturer in himself, and that he sees in all artists: "Man ist als Kiinstler immer Aben- teurer genug. ~uI3erlich soll man sich gut anziehen, zum Teufel, und sich benehmen wie ein anstiindiger Mensch. ..'Q3 It is also 'Ibnio who maintains again and again that one must kill off one's heart, and suppress all ordinary human feeling, in order to produce genuine art:
Es ist notig, daR man irgend etwas Aul3ermenschliches und Unmenschliches sei, daR man zum Menschlichen in einem seltsam fernen und unbeteiligten Verhlilt- nis stehe, um imstande und iiberhaupt veraucht zu sein, es zu spielen, damit zu
spielen, es wirksam und geschmackvoll
In all these respects, Grenouille reflects Tonio's notion of the artiet, taken to grotesque extremes. His odorlessnass is his mark of Cain. Much later in the novel, he will create a human odor for himself, one of whose ingredients is cat feces, that serves much like Tonio's conservative dress to make him less conspicuous among ordinary human beings. The dead heart which l'bnio must struggle toachieve in order to produce genuine art is Grenouille's natural, ines- capable and permanent condition. Keeping in mind that M~Mpresents l'bnio and his views with irony, one might point out that Siiskind, unlike when parodying the naive or ridiculous in Hoffmann's straight scene, is parodying sophisticated irony, thus achieving an irony beyond irony.
Yet another aspect of Grenouille's birth requires comment. In this instance, it con- cerns a quality which places him in diametric opposition to Tonio KSger. After Grenouille's mother leaves him to die among the f~sh offal, she faints. Passersby come to her aid, and the infant cries out loudly and is discovered. Upon being ques- tioned, his mother confesses that on several previous occasions she has given birth and left the babies to die. Consequently, she is tried, convicted and executed. Later, the narrator comments on the cry that saved Grenouille's life and cost his mother hers:
Es war ein wohlerwogener, fast mijchte man sagen ein reiflich erwogener Schrei geweaen, mit dem sich das Neugeborene gegen die Liebe und dennoch fiir das Leben entschieden hattez
Grenouille's incapacity to love or win love while, nonetheless, tenaciously clinging to life, is one of the novel's many leitmotifs. hsociated with this penchant is the repeated comparison of Grenouille to a tick, patiently lying dormant, until a host appeans and it can begin to thrive.26 Throughout the story, Grenouille's seemingly limitlass patience and tenacity are stressed. He seems able to endure any hardship, no matter how long its duration, as long as there is a prospect of creating new perfumes sometime in the future: "Jetzt wurde ihm klar, weshalb er so z& und verbissen am Leben hing er mdte ein Schijpfer von DiiRen sein. Und nicht nur irgendeiner. Sondern der gr6l3te Parfumeur aller ~eiten.'~
Siiskind successfully embeds the idea of Grenouille's tenacity and parasitism in the very structure ofthe novel. Grenouille is shown in a succession of relationships with people who seem to exploit him, and usually do: Madame Guillard, Grimal, Giuseppe Baldini, Taillade- Espinasse, Dominique Druot. In each relationship, however, Grenouille has either been sustained in some way or has taken away some knowledge that is crucial to his development as a perfbmer or artist. How- ever, while Grenouille learns, develop and moves on, each of these individuals meets with an unnatural death.28 Keeping these incidents in mind, we realize that Grenouille the tick always comes away full of fresh blood, leaving behind a dead host who has been sucked dry. Grenouille accepts, even glories in, what he is: "'Ich danke dir,'sagte er leise, 'ich danke dir, Jean Baptiste Grenouille, daR du so bist, wie du bi~t!"'~ By the age of six, Grenouille's olfactory genius has mastered his aromatic en- vironment completely, and he has learned the names of all the objects that exude an odor. But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, it is another matter altogether:
So lernte er sprechen. Mit Wortern, die keinen riechenden Gegenstand bezeich- neten, mit abstrakten Begriffen also, vor allem ethischer und moralischer Natur, hatte er die gr613ten Schwierigkeiten. Er konnte sie nicht behalten, verwechselte sie, verwendete sie noch als Erwachsener ungern und oft falsch: Recht, Gewissen, Gott, Freude, Verantwortung, Demut, Dankbarkeit, und so weiter-was damit ausgedriickt sein sollte, war und blieb ihm schleierha~?'
