NABOKV-L post 0025988, Mon, 2 Feb 2015 15:06:52 -0200

RES: [NABOKV-L] Circling around Nabokov's synesthesia and
"superimposed gardens"
Former posting by JM: While I was watching Fellini’s masterpiece “E La Nave
Va” … imagine if Fellini was aware of V.Nabokov’s synesthesia and introduced
it as an homage to him? No, no way [ ]Google search informed me that not
only Fellini was a synaesthete, but Pina Baush too. So… no direct links to
Nabokov, but lots of interesting clues about Synesthesia that are worth
sharing here.

Jansy Mello: In one of the links embedded inside the main references, I
reached a scientific paper about synesthesia. Synaesthesia, creativity and
art: What is the link? Jamie Ward, Daisy Thompson-Lake, Roxanne Ely and
Flora Kaminski Department of Psychology, University College London, British
Journal of Psychology (2008), 99, 127– The British Psychological Society
<> .* According to the
authors, Nabokov’s synesthesia remains unproven for his experience belongs
among the “self-reported” number of synaesthetes. Yes, not even Van Veen
was able to ascertain that…

What about V.Nabokov’s indications that also Tolstoy and Proust had been
synaesthetes? (although I think that VN was more in awe of the extension of
sensations and memories combined in their sentences and how it created a new
kind of “synesthetic effect”). To evaluate the effect of Proust’s
“fairy-tale” on VN (and the knowledge about their shared experience of
reading Henri Bergson, his ideas on duration and Time) it is necessary to
reread the entire Proust lecture. Here are some very few samples, though:

“And these flowers [now the combination of all the senses] had chosen
precisely the colour of some edible and delicious things, or of some
exquisite addition to one’s costume for a great festival, which colours,
inasmuch as they make plain the reason of their superiority, are those whose
beauty is more evident to the eyes of children…” (p. 233)
“an image which was not of the same nature, was not colourable at will, like
those others that allowed themselves to be suffused by the orange tint of a
sonorous syllable [Marcel saw sounds in color]” (p.235).
“This band of light was of a mauve color, the violet tint that runs through
the whole book, the very color of time.” (p.241)
“The narrator is able to identify the sensation rising from the past as what
he had once felt when he stood on two uneven stones …and with that sensation
came all the others connected with that day…It was in the same way that the
taste of the little madeleine had recalled Combray to my mind.” (p.246) …“a
nosegay of the senses in the present and the vision of an event or sensation
in the past, that is when sense and memory come together and lost time is
found again” p.249.

And: “In Proust’s case the peculiar point is that he drifts from the idea
of pale light to that of remote music – the sense of vision grades into the
sense of hearing.// But Proust had a precursor. In part six, chapter 2, of
Tolstoy’s War and Peace (1864-1869) Prince Andrey stays at the country
manor…”the sounds became still like the moon and the shadows.”[…] “the close
association of the visible and the heard, of shadow light and shadow sound,
of ear and eye.”(p.220)

Perhaps this is why, in PF, when Kinbote mentions Proust, he refers to
Tolstoy two times (but the name of Dostoevsky in the first instance
apparently denies this linkage): **

Cf. CK,s note to line 181 (importantly marked from Shade’s word “today”):

“Speaking of novels," I said, "you remember we decided once, you, your
husband and I, that Proust’s rough masterpiece was a huge, ghoulish fairy
tale, an asparagus dream, totally unconnected with any possible people in
any historical France, a sexual travestissement and a colossal farce, the
vocabulary of genius and its poetry, but no more, impossibly rude hostesses,
please let me speak, and even ruder guests, mechanical Dostoevskian rows and
Tolstoian nuances of snobbishness repeated and expanded to an unsufferable
length, adorable seascapes, melting avenues, no, do not interrupt me, light
and shade effects rivaling those of the greatest English poets, a flora of
metaphors, described — by Cocteau, I think — as ‘a mirage of suspended
gardens,’ and, I have not yet finished, an absurd, rubber-and-wire romance
between a blond young blackguard (the fictitious Marcel), and an improbable
jeune fille who has a pasted-on bosom, Vronski’s (and Lyovin’s) thick neck,
and a cupid’s buttocks for cheeks; but — and now let me finish sweetly — we
were wrong, Sybil, we were wrong in denying our little beau ténébreux the
capacity of evoking ‘human interest’: it is there, it is there — maybe a
rather eighteenth-centuryish, or even seventeenth-centuryish, brand, but it
is there. Please, dip or redip, spider, into this book [offering it], you
will find a pretty marker in it bought in France, I want John to keep it. Au
revoir, Sybil, I must go now. I think my telephone is ringing."//I am a very
sly Zemblan. Just in case, I had brought with me in my pocket the third and
last volume of the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade edition, Paris, 1954, of
Proust’s work, wherein I had marked certain passages on pages 269-271. Mme.
de Mortemart, having decided that Mme. de Valcourt would not be among the
"elected" at her soirée, intended to send her a note on the next day saying
"Dear Edith, I miss you, last night I did not expect you too much (Edith
would wonder: how could she at all, since she did not invite me?) because I
know you are not overfond of this sort of ‘parties which, if anything, bore
you."…So much for John Shade’s last birthday.”


*What evidence, if any, points to a link between synaesthesia and
creativity? First, some researchers have noted that synaesthesia is found in
a number of famous creative individuals (Mulvenna & Walsh, 2005). A common
list of gifted synaesthetes includes the composers Messian (Bernard, 1986)
and Scriabin (Peacock, 1985), the painters Kandinsky (Ione & Tyler, 2003)
and Hockney (Cytowic, 2002), the physicist Feynman (1988) and the author
Nabokov (1967). However, without a comparison of the prevalence of
synaesthesia in such gifted individuals relative to the general population
these claims are not convincing. It has also been claimed that synaesthesia
is more common in creative artists – poets, musicians, visual artists, etc.
However, the evidence is equivocal. Domino (1989) assessed subjective
reports of synaesthesia in 358 fine arts students and reported a prevalence
of 23%. Domino found a difference between the selfreported synaesthetes and
matched controls on four measures of creativity. However, there was no
objective measure of synaesthesia employed. Contemporary researchers use a
wide variety of objective tests that discriminate between synaesthetes and
other individuals such as measures of consistency (Baron-Cohen et al.,
1993), Stroop-like interference in colour naming (e.g. Mattingley et al.,
2001; Mills et al., 1999), functional imaging (Nunn et al., 2002) and
psychophysical measures (e.g. Hubbard, Manohar, & Ramachandran, 2006;
Palmeri, Blake, Marois, Flanery, & Whetsell, 2002). Other prevalence studies
that have relied on subjective reports alone have found similar levels of
self-report even though they did not restrict the sample to fine arts (e.g.
Calkins, 1895; Karwoski & Odbert, 1938; Rose, 1909). A recent prevalence
study that did use an objective measure found a prevalence of 4.4%, although
around 25% of participants initially reported synaesthesia-like experiences
(Simner et al., 2006).

**Here is what connects these lines in PF to the lecture on Proust: “In his
youth Proust had studied the philosophy of Henri Bergson. Proust’s
fundamental ideas regarding the flow of time concern the constant evolution
of personality in terms of duration, the unsuspected riches of our
subliminal minds which we can retrieve only by an act of intuition, of
memory, of involuntary associations; also the subordination of mere reason
to the genius of inner inspiration and the consideration of art as the only
reality in the world; these Proustian ideas are colored editions of the
Bergsonian thought. Jean Cocteau has called the work “A giant miniature,
full of mirages, of superimposed gardens, of games conducted between space
and time.” (LL, Fred Bowers, 1980,p.208)

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