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, 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.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Meditations on Life: Nostalgia vs. Long Term Memory; A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Meditations on Life: Nostalgia vs. Long Term Memory
By Payman Akhlaghi (Opinion; Draft 2)

یادداشت: نوستالژی و حافظۀ درازمدت (یک دیدگاه) ـ ـ نوشتاری کوتاه از پیمان اخلاقی ـ ـ

First published on December 12, 2013, at, under:
Meditations on Life: Nostalgia vs. Long Term Memory .

Nostalgia suggests two things among others. First, that the person has an active memory. Second, that in all likelihood, the person has a poorly selective and badly self-deceiving memory.

Acute Nostalgia glorifies the past while it trivializes the present with baseless exaggeration and decontextualized evaluation of some arbitrarily handpicked elements. It's as much an expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo as it is an easy way out of our never-ending responsibilities to live, to create, to improve personal and collective life, i.e. to "mend the world. " It's a perversion of the otherwise necessary process of retrospective evaluation within a productive mindset which would constitute an aspect of perception, the collection of knowledge, and the formation of experience. Whereas nostalgia dwells in the past, retrospection relies on non-biased long-term memory as an invaluable source of information and experience in the services of the present.[1,2]

Humorously, Chronic Nostalgia may turn into a kind of melancholic addiction, a form of private entertainment, through which we may leave the present for the pleasures of a moment in our mind's theater, or even share the experience with like-minded friends. Certain dramatic shifts affecting large communities, such as the pervasive loss of social status after a revolution, or the shocking change of the surroundings following a mass emigration, might provide some justifying grounds which could for long obscure the true nature of the syndrome. The late 18th century impoverished aristocrats who supported the likes of Beethoven; émigré communities such as the mid-19th century Polish aristocracy in Paris around the time of Chopin; the early 20th century Russians in exile including Rachmaninov; or decades later, a figure such as Tarkovsky who delivered in exile no less than "Nostalghia" the movie, have exhibited more or less evident nostalgic states of mind and spirit, at the least if we may read between the lines of scattered intimate reports.[3]

However, we may as well learn much from those members of such displaced social groups who managed to move on and rapidly adapt to their new environments. To draw again upon the musical community, consider performers such as Horowitz, Rostropovich, Victor Borge, or V Ashkenazy, or prominent directors such as Fritz Lang, Hitchcock, Bergman, or Milos Forman, who seem to have been adept at embracing the present tense without losing their well-founded sense of the past.[4]

We may further propose that the opportunities available to these men contributed to their success as much as their psychological propensity, receptive attitudes, and acquired skills allowed them to seize and grasp, and benefit from, those generous opportunities.


[1] An enlightened spirit and a literary client of mine, Mr. Norman Gabay is inclined to stress in his many writings addressed to the Iranian community the need for retrospection to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and to "remain up to date", a catchphrase of his, a basic reminder especially for the religiously oriented Iranian Jewish community.

[2] In "The Way of Transformation", K G Dürckheim offers a succinct Zen-based view of the recycling process of such experiences. Given his sad and troubling emphatic Nazi and anti-Semitic past, he's one author that offers us many questions beyond this essay, which I plan to address in separate entries.

[3] The reader may allow for my natural bias toward musical and cinematic examples, given my educational background.

[4] For a sense of the nostalgia among former aristocracy or émigré communities, you may consider pages or scenes from the following books and movies, which the author has visited partially or in full over the years:

- "Beethoven" by Maynard Solomon.
- "Chopin's Funeral" by Benita Eisler.
- "Great Pianists" by Harold C Schonberg.
- "Horowitz" by Harold C Schoenberg.
- "Nostalghia", the movie by Andrei Tarkovsky.
- "Voyage in Time", a documentary in preparation of Nostalghia, with Tarkovsky and Tonino Guerra.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Reflection: On the Notion of God; A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Reflection: On the Notion of God
(Draft 2)
By Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

First published, November 5th, 2013, at, under Reflection: On the Notion of God .