Grenouille not only does not know these words, but completely lacks any under- standing or capacity for the ideas, emotions and feelinga they represent. He is deficient, wen retarded, in all faculties except those few that constitute his extraordinary talent. The novel urges us to conclude that his prodigious olfactory genius is a mult of, and is only possible because,allother faculties and sensibilities have remained undeveloped or been pinched off as in the deadheading of a
While l'bnio attributes something of the qualities of tenacity and perseverance to artists generally and, in his conversation with Lisaweta Iwanowna, characterizes the artist as morally, socially, and peycho- logically defective, he thinks of them in far more favorable terms and, in his case, as part of a profound tension. In contrast to Grenouille, he is not only dissatisfied with himself, but maintains that the wellspring of his creativity is hi love for ordinary life and people, which he makes the subject of his writingalthough he knows that this love will remain unrequited:
Denn wenn irgend etwas imstande kt, aus einem Literaten einen Dichter zu machen, so kt es diese meine Biirgerliebe zum Menschlichen, lebendigem und gewohn- lichem. Alle Warme, alle Giite, aller Hu- mor kommt aus ihr, und fast will mir scheinen, als sei sie jene Liebe selbet, von der geschrieben steht, da13 einer mit Menschen-und Engelszungen reden kijnne und ohne sie doch nur ein tiinendes En und eine klingende Schelle sei.31
Grenouille has neither a capacity, nor a yearning, for love and life, which to him means only to be alive and compuhively work his willandhiart.The emphaticgegen and fir (seeabove) represent the dramatic decoupling of what was joined for l'bnio Krijger, and stand on its head 'lbnio's view that life and love are inextricably inter- twined.
In many respects Siiskind's charac- terization of Grenouille reminds one of W.
A. Mozart as depicted in the film Amaukus --a magnificently gifted Wunderkind who is a misfit as a human being. It is therefore noteworthy that the narrator stresses that Grenouille's creativity is perhaps most aptly compared to that of a musical genius:
Am ehesten war seine Begabungvielleicht
der eines musikalischen Wunderkindes
vergleichbar, das den Melodien und Har-
monien das Alphabet der einzelnen Tbne
abgelauscht hatte und nun selbst vollkom-
men neue Melodien und Harmonien kom-
ponierte -mit dem Unterschied freilich,
daR das Alphabet der Geriiche ungleich
grijbr und differenzierter war als das der
Tbne, und mit dem Unterschied ferner,
daR sich die schopferische Tatigkeit des
Wunderkindes Grenouille allein in seinem
Innern abspielte und von niemandem
wahrgenommen werden konnte als nur
von ihm ~elbst.~~
Siiskind has much to say about these in- herent and unobjectionable ingredients of Grenouille's genius. At issue are qualities with which he is born, consisting primarily of a highly specialized, but perfect, memory, and his ability to conjure odors up at will and to combine and recombine them in his imagination as completely new, and as yet unexperienced aromas:
Zehntausend, hunderttausend spezifische Eigengeriiche hatte er gesammelt und hielt sie zu seiner Verfiigung, so deutlich, so beliebig, da13 er sich nicht nur ihrer erinnerte, wenn er sie wiederroch, son- dern daR er sie tatsachlich roch, wenn er sich ihrer wiedererinnerte. -Ja, mehr noch, da13 er sie sogar in seiner bloRen Phantasie untereinander neu zu kombinieren verstand und dergestalt in sich Geriiche erschuf, die es in der wirklichen Welt garnicht gab. Es war, als besal3e er ein riesiges selbsterlerntes Vokabular von Geriichen, das ihn befihigte, eine schier beliebig groRe Menge neuer Geruchsatze zu bilden-und dies in einem Alter, da andere Kinder mit den ihnen miihsam eingetrichterten Wortern die ersten, zur Beschreibung der Welt hochst unzulang- lichen konventionellen Satze stammel-
This passage, as well as similar obser- vations scattered throughout Parfum, strike us as particularly true and astute descriptions ofcreative genius and the crea- tive process. The faculties described are believable as the essential ingredients of creative genius, but what are the other ele- ments that help produce the creations we admire? What is new in Siiskind's novel is the portrayal of a radical disjunction be- tween the faculties described above and all the other qualities of a human being that we perceive as virtues. The case of Grenouille suggests that not only are nor- mally admirable human qualities not nec- essary for the creation of great art, but that their absence may be characteristic of art- ists and further their creativity.
