The ‘Association Sportive’ Elections

The AS Phoenix will be reborn today.

(click on image for full size )

As election day draws near, students of the Le Havre Campus of Sciences Po will have nearly finished forming their opinions on the plethora of candidates competing for their favor. In the interest of keeping the citizenry informed, we have asked all ten Association Sportive (AS) candidate two questions, sourced from the association themselves. They reflect the greatest concerns of the current AS members, who have a better understanding of the reality of association life than anyone else on campus, about the future success of the association. These questions about the duties, functioning and main challenge of the Association are as follows:

  1. Leading our campus to victory is one of the pivotal objectives of the AS. However, we have very limited access to resources in terms of venue, coaching and training time. In your opinion, what should be the AS role in improving the situation, so as to better facilitate the preparation of the teams for Minicrit?
  2. In your perspective, what is the biggest challenge the AS will face during your mandate and how do you propose to sort it out?

According to the Sciences Po Le Havre campus official website, the AS is a permanent association under the 1901 French law. Its mission is to create an active and inclusive athletic community on campus, but also to facilitate access to health services in Le Havre. During the year, it is to organize friendly matches with the Université du Havre and other local teams. At the end of the year, it is to present teams to compete in the Minicrit, or Collégiades de SciencesPo, an athletic and artistic competition between all Sciences Po Paris undergraduate campuses.

These are the bare bones of AS duties, but as the students are well aware, our association members do so much more. From providing us with our beloved blue hoodies and keeping the lunch-room stocked with tea, to coordinating the Ski-Trip, WEIS, and Minicrit, all while continuously boosting campus moral, it is now up to us to ensure that the baton of responsibility is passed on to the right combination of five dedicated and able students. The spirit of Achilles Shields must be reincarnated much like the Phoenix in its logo. To aid in this collective decision making, we have based the article below on the answers of all ten candidates to our two questions.

1 – Leading our campus to victory is one of the pivotal objectives of the AS. However, we have very limited access to resources in terms of venue, coaching and training time. In your opinion, what should be the AS role in improving the situation, so as to better facilitate the preparation of the teams for Minicrit?

  • Coordinating club captains, locations and coaches:

To better facilitate the preparation of the teams for Minicrit, the candidates all seem very focused firstly, on coordinating clubs to help captains find coaches and places to practice. Léa Leyfsword states that “The AS should make the connexion between sports captains and venues easier so that they can book fields more often when they need it and therefore be better prepared for the Minicrit. It should also make it easier for anyone who wants to start a club to find a coach and place.” Miyu Shu also states that “the AS needs to continue working towards establishing long-term relations and networks around Le Havre with local sports facilities, schools, and universities!” Yuqin Luo continues “AS will have a supportive role to the clubs. The association should support clubs by helping sports clubs to find ways to extend their training time and to negotiate with the gyms. Despite negotiating with gyms, we are also going to provide plan Bs such as organizing running sessions for the sports clubs and people on our campus. What the AS should and can do is not to help clubs be better at sports but to provide them with a good environment that they can improve.”

Kalinka Le Goff also reminds us of the key role the AS has in helping organize a sports schedule free of clashes, so that our students may involve themselves in as many sports as they please. Kokoro Osada summarizes and highlights the issue by stating: “One of the main concerns that we had at the beginning of the year with the sports teams were to begin the practices itself. The captains were responsible for everything from finding a coach and reserving a field. The AS should lighten these burden (…) Practices are sometimes canceled, often due to a sudden change in the schedule of the field or the court. The AS could work against this by helping the captains prepare an alternative time and location. I also think that a list of all sports teams and its location/time of the training should be made for clarification. The AS could work somewhat as a headquarter for all the sports teams in the school.” Finally, Marius Andioc values taking action as soon as the year begins: “what could have been done to coordinate clubs for the Minicrit with regular meetings could be done from the beginning of the year to be sure that everything goes in the right direction.”

  • Boosting Student Involvement:

Finding coaches became a difficulty for the AS last year when the SciencesPo administration decided that sports credits would only be accorded to clubs with a professional coach. This purely bureaucratic and insurance-related decision put many successful clubs with no need for external help behind in their organization and training. Furthermore, none of the Le Havre dance clubs are eligible to be credited. In future, this may lead to waning participation. Indeed, assiduity has visibly decreased in the institutions that are Bollywood and Chinese Dance. The new AS, like the old, with have to work harder than others in the past to keep our divers, LH specific clubs alive. Most candidates pledged themselves to increasing involvement in sports.

