Thursday, 18 April 2013

Mala and Blossomest Blossom

 “Below my window in Ross, when I'm working in Ross, for example, there at this season, the blossom is out in full now, there in the west early. It's a plum tree, it looks like apple blossom but it's white, and looking at it, instead of saying "Oh that's nice blossom" ... last week looking at it through the window when I'm writing, I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn't seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know. There's no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance ... not that I'm interested in reassuring people - bugger that. The fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it.” (Dennis Potter, CH4, 1994)

When Dennis Potter gave this interview to Melvin Bragg he casually sipped morphine directly from a bottle to mitigate the pain of the cancer that was killing him. The closeness to death had gifted Potter a great privilege; that of being able to attend to the aesthetic richness of living with the relish of a glutton and the meticulousness of an obessesive. The fullness of everything in the world, he seemed to be saying, was too much to be contained by words alone.  The experience of living life in the present tense causes language to become stuffed to bursting point. It begins to split at the seams and irruptions like “blossomest”  - a word that shouldn’t exist - spill out.

A few years ago I found myself in Beijing enjoying the hospitality of philosophy students at the university there. They invited us to a lavish lunch on campus and, inspired by a mixture of generosity and institutionally sanctioned greed, ordered plates and plates of food until there was no room left on the table. Some of the foods were familiar; other less so such as a fungus broth served in a log (as I remember it.) Our hosts took great delight in explaining what was in each dish and how we should eat it. But amidst the flavours and textures both familiar and strange there was a taste I couldn’t place. “What’s the ingredient in this?” I asked. I struggled to be more specific. In the end the best I could come up with was a face in which I pulled my lips back over my teeth: “the one that makes my mouth go sccchhh and tchkk” I said. Our hosts thought this hilarious, “How can you not have words for these tastes?” someone asked, puzzled that something so ordinary could fail to be named. I’ve since worked out that the flavour comes from Sichuan Pepper a common and popular ingredient in China. It provokes a particular and peculiar sensation in the mouth. It’s called málà in Chinese which roughly translate as numbing and spicy.

Quite obviously the world that I savour with my whole body is not one that can be limited to linguistic approximations of if. Wittgenstein was wrong: the limits of my language are not the limits of my world. The world is richer than the words I find in it. And I can taste as much. The numbing spiciness of blossoms will always exceed their descriptions.

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