Although Grenouille isborn with the es- sential ingredients of his genius as well as with the psychological makeup that willsee him through to monumental achievements, having only to acquire the techniques to give expression to what already seems fully formed in his imagination, there is one ex- perience, we are told, that gives his artistic calling its shape and direction Without it, Grenouille could never have attained true greatness. The incident inquestion issmelling the aroma of a beautiful pubescent vir- gin, an aroma that is said irresistibly to draw love to her. This experience results in an epiphany which will determine the course of his life as an artist?
Ihm war, ale wiirde er zum zweiten Ma1 geboren, nein, nicht zum zweiten, zum ersten Mal, denn bisher hatte er bloR animalisch existiert, in hiichst nebulliser Kenntnis seiner selbst. Mit dem heutigen n3g aber schien ihm, als wisse er endlich, wer er wirklich sei: namlich nichts anderes als ein Genie. -und da13 sein Leben Sinn und Zweck und Ziel und hohere Bestimmung habe: niimlich keine geringere, als die Welt der Diifte zu revolutionieren. -und da13 er allein auf der Welt dazu alle Mittel besitze: niimlich seine exquisite Nase, sein phiinomenales Gedachtnis und, als Wichtigstes von al- lem, den prligenden DL&dieses Miidchens
aus der Rue des Marais, in welchem zau- berformelhaft enthalten war, was einen grol3en Duft, was ein Parh ausmachte: Zartheit, Kraft, Dauer, Vielfalt und er- schreckende, unwiderstehliche Schonheit. Er hatte den Kompa13 fk sein kiinftiges Leben gef~nden?~
During his trip to Denmark, Tonio Kriiger also experientxa an epiphany that leads him to understand and willshape his artistic call- ing. He comes to accept the tension between Kunstlertun and Burgertun, that has leR him in turmoil in the past, as the source of his artistic drive as well as the impulse that will lead him to far greater achievements in the future. He also comes better to under- stand his intense love for ordinary people and their lives. While asa youth he attempted to convert those he particularly loved to his world, he now understands that this is not only fruitless but wrong. Theordinaryshould be leR alone and treasured, not corrupted. It is, he proclaims, the ordinary that will, more than ever, be the subject of his writing, as well ashis reason for writing.36 Grenouille's epiphany is comparable to 'lbnio's, but again stan& it on its head, thus undermining or parodying Tonio Kroger's claims. Gre- nouille's interest is not in the ordinary, but in the exceptional, or even exotic. Further, he is not at all interestedin young virgins as people, nor in any aspect of their being save their scent. In order to absorb this aroma, he must therefore go beyond enlisting their ap proval-he must murder them. Nor is his interest or are his murders in any way to be understood as an act of love, but rather, as is made clear near the end of the novel, it is the love that these girls irresistibly attract that Grenouille wishes to capture for himself?'
