Patrick Süskind 1949-
(Also transliterated as Patrick Sueskind) German novelist, playwright, short story writer, critic, and screenwriter.
The following entry presents an overview of Süskind's career through 2001.
Regarded as one of the wunderkinds of German letters in the 1980s, Süskind debuted onto the German stage with Der Kontrabaß (1981; The Double Bass) which became one of the most popular German plays of the decade. He later achieved international popular and critical acclaim for his first novel Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders (1985; Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), a historical fable about a murderous perfume-maker with a keen sense of smell, who oddly lacks any human odor himself. In his fiction, Süskind typically explores the effects of obsessive behavior upon an individual's life. The dense allusiveness and pastiche style that mark his narrative technique have yielded richly diverse interpretations, including readings that variously study Perfume as a detective story, bildungsroman, and picaresque novel. Although critics have often classified all of Süskind's slender output as definitive contributions to the development of German literary postmodernism, the majority of scholarship has focused on Perfume, which poses for some scholars the dilemma of reconciling the novel's literary merits with its hugely popular appeal.
Born in 1949, Süskind was raised in Ambach, Germany, the eldest son of Wilhelm Emanuel Süskind, a writer and journalist best known in Germany for his collection of essays on language, Aus dem Worterbuch des Unmenschen. In 1968 Süskind entered the University of Munich to study history. He later completed a master of arts degree at the University of Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1974. While studying in the perfume-producing country of southern France, Süskind traveled and gathered material for what eventually became the novel Perfume. Meanwhile, in the fall of 1981, Süskind's play The Double Bass premiered, establishing him as one of the most popular playwrights of German theatre. Originally conceived as prose piece that was repeatedly rejected for publication, The Double Bass eventually appeared in novella form in 1984. Around the same time, Süskind began collaborating with Helmut Dietl on the hit German television series, Monaco Franze. In late 1984 the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung contracted Süskind to serially publish his first prose work, Perfume. Published in book form the following year, Perfume immediately became a German best-seller and subsequently sold over six million copies worldwide by 1991. Wary of his newfound celebrity, Süskind declined a five-thousand dollar prize for best first novel from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 1986, vowing to never again accept awards for writing. That same year, Süskind resumed his collaboration with Dietl by co-writing the script for another popular television series, Kir Royal, which revolved around the adventures of a titular Munich gossip columnist. In 1987 Süskind published the novella Die Taube (The Pigeon) which, though critically well received, failed to attain the popular success of Perfume. Süskind and Dietl reteamed again in 1996 to write the screenplay for the film Rossini: oder die mörderische Frage, wer mit wem schlief, which follows the careers of a variety of characters in the German film industry as their lives intersect in a Munich restaurant.
The principal focus of Süskind's works has been the motivations and behavior of the typical outsider. The Double Bass is a serio-comic monologue that explores a double-bass player's relationship to his instrument, illuminating the instrument's—and the player's—supporting role in the orchestra and in life. The double-bass is alternately characterized as feminine, reliable, discriminated against, and simultaneously protesting and threatening revolution. However, in the end, both the instrument and its player allow themselves to conform and play their allotted secondary part. Set in urban Paris and the French countryside of the 1700s, Perfume is a study of the dynamics of scents and the sense of smell. The bizarre and ironic tale focuses on an alienated antihero, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a despised outcast orphan who lacks any bodily odor. He roams through eighteenth-century France murdering beautiful young women in order to distill their bodily scents into a perfume that will make him the most desirable and powerful man on Earth—not to mention nominally human. In addition, Perfume also weaves a detailed discourse on historical perfume-making techniques into its narrative, complete with sensuous descriptions of both pleasant and repellent odors as a recurrent motif.
