Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Beauty Is Holy & Holy Is Beauty: A Meditation on Language by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Beauty Is Holy & Holy Is Beauty:
A Meditation on Language

By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

First published on January 31, 2013, at www.Facebook.com/PACompsoer, under:
Beauty Is Holy & Holy Is Beauty... .


"Beauty is holy, and holy is beauty."  I ponder, why I did not say "sacred", but "holy"?

I could explain my choice in terms of the explicit conventions of language, that while both terms are very close, if not identical, in their defined meanings, "sacred" has a nuance of detachment, as it implies a social consensus, an objective convention; while "holy" has a more immediate connotation, and it implies a preferably subjective experience.

Still, I could better explain this on grounds of the "feel" of the two words, or their "aura", an aggregate of not only their agreed senses, but their musical and associative evocations. Whereas "sacred" contains the "hot" letter S, the relatively strident K, and the finite closing on D, "holy" starts with an exhaling HO, a soft L, and an open vowel Y. "Sacred" feels "heavy", hot, active, determinate, demanding, despotic; "holy" feels "light", cool, relaxed, kind, compassionate, free. "Sacred" feels confined, caged, closed; "holy" feels airy, generative, expansive, filling an infinite space. "Sacred" feels complicated; "holy" feels simple, pure. "Sacred" feels suffocated; "holy" keeps breathing.

I noticed and tried to explain the contrasting "feel" of alphabetic letters first in Hebrew, as early as 30 years ago, in my teens. To me such sounds as S or SH were "hot", while the likes of H, M, N, felt "calm (cool)", each to a different degree. I might have as well gone further to organize the letters on a spectrum according to their temperatures. I imagined objective studies using oscilloscopes to observe their frequencies, or rather in my today's terms, their timbre, their wave forms, frequencies, amplitudes, and other quantifiable properties. At the end, however, I ended up sticking to the subjective side of the story, the poesia, the art of it.

On average, classic Hebrew words showed observable onomatopoeic associations in complex words, i.e. a perceptibly direct relation between the sound of the words and their ostensible senses: "esh" was "fire", but "mayim" was reserved for "water"; "sA-me-ah" was happy; "sa-ha-q" was "laughter"; but "rahum" was "compassionate". (Note that I am using the classic Hebrew pronunciations.) The same could be said of the Persian "Atash" for "fire"; or the Persian "ordak" and English "duck", referring to the same bird known for its "quacks".

Naturally, I was delighted to read and translate a beautiful article ca. 1994 by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, in which he had gone as far as explaining the very name of the Jewish God, "Y-H-W-H", as the sound of exhalation, a breath, and observation and experience that I suspect he shared with (other) Jewish mystics. To me, the English "holy" closely reflects the same understanding.

Exhale, breathe, pure and simple. It's holy. It's love. It's beautiful.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

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