The epiphany and thrill induced by the beautiful young virgin's aroma also prove evanescent, for the aroma was quickly used up and could not be preserved and usedsave in Grenouille's memory and imagination The key to collecting and preserving such aromas was distillation, but this technology was not as far advanced in Paris as in the city of Grasse, where Grenouille must and ultimately does goto fulfill his artistic des- tiny, after earning his journeyman's papers. The second part of the novel has generally been reviewed much less favorably than the fmt.38As eventful as this part of the novel is, it nonetheless no longer sustains our in- terest with the same intensity as the part set in Paris. Grenouille's fantasies in the cave seem to go on interminably. The epi- sode with Taillade-Espinasse is superflu- ous, or at least also seems to drag on. And Grenouille's time in service with Madame Arnulfi and Dominique Druot is in many ways a repetition ofhis apprenticeship with Baldini. Regardless of whether or not the reader fully enjoys and finds necessary all the episodes and details of this second part, its dominant theme is Grenouille's quest for an identity, and only this abortive quest is central to the novel and truly necessary for Siiskind's portrait of an artist. In Gre- nouille's case, the quest revolves around a pun on the verb riechen.
Grenouille is relieved to be free of the odors of Paris, especially human odors which have come to revolt him. Ultimately, he winds up in the Plomb du Cantal, de- scribed as the most remote area in France. There he spends seven years inquasi-hiber- nation, sleeping and day-dreaming fetus- like in a small cave, only occasionally emerging to feed on insects and roots. During thew years of isolation, he lives en- tirely in his imagination, his fantasies los- ing all restraint, until he comes to think of himself as God the Creator:
Und als er sah, daI3 es gut war und daRdas
game Land von seinem gijttlichen
war, da lie13 der GroI3e Grenouille einen Weingeistregen herniedergehen, sanft und stetig, und es begann alliiberall zu keimen und zu spriebn, und die Saat trieb aus, dal3 es dm Hen eh~te?~
Grenouille, it seems,would have spent his entire life indulging in his aromatic fanta- sies, in which he figures as creator and avenger (executing "dasDoppelamt des Rii
chers und ~elteneu~ers'~'),
were it not for what the narrator terms a catastrophe. By accident, Grenouille discovers that he hasno odor:
Und nun war das Entsetzliche, dalj Grenouille, obwohl er wate, dalj dieser Geruch sein Geruch war, ihn nicht riechen konnte.Er konnte sich, vollstiindig in sich selbst ertrinkend, um alles in der Welt nicht rie~hen!~~
This catastrophe is the turning point that compels Grenouille to leave his "Magic Mountain" after seven years in residence. One gets the feeling that Siiskind has been waiting impatiently to spring this pun on riechen. Riechen is, of course, the key verb for the perfumer's art, but one must also, perhaps primarily, look to its figurative meaning, not being able to stand someone (here, oneself), for an explanation of Gre- nouille's drastic reaction and departure. A different variation on the pun actually al- ready appeared in the first part of the novel. There we are informed that the children in Madame Gaillard's care repeatedly band together and attempt to suffocate the infant Grenouille. Later they give up their at- tempts as futile and simply avoid him as much as possible. The narrator explains their attitude:
Sie hal3ten ihn nicht. Sie waren auch nicht eifersiichtig oder futterneidisch auf ihn. Fiir solche Gefuhle hatte es im Hause Gaillard nicht den geringsten AnlaB gege- ben. Es stiirte sie ganz einfach, dalj er da war. Sie konnten ihn nicht riechen. Sie hatten Angst vor ihm?2
The lack of an odor inspires fear, not hatred. There is something about him which alienates, but we never learn precisely what this is. Is it a lack of common humanity, as is suggested at various points in the story? Or is it something more radical, reflected in the limp Grenouille develops and which, as the narrator makes explicit, connects him with the devil?43 The discovery that Gre- nouille makes about himself in the cave is that he is absolutely and conspicuously un- lovable. When this becomesclear to him, he immediately leaves the Plomb de Cantal and goessouth.