As stated by Kseniya Redka: “The main focus should be made on increasing the competitiveness of the campus and encouraging more people to join the sports clubs. This can be done through more numerous events like matches between local LH teams and ScPo, because it will give a sense of what is it like to play against others. Also perhaps by recruiting more people for participation in the sports clubs, captains will be able to form more of smaller teams during the practice to compete against each other. For the Minicrit team, establish clear attendance guidelines and set the objectives of each session, as well as providing AS with the evaluation of the course progress on the regular basis (every quarter of the semester).” Marius Andioc also emphasizes the importance of campus spirit: “a big part of AS job would be preparing next year’s minicrit by advertising students about it, how it matters for the campus, club commitment when you’re part of a team etc.” Finding ways to increasing budget is also one of the main solutions, along with increased coordination between team captains, practice locations, and coaches, to limited access to resources in terms of venue, coaching and training time.

Candidate Marcus Cheah commented on the link between this involvement and association finance: “I feel like in the long term for major future developments, we will require a certain increase of funding to solve the problem of limited resources, however, that only would be made possible if our teams are able to prove that we are worth acquiring those funding. So, it becomes a cycle of how we would need more funding and resources to get more victories, and we would need more victories to deem ourselves worthy of more funding. Hence, my opinion is that AS’s role starts from raising the athletic spirit on campus in order to encourage everyone’s full participation on sports teams. Also, I would like to strive for more casual pickup matches with everyone on campus at accessible locations like the beach basketball, volleyball courts etc., such that everyone could get more into sports.”

  • Making the most of the AS budget:

But an inexpensive way to increase the amount of training for a little fee is to compete against local student teams more often. As stated by Hiroki Yamashita: “A.S role is to be a resource for sports and health for everyone. Considering preparation for Minicrit, the sports team in Sciences Po currently has two major problems. One is lack of participation and the other is lack of training time. The first problem roots form the fact that we don’t really have practice games in a competitive way other than WEIC and Minicrit which leads lack of motivation. Thus, A.S. can negotiate to set a practice game with other schools such as the University of Le Havre.” Léa Leyfsword also believes that the “AS has to be an intermediate with the other student sport committees of LH in order to organise joint events (eg. Match amicaux) with other student teams in LH (or amateur teams like the Dieselles in feminine rugby for example),” along with Miyu Shu: “The AS can make sure to lend a hand to the captains in this respect and become the bridge between our sports teams and the teams of other universities in LH!” The benefits of the policy are also emphasized by Mia Raichon: “most of all, what I want is to organize sportive events and meetings between our teams and those of other schools in the city or LH university. As a beginner in rugby this year, I progressed and understood the game a lot more during the WEIS than during the whole first part of the semester. Then, put teams in a situation with some “LH tournaments” should make our teams ready to beat all the other campuses, without getting in trouble with the admin!”

The question of increasing budget come down to lobbying the administration and is therefore not entirely in the power of the AS. We therefore greatly appreciate the alternative suggestions by all candidates. Mia Raichon states that “It’s clear that there are huge differences between campuses concerning the place occupied by sport in the academic path. But what is a the core of success and victory is the motivation of players, and it’s something that LH has. So, what we need is more training opportunities for sports teams all along the year. The truth is that high-sport-level is not coming by itself, and team-sport captains can’t do everything alone to lead their team to victory. I really want to talk to the administration team about increasing the sports budget. But, I guess that previous AS has already tried and we still don’t have enough infrastructures, coaches or afternoon reserved for sport yet as other campuses (Nancy for example). If we face another refusal from the admin, then we still can do some simple things to make the difference. Thus, the AS role should be to help captains to organize some extra-practices, or why not professional-game-screenings with all the team to work on the technicality of a specific sport, determine strategies etc.”

Hiroki Yamashita continues: the “cheerleading team is managing to have more than one practice a week, while most of the other clubs have only one. So it is possible to manage both school work and several practices a week. But when this problem is due to training place or resource, the team has chosen to work out or do the weights if they want to have more practice. However, SciencesPo does not have the equipment. Thus A.S can help the team by providing a training equipment or training menu which uses only one’s body in order to make it easier to have more than one practice a week.”

Overall, candidates will need to focus on coordinating club captains, locations, and coaches, boosting student involvement and making the most of the AS budget whether they manage to increase it or not. But keep in mind that once again, these are the bare bones of As responsibilities, and a successful AS must be willing to go above and beyond.

2 – In your perspective, what is the biggest challenge the AS will face during your mandate and how do you propose to sort it out?

