January 27th, 2004


ABSTRACT: Synesthesia (Greek, syn = together + aisthesis = perception) is the involuntary physical experience of a cross-modal association. That is, the stimulation of one sensory modality reliably causes a perception in one or more different senses. Its phenomenology clearly distinguishes it from metaphor, literary tropes, sound symbolism, and deliberate artistic contrivances that sometimes employ the term "synesthesia" to describe their multisensory joinings. An unexpected demographic and cognitive constellation co-occurs with synesthesia: females and non-right-handers predominate, the trait is familial, and memory is superior while math and spatial navigation suffer. Synesthesia appears to be a left-hemisphere function that is not cortical in the conventional sense. The hippocampus is critical for its experience. Five clinical features comprise its diagnosis. Synesthesia is "abnormal" only in being statistically rare. It is, in fact, a normal brain process that is prematurely displayed to consciousness in a minority of individuals.

A condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color.
A sensation felt in one part of the body as a result of stimulus applied to another, as in referred pain.
The description of one kind of sense impression by using words that normally describe another.

Something I never gave a second glance, but became obsessed with after I had learned that this is actually a condition. I am horrible at both math and direction, and tend to place a colour on almost everything: words, people, paragraphs…some might call it an aura. Others might call it bogus. The French poet Arthur Rimbaud has this one poem called Vowels that has always struck a colourful cord with me:

A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels
I will tell you your secret origins one day.
A - black bodice of flies, the glittering inlay
that buzzes in the stench of ripped-out bowels;
gulfs of shadow. E - whitenesses of mists and tents,
iceberg spears, white kings, tall, water-parsnips.
I -purples, spat blood, the smile of beautiful lips
in anger, or the ecstasies of penitents.
U - cycles, divine undulations of viridian seas,
peace of pastures speckled with beasts, the peace
of furrows wrought by alchemy on foreheads of the wise.
O - supreme Trumpet full of strange, piercing notes,
and silences traversed by Worlds and Angel Hosts:
O the Omega, violet beam of Her Eyes.

Taken from an online journal:

“2.8 Not only do most synesthetes contend that their memories are excellent, but cite their parallel sensations as the cause, saying for example, "I know it's 2 because it's white." Conversation, prose passages, movie dialogue, and verbal instructions are typical subjects of detailed recall. The spatial location of objects is also strikingly remembered, such as the precise location of kitchen utensils, furniture arrangements and floor plans, books on shelves, or text blocks in a specific book. Perhaps related to this observation is a tendency to prefer order, neatness, symmetry, and balance…”

Routine? Anyway, I wrote this a while back in hopes of making more sense out of the whole thing. Sense is not what I got, but instead a little comfort from the visual text.

Synesthesia Story

A lived alone for a while going to college. A was a scholar. Psychotherapy major that favoured Sigmund Freud. A was androgynous, never giving away its sex to anyone. Maybe it did this because of its profession. A was a dull red.

B was an older male who lived by the countryside. He liked birds that chirped at night. B was a grainy orange.

C carried on by the beach. She was an older female that collected seashells. She was sassy for her age. C possessed a lighter orange. Maybe she and B would get along.

D was a lime green. An older male who had no friends. D was a judge who lived by himself.

E was about 20, carried a dark blue hue that made him popular with the red-toned letters. He had sharp wit, everlasting charm, and money to follow. E drives a mustang to school with silver trim.

F always wanted to favour E. He envied the attention he always received. Not too many letters liked F though. He died trying to show off a stunt involving fire and 40 bullets.

G was more of a red/orange colour. G was the lonely grandmother of F, her only company. She knits and reads Nancy Drew by the fire.

H is the bully of the letters. He is a course brown. His splinters poke out of his red cardigan sweater that’s moth-eaten. He likes apples.

I lives in a posh artist’s loft downtown New York. He’s a classy, but at the same time sullen, gay femme male that studies the works of various post-romantic artists and sips on the clichéd martini. He is a sleek, icy, fragile like glass letter; the most fragile of all letters.

J is a comedian. He is dark purple like a bruise, lives in the big city, and likes department stores in the fall.

K is a feminist. Bold pink, and knows she’s in charge.

L is sleek silver. He owns a big house in suburbia. L is also a lawyer. He plays the stock market and likes child pornography.

M is a dull blue. He drives a convertible on rain-slicked streets. Wears cashmere turtlenecks and plays the violin.

N is M’s little brother. Studying Business, attending Harvard. He is more pretentious than M. N is in the closet and masturbates to Leonardo DiCaprio films.

O is white. Alone. And unemployed. Makes cameos here and there. Holds the anonymity of all the letters. Often confused with zero.

P is green. Lives in a forest and is often mistaken for shrubbery.

Q is a flaky golden red. Androgynous but homosexual. It likes sequin outfits and 80s show tunes. Boy George and hot chocolate are one of its many obsessions. That, and the 80s sitcom Bosom Buddies.

R is a sleepy purple. He is an obscure sleuth that likes plaid in the evenings. Fancies cold nights and his moustache.

S is a slippery red. Shiny rubies outline her lips and fishnets cover her curves. She is a woman of the night who keeps warm by downing straight Bourbon in New Orleans’ many dingy strip joints. She sings bluesy tunes with her voice that has been hardened from the rotgut and smokes unfiltered clove cigarettes. S is very dominating and knows what she wants.

T is very strict. No one really knows too much more about him.

U is a boring mustard yellow male. Although some of the other letters get a kind of security out of him, he can be very bland and shine them away. K broke his heart at one time.

V is deadly. Manipulative and a liar. He is a sleaze that hangs out at a local pub called “Lay-Z Toni’s.” He drinks Singapore Slings, gambles, cheats and steals. He is a dark green, like a snake.

W is a listener. Crystal water blue that serves as a great listener to most letters. This letter is kind and gentle and always trying to help. He is ageless and a male.

X is a goon. The thug of the bunch. Purple male that would do any dirty work anyone would pay him to do.

Y is a glossy red. She is younger, kind of like a Lolita with brains. She knows she is sexy and uses that plus her thinking to get whatever she wants.

Z is a sharp gold. He rules King out of all the letters.