Today I would like to talk to you about mental resonance
. And I would like to talk to you about the connections between thought-objects. But first I would like to talk to you about Elaine. No, not your
Elaine. I am talking about another Elaine. Not the Elaine that you so cherish. No, I do not care for your Elaine
. She repels me.
Earlier today I had cause to think about Elaine. Elaine is a clinical specialist physiotherapist. And Elaine is also a cucumber. I do not mean to say that Elaine, the person, is a cucumber, or that her face has the aspect of a gourd. I do not mean that at all. In fact, I have never seen Elaine's face, I have only heard her voice. I can imagine what her face might look like, but it does not look like a cucumber. No, it is not Elaine the person that reminds me of a cucumber, or of a courgette.
It is the letters of the word "Elaine" that remind me of a cucumber. With that particular capitalisation. The a and the i - placed in that order - are the watery part in the middle of a cucumber. The rest of the word is the size and shape of a cucumber, although Elaine as a whole feels blue, because E is a blue letter. The number eight is yellow and the number five is a reddish-brown colour. Or rather, the numeral 8 is yellow and 5 is reddish-brown. The words "eight" and "five" do not arouse much within my mind. I have long associated the shape and feel of words and letters with colours and objects. Certain sounds are also colours and shapes, although I cannot express them in words. The tone of a violin produces a vision in my head that is indescribable. It is not the texture of wood, and it is not a visual representation of the waveforms that make up the sound of a violin. My vision is instead a form of gleaming polished chrome.
Nonetheless I distance myself from synaesthesia and synaesthesists, because the phenomenon carries with it an air of narcissism, that wounds me with its monotonous languor. I avoid narcissism as much as I can, for the same reason that I have avoided cigarettes all my life. I do not earn enough money to afford the kind of cigarette habit I would inevitably develop, and similarly I do not have the necessary capital to become a narcissist. You may point out, based on this paragraph, that my favourite word is "I", and that I am essentially waffling in a narcissistic manner. And you would be right; but so would I.
I have very little to be narcissistic about, and as a consequence of this I would invite a double dose of ridicule for my narcissism. I would be criticised and ridiculed for being narcissistic, and I would also be criticised and ridiculed for being misguided. After all, perhaps I am not experiencing synaesthesia at all, but simply a kind of associative memory trick. Even if I do experience synaesthesia, it is not an uncommon phenomenon. It is of no practical use, and it does not mean that I am a super-genius or that my creativity is like a non-stop loving machine. Even if I am especially gifted in some way, it has not brought me closer to owning an open-topped sports car or a country house in the Basque region of Spain. I am not on first-name terms with the manager of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, Monaco. In fact I have never met a Monegasque at all.
But it is true to say that no-one thinks less of a person because that person claims to experience synaesthesia. Quite the contrary; a person who claims to experience synaesthesia is assumed to have a special gift. In modern society, to be a synaesthesist is to be a complex and interesting person with an unusual affliction, an affliction that is not unsightly and does not ooze, unlike a leg ulcer. To experience synaesthesia is to be gifted. I am sceptical of a person's claim to experience synaesthesia. Not because I doubt that that person experiences synaesthesia or because I doubt that synaesthesia exists, although I do doubt both of those things. No, it is the act of claiming to experience synaesthesia that I doubt, and the expectation of a reaction to this claim, presumably sympathetic or favourable. When a woman asks me for the time, I know that she is not really asking me for the time. She is trying to strike up a conversation. She expects me to compliment her long red hair that defies the darkness and fills my field of vision with crimson innervation. It is like a red rag to a bull, and I am suddenly more aware of my bullishness. I am unable to reply in a way that satisfies me. Perhaps words are not enough.
Synaesthesia is like a migraine headache or Asperger's syndrome, in the sense that it is a magnet for narcissists. It is easy to pretend to experience synaesthesia, because there are no external signs of synaesthesia and there is no practical way to disprove that a person is experiencing synaesthesia. Unlike many other afflictions, a self-proclaimed synaesthesist can claim to be synaesthesic without ever boxing himself or herself into a Catch-22 situation whereby if one is truly, madly, and deeply Autistic (e.g) one would be unable to express this because one would be unable to function at all. Perhaps it is possible to be debilitated by synaesthesia. Perhaps it is possible to become unable to perceive a pavement independently of the sound of a buzzing bumble bee. A person would be unwilling to use the pavement for fear of being stung. He would try to walk on a path of bees. Suppose my mind was to swap food and the colour yellow to such an extreme that I could not identify food any more? I would die of mustard, which is not a type of food. It is a stimulant, like coffee, except that it is not possible to achieve a favourable effect by rubbing coffee into one's body. I know this to be true.
