When I heard for the first time the word synesthesia, I never imagined it would be so deeply rooted in my life and my perception of things.
I was in high school and the teacher of Italian Litterature was explaining a poem by Giovanni Pascoli, Il Gelsomino Notturno (The Night Jasmine). that at one point reads:
|Dai calici aperti si esala |
l’odore di fragole rosse.
|The scent of the red strawberries |
is breathed up from open chalices
In these verses the red of strawberries seems to be a quality of the scent that re-creates intense imagery of the poet and reader.
Even clearer example in Correspondences by Charles Baudelaire, which reads:
There are perfumes as cool as the flesh of children,
Sweet as oboes, green as meadows
Sound qualities are associated with perfumes, a mixture of adjectives to describe smells in away hitherto unknown.
The use of synaesthesia as a poetic figure comes with the Symbolism and Decadentism and its psychological and perceptive meaning becomes an explanation of the Greek etymology (syn, “together”and aisthánestai, “feel”). This new opening of the imagination will affect all the arts, as the paintings of V. Kandinsky, who materialized in visual form the “inner necessity”which is the only root from which arise all the senses, up to painting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
Mozart, he saw the color of the notes, Wagner was able to convey a feeling of warmth with the low tones of his Overtures.
In all likelihood the first insights synesthetic were triggered by altered states of consciousness, but in fact both as figure of speech and as a sensory phenomenon, word synesthesia includes many useful tools to the knowledge of the world, particularly in cases where one or more sensory organs are debilitated.
In this regard, I quote a couple of paragraphs from “The world I live in” Helen Keller
Not only are the senses deceptive, but numerous usages in our language indicate that people who have five senses find it difficult to keep their functions distinct. I understand that we hear views, see tones, taste music. I am told that voices have colour. Tact, which I have supposed to be a matter of nice perception, turns out to be a matter of taste. Judging from the large use of the word, taste appears to be the most important of all the senses. Taste governs the great and small conventions of life. Certainly the language of the senses is full of contradictions, and my fellows who have five doors to their house are not more surely at home in themselves than I.
Odours in certain grasses fade as really to my sense as certain colours do to yours in the sun. The freshness of a flower in my hand is analogous to the freshness I taste in an apple newly picked. I make use of analogies like these to enlarge my conceptions of colours. Some analogies which I draw between qualities in surface and vibration, taste and smell, are drawn by others between sight, hearing, and touch. This fact encourages me to persevere, to try and bridge the gap between the eye and the hand.
I do not think Helen Keller did not know the word synesthesia, and in any case her explanations are generally clear and illustrative. The use of a term perhaps too refined did not disclose the value of what she calls the analogies between qualities.
The value of visual quality is generally considered more important and perhaps superior, but it is obviously a generalization and a habit derived from the semantic arrogance with which the sight is imposed on other senses,though not the main cognitive sense .
Perhaps the sensory deficiencies should not be the only reason to wake up the ability to grasp the nuances of smell and taste, the quality of the surfaces. It would be more desirable for a collective awakening, a new focus, a sensory re-education.
Even the poetic synaesthesia would benefit, if you think about all the changes and olfactory informations the smells convey.
On the issue of synesthetic potential in sensory disabilities
Sensory substitution and the human–machine interface by Paul Bach-y-Rita and Stephen W. Kercel
Hearing Kandinsky Through an Unconscious Synesthesia
SYNAESTHESIA Jeremy Hopper Waylon Yeung Danny Schlag Heather Madsen Blake Hagoo