Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cyrano de Bergerac and the Metaphysics of the Nose

Louise L. Hay pioneered the meaning of body parts. What became exciting was the discovery of how those meanings played out in literature long before Ms. Hay began her work. Suzy Prudden and I wrote a book called "The Wisdom of the Body" and we accompanied the book with "Body Wisdom" cards. On one side of the card was the body part. On the other the significance and an affirmation written to deal with the problem the body part represented. When we would attend Carolyn Myss conferences, where Suzy would do energy breaks, we would have our product table in the back of the room. We put a basket with the cards on it so people could draw cards with an eye to buying them. It never ceased to amaze me how every person who drew a card told us that either they were having physical problems with the body part – or they were dealing with a life issue connected to the body part. When I started working on character development, and wrote "The Character Book," it became obvious that body parts ought to be included.

The Nose

The nose represents self-recognition, how characters see themselves in the world. How comfortable the character is with that vision of himself. Among other things, it indicates whether or not the character wants to be noticed or if he prefers to be invisible. The nose symbolizes a character’s ability to know what he wants and how to get what he needs. Remember the power of the Roman nose? The nose is tightly bound to its function – smelling.

In addition, the nose is very idiomatic. It can represent how willing a character is to listen to his intuition and his ability to “sniff out” information. Some characters have a “nose for news.” “Nosy” is a nose word that indicates “sticking your nose into other people’s business.” There is a certain degree of honesty in the nose. People come to understand things because they are, “as plain as the nose on your face.” By the same token you can, “cut off your nose to spite your face.” You can “count noses, “win by a nose,” “follow your nose,” “hold your nose and do something you don’t like doing,” “keep your nose clean,” “brown nose,” “keep your nose to the grindstone,” “be led by the nose,” “look down your nose,” be precisely "on the nose,” “pay through the nose,” “rub your nose in it,” find something you’re looking for "right under your nose,” you can be “snooty” (for snobbish), and people can “walk with their nose in the air.”

Stories have been written with nose or smell themes.

Cyrano de Bergerac is the classic story of a man and his nose. True to nose-issues, this is not a story about who the man is as much as it is a story of how the man thinks someone else will find him; a story of self-limitation or self-selection because of the perception that another will find him ugly, with tragic results for everyone. Cyrano is a man who is in every way superior except for his perception of himself as physically attractive. Because of his gigantic nose, and his belief that the love of his life will reject him, he refuses to declare his true feelings to his cousin, the gorgeous and intellectual Roxane. Christiane, has no problems with his nose, his concerns are with his brains – or the relative absence thereof. But Christiane is beautiful and Roxane is attracted to him. Learning that he is about to become part of Cyrano’s company of guards, she asks her cousin to protect him. Cyrano does more than that. He uses Christiane as a surrogate through whom to woo and win Roxane’s heart – even if that means handing her over to Christiane. Like a true man with nose issues, Cyrano chooses to stay invisible in the shadows. Christiane dies. Yet even after his death, Cyrano never dares to proclaim his feelings to Roxane until, on his death bed, he reveals himself to have been Christiane’s voice all along. At that moment Roxane learns that she has lost the love of her life twice. This is a story that deals with – how a man reveals himself to the world, how he remains unseen to the person who matters, how he reviles himself when looking at himself through her eyes. The issues of the nose both obvious and subtle are the centerpiece of this story.

Other Cyrano-like, Nose or Smell stories include:

Roxanne staring Daryl Hannah and Steve Martin
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind
Perfume the movie starring Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman
Penelope the movie starring Richard E. Grand and Catherine O’Hara

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