The Other Synaesthesia

By Susan Bernstein

Subjects: Comparative Literature, Continental Philosophy, Literary Criticism, Aesthetics
Series: SUNY series, Literature . . . in Theory
Hardcover : 9781438493626, 146 pages, July 2023
Paperback : 9781438493619, 146 pages, January 2024

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Table of contents

Introduction: Against Bouba and Kiki

1. Synaesthesia and Community

2. Synaesthetic Reading: Liszt’s Double Vision

3. Baudelaire’s Synaesthesia

4. Nietzsche, Wagner, and “Demonic Communicability”

5. The Unworking of Synaesthesia in Joris-Karl Huysmans’s À Rebours

6. Correspondances: Between Baudelaire and Heidegger

A Note on Rhythm

Reconsiders the figure of synaesthesia, understood as the combination of the senses and of the arts, in philosophy and literature.


This book investigates synaesthesia in philosophy and literature, from Aristotle to Charles Baudelaire to Jean-Luc Nancy and beyond. Its central claim is that while synaesthesia is generally read as a figure of transcendence and unity, there is another effect of synaesthesia, one that articulates differences and displaces essence. This other synaesthesia opens up within or alongside the more familiar sense of synaesthesia as synthesis, pointing to an alternative understanding of the senses and of the arts as "interbelonging" in a kind of rhythmic relation rather than parts of a totalizing aesthetic whole. In so doing, The Other Synaesthesia contests the suggestion that neurological synaesthesia is the foundation for the aesthetics of synaesthesia. Topics include Nancy's conception of community; the correspondence between Franz Liszt and George Sand; Baudelaire's poetics; Richard Wagner's theory of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art; decadence and symbolism; and Heidegger's critique of the correspondence theory of truth.

Susan Bernstein is Professor of Comparative Literature and German Studies at Brown University. Her previous books include Virtuosity of the Nineteenth Century: Performing Music and Language in Heine, Liszt, and Baudelaire and Housing Problems: Writing and Architecture in Goethe, Walpole, Freud, and Heidegger.


"In proposing that synaesthesia should be studied as a discursive dynamic rather than a physiological process, Bernstein's book sharply distinguishes itself from the existing scholarship on the topic, which has primarily tried to use empirical research on a neurological condition to explain aesthetic phenomena. Her original argument facilitates new insights into several major modern authors, allows for the elaboration of innovative conceptions of interconnectivity and relationality, and invites a broad-based reassessment of the ideas about language informing interdisciplinary work in the contemporary humanities. In design and execution, The Other Synaesthesia testifies to the critical power of a tradition of German and French literary theory and philosophy that is often neglected in contemporary Anglo-American letters." — Jan Mieszkowski, author of Crises of the Sentence