This particular example, the example of Elaine, it is a good illustration of my unease re: synaesthesia. I had been thinking of cucumbers independently of the word Elaine. As I write these words I currently own one half of a cucumber, and I was thinking of cucumber sandwiches because the weather is warm and sunny and that is the kind of weather that goes well with cucumber sandwiches. I cannot recall associating Elaine with a cucumber in the past. In fact I have generally associated Elaine with a mouse, because she has a timid voice, most unlike her hair which I imagine to be radiant. But this is not synaesthesia, this is simply an analogy. If you will be to ask me in ten years' time to conjure up a mental image of the word Elaine I will probably reply with something that has obsessed me during the course of May 4th, 2016, albeit that the world is supposed to end slightly less than four years before that. Perhaps I will associate Elaine with our alien saviours, or the empty black void of the post-singularity, or of the new rulers of the solar federation.
Furthermore, even in the case of my association of numbers with colours, I have been led to believe that synaesthesia is a sensory phenomenon involving feelings. I do not feel anything when I perceive the number five to be reddish-brown. And I do not perceive the concept of the number five to be reddish-brown. A pentagon is not reddish brown. The five members of Duran Duran are not reddish-brown, and neither is Duran Duran itself. I do not perceive the letter V or the word FIVE to be reddish-brown. It is simply the character of the numeral 5 that is reddish-brown. 3 is brown. 8 is yellow. 4 is blue. H is blue as well, and 7 is a kind of blue, but as with several other letters and numbers it is hard to describe the way it makes me feel. Nonetheless these colours have been constant down the years. I believe that I am not simply remembering a previous instance when I perceived 3 to be brown. Instead, I feel it anew. Perhaps when I was taught numbers in primary school, the teacher used coloured plastic numbers, and this has stuck whereas so much else that I learned and experienced in primary school has vanished. Perhaps a particularly vivid panel from a comic had the number 5 painted on a wall with reddish-brown ink. Perhaps the wending shape of 5 reminds me of a stool, a reddish-brown stool.
There is another issue. I cannot think of synaesthesia without also thinking of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and other creative fops who are generally known only by their last names. This is not because I synaesthesically equate synaesthesia with Lord Byron, it is because I envisage Lord Byron as an unbalanced creative person, and Percy Shelley too, and there was the other one (I forget his name), and they died young and in my mind that equals synaesthesia, however irrational that might sound. As a consequence of this I tend to think of anyone who proclaims himself or herself to experience synaesthesia as a massive poseur, because that person is equating himself or herself with Byron and Shelley (and the other one) and is thus trying to earn a comparable level of respect without having to write any poetry or dying young, and also because I envisage Byron and Shelley as massive poseurs of the highest order, but not the other one because he was alright.
I could tolerate a gifted violinist who makes a point of pointing out his or her gift, because it is an extremely hard thing, to play the violin, and this skill has a practical purpose and can be demonstrated and measured. Furthermore I enjoy the vision that the sound of a violin conjures in my mind. But synaesthesia has no practical purpose and the degree and quality of a person's synaesthesia cannot easily be measured or demonstrated. Perhaps I could test my own synaesthesia by writing down my current perception of numbers and words. When I check the list in the coming months or years, I would be able to tell if my synaesthesia is consistent or arbitrary.*
I am reminded of the old mental trick about not thinking of an elephant. It is apparently very hard to deliberately not think of an elephant, because the act of following the instruction implies at least some consciousness of an elephant, if only to avoid thinking of it. But I do not think of an elephant. As I write these words I am not thinking of an elephant, and I am not making a conscious effort to not think of an elephant. I am in fact thinking of the thing I was thinking about just before I decided to write these words, which is of course Amanda Donohoe. I am thinking of Amanda Donohoe. She is not an elephant. My train of thought has gone from Ken Russell's 1986 film "Gothic" - which features the aforementioned Byron and Shelley - to Russell's later "The Lair of the White Worm", which features Amanda Donohoe as a serpent lady. A naked, blue-painted serpent lady who has a novel line in strap-on sacrificial equipment. Ken Russell is probably the only film director outside the world of pornography to have directed two films in the space of two years in which women are menaced by lethal strap-on phalluses. What a fascinating mind Ken Russell must have. As I write these words he is still alive. But for how much longer? THE END.
* It is August 26, 2007, and I still perceive 8 as yellow. If you search Google for the phrase "eight is yellow", you will find this article. It is one of the three pages on the internet that have the phrase "eight is yellow". The other two are about a type of Mayfly, and puppies, respectively.