Not long after his departure, he is discovered by the Marquis de la Taillade- Espinasse, who for reasonsof his own has him cleaned up and hed to look like an ordinary person. While looking at himself in the mirror, Grenouille decides that if it were not for his total lack of odor he would be indistinguishable from any ordinary man. It is then that he decidea to create a human smell for himself: "Er wollte sich, und wenn es vorliiufig auch nur ein schlech- tes Surrogat war, den Geruch dea Men- schen aneignen, den er selber nicht be- saJ3."4 Grenouille tests his creation in public and quickly establishes that it de- ceives people into believing that he is no different from them. Now, because of this discovery, his attitude changes from hatred to contempt:
-brach in Grenouille ein anderer Jubel los, ein schwarzer Jubel, ein bBes Tkiumpfgefuhl, das ihn zittern machte und berauschte wie ein Anfall von Geil- heit, und er hatte Miihe, ea nicht wie Gift und Galle iiber all diese Menschen herspritzen zu lassen und ihnen jubelnd ins Gesicht zu schreien: dalj er keine Angst vor ihnen habe.-ja, kaum noch sie he. -sondern daR er sie mit ganzer Inbrunst verachte, weil sie stinkend dumm waren. -weil sie sich von ihm beliigen und betriigen liel3en. -weil sie nichta waren und er war allea. 45
Although expre.ssed much more gently, Tbnio Kriiger's argument is much the same. On several occasions, Tonio calls the Biirger stupid, because he lacks the intellect and insight to see clearly through the artist's charlatanism-because the artist succeeds in deceiving him into believing that the artist is noble, decent and superior because of the art he creates,while Tonio knows that the opposite is more likely the truth:
'Dergleichen ist Gabe,' sagen demutig die braven Leute, die unter der Wwkung einea Kiinstlers stehen, und weil heitere under- habene Wwkungen nach ihr gutmutigen
Meinung ganz unbedingt auch heitere und erhabene Urspriinge haben mussen, so argwohnt niemand, da13 es sich hier viel- leicht um eine aderst schlirnm bedin '-3.k~aul3erst fragumdge 'Gabe'handelt . . .
Grenouille exemplifies the artist as char- latan, the artist who deceives through his art. His success leads him to crave even greater success, and he now sets out tocreate the ultimate aroma, a superhuman aroma:
Er wiirde einen Duft kreieren konnen, der nicht nur menschlich, sondern uber- menschlich war. Einen Engelsduft, so un- beschreiblich gut und lebenskraftig, da13, wer ihn mch, bezaubert war, und ihn, Grenouille, den Trager dieses Dufts, vom ganzen Herzen lieben m~f3te.~'
Grenouille not only wants tobe loved but he realizes thathe wants completelyandutterly to control others, and asks himself why He concludes: 'Xrsagte sich, daR er es wolle, weil er durch und durch bijse sei. Und er Echelte dabei und war sehr ~ufrieden.'*~ His ar- rogance and egotism continue to mount, transcending that of the poets of the Sturm und Drang who strove to equal God as creators. Grenouille expmes outright con- tempt for God:"Gott war ein kleiner, armer Stinker: er war betrogen, dieser Gott, oder er war selbst ein Betriiger, nicht anders ah Grenouille-nur ein umsoviel schlech- terer!'*9
Not long after he has come to these con- clusions, he leaves the Marquis and seeks employment with a distiller. As he masters this technique, he begins the series of mur- ders of beautiful young virgins in order to distill their essence which will form ingre- dients in his masterpiece, the perfume that will make him irresistibly lovable, allowing him to dominate all those who smell him. The key ingredient in this perfume will be the aroma of the yet ripening young daughter of one the wealthiest and most prominent citizens of Grasse. Only after Grenouille completes his masterpiece is he apprehended and charged with the mur- ders of twenty-four young girls. Grenouille confesses readily, and the entire city of Grasse turns out for his execution. A kind of carnival atmosphere prevails. Grenouille appears wearing a few drop of his super- perfume, whose effect is so overwhelming that not only is the hatred for him immedi- ately turned into passionate love, but the entire city of Grasse indulp in an utterly unrestrained nightlong orgy. This event is experienced by Grenouille as his greatat triumph: "Ja, er warder Groh Grenouille! Jetzt trat's zu 'Igge, er war's, wie einst in seinenselbstverliebten Phantasien, sojetzt in Wirklichkeit. Er erlebte in diesem Augenblick den grijaten Triumph seines Lebens, und er wurde ihm fiirchterli~h."~~ This moment, as we see, is ephemeral. As it reaches its climax, it turns into its op posite, and producea a new insight:
