Monday, 8 February 2010

Humans defined by appearance

Pip's ideas in 'Great Expectations' of his family resembling tombstones reminded me of the disturbing Patrick Suskind novel I was once enthralled with, 'Perfume: The story of a Murderer'. I see both of these texts as reliant on a somewhat symbolic appearance when drawing conclusions about their characters. To Pip, square letters on his father’s grave means a square father by nature. This restrictive method of using appearance to represent personality traits made me think of the amusing yet strangely logical folklores. For example, a small head indicates a person of low intelligence, or a long forehead symbolizing a scholarly disposition.

This trail of though derived from something I read in Italo Calvino's 'Six Memos for the next Millennium'. Calvino says that 'The symbolism of an object may be more or less explicit, but it is always there. We might even say that in a narrative any object is always magic'. I love Calvino's faith in literature never being dull, because magic will always reside. He creates a mystery to shroud what we read, because if every object or subject is magic and symbolic in every text, surely nothing is ever as it seems?

For example, for Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in ‘Perfume’,a beautiful woman isn't just a beautiful woman, she is a delicious scent waiting to be made. Jean's 'gift' of creating such scents, capable of controlling the masses' emotions is disgusting due to his ingredients but alluring for its symbolic possibilities. Could the fact that Jean's perfume is always made from women's pheromones in fact be a symbol of the power women have over mankind? Could it not be the scent controlling the emotions of those who have experienced it, but the woman who the scent has come from?

I thought the film adaptation of this novel was a success at illustrating Suskid's female character's as having beauty that was a fatality waiting for Jean to exploit, and in Calvino's eyes I'm sure they would be seen as not just sensuous victims, but magic in the symbolic form of human kind:

1 comment:

  1. I have not read the book but I did start to watch the film when it was on over Christmas but I am afraid to say I fell asleep. Not because it was boring but because I had a little to much wine. I will get it out and watch it again. Great Expectations is one of my favourite Dickens films as it is so gritty and compelling to watch. I will make sure it is in my suitcase for my next holiday.