The novella The Pigeon focuses on a single day in the life of Jonathan Noel, a Parisian bank guard, who has finally attained a measure of happiness after years of personal strife. Totally satisfied with his job and the isolation he secures in his small apartment, Noel finds his serenity abruptly interrupted when a pigeon lands on his doorstep and remains there for the rest of the day. The event is so unnerving for Noel that he goes to sleep vowing to kill himself in the morning. In Die Geschichte vom Herrn Sommer (1991; The Story of Mr. Sommer), the narrator recalls his post-war childhood, framing his growing knowledge of the adult world in terms of his frequent encounters with the eccentric Herr Sommer, who spends his days frantically traversing the local environs by foot, barely saying a word to anyone but always carrying his extraordinarily long walking stick. The novella concludes with the death of the wandering misfit, which teaches the boy valuable life lessons about responsibility, suffering, and distress that contrast with his comfortable, contented existence as a child. In the first story comprising Three Stories and a Reflection (1996), a young artist retreats from the world and eventually kills herself because critics labeled her art as superficial. The second story involves a game of chess in Luxembourg Gardens between a dashing young stranger and a perennial elderly champion. As the game progresses, the confidence and foolhardiness of the youthful novice unexpectedly yields a victory over the expertise of the seasoned veteran, stunning the audience and ultimately persuading the old man to abandon playing chess. The longest piece of the collection, “Das Vermächtnis des Maitre Mussard,” consists of the first-person deathbed writings of Mussard, a historical figure mentioned in Jean-Jacque Rousseau's Confessions (1782-89), who is suffering from the delusion that petrifaction is overtaking the world. In an addendum, an anonymous narrator tells us that Massard died of a strange form of paralysis and had to be buried in a right-angled hole. The final item of the collection, “Amnesie in litteris,” is a reflection on books, with Süskind proclaiming that he has long since forgotten every book that had once deeply stirred him.
Highly regarded by German critics for his contributions to German literary postmodernism, Süskind has also been recognized worldwide as one of the most popular German-language writers since Erich Maria Remarque published All Quiet on the Western Front in 1929. Reviewers have acclaimed Perfume's masterful narrative and splendid evocation of eighteenth-century France, while others have praised its detailed discourse on perfume-making and the sensuality of its odiferous motif. Conversely, some have protested that segments of the novel seem contrived, objecting to the incongruity between its hero's own lack of body odor and his highly developed olfactory nerves. Commentators have also noted the novel's lack of secondary characters at the expense of developing an unsympathetic protagonist, though most have generally conceded that Grenouille is portrayed as a charismatic antihero. Such critics have also drawn parallels between Grenouille and Adolf Hitler, echoing a perennial theme of contemporary German literature—Germany's Nazi past. Acknowledging its pivotal role in the development of a new generation of German writers, literary scholars have long recognized Perfume as a definitive example of German literary postmodernism, particularly its pastiche of past literary and cinematic styles as well as its intertextual play with numerous cultural and literary allusions. Subsequent scholarship has yielded intertextual studies of Perfume in relation to such German narrative traditions as the grotesque, the angst of existentialism, the vitality of the Ubermensch, the critique of reason through folkloric myth, the romantic fascination with criminality, and the psychology of aesthetic decadence and obsession. Others have conducted structural analyses of the novel as a fairy tale, philosophical novel, and political allegory, while some have deconstructed the significance and function of its textual allusions in relation to traditional religious, philosophical, psychological, and societal structural models. In addition, critics have also examined Perfume within the context of conventional ideas concerning the relationship between authorship and the text, partly in reaction to Süskind's legendary resistance to reveal literary influences and his alleged inability to recall other writers's works he has read.
*Der Kontrabaß [The Double Bass] (play) 1981
Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders [Perfume: The Story of a Murderer] (novel) 1985
Die Taube [The Pigeon] (novella) 1987
Die Geschichte vom Herrn Sommer [The Story of Mr. Sommer; illustrations by Sempé] (novella) 1991; also published as Mr. Summer's Story
Rossini: oder die mörderische Frage, wer mit wem schlief [with Helmut Dietl] (screenplay) 1996
Three Stories and a Reflection (short stories and criticism) 1996
*Süskind adapted the play as a novella in 1984.