God is a product, a figment, of our imagination; but there's no need to discount our imagination. At its best, the notion of God, as varied as our interpretations and appreciations of it may be, it could mirror ourselves, reflecting our desires, fears, and ideals, even as it becomes -- by the necessity of its nature and function -- detached from us, as if it lives a life of its own, an independent life which we ourselves have afforded it, and yet attribute to itself. Remembering Martin Buber in his masterpiece, "I and Thou", this entity could be a partner in our silent, intimate, internal dialogue, a privy to our innermost secrets.

This de facto reflective dialogue with ourselves is not necessarily a solipsistic monologue in disguise; rather, it could develop and flourish quite genuinely, as we continue to nourish it, to contribute to it, via our creative imagination, with occasional input from the senses. Hence, also the possibility of confusing it with the reality, with the objective world. Authors often speak of their characters "having a life of their own", and even composers have a similar experience in the more abstract world of sounds. Indeed, even Buber discusses the relationship between the artist and the artwork as a case of the dialogue with the Thou. Quite often, admitted works of fiction may help us -- the creator and the audience -- approach the truth quite efficiently. Likewise, we may allow for the case of of God.

Ancient Jews expressed their insight into the evolving identity of such an entity in the way the God of Exodus introduces himself to Moses, "I will be who I will be." I've long found this essentially existential, enigmatic, and tautological response to be the pregnant seed that would eventually grow into the existential philosophy of the 20th century, in its sophistication, and in particular, in its understanding of the Projection of Self into the unknown. It's a liberating concept, that would find its ultimate fulfillment in liberating human from the notion of God.

Altogether, there could be still a place in our time to discuss the many senses of God, under which many names and labels that it might appear, and their possible applications, whether psychological or spiritual, for modern human beings; and that debate can continue its dialectics with the broader question that concerns a portion of humanity, i.e. the question of its existence.

But such sophisticated evolving discourse cannot be conducted honestly, intelligently, and progressively, if it's stifled by dictations from the top, by official if tacit blankets of superstitions spread over the intellectual society, by a widespread confusion of myths with the objective reality and rational collective consensus. For that matter, and more, this topic, and the people involved, would be better served as long as it remains in essence a private affair for interested but non-political individuals or groups.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

In the Company of Hamlets: Milton, Welles, O'Toole, BBC, 1963; Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

In the Company of Hamlets:
Ernest Milton, Orson Welles, Peter O'Toole
(1963, Monitor, BBC, ca. 24 mins)

Short Introduction by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)
First Published on December 22, 2013, LA, at,
under In the Company of Hamlets.

Here's a 1963 conversation between stage and film actors, Orson Welles (48), Peter O'Toole (31), and Ernest Milton (73), moderated by Huw Wheldon, (1963, Monitor, BBC, ca. 24 mins), on Shakespeare's Hamlet.

I find it curious that, as far as I know, Welles directed cinematic adaptations of both Macbeth and Othello, but only appeared in the stage productions of Hamlet. In this interview, he provides many insights into the character, that to him, Hamlet was the first genius among dramatic characters, and not just a prince in anguish. Not unexpectedly, he seems to have a preference toward a less affected, more natural, "modern", although he appreciates as well a fittingly "rhetorical" and well-articulated style of delivery. Welles' own genius is all too apparent.

O'toole emphasizes the Elizabethean context of the character, offers an analysis of his psycho-philosophical dimensions in terms of "passion" in the author's body of work; and remembers the humorous side of its production history, including a 19th century musical adaptation under "Hamlet Revamped", and for long a staple of 19th century productions, "Hamlet's dog", a trained company for the Danish prince to talk to on the stage. Note the fine distinction he makes toward the end between verse and prose, that the point of the pentameter is to think of it afterwards. He seems by nature the bad boy of the company, and arguably, the other thespian genius.

