Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Man Who Tasted Shapes

The Man Who Tasted Shapes is Richard Cytowic's investigation of the phenomenon of synaesthesia, a conflation of senses wherein one sees sounds or, in the case of his subject (& friend) Michael, feels a flavor.

But I want to talk about something other than the book's purported topic. In a review on of George Takei's autobiography the reviewer notes, "George never mentions getting married or wanting to get married. He never mentions going out on dates. ... He never says he was too busy for a love life. He mentions that other Star Trek actors and other relatives are married, but he never says anything about himself." The reviewer asks, "Is George Takei gay?" This was back in Sept 2003. Now we have it from Sulu himself.

Reading The Man Who Tasted Shapes I also noticed that Richard Cytowic never mentions a love interest. (Though the book is not a biography, exactly, Cytowic talks a lot about his personal history.) Surely if he were married with children that would at least be included in the five paragraph bio in the back of the book. We all know there are straight men (or asexual men) who never marry. But my gaydar pings when Richard describes hanging out in the new neighbor's kitchen. The neighbor, Michael, is preparing dinner. Says Richard, "I sat nearby while he whisked the sauce he had made for the roast chickens. 'Oh, dear,' he said, slurping a spoonful, 'there aren't enough points on the chicken.'

"'Aren't enough what?' I asked.

"He froze and turned red, betraying a realization that his first impression had been as awkward as that of a debutante falling down the stairs."

... excuse me? A debutante falling down the stairs? How gay!

Later, when the scientist is trying to talk his subject into submitting to an elaborate test procedure he says, "'This is your big chance for the fame you wanted,' I cajoled him. 'I can't bestow the Tony Award, but I can promise when you're all wired up that you'll look better than the Bride of Frankenstein.'"

... better than the Bride of Frankenstein? It'd be a rare straight boy who'd feel enticed by that kind of cajoling.

No, Richard never explicitly outs his subject or himself. But how many clues do you need?

Here's an interview with Cytowic. You gotta love how he describes meeting gay artist David Hockney, "Well, David, he is so sweet. He’s brilliant. He was big news because he was painting the opera sets at the Met. And everybody was saying how totally fabulous they were, and how totally different from his painting style that everybody had been familiar with. And in these interviews I’d read, he was talking about the fact that the music had a certain shape and color. So I wrote to him.

Five or six months went by, and I finally got back a hand-written letter on a yellow legal pad in red ink which said: 'I’ve been carrying your letter around with me for months wondering whether to answer or not. Would it tell me anything that I really want to know or would it be better not to know? I’ve never heard of synaesthesia. At first I thought you were just trying to scientifically analyze what I always thought of as artistic. But, anyway, curiosity has the better of me so let’s get together and talk about this.' So we did. I went to Los Angeles and spent two days with him, a highlight of which, for me, was swimming nude in his pool. His famous pool painted with those blue marks. So I thought 'Oh, boy! I’m in David Hockney’s wavey pool.'

So that’s how we met. We did some experiments there, and sure enough he was genuine. And for him it’s the melody, it is the sequence of things that gives him the impression of size, shape, color, and form as well."


David Lee Ingersoll said...

So Sarah and Derek and I were watching The Crimson Pirate last Sunday. Derek is going through a pirate phase. And what the hell, the Crimson Pirate, y'know?

We're about fifteen minutes into the movie when Derek says, "Wow, this is such a gay movie."

Sarah goes, "It is?"

Derek and I look at her. I say, "Good looking nearly naked men running around being really athletic and acrobatic? And the Captain and Ojo are always together? Half naked wearing bright colored silks?"

Sarah asks, "Was Burt Lancaster gay?"

I google - burt lancaster gay

I get nothing definite. Maybe bi. Certainly got himself hitched up and bred out a few kids. Not that that matters. And Crimson Pirate? Fun movie. Very silly.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Yeah, well, subtext (even the gaudy flaming sort) can give way to frankness and right-upfront celebration and soon.