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SOURCE: Schwarz, Robert. Review of Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders, by Patrick Süskind. World Literature Today 59, no. 4 (autumn 1985): 587.
[In the following review, Schwarz summarizes the plot and themes of Das Parfum, comparing the novel to the works of Günter Grass and Marcel Proust.]
In eighteenth-century Paris the illegitimate urchin Grenouille, endowed with a spectacular sense of smell, hires himself to a rich perfume maker [in Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders]. His innate genius at identifying and creating fragrances from memory would make him famous, but he cares nothing for riches or prestige. His is the kind of inborn genius which feeds on itself, not unlike Mozart's music or Rembrandt's painting. His self-contained, misanthropically self-sufficient, and totally introverted personality, devoid of all feelings and morality, always at war with the world, makes Oskar in The Tin Drum seem a normal, gregarious lad by comparison. Grenouille's unique olfactory fantasies and reminiscences would put a Proust to shame. His inexhaustible talent for conceiving ever-new aromatic combinations and concoctions fills out his whole life. Grenouille (i.e., “the frog”) is the perfect idiot savant, bereft of ethical impulses, a wizard of aroma.
After Paris, he moves to the South of France, where he at first spends seven years as a...
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SOURCE: Baumgarten, Ruth. “Sugar and Spice.” New Statesman 112, no. 2896 (26 September 1986): 34.
[In the following review, Baumgarten evaluates the metaphorical use of the sense of smell in Perfume.]
Patrick Süskind's first novel [Perfume] comes here accompanied by the full blast of its publisher's fanfares. These announce it as the new Umberto Eco, a ‘serious’ (continental) historical novel meeting equally with critical rapture and middle-brow mass appeal. In the year since its domestic publication it hasn't budged once from the German bestseller chart.
But where the appeal of Eco's Name of the Rose lay in its complex twisting of detective plot with theological and political debates and history lessons, Süskind's novel looks more like an attempt to flesh a pun out into an allegory. In German, the expression ‘I can't smell x’ is common parlance for disliking somebody. Süskind's novel charts the progress of the fictional, French, 18th-century parfumier Jean Baptiste Grenouille, whose body from birth doesn't give any odour off at all. Nobody can smell him. Not even he can smell himself.
Born into an almost unbelievably smelly Paris, where rotting meat and vegetables blend into the stench of unwashed bodies, chamberpots and a multitude of stinking artisans' yards, Grenouille does indeed stand out. But, as though to compensate for his own...
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SOURCE: Terry, Sara. “Süskind's Novel of Scents and Sensibility.” Christian Science Monitor (10 December 1986): 28, 30.
[In the following review, Terry assesses the style and themes of Perfume, calling the novel a “fascinating exploration of the ‘essence’ of identity.”]
Long before this novel by Patrick Süskind hit bookstores—and best-seller lists—in the United States, word from across the Atlantic was that Perfume was a “major work” by a “brilliant” West German writer.
The superlatives may seem somewhat surprising considering that the object of the praise is a rather erudite historical novel. Its protagonist is a warped young man who is possessed of a phenomenal sense of smell, yet—and this twist, even more surprisingly, is what actually propels the gruesome plot—has no odor himself. Certainly not your average best-seller material.
But Mr. Süskind has woven this unlikely tale into an original and compelling first novel. This is no Stephen King horror story. Süskind writes with a deliberate restraint—dwelling on few graphic details—as he unfolds a deeper message.
Perfume opens in 1738, in a smelly Parisian slum where Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born—and immediately abandoned by his mother. Early on, the baby proves to be unsettling to those around him: He has no odor.
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SOURCE: Schwarz, Robert. Review of Die Taube, by Patrick Süskind. World Literature Today 61, no. 4 (autumn 1987): 620.
[In the following review, Schwarz praises Süskind's “wonderful” and “profound” achievement in Die Taube.]
