Synesthesia [sin-uhs-thee-zhuh, -zhee-uh, -zee-uh]
This beautiful 4 syllable word came up during a game of Monopoly last night. Don’t ask me how it did or why on earth I was playing Monopoly, that bit of information is neither here nor there.
Dictionary.com states that synesthesia is, “a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color”. Wikipedia describes it to be, “a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway”. Individuals with synesthesia are known as synesthetes.
In other words, depending on the type of synesthesia, synesthetes see letters and numbers in colors, perceive days of the week and months to have personalities, and hear sounds in response to visual motion. These are only three of the more than 60 types of synesthesia that are said to exist.
I sat next to a boy for 18 weeks in a socioeconomic class who was a synesthete. He was the quiet and ominous type whom I never saw speaking to anyone else but me. Despite the fact that we sat so close to one another that our elbows nearly touched, speaking to him for the first time took several days. What finally set our short-lived acquaintanceship in motion was a book…THE book, which we both felt had changed our lives in a multitude of ways: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. He had it on his desk because he was in the process of re-reading it. When I saw the book out of the corner of my eye one morning, I turned to him and said, “House of Leaves is one of my favorite books. It is the only book which has ever been able to invoke a feeling of complete submersion. I’ve never met anyone else that has read it before.” At this, he turned to me and asked, “Have you heard the songs his sister Poe has recorded about the book?” I hadn’t so the next day, he brought her cd which he had burnt for me.
The beautiful complexity and sheer terror Danielewski’s book summons within the reader with ‘simple’ concepts is amazing. The easiest explanation of the plot is that it follows the story of a young family that moves into a house that is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. A more complicated one mentions the multiple narrators including the tattoo parlor employee, unidentified editors, several transcripts from interviews, to a woman’s letters to her son written from The Three Attic Whalestoe Institute—a mental institution. The feeling of complete submersion comes from the highly unusual layout and mass amount of interesting footnotes which are often the owner of their own footnotes as well. To torture the reader, there are footnotes that reference books that don’t exist. The reader quite literally has no idea what comes next as some pages have only a few words on them while others have text mirrored and arranged upside down, sideways, etc. The disorienting affect this has on the reader creates agoraphobic and claustrophobic feelings. Before you even reach the introduction, the reader is unsettled as the book speaks directly to you by saying, “This is not for you.”