Marcus Cheah cites having enough participation to boost the budget: “I think the biggest challenge we will face is the exact problem of not having enough money to carry out our events, whether it is due to students not willing to cooperate and pay assoc fees, or because the school is not providing sufficient funding. Which is why, I propose to enforce the policy of “no fees paid, means no activity participation allowed”. On top of that, I hope that by starting off events small with lower expenses and in more of a “pilot scheme” form; and as times go by we will accumulate more funding and participants would gain more interest. Then, more money could be focused on producing a full form of that event in the end that is better organized and in-depth than the previous pilot one. This ensures more participation in the event as long as less financial problems and issues.” Furthermore, as Marius Andioc states: “It depends on which scale we think. The minicrit is going to be of course a huge challenge for the AS, and then what I propose could be applied. However, on a more student life scale, the AS presence is another big challenge to sort out. AS could organize more often events related to a sport that could include everybody: athletes, people who are not into sports to make them get along with it, curious people etc. “Sports discovery” events, which would consist in making discover a sport to people every one or two months.” Hiroki Yamashita focuses on general organizational aspects: “A.S organizes many events such as “amazing race” at the beginning of the year and the amount of the work increases especially before those events. The biggest challenge that A.S will face is the time deadline to organize the events. Especially events that require payment needs interaction with other students before the event and it could be a one reason for delay of the work of A.S. To improve the situation, A.S can post a calendar which shows upcoming events and payment deadline for those event and make the interaction between the association and students smooth by providing clear view of what kind of events associations are planning.”

The majority of candidates by far, however, mention the Minicrit as the greatest challenge to face the AS during their mandate. It is our opportunity to shine as a campus and showcase not only our artistic and athletic abilities on home-turf but also our city, Le Havre, as well as our creativity and dedication, organizing around challenges. Léa Leyfsword, Kokoro Osada, and Kseniya Redka both plan to overcome this challenge with a methodical approach to the problem, with early preparation, a clear schedule and an even distribution of tasks. Kalinka Le Goff instead emphasizes the teamwork aspect of planning this event: “we will sort it out by working as a team, sharing our ideas and our expectations.” Mia Raichon also focuses on the MiniCrit as our greatest challenge, and cites her experience biking at a National and European level, “ I admit that I haven’t ever organized such a huge event but I know from my experience what are the expectations of a competitor. (…) Before I felt lucky to represent my country as a competitor, now I would be so proud to represent my campus as an organizer.” Miyu Shu offers a focus on teamwork, funding, and organization as solutions suggested concerning what she tentatively called “SushiCrit.”Furthermore, in addition to negotiating training times, and organization like the aforementioned candidates, Yuqin Luo would focus on having high-quality communication, and “Reduce cost or earn more. Reduce cost can be in two ways: find cheaper resources and find a resource (might need as to help promote as well and if we do so we might have a permission). Earn more in two ways: set a portable market and sell drinks, snacks and souvenirs or to provide discount plans to campuses(like entrance fee in addition to a plan for drinks and snacks)”

After reading these interview answers, along with the candidate manifestos and posters, we hope the campus will feel more informed as a citizenry and will be more confident in when casting their ballots on Friday, from 9 AM to 6 PM. In the words of Loretta Lynch, “Voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another, our country (university) and this world.”

Emma Dailey is a French-American second year student at Sciences Po Paris, Campus du Havre.

Unity in Diversity? The BDE Elections

This Friday, the 26th of January 2018, students will gather on campus to vote for their next BDE. Our BDE is composed of six members, and this year 13 candidates are competing for election to the next mandate. The current BDE has asked each candidate about the challenges posed to the organization.

With the student body increasing in numbers, it is no surprise that the diversity of campus grows too. This trend is particularly relevant to the Bureau des Élèves whose objective is to to ensure the social life of the student body is as inclusive as possible. The work of the BDE includes ensuring students are well integrated to campus life by organizing events such as the integration week, bar and club nights, casino night, as well as the end-of-year gala. The challenge that comes with hosting social events has always been catering to the myriad of different interests of the student body. Lalonde elaborates on the deliberate oxymoron, “unity in diversity” by saying that there exists “unity without uniformity and diversity without fragmentation.” Indeed, within a campus as diverse as ours, this concept must be kept in mind. Whilst this notion is usually applied in federations, the challenge for the BDE has always been to realize this concept in the microcosm of our campus, where students have different ideals for a “social life”. So, the most important question that the BDE must answer is; can the BDE, with limited resources, unify a campus that is increasingly diverse?

Coincidentally, all of the candidates have advocated for the need to diversify events on campus, taking the polarity of interests into consideration. Philippe Andreas Bédos states that “diversity is a strength, but one that requires the right mindset to deal with.” Further, he reiterated that we “need to take into account the existence of cultural barriers, and how easy it is to fall into specific groups based on our backgrounds.” A sentiment which was echoed most of the candidates. Maya Shenoy discussed the need for the BDE to “facilitate socialisation and transition”, empathizing with the difficulty in “reaching out to groups that aren’t yours in terms of diversity.” The candidates have offered many suggestions on improving inclusivity. There is an increasing support this year to have more non-alcoholic events in addition to the customary events held by the BDE; these include – but are not limited to – international dinners, potlucks, volunteering and a colour run, as suggested by Hortense Pin-Plaud, Alana Tang, and Joséphine Cousin respectively. These events strive to achieve inclusivity similar to successful events such as Diwali and Chinese New Year which bridge the “gap between the international and the French” in the words of Plamédie Mesongolo, but also “reflect the many different cultures on campus” as Jean Castorini later elaborated. Joséphine Cousin also keeps those who love a good party in mind, she wants to assist the hosts of house parties by funding a cleaning service and provided a framework for the feasibility of her proposal. On the other hand, Arjun Vadrevu said that he believes in strengthening inter-association collaboration on more events, focusing on events which “don’t require that many resources nor manpower.” While it is true that the BDE requires funding to stay afloat and make many of our events possible, the lack of resources shouldn’t perversely limit the association. Francesca Moro alluded to an inventive American TV character, saying “if McGyver can diffuse a bomb with a hockey match ticket, limited resources aren’t a problem for anyone.”

