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Creative Synaesthesia in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Ritter Gluck


  • Scullion, Val
  • Treby, Marion


Strong evidence in the field of neuroscience now makes it possible to claim, with minimal reservation, that E. T. A. Hoffmann’s literary imagination was enriched by synaesthesia. E. T. A. Hoffmann is recognised as a remarkable polymath. A writer of fiction, bibliophile, composer and music critic, he not only understood Romantic sensibility but also involved himself in contemporary scientific debates on the nature of sound and perception, and was familiar with the acoustic theories of Ritter and Schubert’s work on magnetism and electrical energy. Hoffmann’s distinctive creativity was formed and informed by his diverse abilities and interests, and by his auditory sensibility and kinaesthetic appreciation of music. We postulate that the multi-sensory nature of Hoffmann’s work is evidence of creative synaesthesia, a phenomenon that occurs when a neurophysiological sensation perceived in the brain stimulates a different sense or senses and, as a result, produces a creative outcome. Taking as our example his intensely musical story Ritter Gluck , published in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung of February 1809, we examine Hoffmann’s complex and idiosyncratic use of metaphor and structure in the scientific context of his own time and continent, and in the context of 21st century scientific understandings of brain science.

Suggested Citation

  • Scullion, Val & Treby, Marion, 2010. "Creative Synaesthesia in E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Ritter Gluck," European Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 18(02), pages 239-262, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:eurrev:v:18:y:2010:i:02:p:239-262_99

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