19 November 2013
The reason why I gave that prompt–smell a painting and see a scent–is because I have always been interested in synesthesia. I’m fascinated with people who have this condition. I am not sure if I have it, because it doesn’t come to me involuntarily, but sometimes people’s voices come to me in colours, and some music has certain tastes that I could feel in my mouth. I think it’s more of a product of my wild imagination, if anything.
I once wrote to an old love, and told him that his voice is a combination of violet and gray, with a thread of a deep, deep blue.
For example, this painting:
The room smells largely of ink and loose jasmine leaves. The chairs give a hint of tobacco and sweat, and the walls make me think of canned tomatoes. The man at the door is swathed in powder and vanilla.
For example, Radiohead’s All I Need, which is playing right now as I’m writing this.
It tastes like brandy and ashes.
For example, my father’s aftershave.
I see freshly oiled leather, hands with calluses, Frank Sinatra’s dancing shoes, a baobab tree, and a club chair.
“On top of all this I present a fine case of colored hearing. Perhaps ‘hearing’ is not quite accurate, since the color sensation seems to be produced by the very act of my orally forming a given letter while I imagine its outline. The long a of the English alphabet (and it is this alphabet I have in mind farther on unless otherwise stated) has for me the tint of weathered wood, but a French a evokes polished ebony. This black group also includes hard g (vulcanized rubber) and r (a sooty rag bag being ripped). Oatmeal n, noodle-limp l, and the ivory-backed hand mirror of o take care of the whites. I am puzzled by my French on which I see as the brimming tension-surface of alcohol in a small glass. Passing on to the blue group, there is steely x, thundercloud z, and huckleberry k. Since a subtle interaction exists between sound and shape, I see q as browner than k, while s is not the light blue of c, but a curious mixture of azure and mother-of-pearl. Adjacent tints do not merge, and diphthongs do not have special colors of their own, unless represented by a single character in some other language (thus the fluffy-gray, three-stemmed Russian letter that stands for sh, a letter as old as the rushes of the Nile, influences its English representation).
I hasten to complete my list before I am interrupted. In the green group, there are alder-leaf f, the unripe apple of p, and pistachio t. Dull green, combined somehow with violet, is the best I can do for w. The yellows comprise various e‘s and i‘s, creamy d, bright-golden y, and u, whose alphabetical value I can express only by ‘brassy with an olive sheen.’ In the brown group, there are the rich rubbery tone of soft g, paler j, and the drab shoelace of h. Finally, among the reds, b has the tone called burnt sienna by painters, m is a fold of pink flannel, and today I have at last perfectly matched v with ‘Rose Quartz’ in Maerz and Paul’s Dictionary of Color. The word for rainbow, a primary, but decidedly muddy, rainbow, is in my private language the hardly pronounceable: kzspygv.”
– Vladimir Nabokov, from Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited