The Meaning of Synesthesia: Writer in the Woods

The presentation takes a closer look at the writings of a renowned Estonian essayist (semiotician by training) Valdur Mikita who is best known for his suggestive writings on the importance of woods on the Estonian sense of locality and on Estonian national character more generally. One of the most peculiar claims by Mikita is that moving about in the woods brings forth strong synesthetic experience.

Synesthesia denotes the situation when a person is able to experience a fusion of senses, such as a capacity to hear colours, taste sounds, or dance to the music of tree shapes. In his writings, Mikita describes moving about in the woods as the trigger of synesthesia that can result in the „dance of the bark beetles“ and in „somatic tree-language“. The woods can shift the frequency of one’s consciousness and activate what Mikita calls „peripheral thinking“. He even proposes that the woods as an environment can „take over“ human thinking. Here, it is interesting to follow the descriptions of Mikita’s synesthetic experiences in terms of perception and the senses: what is perceived? What senses are in use? In which combinations do they merge? I will attempt to unravel Mikita’s case of synesthesia with the help of Peircean categories of firstness, secondness and thirdness.

Kadri Tüür

Tallinn University Centre for Environmental History

researcher in the project “Estonian environmentalism in the 20th century: ideology, discourses, practices“, at Tallinn University. Her main field of research is non-fictional nature writing. In her current research, she seeks to develop environmental humanities by integrating approaches from ecocriticism, ecofeminism and ecosemiotics. She holds a PhD degree in semiotics and culture studies from the University of Tartu (2017).