Language, Light, and Intention

Shaharah Bridge, YemenThis is a fictional discussion on the nature of language that I wrote a few years ago. It’s part of a novel in progress that has been having rather a long holiday!

“Let’s look at language as an example.” Dan stood up, swivelled his chair around and sat astride with his elbow resting on the chair back. His excitement was obvious and Bridget could not resist a smile despite her hesitation about the risks they were about to embark on.

“Taking what we know about light, we can look at language in time and ask a few questions about the nature of knowledge acquisition. For example, who knows what is going to happen even within the next second?” He rose again and walked purposefully to the coffee machine talking as he went. “Do we really understand how we traverse this moment into the next? The spoken, or written word, for example, is it made of particles, an accumulation of moments added together that result in meaning, or is it like a wave, a continuous flow that contains an inherent teleology?”

Dan poured himself a coffee and added three spoonfuls of sugar. Gavin refilled the machine, switched it on, turned around and leant against the sink without once breaking his concentration on Dan’s words. Bridget noticed that Philip was fidgeting and frowning hard. Then Philip spoke up, “I think you mean the thought, dear boy. It’s the thought that makes the spoken, or written, sentence.”

“Ah, now that’s another matter. We are not talking origins at the moment. I want to keep this simple, Philip. Quantum physicists will tell you that what you find when you look at light depends on the observer. If you look for particles you find them, a world made of bits. If you look for a wave you find it, a world of continuity and unity. I prefer the latter. But what is happening if I speak or write, without pause, word-by-word? In one respect that seems like little more than particles randomly following one after the other. But there is teleology here, even though unthought. I can think it now as I speak without pause and it is called intention. That teleology is the desire to tap my creativity, to make room for that which otherwise might not emerge, a moment of inspiration that is uncensored and unformatted, simply allowed to transpire. What a great word, transpire, to breathe across. It reminds me of Blake, ‘He who kisses the joy as it flies…’”

“You do realise that you are coming very close to metaphysics, don’t you Dan?” Nanon had been so quiet during the past half hour, standing by the window, a little apart from the rest of the gathering, that her voice startled them all, coming calm and authoritative after the tense excitement of Dan’s narrative. While everyone participated in the breathless sense of wonder of Dan’s account, Nanon’s remarks moved them all to a level of grave attention that subtly altered the mood of the room to one that appeared to align itself with the changing weather. The room had darkened as storm clouds stretched above the peninsula. Through the window they could see the slate grey light that anticipated a storm. A little rain began to splatter against the pane and thunder could be heard in the distance. Nanon moved away from the window and came closer to the table. Gavin offered her a coffee, which she gratefully took.

“In the medieval universities of Baghdad and Cordoba there was no separation between physics and metaphysics. Philosophy was all about understanding the world in relation to humanity. The big questions, then, as now, were about our origins, our destiny, and the meaning of our lives, the ‘why’, ‘where’, and ‘how’. The difference between science then and science today is that up until the enlightenment that which is invisible, unknowable, and supratemporal, was not considered to be non-existent. The other significant difference is that some enlightened souls had some pretty stunning ideas on the matter of knowledge acquisition.”

“How do you mean?” queried Ben, looking as if he well knew the answer but that some of the others might be grateful for an explanation. Nanon remained silent for a moment, staring attentively at Ben.

“I’m hungry Ben. I’m sure we all are. I could also do with a change of scenery. Shall we go down to the Mermaid Inn and get a bite to eat?”

“Good idea.” Bridget slid off the table, “they’ve got a private room there. We can continue the conversation over supper, although to me it sounds more like a briefing. Am I right? Nanon? Daniel?”


The Threshing Circle (excerpt from a novel in progress)

Threshing Circle

Photo by Y K Randall

Photo by Y K Randall

A threshing circle is about sixty feet in diameter. It is built of cobbled stones spiralling from the centre outwards. There are many of them in the Alpujarra mountain range. There is no longer any need to separate the grain from the chafe as wheat is not grown in this part of Spain any more. Threshing circles are now protected sites. Wild flowers and grasses push up between the cracks. The wind remains. A threshing circle is always placed in a position most open to the wind with valleys or ravines all round. They afford the best views and Yolanda had discovered one just outside her chosen village within a week of her arrival. Every morning at dawn she would leave her rented house and walk to the threshing circle. As she left the village she smiled in anticipation. The noises of an awakening community, endearing as they were, now receded behind her. She heard only the song of birds. Upon stepping on to her circular sanctuary she inhaled deeply and once again, as every morning, she expressed thanks for the wide open space, for the strong breeze, for the paradoxical sense of tranquillity and shelter in such an exposed spot.

A small grove of cypresses stood close to the circle, and a stone wall that was the only remains of an ancient dwelling. A dog rose grew across what would once have been a corner of the house but which now spilt its old stones down the steep incline of the mountain side. An old shoe and a broken water flask lay abandoned amongst the rubble and fallen foliage.

Copyright Y K Randall, Granada, 2007


River Darro
Image via Wikipedia

Photo by I. Chatterjee

On the left is a view of Granada from the Alhambra. The other image is of the River Darro which is mentioned in the excerpt from my story that I am sharing here. It is a novel-in-progress which is situated largely in Granada and the rural areas of Andalucia.

Miguel stared into his beer and decided he had had enough. He paid and left. Glad to be outside again, he began walking. It felt a lot cooler than earlier and as he looked up at the sky it was obvious that its wide open expanse, filled with numerous stars, was responsible for the sink in temperature. Miguel sought no particular direction, just a rather aimless, walking meditation. He followed his feet in the same fashion as he followed his meandering reflections. In this manner Miguel walked for over an hour. He came to the Albaicin, close to the Alhambra, and experienced a renewed sense of familiarity with this ancient quarter. How well he knew its history, its heyday, its upheavals, its persecution, but it was not Miguel the academic walking through these medieval streets right now; it was Miguel the lovelorn, caught up in a dilemma that defied analysis, which demanded courage and perspicacity. He felt at home in this place even though he knew it was considered unsafe at night. Its alleys and bazaars, the hamam and the residence of the local qadi, the small house where Morayma, wife of the last Ruler of the Kingdom of Granada spent her lonely exile from the Alhambra, all intermingled in his imagination with the aromas of exquisitely strong mint tea, simmering lamb and apricot tagines. He heard the sounds of women laughing and weeping; the recitation of the Qur’an from the madrassas; the call to prayer that for a short interval silenced the noises of the market and the business deals in the silk bazaar. Miguel looked across the river Darro to the Alhambra, just beyond its banks, and added the fierce arguments of politics to his imaginary collage of times past and times present. The sultan in counsel with his ministers, and again, listening to the petitions of his people; yet further, in the Serallo, the whisperings of diplomacy and the grief of betrayal and intrigue. Enemies at the gate ready to sack Granada.

Miguel decided to walk along the Corredera del Darro toward the Alhambra. He could not resist his present mood. This was not an historical stroll but an entirely ambient experience. He planned to walk past the terraced fountain and on to the path through the woods. He could then return to the Plaza Nueva, near the cathedral, via the road used by the Alhambra buses. Miguel had attended nighttime concerts in the court gardens before now. He and Paquita and two of her friends had seen an impressive flamenco display on her fourteenth birthday, but to be here on his own, the palace-fortress closed, precipitated his immersion in its intrinsic sadness. Like a secret it held for the night alone when there were few people around. A secret the Alhambra had held for five hundred and fourteen years. A secret that desired to be whispered in Miguel’s ear as much as it rustled through the leaves of its gardens, across its marble floors, and through its wooden lattice windows. Something beckoned Miguel and he could not quite discern its provenance.

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