In addition to the obligations of the BDE, candidates such as Camille Capelle believe that “the six members of the BDE should represent this diversity that is atypical and dear to Sciences Po.” She argues this would avoid certain groups being overlooked. Ayush Dhall stresses on a peer-to-peer approach by asking students for ideas to “reach a common consensus”, however one must question the extent to which a complete consensus is realistic. Keeping in mind a busy calendar and the traditional roles of the BDE, we asked the candidates what they believe the biggest challenge of being a member of the BDE will be. Marguerite Matoussowsky highlighted the Gala notingthe intense workload associated with it, while Jean Castorini concentrated on the importance of integrating incoming first years and ensuring they feel as welcome as possible. Meanwhile, Maya Shenoy takes a pragmatic approach, and believes the biggest challenge is the budget, saying that, “we have ambitious goals, and that’s very good, but it conflicts with the monetary realisation of those goals. We need to learn how to marry those two ideas.” Suhanya J. De Saram took a more subtle approach, acknowledging how all candidates have ideas and convictions, but keeps in mind the difficulty in reconciling differences within the BDE “if no one is willing to compromise on their ideas for the sake of the team.” She further said, “Ideally, no BDE member should be grandstanding and/or too caught up on pride.

While there has been an emphasis in this campaign on events that cater to a more timid or introverted demographic on campus, perhaps innovative solutions which garner the interests of the divergent tastes on campus deserve further consideration. Staying pragmatic, and being able to cooperate within a team is going to inevitably shape the functioning of the next BDE, and we urge you to cast your six votes tomorrow with your vision of an ideal BDE in mind.

Paxia Ksatryo is an Indonesian second year student and the incumbent event manager of the Bureau des Élèves of Sciences Po Paris, Campus du Havre.

Edited by Pailey Wang.

Leviathan (2014)

Leviathan (2014)

A Film Review

Violence, love, corruption, heroic tales and tragic fates, so many subjects exploited to depletion by the great cinematographic industry of modern times. Today, directors of modern dramas destined to be projected on the big screen, live for the most original screenplay, the most unhinged realisation, the most upsetting result or the deepest message, so much that our screens are now seldom without bankable star-riddled, anglo-saxon centred, glamorous but empty sob- stories destined to re-examine the place of you or me in modern society.

Caught in this head-spinning profligacy operated by the great producing houses, one might, upon arriving at saturation-point, wish for a breath of fresh air and seek to spend a worthy couple of hours watching a mind-opening, enriching piece of cinema, an insight into a world that one might not even know exists, or a refresher on a region that is so often forgotten by the dictatorial principles of pop culture.

The appeal.

Enter Leviathan, directed in 2014 by Andrey Zvyagintsev, and starring Aleksei Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, and Vladimir Vdovichenkov. Russian cinema, it will have been difficult to miss. Despite the frequency with which she appears in the news, the potency of her reach in international relations, or the relevancy of her participation in world conflicts, rarely is Mother Russia depicted on our screens, with the notable exceptions of cold war history films, or subjective politico-mafioso documentaries on Putin and his cronies.

But Leviathan is another story altogether, one that comes straight from the source. Zvyagintsev’s picture brings a depiction of mundane, industrial Russia which, to the non-Slavic layman, has something of an authentic feel, allowing us to peek through the keyhole and discover life in today’s Russia – in all its complexity and with all the challenges that come to bear.

The story.

A coastal town in Northern Russia. A fisherman, Kolya, fights against a corrupt local town official, a mayor fixing to expropriate him from his house and land to construct a new property. The protagonists war with the weapons at their disposals – the former with an old army pal turned Muscovite lawyer, and his second wife, the latter with the full force of the local Courts, the muscle of Russian thugs and the sermons of the Orthodox Church. As the plot patiently unfolds, leading Kolya from bad to worse, the characters reveal their complexity and many facets – a loving but unrestrained son, a power-wielding Orthodox pope, a drunken local police chief, a thick but friendly industrial plant worker, flocks of brutalising ruffians.

The cinematography.