[In Die Taube,] Jonathan Noel, a fifty-year-old recluse, likes the uneventful life, the low profile, the security born of an unchanging daily routine. He abominates “making waves” and feels threatened by the slightest alteration of a self-imposed, dull protocol. Ever since certain youthful disasters sapped his personality juices, he had decided on stability and unswerving loyalty to a monotonous, solitary, diffident existence as his personal summum bonum. Jonathan carries this to such a pitch that, when one day a stray pigeon sits before his door, his whole life comes unhinged. The pigeon becomes a major crisis. To cope with it, he even moves to a hotel. Ironically, he works as a security guard for a Parisian bank. (The locale is again France, as in Süskind's larger novel, Das Parfum; see WLT 59:4, p. 587.)
Various episodes continue to rattle Jonathan. He is driven to an increasing sense of solipsism. Waking up in total darkness in a strange hotel room brings him to the verge of psychic bankruptcy. When he finally recaptures the sensation of the “real” world and the reality of other people, however, his despair fades...
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SOURCE: Sutherland, John. “French Air.” London Review of Books 9, no. 20 (12 November 1987): 12-13.
[In the following review, Sutherland discusses the examination of scents and smells throughout literature, comparing the themes and styles of Perfume and The Double Bass.]
In his autobiographical papers, Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman?, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, describes being piqued by an article in Science about how well bloodhounds can smell. Feynman hates not being best, and so he took time off from inventing the atom bomb (he was working at Los Alamos) to run an experiment. He had his wife handle certain coke bottles in an empty six-pack while he was out of the room for a couple of minutes. Detection proved too easy: ‘As soon as you put the bottle near your face, you could smell it was dampish and warmer.’ So he had Mrs Feynman take down a book and replace it on the shelf:
I came in—and nothing to it! It was easy. You just smell the books. It's hard to explain, because we're not used to saying things about it. You put each book up to your nose and sniff a few times, and you can tell. It's very different. A book that's been standing there a while has a dry, uninteresting kind of smell. But when a hand has touched it, there's a dampness and a smell that's very distinct. We did a few more experiments,...
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SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. Review of The Pigeon, by Patrick Süskind. Christian Science Monitor (3 August 1988): 13.
[In the following review, Rubin outlines the plot of The Pigeon, lauding the novella for constructing a classical “aesthetic catharsis.”]
Once again, German writer Patrick Süskind demonstrates his predilection—and his gift—for writing about obsession. His first novel, Perfume, unfurled a shocking tale, set in 18th-century France, of an odorless man obsessed with odor who stops at nothing—including murder—in his quest to create a perfume that no one will be able to resist.
The Pigeon, set in contemporary Paris, details a single day in the life of an unremarkable, middle-aged bank guard. It is, if anything, more of a tour de force than Perfume, because it does not rely on luridly sensational material, but distills its emotional power entirely from the smallest, most ordinary of incidents.
Jonathan Noel's problems begin when he opens the door of his room one August morning and finds a pigeon on the landing, staring back at him, as bold and immovable as death. His normal equanimity somehow shattered, Noel goes about his workday, increasingly off balance. He is tormented by an inconvenient itch, haunted by a sudden fear that things are not what they seem, and terrified of the ocean of uncertainty and insecurity that...
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SOURCE: Brunskill, Ian. “Seeing the Unseeing.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4474 (30 December 1988-5 January 1989): 1448.
[In the following review, Brunskill compares and contrasts The Pigeon with Das Parfum, focusing on the protagonists, themes, and styles.]
In The Parable of the Blind, Gert Hofmann uses the collective voice of the blind beggars in Brueghel's painting of the same title to question man's ability to make sense of the world. The beggars confront the problem in its most literal form. Lacking the comfort of familiar images against which to organize experience, they can know the world only by interrogating each new moment, dependent for their answers on the honesty of their fellow men and the power of their own imaginations. Forced to construct a fantasy of a world they cannot see, they have mythologized even their own history. They go on simply in order not to stop.
