The Art of Perception

I’ve recently finished reading the ‘Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ by Aimee Bender, and would definitely recommend it as a good read (although please note that this is not a review of the book).

It’s an interesting take on the familiar – the pain, sadness, poignancy and humour of family life; the difficulties of growing up, and the cognizance we all develop about those closest to us that sometimes we wish we hadn’t.  If you’ve not read the book and think you might like to, I won’t spoil the surprise entirely.  Rose is a perfectly ordinary eight year old who, on the night before her ninth birthday, discovers she can taste her mother’s emotions when she bites into a chocolate-lemon cake that her mother  has made for her.  This unusual talent is both a gift and a curse for Rose, and food suddenly becomes contentious – a  threat and a challenge, as well as a way of understanding the world.

It’s an interesting premise.  As someone who has a better than average sense of smell  and taste – the two inextricably linked of course – I know that I can detect things that other people may not.  The nuances of flavour in a tea or a wine for example, but also more malodorous scents that for others may be less noxious.  As a child I could never walk through a department store without gagging, and even now, strong perfumes have the potential to give me a headache.  Perhaps these heightened senses always have a down side as well as an up.  Unlike Rose, I can’t smell whether you’re having an affair, or whether you’re sad or angry, but I could probably tell what you’ve eaten, drunk, smoked, or sprayed, for what it’s worth!

We may not all have heightened senses, but we all attain an awareness of our environment and the people in it through interpreting and organising sensory information, be it from one or all of our senses.  Someone who is unable to see has to rely on their remaining senses more than those of us who are sighted, and I suspect this changes the way they perceive the world  and the people in it.  Someone who is unable to see what you look like is unlikely to judge you by your designer shoes and handbag, or lack of.  I’m notsuggesting that it’s a benefit to be blind, or that we should go around sniffing everything, of course not, but it could be beneficial to feel and appreciate our surroundings more, to take notice of our perceptions and to be more intuitive and less judgmental.