An opening on stills of broken, rotting, wooden vessels half submerged in water. Every shot is drawn out, patient, crystalline, the exact reverse of Bresson’s decisive moment. Every scene is a scene that was present a decade ago, and will still be present a decade from now – shots that can do nothing but evoke a static, unchanging image of Russia and its vast territory, a life scale model of the five year plans, the Soviet economy and its industrial wreckage. Despite the pain represented on screen, the mind can do nothing but appreciate such a slowness of tempo, being used to action-packed scenes unwrapping at the speed of light. Quand tout va trop vite, penser à ralentir! In Leviathan, the photography reveals a vast, cold, wind-stricken bay where whales occasionally venture, a rundown town where its inhabitants struggle to scrap a living off the derelict economy. Close on stills of the same broken, rotting, wooden vessels, and the immutable ebb and flow of the ocean pounding on rocks.

The effect.

In all its measured and deliberate rhythm, the plot packs a nail-biting suspense, as we are drawn into the fate of Kolya and find ourselves rooting for David in his fight against Goliath, so much so that the more dire the situation becomes, and the better we start to apprehend its inexorable end, the more anxious we are. This stunningly beautiful but dishearteningly sad narrative offers to its viewer a commentary on the unforgiving slaughterhouse that a society can become when power and scheme collide with booze and high stakes – it is not for nothing that the title itself evokes Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, a monumentally well-known and seminal text on the role, inter alia, of the State in modern societies. Finally, make what you will of the beached whale skeleton half submerged in sand, that appears at times, perhaps the symbol of a derelict and bereft world leading itself to its own demise?

The controversy.

As with many manifestations of the seventh art, Leviathan has elicited a huge reaction, and not an entirely positive one at that. The movie’s representation of Russians in their daily lives as brutal and agressive, men and women alike, permanently drunk on absurd quantities of vodka, corrupt on all levels and having as sources of enjoyment violent activities have caused some to take issue as to their characterisation in Zvyagintsev’s movie. This has in turn allegedly, and one must here appreciate the sense of irony, led the Russian Ministry of Culture to issue some guidelines as to movies produced on Russian culture and with governmental funds, as to the characterisation of Russians on-screen.

The critique.

Leviathan has reaped a significant number of awards across the board, including Best Screenplay at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Best Foreign Language Film at the 72nd Golden Globe Awards, and Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards. Yet, and as much as the critics hail it un obra maestra, Leviathan first and foremost packs a simple but powerful message – a fresco of the weak against the strong, of the frail against the powerful, of the downtrodden against the mighty.

À aller voir, Antoine Faure

Les couleurs dans la création artistique : Mémoire et synesthésies.

“Les arbres verts ou les Hêtres de Kerduel” Maurice Denis

Mnémosyne, mère des Muses

Les Grecs tenaient les neuf Muses, déesses tutélaires des Arts, pour les filles de Zeus et de Mnémosyne, une déité dont le nom allégorique désigne la mémoire. Cette étymologie indique clairement l’importance considérable que les Anciens, Grecs puis Latins, accordaient à la mémoire dans la maîtrise puis dans la pratique d’un art, fût-il musical, pictural ou littéraire. Cette conception classique a prévalu dans l’appréhension de la création artistique occidentale. Les Muses inspirent celui qui est leur nourrisson : l’aède grec, le vates romain (poète inspiré) réceptifs à leur voix, et à travers eux, en puisant dans leurs ressources mémorielles et leur créativité, elles engendrent la beauté. Dans cette tradition, la mémoire permet ainsi aux hommes de créer, car elle constitue un répertoire de formes, de sons, de couleurs, un inventaire mobilisable de gestes, de repères et de techniques dont les combinaisons infinies donnent naissance à l’art. Divin dans sa source, il devient le signe visible du Beau éternel dont l’artiste se remémore les critères et qu’il exprime avec son génie propre.

Arts et neurosciences

Certains écrivains, peintres ou compositeurs semblent en outre capables d’associer entre elles les sensations. Ainsi, Baudelaire, dans Correspondance, avance que « Les couleurs, les parfums et les sons se répondent. » L’étude de la symbolique des couleurs et des fonctions synesthésiques, celle de quelques liaisons entre poésie, musique et peinture invitent à penser que des connections sensorielles sont à l’origine de ce phénomène. Aux sonorités des vers de Baudelaire répond la mélodie d’un prélude de Debussy qui transcrit en notes le prisme évocateur du poète : « Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir… » Le mot synesthésie tire son étymologie du grec syn (avec, union), et d’aisthesis, (la sensation) : il s’agit d’un processus neurologique par lequel plusieurs sens se trouvent instantanément mis en relation. Elle comporte un caractère esthétique et un élément affectif profond, connecte la mémoire aux sens et permet aux créateurs de développer des correspondances artistiques pour atteindre la sensation pure, absolue, universelle… En ce sens, la synesthésie est, comme l’imagination, créatrice. La clarté chez Baudelaire devient ainsi vaste, le parfum léger se convertit en couleur verte, se mue en son de hautbois.