The novel follows them through the day on which they are to be painted stumbling helplessly into a ditch. For once they have a purpose; briefly their existence takes on a half-grasped meeting. Yet for the painter who can give their lives this significance they are merely the ultimate embodiment of a greater futility, from which his own activity as an artist is by no means exempt. Unable not to see, he wonders why he continues to look. He wants to portray the screams of the...
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SOURCE: Ryan, Judith. “The Problem of Pastiche: Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum.” German Quarterly 63, nos. 3–4 (summer-fall 1990): 396-403.
[In the following essay, Ryan examines the textual significance of allusions in Das Parfum to the Romanticism and Symbolist-Aestethic literary periods in light of postmodern ideas concerning pastiche and parody.]
As critics of postmodernism would have it, the phenomenon consists of “random cannibalization of all the styles of the past, the play of random allusion.”1 At the end of Patrick Süskind's novel Das Parfum, the protagonist has himself been cannibalized, but not before his author has demonstrated a “cannibalization” of past styles taken to an extreme of flamboyant virtuosity. The extraordinary allusiveness of Das Parfum was recognized by a number of critics upon its first appearance;2 less obvious, however, was the fact that its intertextual references are heavily concentrated on two literary periods, Romanticism and Symbolism/Aestheticism. The novel's focus on these two movements, generally seen by literary historians as related, suggests that more is at stake here than simply a wild appropriation of “all of the styles of the past.” I shall be arguing here that Das Parfum is no mere exercise in postmodernist eclecticism, no mere fashionable patchwork of random literary allusion....
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SOURCE: Parkes, Stuart. “The Novels of Patrick Süskind: A Phenomenon of the 1980s.” In Literature on the Threshold: The German Novel in the 1980s, edited by Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes, and Roland Smith, pp. 309-19. New York: Berg, 1990.
[In the following essay, Parkes provides a thematic overview of Das Parfum, Die Taube, and Der Kontrabaß, contrasting their purpose and style with the general characteristics of the postmodern German novel.]
In his introduction to The Name of the Rose dated 5 January 1980, Umberto Eco compares the intellectual climate of that time with the atmosphere of ten years earlier. He no longer sees ‘a widespread conviction that one should write only out of a commitment to the present, in order to change the world.’ It is now possible for ‘the man of letters (restored to his loftiest dignity) … [to] write out of pure love of writing’.1
It may well be that the work of Patrick Süskind arises from a similar feeling. It certainly contrasts with that of previously dominating figures like Böll, Grass and Walser, who, despite their uneasiness in that role, must ultimately be regarded as writers who, at least at times, have hoped to influence if not change the world. In fact, a considerable proportion of German literature in the 1960s and 1970s must be regarded as ‘committed’ in the sense that Eco uses the term,...
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SOURCE: Jacobson, Manfred R. “Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum: A Postmodern Künstlerroman.” German Quarterly 65, no. 2 (spring 1992): 201-11.
[In the following essay, Jacobson explicates Das Parfum in terms of the traditions of Küstlerliteratur and literary postmodernism.]
Its immense popularity notwithstanding, the critical reception of Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum has been quite mixed, as well as fraught with contradictions and disagreements. It this novel a “brilliant fable”1 or “a ridiculously improbable piece of verbose claptrap”?2 Is it an “allegory of the Third Reich”3 or a treatment of the totalitarian personality?4 Is one of its most significant themes that “hell is other people?”5 Is it a “Künstlerroman?”6 Is Süskind's narrative technique conventional7 and he an epigone,8 or do “we close the book with the presumably postmodern feeling of having been twitted”?9 These are just a few of the many opinions found in reviews of Das Parfum. 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,10 and these do seem to have caused much of the confusion experienced by readers and reviewers...
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SOURCE: Donahue, Neil H. “Scents and Insensibility: Patrick Süskind's New Historical Critique of ‘Die Neue Sensibilität’ in Das Parfum (1985).” Modern Language Studies 22, no. 3 (summer 1992): 36-43.
