Wednesday, November 2, 2011

JWC recap: Synaesthesia

Another one of the presentations at the recent Japan Writers Conference was  “‘A noir, E blanc’: How Synaesthesia can Work for You as a Writer” by Li Jiang. It was a craft workshop, so I don't really think it would be interesting to just tell you what we did. Rather, I'd like to talk about the concept behind the presentation.

Just in case you didn't know (and I didn't) synaesthesia is basically when a sensory detail of one sort invokes sensory detail of another sort. In the French poem, "A Noir, E blanc" used in the title of the workshop, the writer is talking about the vowels invoking colours. In other cases visual details can invoke auditory reactions, or vice versa. And inanimate details like the days of the week can take on personalities. Technically synaesthesia is an involuntary reaction (seen in 1 out of 23 persons), but Li Jiang asked us to harness the concept by listening to pieces or looking at pictures and freewriting the stories that came to us.

Knowing how many of my writer friends listen to music as they write, and who  prefer a certain song when they're writing certain scenes, I wonder if most writers - or even most artists- aren't synaesthetes. The fact that psychadelic drugs can also induce synaesthesia and knowing the connection between artists and drugs, also strengthens this belief.

But synaesthesia isn't a given for all of us. I have zero response to many visual stimuli. Stuff fades into the background for me. It's why I love bright colours. Other colours just disappear. And music, while it will elicit emotion, doesn't drive me to think of specific stories.

Using the pieces that Li Jiang presented (visual art and music) and writing short stories off them was a challenge for me. I don't think mine were as good as some of the other people who presented theirs. Maybe they'd get better if I practised opening those sensory pathways more often. I think synaesthesia can be a useful tool for any writer. By 'forcing' synaesthesia, an artist is able to access details, stories, characters that they couldn't before. And with practise, I suppose, you could look at a scene, and know a character's entire life story, their motivations, and their flaws.

Wait a minute, I already create instantaneous stories for people on the street, and instantaneously see things in the now triggering huge catastrophic events in the future. I used to think it was some sort of ESP, but the predictions never pan out.

Maybe I am a synaesthete after all.

Are any of you synaesthetic? (Now that I know the word, I sort of love it.)

1 comment:

Rida said...

THAT IS SO COOL. To think that all/most writer and artists are synaesthetic- so I suppose we see the world VERY differently. And that drug/writer thing made me laugh :)

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