At the Crossroads of the Senses: The Synaesthetic Metaphor Across the Arts in European Modernism


ACLS Fellowship Program


German, Russian, and East European Studies


Inspired by Richard Wagner’s idea of the total artwork, modernist artists sought to conflate poetry, music, and painting in various multimedia projects. To evoke their ideal of artistic synthesis, they used the potent yet slippery metaphor of synaesthesia: the figurative or neurological blending of colors, sounds, and shapes. By weaving together literary, musical, and visual works with scientific theories of synaesthesia, “At the Crossroads of the Senses” contends that modernist multimedia experiments stemmed from a fascination with color-hearing, while synaesthetic metaphors promoted future adaptations across mediums. By examining the multimodal styles of eight major artists, the book argues that synaesthesia was a key component of the modernist aesthetic, and the catalyst for the time’s explosion of inter-art endeavors.