[In the following essay, Donahue speculates on the relationship between the formal pastiche of Das Parfum and parallel developments in New Historicism, demonstrating how the novel's parody of Peter Handke's Die Stunde der wahren Empfindung (1975) informs its satirical critique of the 1970s “Die Neue Sensibilität” movement in German literature.]
Patrick Süskind's sensational novel Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders (1985) resonates with echoes of German literary traditions. Despite its high profile as a popular bestseller, Das Parfum constitutes a dense montage of allusions to German narrative traditions of the grotesque, of existential Angst, of vitalism and the Übermensch, of folkloric myth as a critique of reason, of Romantic fascination with criminality, and of the psychology of aesthetic decadence and obsession.1 Süskind's overt historicism in his use of literary and cinematic models invites speculation on the novel's relation to postmodernism2 and whether his formal pastiche is a dissolution of history in a blend of “styles” or rather an attempt to reintroduce into German fiction literary and socio-historical...
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SOURCE: Brady, Philip. “Child-Minded.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4672 (16 October 1992): 24.
[In the following review, Brady assesses the plot, style, and themes of The Story of Mr. Sommer.]
Patrick Süskind, rarely out of Germany's bestseller lists in recent years, cannot be accused of always trawling the same rich waters. His tragi-comic, minutely observed monodrama The Double Bass (1984) prepared no one for his record-breaking novel Perfume (1985), exotic, gruesome, part history, part crime-fiction and far from comic. The Story of Mr. Sommer springs another surprise. It is a novella told—or, more precisely, ramblingly recollected—by a narrator who is inside his own childhood thought-patterns and yet well beyond them.
The ramblings are crucial—Süskind's narrator admits to “a certain mental fogginess, an inability to concentrate”—and one of the delights of the story is its unpredictability, passing from the thrill of tree-climbing to Galileo on the acceleration of falling bodies, from the allure of the inaccessible schoolgirl, Carolina Kückelmann (her strong point the downy fluff on the back of her neck) to the piano-teacher, Miss Marie-Luise Funkel, “hunchbacked and wizened, with a little black moustache and no bosom whatsoever”.
Persons change, slip in and out, loosely held together in a child's non-sequiturs....
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SOURCE: Borchardt, Edith. “Caricature, Parody, Satire: Narrative Masks as Subversion of the Picaro in Patrick Süskind's Perfume.” In State of the Fantastic: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Fantastic Literature and Film, edited by Nicholas Ruddick, pp. 97-103. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, Borchardt examines the function and subversion of picaresque novel conventions in Perfume, equating the authorial narrator of the picaresque novel with Perfume's hyperbolic protagonist.]
Patrick Süskind's novel Perfume (1985) is a picaresque narrative1 that foregrounds the fantastic fictional biography of a pathological individual gifted with an extraordinary sense of smell against the background of a historically verifiable locale and context: eighteenth-century Paris and the beginnings of olfactory science in pre-Revolutionary France.2 With his cleverly crafted story and eloquent account of his picaro's non-verbal experience of the world as a perfumer, Süskind expertly employs but simultaneously subverts the traditional form of the picaresque novel. Instead of deconstructing the picaro's narration by calling into question the veracity of the biographical account through a second narrator or an omniscient implied author,3 Süskind establishes his premise for the fictional life story as an exaggeration through...
(The entire section is 3024 words.)
SOURCE: Whitinger, R. G., and M. Herzog. “Hoffmann's Das Fräulein von Scuderi and Süskind's Das Parfum: Elements of Homage in a Postmodernist Parody of a Romantic Artist Story.” German Quarterly 67, no. 2 (spring 1994): 222-34.
[In the following essay, Whitinger and Herzog explore the elements of “postmodernist parody” found in E. T. A. Hoffmann's Das Fräulein von Scuderi and Süskind's Das Parfum.]