Was er sich immer ersehnt hatte, da13
nlimlich die anderen Menschen ihn lieb-
ten, wurde ihm im Augenblick seines Er-
folges unertraglich, denn er liebte sie
nicht, er hal3te sie. Und plotzlich wul3te er,
da13 er nie in der Liebe, sondern imrner
nur im Ha13 Befriedigun Gnde, im Has-
sen und GehaBtwerden. 6F
Grenouille now leaves Grasse and returns to Paris where this insight is refined further. He ponders the awesome power of his love-inducing perfume. He un- derstands that it is a means not only of win- ning love, but ofwinning anything his heart desires, save one thing:
Nur eines konnte die Macht nicht: sie
konnte ihn nicht selber vor sich riechen
machen. Und mochte er auch vor der Welt
durch sein Parfum erscheinen als ein Gott
-wenn er sich selbst nicht riechen konn-
te,und deshalb niemals ate, wer er sei,
so pfiff er drauf, auf die Welt, auf sich
selbst, aufsein ~arfum.'~
While 'lbnio Krijger, in hissearch for himself, does find himself and essentially resolvea or comes to terms with all his tensions, Gre- nouille's quest ends in absolute failure. ARer gaining this insight, he douses himself with his perfume andmix- with the Parisianrab- ble-murderers, pimps, prostitutes. Even they are not impervious to its effects, and
expresstheir love by literally devouring him.
Both the orgy in Grasse and the can- nibalism in Paris are parodies of the artist's relationship to his audience. One must think of "artists" in the broadest possible sense in considering these two scenes, since it is specifically they that have led reviewers to the conclusion that Pdm is a parable of the Third Reich or a statement on totalitarianism. For me, however, the most vivid connections are to Mann'sMariound cler Zauberer, as well as to rock concerts and other mass events, including religious revivals. 'Ibnio Kroger makes a comment that gets to the nub of such artistlaudience relationships: "Ich habe Kunstler von Frauen und Junglingen umschwarmt und umjubelt gesehen, wiihrend ich uber sie wupte. . . ,"53 i.e., 'Ibnio is aware that one cannot infer the artist's character from his work. In Parfum, Siiskind portrays this re- lationship in such extreme and grotesque terms that it is taken to the absolute nega- tive limit. The result is twofold: We come to see the worldview presented in Tonw Kroger as rather innocent, naive and timid; but since the scenes are also very funny, Suskind concurrently undermines his own image of the artist. This is a strategy that we have seenat work throughout the entire novel, giving us insights, making us wonder, engaging our Spieltrieb, but leav- ing us utterly divested of a focused and coherent portrait of the artist. If we must have such a portrait, we will have to construct it from the debris Suskind's novel leaves behind. Parfum indulges in an elaborate game that, however, raises the same question asked by Tonio &tiger, and ultimately confirms his view that the artist is and remains an enigma: "Aber was ist der Kunstler? Vor keiner Frage hat die Be- quemlichkeit und Erkenntnistragheit der Menschheit sich zaher erwiesen als vor die~er."~~
l~ohnUpdike, "Old World Wickednwe," Rev. ofDmParfum,"The New Yorker, 15 Dec. 1986: 124.
?Robert M. Adam, 'The Nose Knows," Rev. of Daa P+m, New York Review of Books,20 Nov. 1986: 26.
4Beatrice von Matt, "DmScheuaal ah Roman- held," Rev, of Das Parfum,Neue Zrircher Zeitung, 15 March 1985.
6Updike, "Old World Wickedneean 124.
6~oachimKaber, Wiel Flottheit und Phanta- aie,"Rev,of Daa Porfum,Sliddeutsche Zeitung, 28 March 1985.
