*This is an updated entry from my hypertext book on power!
The word synesthesia comes from a Greek phrase meaning "to perceive together". Synesthesia can be described as an ability or a condition, but it is not a disease. Depending on the type of synesthesia that a person has, she may "see" music, "taste" sounds or "hear" scents (there are many more variations). I find my synesthesia enjoyable, although specific experiences that it creates are frustratingly difficult to describe. For example, it would be hard for me to tell you what shapes or colors I experience when I eat certain food.
Synesthesia is mysterious because the origins of the connections between different sensations are not always obvious. For example, M might be raspberry red for me because raspberry is "malína" in Russian, my mother tongue. But why is A distinctively yellow, and why is B green? Or, moving to a different combination of senses, why does the sound of the saxophone bring up an image of something similar to a silk ribbon or springing, flowing water? I guess it makes some sense, but perhaps it doesn't…
My fascination with the word "power" started when I was working on my first book, Media Is Us. In one of the chapters, I proposed a new theory, which has become a basis on the project I am developing here. Since I finished writing that book, I have enjoyed seeing the word "power", writing it, and saying it in my head. It's a kind of a safe obsession, which probably often happens to scholars focusing on a particular topic. It is even more exciting for me now to turn off my computer, because I see the word "power" and its symbol on the screen! (This also gave me the idea for the Power On/Off entry.)
As a synesthete, I find the word "power" (in English) intriguing: it is scary and gloomy, but also playful and darkly attractive. It is very difficult to properly describe, but I will try. First, power is a dark word. I see a lot of black, but also some strange glow or flashes of light. "Power" is a paradox: it is soft and springy like a cat playfully hitting with its paw a toy that is bouncing, pow-pow-pow. The game looks like fun, but there is a dangerous glow in the cat's eyes. Any moment, the gentle purring will turn into a subdued but distinctive growl – errrrr – and the toy that was being gently bounced a second ago will be shredded to pieces by the animal's claws. The word "power" is at the same time soft and sharp, calming and dangerous.
In this particular case, the origins of my associations seem easier to trace. At least, I can see parallels between them and my developing thoughts about power. It is a dark and scary word because power can and does often cause discomfort, even suffering. We see power as negative when it is used to exploit and subdue. But power can be also seen as something positive, as an ability to help yourself and others. Think about the word "empowerment"!
People often think about power as a binary – either it's bad or it's good, either you have it or you don't. I perceive power as a paradox, both intellectually and synesthetically. I want to focus on how we all have and lack power at the same time, because it is not one thing, but rather a combination of abilities and circumstances (see What Is Power?). I also want to explore how "positive" and "negative" aspects of power are intertwined.