Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Sensations of Tone: Colored Hearing and the Decline of Meter in French Verse
Authors: Yamaguchi, Liesl Marie Jensen
Advisors: Heller-Roazen, Daniel
Contributors: Comparative Literature Department
Keywords: colored hearing
Subjects: Comparative literature
French literature
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Sensations of Tone traces the emergence of the notion that vowels possess specific visual properties (the idea that “I” is bright, or “A” is red, for example). This idea, first attested in Europe in a Bavarian medical dissertation in 1812, grew from a curiosity of dubious credibility into a significant topic of intellectual inquiry by the 1890s. Over the course of the nineteenth century, accounts of vowels’ tones, colors, shades, and hues appeared with increasing frequency across disciplines ranging from medicine to musical acoustics, psychology, poetics, and linguistics. The ways in which vowels appeared to bear visual properties were multiple, however, and many of the nineteenth-century accounts, failing to meet the criteria eventually established by the scientific study of synesthesia, have fallen into obscurity. This dissertation, tracing the emergence of the idea of vowel color, rather than seeking to distinguish and define a medical condition, considers accounts of colored vowels that the modern study of synesthesia has been obliged to cast aside. Through close readings of these accounts—by Arthur Rimbaud, Hermann von Helmholtz, Paul Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé, Ferdinand de Saussure, and Roman Jakobson—the dissertation demonstrates how the vowel colors that emerge independently in disparate disciplines are mutually illuminating. Taken together, they bear witness to a subtle but decided shift in linguistic perception in the late nineteenth century: a shift emblematically realized in France in the decline of the metrical line and the emergence of vocalic color. Sensations of Tone thus furnishes a new perspective on the emergence of free verse, a watershed moment in poetic history whose contemporaneity with the scientific inquiry into colored hearing is well known, but whose relationship to that inquiry has been understood as merely coincidental. Breaking with the traditional narrative that charts meter’s decline against graphic conceptions of poetry, Sensations of Tone suggests a more complex relationship between language and visuality, and an argument that verse—poetry linguistically rather than graphically defined—persists into the present.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Comparative Literature

Files in This Item:
This content is embargoed until 2021-11-17. For more information contact the Mudd Manuscript Library.

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.