Stimulus et neuro-imagerie

Il s’agit en fait de la possibilité d’associer spontanément des modalités sensorielles : une stimulation perceptive, émotionnelle ou même purement imaginaire, déclenche une expérience sensorielle consciente d’un ordre différent de celle qui l’a engendré. Le stimulus peut être un souvenir réactivé, une sensation – visuelle, olfactive, gustative, auditive, tactile -, une association mémorielle et il provoque une réaction cognitive ou affective d’un degré variable. Plusieurs études montrent que les tempéraments artistiques sont souvent sensibles à ce phénomène. Les synesthètes perçoivent avec une acuité accrue les sollicitations extérieures et procèdent à des associations qui font se mélanger les perceptions corporelles. Une lettre de l’alphabet va de la sorte rappeler le rouge, le bleu ou le noir. Un chiffre va renvoyer à un rythme, une note à un sentiment, une couleur à un état d’âme. Le schéma mémoriel des personnes concernées est plus développé et plus fécond lorsqu’elles réagissent aux stimulations externes. Les neurologues utilisent l’imagerie numérique pour cerner les aires concernées par cette activité. Il semble que certaines connections existantes à la naissance entre des zones du cerveau se maintiennent et restent opérationnelles chez les individus enclins à cette prédisposition, tandis qu’elles régressent et disparaissent chez la majorité des adultes. C’est ainsi que l’image de l’encéphale d’un synesthète montrera une réactivité paradoxale d’une zone dédiée à l’ouïe ou encore au goût à l’occasion d’une stimulation visuelle. Cette relation est bien réelle et explicitement perçue par le sujet, elle n’a rien de pathologique ou de fantasmatique.

De la médecine à l’art

La première occurrence d’un relevé scientifique remonte à 1710. Le docteur Thomas Woolhouse, médecin du roi Jacques II d’Angleterre, avait observé qu’un jeune homme devenu aveugle percevait des couleurs lorsqu’il entendait certains sons et pouvait rendre clairement compte de cette expérience. Au début du XIX siècle, un autre praticien, allemand cette fois, Georg Sachs, popularisa et vulgarisa cette théorie appelée jusqu’alors chromesthésie (de chroma qui désigne en grec la couleur). Les Romantiques et les Symbolistes cultivèrent jusqu’à l’excès systématique cette « éternelle analogie » dont l’attrait déclina rapidement par la suite. La psychologie et la psychiatrie s’y intéressèrent au début du XX siècle, Carl Jung s’enthousiasmant pour une question que sa subjectivité et la difficulté à quantifier le phénomène rendaient ambiguë, énigmatique et complexe.

Aujourd’hui, la recherche se concentre sur les synesthésies-graphèmes et les synesthésies-musique. Dans le premiers cas, le sujet va relier un signe, lettre ou chiffre, à une teinte et le processus variera selon les individus, leur histoire personnelle – d’où l’importance de la mémoire dans l’analyse des résultats -, et leurs cultures. Dans le second cas, les sons ou les tons, les altérations telles que le dièse et le bémol vont renvoyer à une couleur. Dans les deux modèles, la nuance va être plus ou moins marquée et les personnes interrogées fourniront à l’expérimentateur une réponse constante et qui leur est propre. Le son peut également déclencher un souvenir gustatif, une appétence ou un dégoût, dont l’origine n’est pas pavlovienne mais à rechercher dans les souvenirs de l’enfance. On retrouve ici le rôle de la mémoire individuelle et collective si on pense à la manière dont la tradition chinoise relie les cinq saveurs (acide, amer, sucré, piquant et salé) à une saison, à un organe, à une humeur, à une couleur afin d’assurer un parfait équilibre dans le métabolisme humain.

« L’homme qui peignait ses musiques »

Le peintre russe Kandinsky reste un des meilleurs exemples de synesthète mais on peut également mentionner le britannique David Hockney, artiste emblématique du Pop Art. Parmi les compositeurs, on compte Ligeti, Lizst, Rimski-Korsakov, Sibelius ou Messiaen. En 1911, Kandinsky écrivait à Schoenberg : « Vous avez réalisé dans vos œuvres ce dont j’avais, dans une forme à vrai dire imprécise, un si grand désir en musique. Le destin spécifique, le cheminement autonome, la vie propre enfin des voix individuelles dans vos compositions sont justement ce que moi aussi je recherche sous une forme picturale. Actuellement, une des grandes tendances en peinture est de chercher la “nouvelle” harmonie, par des voies constructives, où le rythme est à bâtir à partir d’une forme presque géométrique. » Selon sa perception hypersensible, Wassily Kandinsky considérait que les trois formes géométriques élémentaires et les trois couleurs primaires s’alliaient: triangle jaune, carré rouge, cercle bleu. A chaque couleur, il s’associait une vibration. Son œuvre devint le confluent de sensations que sa mémoire, son éducation, sa formation, ses émotions emmagasinées lui avaient enseigné à apparier.

