Vladimir Nabokov had synesthesia, a harmless neurological condition which causes mixing of sense. His writings are famous for descriptions in which sounds, shapes and colors are intermingled in order to form a powerful sensual effect. In addition, synesthetic details are unique proof of underlying unity of all things. Since this condition influenced his work it can be said that synesthesia is Nabokov’s unusual gift.
Of course, he is not the only author whose work is filled with synesthetic details. Famous romantic poet John Keats is also known for combining senses into a unique image. Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale is a perfect example of how imagery becomes alive.O for a draught of vintage! that hath beenCool’d a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,Tasting of Flora and the country-green,Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!O for a beaker full of the warm South!
Keats, Ode to a Nightingale
A fine example of Nabokov’s use of synesthesia are Humbert Humbert’s words in Lolita “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” The syllables are almost vividly burning in front of our eyes and we can feel the letters as they are produced by the tip of our tongue. Humbert words have a tremendous effect on the reader. They are seductive invitation to feel what he feels, to stand by his side.
Throughout his life, Nabokov loved to speak about interconnectedness of things.Yes, Sylvia?‘Why do you speak of wordsWhen all we want is knowledge nicely browned?’Because all hangs together – shape and soundheather and honey, vessel and content.
Not only rainbows – every line is bent,
and skulls and seeds and all good words are round,
like Russian verse, like our colossal vowels:
those painted eggs, those glossy pitcher flowers
that swallow whole a golden bumblebee
those shells that hold a thimble and the sea.