Cinematic Transcendence From a Synaesthetic Perspective

(A Review of Michael Snow's Wavelength & David Rimmer's Variations on a Cellophane Wrapper)

Kenneth Hemmerick

Originally published in Lonergan Review Number 6 - Canada's Film Century: Traditions, Transitions, Transcendence

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Synaesthetia Con't

It is not surprising that synaesthesia has been of interest to individuals in the arts, sciences and philosophy. The basic premise of this interest is that a co-relation exists between sound and colour. Isaac Newton proposed a mathematical correlation organizing sound and colour.26

In 1810, Goethe wrote A Theory of Colour (Zw Farbenlehre)" His Colour-Theory is based on the idea that all colours belong either to a group deriving from the primary yellow or to one deriving from blue: these in turn stand for light and darkness, and are metaphoric representatives of the duality in all Nature.27

The composer, Messiaen, wrote in 1956, Technique de mon langage in which his modal systems are directly related to colour.28For example, mode two of the limited transpositions is a certain shade of violet, blue, and violet purple, and mode three, orange with red and green pigments and spots of gold, and also milky white with iridescent reflections like opal. Once again, another example of what I term "associative" synaesthesia.

Kandinsky takes this idea further in "The Yellow Sound."29 He writes about colour as being equivalent to music and line as being equivalent to dance. Kandinsky's acceptance of the concept of synaesthesia led him to believe that his paintings might stimulate multiple sensory responses in the viewer. He felt that sensory equivalents could be scientifically measured; he believed, for example, that exact equivalents could be found for individual musical notes within the spectrum.

Another example of "associative" synaesthesia can be found in the case of Scriabin who proposed that the key F Minor was blue, D major was yellow and F Major was red.30

A similar example can be found in Bliss' Colour Symphony (1922). The movements are given colours relating to tonalities. As such, the first movement is called: "Purple: the Colour of Amethysts, Pageantry, Royalty and Death." The second movement is "Red: the Colour of Rubies, Wine, Revelry, Furnaces, Courage and Magic." Blue is the colour of the third movement - "the colour of sapphires, Deep Water, Skies, Loyalty and Melancholy." The fourth movement is called: "Green: the Colour of Emeralds, Hope, Joy, Youth, Spring and Victory."31

Cytowic proposes that synaesthetes, people who have synaesthetic experiences, can be defined through diagnostic criteria. Lawrence Marks, on the other hand, proposes that synaesthesia is a direct, economical, salient and compact mode of childhood cognition, laden with physiognomic characteristics of perception. As such, synaesthesia may play an important transitional role in the sharpening of modes of information processing. It is transitional because it may be superseded by the more abstract representations embodied in the linguistic mode of cognition.

Perhaps synaesthesia exists in associative and physiological terms because of the functional differences of the activities of the brain's hemispheres. Indeed, all the right brain's principal attributes - being, images, metaphors, and music - are echoes of evolutionary techniques used by our recent zoological ancestors to comprehend reality, and are perceived holistically.32 All the innovative features of the left hemisphere - doing, words, abstract thinking, and number sense - are principally processed in time. To develop craft, strategy, language, logic, and arithmetic the mind must range back and forth along the line of past, present, and future.33

I sense that synaesthetic experience may exist in as much that sensory memory decays quickly over a short unfilled time interval, that modality-specific immediate memory is not affected by events occurring in other sense modalities, and lastly, the inverse of this, that events occurring in the same modality will interfere with recall accuracy.34 However, there is a conscious mixing of sensory channels almost as if what is normally a subconscious mechanism is somehow laid open to the synaesthete's experience. Synaesthesia is what humans do without knowing it; whereas, synaesthetes do it and know that they do it.

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© 2006 Kenneth Hemmerick