Issues in literary synaesthesia

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This paper distinguishes between synaesthesia as a neuropsychological and a literary phenomenon. In the former the sensations themselves are derived from two sensory domains, in the latter the terms that refer to them. While in the former sense associations are in voluntary and rigidly predictable, the latter leaves room for great flexibility and creativity. It insists that when explaining a synaesthetic image, one must be aware of what it is that one has explained, for example, its genesis, its emergent meaning, or aesthetic effect. From the stylistic point of view, synaesthetic images are "double-edged": they may generate witty or strongly emotional effects. Coleridge defined imagination as the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities. If the opposition or discordance are emphasized in the text, the effect is witty; if the reconciliation, it is emotional. It explores two devices in the service of these opposing strategies. First, upward transfer typically generates emotional effects, downward transfer - witty effects. Second, stable characteristic visual shapes tend to resist fusion and increase the incongruence of the terms derived from the different sensory domains; thing-free and gestalt-free qualities tend to facilitate fusion. Chaotic overdifferentiation may override the witty effect of downward transfer. Finally, the paper considers two French Symbolist sonnets notorious for their synaesthetic imagery, Baudelaire's "Correspondances" and Rimbaud's "Voyelles.".

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-52+112
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2007


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