Simply by portraying a gifted artist on the loose as a serial killer in bygone France, Patrick Süskind's novel Das Parfum (1985) recalls E. T. A. Hoffmann's story Das Fräulein von Scuderi (1818). Yet critics have noted similarities without analyzing them in detail (cf. von Matt; Reich-Ranicki; Pokern; Ryan; Jacobson). Closer investigation of the ties between the two works contributes to the understanding of each and defends both authors against misconceptions that have emerged in the critical discourse on Süskind's work.
Many critics have charged that Süskind has merely cobbled together a derivative pastiche without any rationale behind his evocation of earlier works and styles, much less any constructive parodic relationship (cf. Höpfner; Fischer; Schütte; Hage; Lucht; Adams; Nutt; Ortheil). They consign it to a negative category of “diffuse” and “modish” postmodernism (cf. Welsch 2) that indulges “without principle” in...
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SOURCE: Butterfield, Bradley. “Enlightenment's Other in Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum: Adorno and the Ineffable Utopia of Modern Art.” Comparative Literature Studies 32, no. 3 (1995): 401-18.
[In the following essay, Butterfield examines Das Parfum in terms of the positive values of the text's negativity as postulated by Theodor Adorno's concept of “determinate negation” which concerns the consciousness of contradiction which denies resolution.]
(T)here is no longer beauty or consolation except in the gaze falling on horror, withstanding it, and in unalleviated consciousness of negativity holding fast to the possibility of what is better.
The legacy of nineteenth-century detective fiction includes an ever growing body of criticism—a poetics of detection, if you will—as well as a number of variations on the detective theme, including what William Spanos has termed “the anti-detective story.”2 Peter Brooks finds in the detective plot a paradigm for the way that desire functions in narrative, while critics such as D. A. Miller and Franco Moretti see the detective-plot structure as reinforcing normative values, masking material relations, and promoting capitalist ideology. According to their view, the detective is the embodiment of Western ratio, the scientific...
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SOURCE: Josipovici, Gabriel. “Deep Books.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4886 (22 November 1996): 24.
[In the following review, Josipovici discusses Süskind's prose and criticism in Three Stories and a Reflection, expressing disappointment with the overall collection.]
The vogue for small books, so long a delightful feature of Continental publishing, is at last growing in Britain. Of course, small does not necessarily mean satisfying, and there are times when a small volume feels distinctly insubstantial. This is a case in point. Patrick Süskind has always been a clever writer, which means he is often just clever-clever. Of the four items in this collection, [Three Stories and a Reflection,] three, alas, fall into that category.
The first story is an account of a young artist who retreats from the world and finally kills herself, because the critics have said she lacks depth: “She went into a bookshop and demanded that the salesman bring her the deepest book that he had in stock; she was given a work by a certain Mr. Wittgenstein. She couldn't get into it.” That “a certain Mr.” rings terribly false. It is meant to keep the tone light, precisely without depth; and it is presumably meant to suggest that she has never heard of Wittgenstein. Is that likely? The tone, like the rest of the story, strikes one simply as arch.
The third, rather...
(The entire section is 757 words.)
SOURCE: Adams, Jeffrey. “Narcissism and Creativity in the Postmodern Era: The Case of Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum.” Germanic Review 75, no. 4 (fall 2000): 259-79.
[In the following essay, Adams explores the relation between Süskind's personal identity and literary persona as projected in the themes and characters of Das Parfum, demonstrating how the text undermines the conventional opinion that a literary text exclusively belongs to its author.]
THE POETICS OF MELANCHOLIA AND MOURNING
One of the most celebrated younger writers in contemporary German literature, Patrick Süskind owes his fame mainly to his literary debut, the monodrama Der Kontrabaß, an overnight success and the darling of the German stage in the 1980s, and to the novel Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders, an international best seller that quickly became one of the most read German novels since Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks and Erich Maria Remarque's Nichts Neues im Westen. Süskind's literary fame stands in sharp contrast to his secretive personal life. An ascetic recluse who rejects public recognition for his success, Süskind does not grant interviews and almost never comments on his work. When he does, as in a rare self-reflexive essay entitled “Amnesie in litteris,” he remains evasive about his identity, especially his literary persona. Addressing the...