Milton, the most mature of the three, personally, and patient, conceptually, speaks of his more imaginative than intellectual approach to the character, that to him, "not everything happens for a reason". He also offers firsthand memories of performance styles from a past generation, and suggests that the most difficult character of the tragedy to play is the Ghost. Unlike Welles, he sees Hamlet as indeed becoming deranged and demented, as the story progresses, and as he finds himself in an unbearably complex and undesirable moral dilemma.

Enjoy this short conversation, even as you may miss to understand some words or references, as this humble did. Incidentally, it would be fun to imagine a 3-year old Kenneth Branagh, sleeping somewhere away from that table, about 50 years ago.

© 2013, Introduction by Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Sources for Dates and Titles:
-, general
- Google search.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Reflections: Artists, Connection, Longevity; A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Reflections: Artists, Connection, Longevity
Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 2)

First Published: December 16th, 2013, LA,,
under Reflections: Artists, Connection, Longevity .

Actors Joan Fontaine (Rebecca, Suspicion, Jane Eyre) and Peter O'Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, What's New Pussycat, Man of La Mancha, Venus) passed away recently. Few of us ever met them, yet to a degree, it seems as if we've lost someone whom we knew.

It's not just about cinema and the publicity mechanism that surrounds it. The loss of an artist, whatever the medium, and these two were wonderful artists, seems to be felt more or less like a personal loss by those who appreciated their art. It comes down to the meaning of the work of art, and to the connection.

I am thinking of how we relate to a Bach-Busoni-Horowitz , as they converged in a single performance; a Sinatra appearance even in a recording; or a Michelangelo sculpture, even via a faithful replica. There's something of a human contact established across time and space through the art work, which allows an impression of the core humanity of the artist to reach us in familiar terms. There is a sense of presence, and that entails a continuing presence, whether it be in the re-sounding of a sonata by Beethoven, reading a novel by Hesse, standing before an original by Picasso, or pondering the Stonehenge by some unknown artists or artisans of the past millennia. There lies a hint at the lures of the art as an answer to humanity's general quest for longevity, if not eternity, through an attempt to leave a lasting mark behind.

But then you think of our rapture in the ephemeral art of musical improvisation, or dance and theater for that matter, and you feel compelled to question it all over again. The answer maybe in our attempt to perceive, embody, experience an understanding of the timeless, of the eternal, in the space between the artist and the audience, captured and manifest in the work of art, even when the artist and the audience, and even the work of art, are one and the same; even though the eternal might be none but a projection of us, a transcendental aspect of our creative and perceptive imagination.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Payman Akhlaghi: The Politics of Language, Part II: Native Languages; Short Original Essay (2013)

The Politics of Language, Part II: Native Languages

A Short Essay By Payman Akhlaghi 

Draft 1, First published on December 20, 2014, at , under The Politics of Language... .

A language without sophisticated content is a fertile if empty language. Whether it grows henceforth, or it becomes extinct soon afterwards, the vacuum of content is bound to be filled by material whose nature would as much reflect as determine the culture in which it's spoken. Left to itself, a language may grow by expanding and proving its utility, or it may fade out for decreasing relevance and application. What it absorbs as long as it exists would influence the future of its speaking community and their interactions with the larger world.

Languages normally co-develop advanced content in parallel to the cultural progresses made in the speaking community. At this stage, small and neglected social groups may be helped to close the conceptual gap between them and the larger society by enriching their native languages with demonstrably sophisticated, tolerant, and non-biased content, in thought, arts, sciences, etc. This approach validates their unique cultural identity; it prevents the vacuum of data to be filled by detrimental content via an osmosis of information; and it facilitates their integration within the larger human society with an immediacy of perception which may never be fully achieved by merely adopting any dominant language. Of course, this is meant to continue in parallel to the necessary attempts of the community itself to join the larger pool of knowledge by mastering at least one dominant language. They may further appeal for a better global understanding of their local concerns by providing an array of their intellectual heritage in a dominant language, most likely, in English. Sustained efforts as such would help tear down the walls of ignorance, hubris, and cultural solipsism at their roots, on both sides.

