Famous Synesthetes

Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov © Jon Stich 2012

Born in 1899 in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Nabokov moved to England in 1917, to Berlin in 1922, then to the United States in 1940, and finally to Switzerland in 1959, where he died in 1977. Nabokov was best known in the United States for his novel Lolita, which was banned in France, Argentina, and New Zealand shortly after its publication for its controversial subject matter of a European scholarly man who becomes obsessed with a 12-year old American girl. Nabokov is the author of other works such as Pale Fire, Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, Transparent Things and Invitation to a Beheading. He also wrote volumes of poetry and published collections of short stories. Nabokov, his mother, his wife, and his son Dmitri all had synesthesia. Nabokov, his mother, and his son had grapheme-color synesthesia, and his mother and Dmitri also had sound-color synesthesia. Very little was understood about how synesthesia worked during Nabokov’s early years, and Nabokov writes about these experiences in Speak, Memory: “As far back as I remember myself (with interest, with amusement, seldom with admiration or disgust), I have been subject to mild hallucinations. Some are aural, others are optical, and by none have I profited much” (34-35). In spite of this dismissive statement, Nabokov goes on to describe his rich, vivid experiences of colored, textured letters: “In the brown group, there are the rich rubbery tone of soft g, paler j, and the drab shoelace of h…among the reds, b has the tone called burnt sienna by painters, m is a fold of pink flannel, and today I have at last perfectly matched v with “Rose Quartz” in Maerz and Paul’s Dictionary of Color” (34-35).

 

Sources:

Birx, H.J. (2009). Nabokov, Vladimir (1899-1977). In Encyclopedia of Time: Science, Philosophy, Theology, & Culture. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Castillo, F. (2008) Controversial and Banned Books website. Retrieved from http://www.banned-books.com/bblistj-z.html

Cytowic, R. & Eagleman, D.M. (2009). Wednesday is indigo blue : Discovering the brain of synesthesia. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Legassé, P. (2000). Nabokov, Vladimir. In The Columbia Encyclopedia. (6th ed.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Nabokov, V. (1966). Speak, memory: An autobiography revisited. New York, NY: Putnam.