Letter to a Synesthesiac

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So you insist that the number 1 is a sort of off-metallic color or transparent at the base. You tell me that the number 2 is blueish chrome. 1 is naïve. 2 is seductive and smiles at you with the weight of its ability to always be one step ahead of 1.

But for you, the letter T is yellow, the letter W is russet, the letter O is black, so when the word ‘two’ is spelled out, the yellow fading into the warm russet and cooling finally into the black is cute rather than seductive, which upsets the look of 2.

So you tell me that 3 is red and red is evil. Interesting. The doctrine of The Trinity would at least symbolically undermine this, would it not? Not for you, as you explained it to me, because, as you said, the letter T is yellow. R is brown, quiet and noble but always waiting for another letter to have its fun for it. The small-case letter i is black and yellow like a stingerless honeybee. It is a harmless bridge to the black small-case n, a very modest letter with a secret it will never tell but delight in allowing you to guess. With another i and another t and a yellow letter y, we have a word that is golden and inviting like the colors of the sunset and the shadows that grow as the sun recedes.

3 is evil for no other reason than it is red, and red is the color of all unruliness, all impulsive acts of crime. There are 3 of nothing on the human body. It is the number of the inhuman.

‘Inhuman’ itself is a very human word, because it is made of yellows fading into the greens and cool colors of the H and the U. It is a swampy, primordial, yet cool and unassuming word.

You mustn’t worry, my young color-schemer. You mustn’t fret when you run into others with a mind like yours but who have landed on a different color-and-shape scheme.

I start with your number and letter scheme only because it is an easy representation of your mind. I understand fully well that it’s not so simple, for a great many things, ideas and institutions have their own color and shape. Religions have their assigned colors, from what you told me. Christianity is made up of golden colors. Judaism is copper-colored. Islam is red. The three big monotheistic faiths are all warm colors. I find this interesting. So your Buddhism is cool-green, your Hinduism is dark green, your Mormonism is blue, your Episcopal Church is black and your Lutheran Church is gray and silver. Your Suffism is gold and your Kabbalah is black and cold gray.

I know this isn’t all. I will not make attempts to psychoanalyze your arrangement, my young color-and-shape schemer. I know that histories have their colors too. English history is silver. French history is golden. German history is red.

It makes sense when you tell me that the red of Islam and the red of German idealism is not evil the way that the number 3 is evil, because the evilness of 3 lies in its shape as much as its color. The shape of three is pronged, like a series of hooks, like a weed that has found sustenance in a ground where it doesn’t belong. 3 is like something invasive that has dug into the surface of something smooth.

But what am I to say of the stronger images? From where do they come? How can I understand that a math equation like 3 x 11= a man climbing the stairs with a lit candle in a dark house? How am I to understand that 7 x 48= a circle of lights on a dark ground in a deep canyon late at night? Would it be mine or anyone else’s place to try and determine the cause of these images? Did you witness these images when you first encountered these equations? This seems just as unlikely to me as it does to you. Are they thoughts that first came with the mention or sight of these equations which then acted as triggers to one another whenever they occurred again later? I don’t suppose there is a way either of us will ever know.

I believe that these associations, which seem so built-in for you, can tell us something about the way we think about abstract things like numbers and letters. We originally came up with them to name an idea. Your color, shape and idea schemes are ornaments on ornaments—the dressings on a symbol.

Music! Now that’s the most fascinating one. If I remember correctly, you see colors and shapes with music, no? What is it you see? Blips of bright light with beeps and undulating patterns of green with the amplified strumming of a guitar? Do certain notes produce certain colors and certain shapes every time, or is it all contingent on the voice of the singer as well?

Is the hybridization of genre simple for you or harder? I can see how it would be troubling for you to reconcile harsh reds with cool blues if they mean two different things, especially if the harsh red is anything like the red that belongs to your 3. If the blue is the same blue as the number 2, I’d be curious to see how they get along with you.

You should read. Read and tell me what shape the words have on the page. Surely, for you, the words on the page don’t simply convey the image they describe, but a whole architecture—the frame of the idea itself. Perhaps you can put your hands into the words and fling all the letters into the air. Does a piece of text have its own color?

My young synesthesiac, you mustn’t worry about those who would wish to challenge your scheme by merely timing your response. When they shout out a number, they’d be fools to expect you to tell them what color it is as though you were looking at an ink-blot and had to tell them precisely how it first struck you. You’re allowed to think about it for a moment. I’m sure that many of the letters would be like the 1; not necessarily transparent but not necessarily silver.

My young synesthesiac, don’t worry about categories, genres, divisions, groups or genus. They will try to rob you at ever turn of every piece of human innateness so as to animalize or plantify you, but you have your own categories. Let your categories be your playthings and let your mind abide by its own laws.

Perhaps one day I will be crazy enough to have fun.

 

Sincerely yours,

The Normal Person

 

You know who had synesthesia? This guy