David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Thomas Hardy and the Emotion-Sensation Connection

Hardy suffered from synaesthesia, though being Hardy he saw the days of the week in rather less Technicolor hues than others with the same condition: “Monday was colourless, and Tuesday a little less colourless”, while Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were slightly differing shades of blue.


Now, was it that he saw those particular objective colors, or that his concepts of those colors were given to more muted names than ours? Or were the concepts right, but his judgments biased in a depressive manner? Seven, can you help?


  1. W., do you subscribe to TLS? I’m going to go see if the public library can give me that article online.

    I had a lecturer at uni who loved to gleefully quote someone else (whose name I cannot remember) saying that at the end of Tess we can see that ‘the gods had had their sport with Tess, and so had Thomas Hardy’. Eccch.

  2. I do, but I wouldn’t bother tracking down this article; it’s just a review of a book of literary anecdotes. I just happen to love this one.

  3. “Goodbye blue Monday,” he said curtly.

  4. Knowing almost nothing about synaesthesia, I’d guess Hardy had normal color concepts that he was disposed to apply incorrectly. I couldn’t tell from the quotation whether he saw the word “Wednesday” as blue, or associated the concept WEDNESDAY with the concept BLUE, or on Wednesdays saw the world as having a bluish tinge. In none of those cases is he actually seeing something objectively blue. But if he had actual synaesthesia, maybe his situation is comparable to simple optical illusions, where we’re only the tiniest bit inclined to believe that our experiences are presenting things correctly. I think how a concept is applied in beliefs provides the criterion for having the ordinary concept. If he really is just associating the concepts, his synaesthesia wouldn’t be any more exotic than our tendency to think of the letter F as facing to the right and the letter a as facing to the left. If he really does see the word “Wednesday” as blue or the whole world as blue-tinted on Wednesday, awesome: a sort of psychedelic illusion. But the illusion has the content it does (that “Wednesday” is blue) because he has the ordinary concept. — Possibly too serious a response, but it really is puzzling!

  5. My synaesthetic source says: “more like the concept Wednesday with the experience blue…it’s like my color-seeing bits are being activated but not quite seeing.”

    That may indeed just be a conceptual association, though. At this point, I think it becomes a very detailed terminological issue.

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