Thursday, January 18, 2007

Minutes of the Punctuation Appreciation Society

I experience mild synaesthesia, in mild forms, on a regular basis: the cross-wiring of the senses. (The classic literature on the topic uses the word "confusion," which I denounce, as there is nothing confusing about it.) Synaesthesia is stronger than simple assocation; it seems to be hardwired. Certain smells have characteristic colors for me, and certain sounds have colors and smells.

One of the interesting aspects of synaesthesia is that it is personal, individual, not universally systematized: different people have different sets of connections. This tends to repudiate two arguments non-synaesthetes have about synaesthesia, namely: that it is all culturally-derived association happening on some subconscious level, i.e. it's all in the mind; and, the reductive neurological idea that all brains will "short-circuit" in the same way. The data blow both of those arguments out of the water; even granted that most data on synaesthesia is anecdotal rather than statistical by its very nature.

Nonetheless, there can be times when it's unclear to me, as a writer, where the line between synaesthesia and idiosyncratic association is crossed. Some numerals have color, for me; I can't remember a time they didn't, but I can't rule out that it is an acquired, if idiosyncratic, association. 4 is blue, and 9 is brown, for example.

Which leads me to punctuation, and its pleasures.

I've written elsewhere about punctuation as notation for reading poetry out loud: as musical notation. Now, I want to discuss the associations and feelings I have for two elements of punctuation that I would champion: the colon; and the semi-colon.

The semi-colon is a wondrous connector; it brings you to full stop, as if ending the phrase, or thought, or sentence, but doesn't actually break the flow; my written journal is full of passages where almost the only punctuation I used was the semi-colon; I was streaming along, writing as fast as I could, and full punctuation, a period in particular, felt like it would break the flow, and bring the whole enterprise crashing to a halt; instead, the semi-colon gives us pause, but doesn't break the flow; the energy of the line surges on; this works in prose as well as in poetry, for me.

The colon is, for me, a stronger, fuller stop: but the energy of the line lunges forward into the next phrase. The colon has forward momentum, while the period is a momentum-killer. The period stops you dead. The colon says, yes, we're stopped: but we're leaning forward, anticipating the next thing: as though it were about to arrive, and we were poised: propulsive: harnessed: straining at the reins. The colon moves things forward, even as it indicates a stop, a pause, a breath: you wait for what comes next. Colons are good for subtitles, too, of course; while the semi-colon is good for an aside: a sidebar comment; a parenthetical note.

So, that's how the energy of these two elements of punctuation feel to me: energy, as in energy-movement, as in dance, or dramaturgy, or music. I make no claims that any of this is remotely objective; it may be entirely idiosyncratic. Nonetheless, there it is.

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Blogger sciolist said...

I am not trying to refute you my friend,merely trying to understand.But can the premise of a lack of systematic statistical data on the phenomenon effectively serve as a deduction for synaesthesia as not being culturally-derived or not subjugated to reductive reasoning?
Be that as it may,enjoyed the post thoroughly.Looking forward to more of your work.

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Suze from FrameDrummers Group said...

As someone who has sung without musical notation (NOT by choice) and spoken or recited publicly but wished to inject some "music" (not singing) into the words, my use of subjectively-arrived at symbols or markings ("notation") has made all the difference.

And when I truly perceive/experience something, I feel movement and hear music. Colors are harder to come by for me: I'll have to focus on that - although I have dreamt in color, which some say isn't possible, I believe.

Have you ever "smelled" snow? I did for perhaps the first time this winter.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Well, check out the research. Synaesthetia is a long-recognized, oft-studied phenomenon. One of the best-known synaesthetes of the past was the composer Scriabin; he went so far as to compose two major symphonic works in which light-displays and smells were to be orchestrated as part of the whole aesthetic experience.

It's just that it resists statistical analysis inn the same way that eyewitness reports do. It's not that the phenomenon doesn't exist, it's that the language is inadequate. There are neurological components that are consistent, and studiable, but the fact that the pattern of cross-wiring from person to person varies is the issue: not that it's subjective, but that it's individual.

12:19 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hi, Suze, and welcome.

I dream in color almost all the time. The people who say it's not possible (and I haven't heard that lately) are people to whom it's never happened, I guess. Most of my friends dream in color at least some of the time; some of them all of the time, like me.

Smelling snow: if you mean that sharp clear smell that you get right before and during a snowfall, I remember that from ages ago. Something to do with the flakes scrubbing teh ions in the air. Not unrelated to the ozone smell just before a big thunderstorm. Spending a lot of my childhood on the Great Plains (MIchigan), it's a familiar smell. And a lovely one!

10:39 AM  

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