Wednesday, September 2, 2009


#245, East Village, NYC

Vladimir Nabokov, whose prose I could eat with a spoon, had more than a way with words. He also had an odd perceptual knack when it came to the alphabet. In his memoir, Speak, Memory, Nabokov describes his experience, as a child, of looking at particular letters: "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." The phenomenon, grapheme-color synesthesia, occurs when a person perceives letters or numbers as having certain colors. It's one of those gifts, like perfect pitch, that you either have or you don't. I don't, though if you want to see something that's going to mess with your head, check out this picture.

But let me revise that last thought. Just because I don't have perfect pitch doesn't mean I can't recognize when a note is out of tune; similarly, just because I don't have grapheme-color synesthesia doesn't mean I can't recognize when a number's color is "off." I almost didn't want to post today's number. Why? Because the color brown is wrong. It is so wrong for this 245 that it makes me itch. What's up with that?

In the same vein, I've seen examples of text whose appearance goes against their meaning but doesn't bother me at all. A company with a fleet based in my hometown, the Yellow trucking company, has a logo with the word "Yellow" set against an orange background, the sight of which pleases me immensely.

It seems my wanna-be synesthesia only responds in the negative. I don't walk around seeing indigo-colored 4's unprompted. But I could be a quality control inspector for this stuff. I'd give green 87's the thumbs-up and boot off the assembly line red 50's and yellow 185's. But, like many of my other skills (inventing vampire jokes on the spot, for one), there doesn't seem to be much demand for it. Alas.


Adam said...

Very interesting...

I'd like to read a vampire joke too please!

Jackie said...

That passage of Speak, Memory is one of my favorite Nabokov-ian moments of all time.It made me happy to see it here, even at this ever-so-early hour of the morning.

That one and the opening & closing paragraphs of Lolita. Those are 'lick the spoon' worthy, I think.

Pierre said...

I've heard of another brain wiring mixup in which music elicits various physical sensations, and not because it's too loud. I think that would be fun to have.

Therese Cox said...

Pierre - I think I have that! Every time I hear "smooth jazz", my skin crawls. Does that count?

Jackie - If only we could get soft-serve Nabokov, we'd be set. And yeah, the gymnastics he does with language in the opening of Lolita? A-mazing.

Adam - OK, you asked for it. What's a vampire's favorite fruit?

Therese Cox said...

Oh, and bonus points to anyone who can spot the (inadvertent) vampire allusion in the original post.

Radge said...

I equate letters with gender and days of the week with colour, but not numbers.

Vampire reference... vampire reference... the spoon, at a wild guess?

Therese Cox said...

Radge - I do the same thing with colors and days of the week, but the alphabet/gender association is a new one on me. I'm curious to know a few.

And do tell us more about these spoon-toting vampires of yours. I'm intrigued.

Pierre said...

I was born before Rock and Roll, so I've heard it much longer than you. I also drummed for years. Maybe that's why I got tired of it. There's only so much you can do in 4/4. However, yesterday I heard "Takin Care of Business" in the car and I couldn't stop beating on the dash. As far as smooth jazz, I like it but only for a few tunes at a time. I know, Argh! Believe me, your tastes will change.

Vampires like nectarines, and you'll get frost bite if you cross vampire with a snowman.

Quid said...

You can only imagine what a beautiful thing an entire Nabokov novel must have been in his own head- a spread of rich, awesome, delicious colors...

I'm glad you wrote about this! It was nice to remember and reflect on Nabokov for a few minutes.

Therese Cox said...

Quid, hello and welcome! Yes, I've always been stricken with envy whenever I'd read how Nabokov would have this whole story, lush and colorful in his head, and all he had to do was get it down on the page. It is a beautiful thing to imagine.

Incidentally, when I step back and look at my novel-in-my-head, I see acre after acre of sticky black tar with a single piece of tumbleweed blowing around in the back.

Therese Cox said...

Pierre, when I'm done with 4/4 time, you can bet I'm moving on to harmonium drone music. A genre which, if it doesn't exist yet, I'll be happy to invent.

And yes - vampires love nectarines!

Though blood oranges are quite tasty too.

Radge said...

Spoons and vampires - I couldn't possibly. It's bad luck.

B is female.

C is male.

J is male.

K is female.

P is androgynous.

Jackie said...

We should open up a literary themed candy or ice cream shop. We could name it Fitzgerald's Fudge or some such thing.

I have a friend in children's publishing who once told me about a bar event she was going to in which she was going to drink a "Te-quila Mockingbird" and I haven't quite gotten over it yet.

Does this post have more comments than the waffle one? Cause dude. That would be epic.

Jackie said...

PS: Vampire Reference... "in the same vein?"

Therese Cox said...

Jackie - Vampires trump waffles. And yes, "in the same vein" is the correct answer to the vampire reference question.

But since I can't prove that Radge is wrong, and because it pleases me, I rule to let the
"spoons and vampires" stand. Everyone wins.

Julie said...

Y'know I simply read the words and did not link the colours. Until I realised their was not point to what I was seeing therefore look again. Guess I'm not afflicted.