Dans un registre contemporain, l’oeuvre de Yannis Xenakis : Le polytope de Cluny (pièce pour bande magnétique sept pistes et lumière, composée en 1972) restitue une expérience absolue du musicien et sollicite tous les sens de l’auditoire. En revanche, il ne faut pas étendre la thèse de la synesthésie à l’octave colorée d’Octave Alexandre Scriabine qui est une élaboration intellectuelle volontaire par laquelle il associait une couleur à chaque note de la gamme. Il se servait du clavier de son piano pour composer des pièces colorées. De la même façon, Ziryab, musicien prodige du luth (‘Oud) à Cordoba, dans l’Andalousie arabo-musulmane du IXème siècle, ne cherchait pas à transcrire une perception synesthétique lorsqu’il associait les cinq cordes de son instrument à une couleur : jaune, blanc, noir et rouge nuancé. Il illustrait la théorie hippocratique des humeurs et celle des liens étroits entre microcosme et macrocosme. Par exemple, lorsqu’elle est frappée par le plectre, la corde de Ziryab (dont on lui attribue la paternité) représente la vie, l’âme et, dans la mélodie, elle est perçue comme possédant une teinte chaude, donc, une aura rouge sombre. La corde nommée Dhil est attribuée à la terre et à l’atrabile, à la mélancolie, elle est donc noire dans cette typologie savante. En revanche, le piano-cocktail inventé par Boris Vian dans son roman L’Ecume des jours, en 1947 joue sur le registre de la métaphore synesthétique. Il s’agit d’un authentique « piano-bar » qui dose les liqueurs et les jus de fruits en fonction de l’humeur de celui qui en joue, transposant les portées en breuvages inédits pour papilles averties. L’écrivain définissait ainsi ce mot-valise : « un objet onirique qui unit deux plaisirs sensuels, le gustatif et l’auditif, grâce à l’ivresse conjuguée de l’alcool et du jazz. »

Il faut se faire voyant

Il est alors tentant de chercher la clé de certaines œuvres dans cet espace d’associations libres. Selon Rimbaud : « Le Poète se fait voyant par un long, immense et raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens. Toutes les formes d’amour, de souffrance, de folie ; il cherche lui-même, il épuise en lui tous les poisons, pour n’en garder que les quintessences. » Cette métamorphose modifie les perceptions, ouvrant la voie aux collisions d’images et de sensations. Qui dira l’origine exacte du sonnet composé le 5 octobre 1883 par Rimbaud et qu’il intitula Voyelles ?

« A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu : voyelles.

Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes […]

– O l’Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux ! – »

Moins connu est le poème d’Ernest Cabaner, compositeur, poète et ami de Rimbaud auquel il dédia son alchimique Poème des sept nombres:

« Nombres des gammes, points rayonnants de l’anneau

Hiérarchique, – 1 2, 3 4 5, 6 7 –

Sons, voyelles, couleurs vous répondent car c’est

Vous qui les ordonnez pour les fêtes du Beau.

La OU cinabre, Si EU orangé, DO, O

Jaune, Ré A vert, Mi E bleu, Fa I violet,

Sol U carmin – Ainsi mystérieux effet

De la nature, vous répond un triple écho,

Nombres des gammes ! » […]

L’époque, rongée par l’ennui fin de siècle et hantée par le spectre de la décadence, était friande de sensations mêlées voire même frelatées. Dès 1877, Flaubert avait ouvert la voie avec l’épisode du dialogue entre le Sphinx et la Chimère, dans la Tentation de saint Antoine : « Je cherche des parfums nouveaux, des fleurs plus larges, des plaisirs inéprouvés… » Chez Huysmans, dans A rebours publié en 1884, Des Esseintes pousse le tædium viae jusqu’à la pathologie morbide. Il cultive le raffinement et la confusion des sens ou des genres, le dérèglement nerveux, le goût des paradis artificiels où l’intellect se libère de tous les carcans. Quinze ans après Huysmans, Lorrain, Rachilde, Mirbeau ajouteront des personnages délétères à la galerie étonnamment longue des éthéromanes spleenétiques. Dans Le masque de la mort rouge, Edgar Poe utilisait déjà l’association des tempéraments et des couleurs pour graduer le suspense du conte. Le spectre avançait de salle en salle, aux décors successivement bleu, pourpre, vert, orange, blanc, violet, gagnant la dernière tapissée de noir et éclairée par une lumière rouge sang. C’était le lieu de l’ultime révélation.

