In London there is a building with a rooftop parapet and stationed behind this parapet is a slanting grid made up of glass and silicon panels. These are solar panels which means that they comprise solar cells, which I am told are also called photovoltaic cells. They are not to be confused with the cells that are found in living organisms though the fact they are also referred to as ‘cells’ is not merely coincidental and very suggestive indeed. Solar panels are a technology that converts sunlight into electricity by way of loosened electrons, but for all its facticity and realism I would be forgiven for finding this abstract.

What I do know, by deduction, is that if there are solar panels on the roof, something somewhere inside the building is being powered by the sun. However contrary to having a reserve or battery, I am told this something is powered directly, a chain of transfer in real time. In other words, if there is no sun it will switch off or struggle to turn on – with glitching, clicking and breath-like whirring – such that it can be deemed weather-dependent. But weather-dependency is also a geo-temporal complex, so that a visitor might only see it fully operational if they happen to be ‘in the right place at the right time’. Variables such as these are typically expressed on axes even though they better resemble an oversized vestibular system in my view. For the reasons aforementioned people sometimes regard solar power as an unreliable source; this phrase is also used to describe those that do not give accurate information, although accuracy is supposedly relative.

This something is, by the standards of most, a very strange contraption to want to power. It, too, involves a grid of panels even if it should be noted that these panels were once computer screens and now take a form their maker did not intend. In this new incarnation their behaviour is determined by micro-processors which, from their respective aluminium boxes, direct a programmatic function allowing solar electrical current to flow so that the liquid crystals within the once-screens move into predetermined formations. These formations are recognisable as alphabetical letters, specific groupings of which combine to make what are known to be words. But occasionally a nuanced understanding of all this comes along; letters scripting code, or words are taken as signs and signals, a connective tissue between thought and the world.

There are many situations that involve words in the strict sense, by the way, one being medical diagnosis, or a process whereby illness is identified and named based on a reading of symptoms typically determined by a professional. And yet, it is not uncommon to get a ‘second opinion’, which tends to result in contradicting theories about which no one is ever really surprised, surprisingly. The word expression is used to speak about the appearance of a symptom in the body or mind, like this: ‘the expression of a symptom’. And much like facial or linguistic expressions, it is alleged that symptoms are easy to misread.

People want to know what is wrong with them, as what is wrong must always be fixed and when it is fixed you are healthy. Still, there are occasions where a good solution wants for a brand-new problem, such that it can be hard to know which came to bear first. Either way, there is only so much a professional can know without actually knowing, and what is considered knowledge can still affect a condition by way of a feedback loop, where what began as seeking out a second opinion quickly becomes very real. The way a question travels is perhaps the hardest part to describe though, where one suspects genetics and intergenerational haunting, another has found phantom currents.

Elaine ML Tam