'wolfram Knorr, "Aua Zwerg Naee wird ein Frankenatein der Diifte," Rev. of Daa Parfum, Weltwoche [Zurich], 21 March 1985.
8Michael Fiacher, Tin Sttinkerer gegen die Deo-Zeit," Rev. of Das Parfum,Spiegel, 4 March 1985.
QJohn Updike, "Old World Wickednwe" 125.
IlHanna-Joaef Ortheil, "Daa Leaen-Ein
Spiel," Rev. of Das Pdm,Die Zeit, 24 April 1987:
13~erhard Stadelmaier, ULebena-Riechlauf
einea Duftmijrders," Rev. of Dm Parfum, Bank- firter Run&chau,Easter 1985.
14Many reviewers maintain that Parfum ie primarily or exclusively a parable of the Third Reich, or of eome other political phenomenon. They adduce Grenouille'a wmpuleion andability to dominate crowds ae depicted in anme of the final paa- eagee of the book in aupport of thia interpretation (v.Adarna [note 21, von Matt [note 41, Kaiaer [note 61).
16E.T.A. Hohnn, Dm FrkZein von Scuderi
(Stuttga1-kPhilipp Reclam, 1970).
16~othare eet in a Park deecribedaa decadent;
each haa a protagonkt who ia the greateat artist of
his time apl well aa a aerial murderer; both men
commit murders for the eake of their art, both men
work in media that are eomewhat marginal to
what ia usually conaidered the domain of art.
17Thomaa Mann, Geswnmelte Werke (Frank
furt am Main: Fiacher Biicherei, 1967) Vol. 1.
Ispatrick Siiakind, Das Parfum(Zurich: Dio-
genea, 1985) 75.
l%.T.A. Hohnn, Das Bklein von Scuderi
20rhe theme of Grenouille'e poaeeeaion by the devil, or ae devil himaelf, aa evil incarnate, b developed through the entire novel. Just one aspect of thia. that he walh with a limp and what thia implies, ia eventually made explicit.
21~iiekind,Dm Parfum 23.
2%ann, Tonio Kr6ger 225.
26Siiskind,Dm Parfum 28.
28Grenouille'a surname, which means "frog" in French, does not characterize him in any way, but rather ia intended to serve as a red herring, leading the reader to entertaining but fruitless apecula- tions,ae do the previously mentioned precise datee of hie birth and death. These intentionally placed falae clues, in the Dorothy Sayer's tradition, are charaderistic of mysteries, and alao of the novel's pervasive inclination toward game playing.
YSiiskind,Dm Parfum 58.
28Madame Guillard's death at first glance seems to be an exception, since she lives to a ripe old age. We should keep in mind, however, that in an unexpeded and extremely lengthy dimion, the narrator explains that due to an injury she was completely incapable of any emotions, feelings, fears, or desirea, save one: to avoid dying in a public hospital (38-40).Ironically, it was her longevity which, depleting her resources, made dying there inevitable. In this way, she is like all the others, whose fondest hopes are disappointed.
29Sii0kind,Dm Parfum 278.
31Mann, Tonio Kr6ger 255-56.
32Sii~kind,Dm Parfum 35.
MGrenouille will experience several other epiphaniea during the remainder of the novel. Each time thia happens, one feeh that thie must be the laat, and is annoyed when another occurs. This ia not a defect, however, but again part of the novel's pervasive plafllnesa.
35~iiskind,Das Parfum 57.
3%hnn, Zbnio Kr6ger 254-56.
37~iiskind,Dm Parfum 242.
38~f.Marcel Reich-Ranicki, "Des M6rders be-
t6render DuR,"Rev. of Dm Parfum, Die Zeit, 12 March 1985;Updike (v. note 1);Adam (v. note 2) 26,who writes:"But at this point the story g& so preposterous that your reviewer ia ashamed to summarize the rest of it."
Dm Parfum 161-62.
48Mann, Tonio Kr6ger 225.
47Siiakind,Dm Parfum 198.
53Mann, Tonio Kr6ger 226.