La madeleine et la sonate

Dans Guerre et Paix, Tolstoï a recours à une forme étrange de synesthésie qui met en contact un personnage et une couleur. Songeant à des amis, Natacha Rostov évoque ses souvenirs et décrit ainsi Boris : « Je le trouve un peu mince (…), gris, clair » ; quant à Pierre Bézoukhov, il est dépeint en ces termes : « C’est un bon garçon, bleu foncé mêlé de rouge… Comment expliquez-vous ça? » La synesthésie-réminiscence est par ailleurs une notion narrative centrale dans l’œuvre de Marcel Proust. Le passé ne re-vit que par la sensation qui le ressuscite sans crier gare et sans que l’expérience, au grand regret du narrateur de La Recherche du temps perdu, soit reconductible par le sujet. Le « dandy gris perle et noir » du tableau de Blanche, célébré par Morand, a montré que le travail de la mémoire demeure souterrain et ne peut rejaillir qu’au détour d’un événement qui le fait renaitre de manière fugace. Les pavés inégaux dans la cour de l’Hôtel de Guermantes raniment le souvenir de ceux de la place saint Marc à Venise, l’odeur des aubépines transporte le narrateur à Combray comme le chant de la grive ramenait Chateaubriand en pensée dans le parc du château de Combray. On pourrait, chimiquement parlant, comparer le phénomène à un précipité de mémoire, une expérience dans laquelle le réactif serait sensoriel et qui cristalliserait le souvenir diffus.

Ce sentiment du temps retrouvé s’accompagne de bonheur ou de douleur foudroyants. « [Ma mère] envoya chercher un de ces gâteaux courts et dodus appelés Petites Madeleines qui semblent avoir été moulés dans la valve rainurée d’une coquille de Saint-Jacques. Et bientôt, machinalement, accablé par la morne journée et la perspective d’un triste lendemain, je portai à mes lèvres une cuillerée du thé où j’avais laissé s’amollir un morceau de madeleine. Mais à l’instant même où la gorgée mêlée des miettes du gâteau toucha mon palais, je tressaillis, attentif à ce qui se passait d’extraordinaire en moi. Un plaisir délicieux m’avait envahi, isolé, sans la notion de sa cause. II m’avait aussitôt rendu les vicissitudes de la vie indifférentes, ses désastres inoffensifs, sa brièveté illusoire, de la même façon qu’opère l’amour, en me remplissant d’une essence précieuse : ou plutôt cette essence n’était pas en moi, elle était moi. » En revanche, Swan doit endiguer le flot de souvenirs que suscite en lui la sonate de Vinteuil, morceau qu’il l’écoutait aux temps heureux en compagnie d’Odette. « A voir le visage de Swann pendant qu’il écoutait la phrase, on aurait dit qu’il était en train d’absorber un anesthésique qui donnait plus d’amplitude à sa respiration. Et le plaisir que lui donnait la musique et qui allait bientôt créer chez lui un véritable besoin, ressemblait, en effet, à ce moment-là au plaisir qu’il aurait eu à expérimenter des parfums, à entrer en contact avec un monde pour lequel nous ne sommes pas fait ; qui nous semble sans forme parce que nos yeux ne le perçoivent pas, sans signification parce qu’il échappe à notre intelligence, que nous n’atteignons que par un seul sens. »

La petite phrase lui « a ouvert plus largement l’âme », Swan va revivre, à travers le déroulement de la partition qui le prend par surprise, les joies et les souffrances d’une passion morte à jamais. « Mais tout à coup ce fut comme si elle était entrée, et cette apparition lui fut une si déchirante souffrance qu’il dut porter la main à son cœur […] Et avant que Swann eût eu le temps de comprendre, et de se dire : « C’est la petite phrase de la sonate de Vinteuil, n’écoutons pas ! » tous ses souvenirs du temps où Odette était éprise de lui, et qu’il avait réussi jusqu’à ce jour à maintenir invisibles dans les profondeurs de son être, trompés par ce brusque rayon du temps d’amour qu’ils crurent revenu, s’étaient réveillés et, à tire d’aile, étaient remontés lui chanter éperdument, sans pitié pour son infortune présente, les refrains oubliés du bonheur. » Dans sa plénitude, le souvenir brise alors la surface de la conscience et libère la mémoire intacte, fulgurante. A en croire Lord Byron : « Le souvenir du bonheur n’est plus du bonheur, le souvenir de la douleur est douleur encore.»

PS: Il n’est pas interdit de se servir des synesthésies pour s’en moquer.

Voici pour conclure les titres de monochromes picturaux, imaginés par la verve d’Alphonse Allais :

• Récolte de la tomate par des cardinaux apoplectiques au bord de la mer Rouge (rouge)

• Stupeur de jeunes recrues de la Marine en apercevant pour la première fois la Méditerranée (bleu)

• Des souteneurs, encore dans la force de l’âge, le ventre dans l’herbe, buvant de l’absinthe (vert)

• Première communion de jeunes filles chlorotiques par un temps de neige (blanc)

• Combat de noirs dans un tunnel, la nuit (noir)

• Manipulation de l’ocre par des cocus ictériques (jaune)

• Bande de pochards poussiéreux dans le brouillard (gris)