Stating the obvious, the above highlights the crucial role of competent translators, and the need to date for increasing investment by the larger society in such localized publications and media. Both points have long been recognized, and successful examples abound, indeed going back for millennia, as it's readily suggested by, say, the Greek "Septuagint" version of the Jewish Bible. In our times, thanks to its dedicated and independent translators,  the Iranian intelligentsia has maintained a smooth and strong bond with world thought, which has shunned their short or long political upsets. On the other side, such bridges as VOA, BBC and VOI, have continued to provide much valuable content in Persian, through decades of radio broadcasts, and recently, via the Internet, alongside the incomparable multi-lingual UNESCO's Courier, whose lasting imprint on cross-cultural understanding on a global scale should be appreciated.

The above may explain in part the overall sympathetic attitude of large sectors of the Iranian people toward Western thought and modernity, despite decades of propaganda to the contrary. It should also reinforce our urgent attention, at the policy level, toward evermore effective means of bringing modernity in its best sense to smaller nations through an increasing awareness of the central role of language. This requires an attitude of natural curiosity and mutual esteem, without negating our core belief in our civilization, continuous progress, life-enhancing achievements, and life-affirming values.

Arguably, the historically prolonged "colonialist" mentality has resulted in lingering partitions between the "dominant vs. conquered" languages, as vehicles of their associated cultures and norms. These invisible walls symbolize and contribute to ongoing tensions, leading to some absurd dichotomies of values and identities that evidently may coexist, for long unresolved, within the same community, even the same mind. In contrast, a linguistically and anthropologically informed synergistic approach, open yet not absolutely relativistic, could reduce tensions between and within such conflicting social groups, even as it would acknowledge the unique contribution of each party to the global human discourse.

If so, we may as well search in language for a most effective and elemental key to eliminate hostilities and ideological violence among many distinct groups, and ease their assimilation into the larger society, whether it is a small rebellious sect in Europe, or the larger tribal Afghanistan, provincial Pakistan, many Arab societies, but especially vast numbers of small and large African nations and ethnic communities. Lasting calm depends on mutual esteem and understanding, and on absorbed values of tolerance and harmonious coexistence on all sides. To that end, we may bet safely on radical solutions that arise in essence from an improved understanding of language in its broadest sense, and the subtle yet crucial nuances thereof.

(*) Update (April.25.2014): Months later, as I read through Prof. Noam Chomsky's Language and Responsibility (1979), I found the following paragraph relevant, if obliquely, to this short essay, notwithstanding the broader and more sophisticated scope of what he has in mind: "[...] In the speech of real speakers idealized systems interact; each of us speaks a variety of these systems, intermingling them in a complex fashion. Because the experience of individuals is different, the mixture of systems is different. But I do not believe that outside these systems there exists a reality of dialect or language. [p] Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there are constraints on the ways in which linguistic systems can or cannot enter into interaction in a single community, or a wider group, or the mind of a single person. Perhaps we shall find that certain combinations are possible and others impossible. If principles emerge which govern the interaction of these systems, then these will belong to a field called sociolinguistics."[1]

[1] See Noam Chomsky, Language and Responsibility (1979), in On Language. The volume also includes his Reflections on Language.

(*) Afterwords: My short paragraph, Politics of Language, Part I, was first published on August 21st, 2013, at Here's the text:

On the Politics of Language, Part I, By Payman Akhalghi (Draft 1)

To insult, regardless of intent or validity, is to label by the use of a perceived objectionable concept -- delivered explicitly via words, or implicitly through gestures -- with a presumably reductive effect on the image of the target. I distinguish between an insult offered To some entity in the position of power versus one coming From a position of power. In the former case, it might be an understandable, forgivable if not preferable or permissible, way to get a hold on a perceived threatening enormity: to make it more manageable emotionally; and to free up the cognitive resources to better handle its reality. In the latter case, it seems to be pure malice meant to harm. © 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

© 2013, 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.