(The entire section is 10105 words.)
SOURCE: Stolz, Dieter. “Patrick Süskind's Parfum: ‘No One Knows How Well Made It Is.’” In German-Language Literature Today: International and Popular?, edited by Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes, and Julian Preece, pp. 19-30. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2000.
[In the following essay, Stolz discusses Das Parfum within the context of “new” countercultural European narrative techniques.]
Mein Genie ist in meinen Nüstern …
(Nietzsche: Ecce Homo)
Also das gibt es immer noch oder schon wieder: einen deutschen Schriftsteller, der des Deutschen mächtig ist; einen zeitgenössischen Erzähler, der dennoch erzählen kann; einen Romancier, der uns nicht mit dem Spiegelbild seines Bauchnabels belästigt; einen jungen Autor, der trotzdem kein Langweiler ist.
Not to him, R.-R., the preening media star of latter days, but to him, the publicity-shy creator of the Perfume that lingers unforgettably on, be thanks! Without his piece of artistic magic an international colloquium on contemporary German literature which examines the topic under the aspects of the popular and the international is scarcely conceivable. Das Parfum: Die Geschichte eines Mörders was published in 1985 by the...
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SOURCE: Moffatt, Ed. “Grenouille: A Modern Schizophrenic in the Enlightening World of Das Parfum.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 37, no. 3 (July 2001): 298-313.
[In the following essay, Moffatt diagnoses Grenouille, the protagonist in Das Parfum, with acute schizophrenia, exploring the critical implications of the relationship between Grenouille and his cultural milieu and showing how the text subverts received notions of socio-cultural development and human progress.]
To maintain that Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a modern, schizophrenic anti-hero, more advanced and psychologically complex than his Enlightenment context, is to fly in the face both of critical orthodoxy and of the obvious immediate reading of Patrick Süskind's novel Das Parfum.1 Rather, it is perhaps easier to equate his blatant, bestial inhumanity (as evidenced by his murder of twenty-five female virgins in order to rob them of their scent) with social and biological primitivity. In such a reading, Grenouille's apparent madness (most spectacularly expressed in his use of his uncannily acute sense of smell to create the ultimate perfume, a perfume which will enable him to control the hearts and minds of all humanity) is an aspect of that primitivity, the motive force behind his chilling actions. However, to allow a monolithic notion of Grenouille's madness to remain uninterrogated is to leave...
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Coates, Joseph. “Portraits of Ancient Evil, Modern Tragedy.” Chicago Tribune Books (12 October 1986): section 14, pp. 6, 11.
Coates examines the protagonist of Perfume, endorsing the novel as a powerful work of fiction.
Gorra, Michael. “Fiction Chronicle.” Hudson Review 40 (spring 1987): 136-38.
Gorra explicates the plot of Perfume within the context of best-selling literary fiction, comparing Süskind to Umberto Eco and Robert Stone.
Gray, Richard T. “The Dialectic of ‘Enscentment’: Patrick Süskind's Das Parfum as Critical History of Enlightenment Culture.” PMLA 108, no. 3 (May 1993): 489-505.
Gray explores the significance of the olfactory realm to the method and techniques of Das Parfum in terms of a critique of Enlightenment discourse of “the rational,” describing the epistemological mechanisms of that discourse exposed by the narrative's viewpoint and critical practices.
Hegi, Ursula. “Prisoner of the Past.” Washington Post Book World 23, no. 10 (7 March 1993): 11.
Hegi describes the postwar German cultural context of Mr. Summer's Story, praising the authenticity of its setting and memories.
Hofmann, Michael. “Euro Dolours.” Observer Review (10...
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