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sweet transgression
March 19, 2011


“I count 37 hills,” I said. “Just 37 hikes.”

“But not all hills are equal. Some will be like hiking 3 others.”

“So, we get off easy some days.”

“No, doing big ones will take longer than a day. They count for doing several little ones. We have more than 37 days of hikes there.”

“Or less, if we define a ‘hill’ such that mounds don’t count: Some hills, 2 days; some days, 3 mounds. It depends on our stamina—which increases with the days. So, maybe it all balances out. Let’s see: Gauge the relative differences.”

“Let’s not.”

Anyway, the twilight was nearly gone. Who can evaluate mounds vs. hills in the dark? Besides, I know, as I carry on, mounds will merge, maybe growing into hills, and given hills will hybridize into mounds or be married with other hills.

I went to bed with a comfortable sense of the landscape and intended to get up this morning to hike, not read news (still in a pure passage beyond the liminality of sleep). But I’ve been accumulating books in my priority Amazon.com Wish List, such that time to do an order might be at hand; so I made a mistake of looking at today’s New York Times Book Review online (then, last week’s, still in my InBox). That, then, led to a mistake of looking at the most-recent New York Review of Books. I could make a long story of that, but I won’t indulge further today my distractibility—except to say that I didn’t do an order. (No need today to call my sponsor at Bibliophilics Anonymous.)


(Short story: These section numbers aren’t the mounds.)

Short story: You may be edified to know that Montaigne was wrong to accredit to Aristotle the caveat “A man . . . should touch his wife prudently and soberly, lest if he caresses her too lasciviously the pleasure should transport her outside the bounds of reason.” I vote for inebriation—as did Montaigne, presumably, who wrote “I am loath even to have thoughts which I cannot publish,” apparently (according to the reviewer) meaning “to leave nothing out,” rather than to restrain his thoughts (all of which were to be published, as suits a man of means). I expect he would be proud to know his Essais were placed on the Vatican’s index of prohibited books for 178 years.

But knowing that as author requires living hundreds of years, which is better than pissing off the Pope. However, biomedical prospects of authors living so long are apparently tangible enough that the topic is already common for academic bioethics (some arguing that human enhancement is morally OK, as well as enchanting).

So, being transported outside the bounds of reason is a manifold prospect. One person’s transcendence may be another’s transgression. “Do Not Explore” is an ugly sentiment, belonging to minds that want as much homogeneity in life as possible (i.e., as few modes of being as possible—minimize the complexity, have a simple garden, etc). And keep it all tangible—better for dinner parties. To the common sense mind, one’s mind is a frightful “thing” to explore, let alone making a mountain of the appeal, like those psychologists do. (Don’t invite them to one’s table.)


Which reminds me: The philosopher Colin McGinn (not familiar to me, though I’m aware of his specialty: philosopher of mind) reviews at length in the current NYRB the new book by neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran (UC-San Diego), The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human, a review that ends unfavorably. But V.S.R.’s explorations are common fare these days, given such strides of late in neuroscience. (Now here is where I lose you on the trail? Fear not...) I’m not going to dwell there (another distraction, at this point—though deeply apposite far up the road. “I write, therefore I’m alive,” I told her). But we’ve been at such a point—on such a road so long, longing to control our nature, first by a secure holding (results of inquiry into what we’ve become over the eons), then self enhancing plays beyond the bounds of reason, possibly well-ordered by relativity to ongoing inquiry, possibly loath to exclude any of our sensibility as the intangible outland of our sphere may be emplaced by some inland of fascination because we’re at heart explorers, which may make any mind eventually, in principle, a lone traveler reporting home (at least to those who’ll receive the letters).

No sadness in that.

The brush is thick to go through, but it can be beautiful.


I suppose the poet John Ashbery wants no bounds to sensibility when he thinks of his recent poems as “notes from the air,” the title of his selected later poems. A fullness of time is the land of poetic mind. I open to a page randomly (for real; let’s see...)

Besides, I’ve raised one major issue—
as least credit me with that. It will be a long time
before this turns to nothing, and in the meantime
we can sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories
of the lives of pets, as the ground freezes and thaws
many times—it is past caring. And what goes on within us
will be inscribed by the dancing needle on our chart,
for others to consult and be derived from.
I thought it would all end casually on a bank
of flowers, but alas, a real bank was growing out of it,
with tellers and guards. Who liked the flowers.

Now, the play on ‘bank’ may seem frivolous, a cheap pun. Anyway, that’s the end of some poem, I don’t know which: I truly opened the book randomly, biased only be seeing a stanza ending something, not even noticing if it was a long poem—which, I see, it is. It’s got the delightful title “Yes, Dr. Grenzmer, how may I be of assistance to you? What! You say the patient has escaped?”

This is the behavior of one of America’s great contemporary poets (according to Literary estimators)?

It’s like Maude sitting with Harold at the sunset, when we see a tattooed number on her arm.

I was so moved by some of his lines, I bought a second copy of the collection and brought it to work to give her. But it remains in my desk drawer, because she “admires” my “restraint.”

Life is landscapes and textures, isn’t it, dear—no matter that I saw profound good sense in her play, her luscious homemaking and gardening, for what’s better to say to death and dusty canons but life in all its modes, outlandish, inlandish, her happy outerworldness, my resigned inworldness too (?) drawn to distraction by the scale of it all, as if I might capture it—as if some book on the shelf of “Used Mysteries” tells.


O, tell-tale brain, eonically re-instanced in another life, and all that one may do seems so little. I’ll do that.

2: But, again, not by dwelling with McGinn’s review. The upshot, the bottom line, the alpha and omega, is that the brain’s production of the mind is like a star’s production of life: explainable at its outset (so much physics), but as an Event that couldn’t track what had happened (i.e., physics can’t account for biology), which is not to say that some ethereal Vitalism (or élan vital) emerges from physics, because it never was about what the outcome could say, as the brain never said anything at all, in all those genomic expressions whose weave into nets of mentability weaved themselves into higher nets of sense, then time representing itself in weaves that are remembered as some touch or playground, etc., marked by so many appeals, then names weaving into tell-tale lives that are just traces of all those weaves that stand and say—whatever, free association, well-formed validity, catalogs of so much happening, including all those realizations including all those experiences including a sense belonging to all we mind to hold near to heart, incalculably lost to narratives which only minds can make about what others’ brains do—which is not to say that explanatory endeavors must come to naught.

3: “It is..., in my opinion,” writes McGinn, “perfectly acceptable to propose bold speculations about what might be going on.” But no tale (which any explanatory structure kinda is) can reach the innerworldliness of our capability for bold speculations, as a god of physics cannot reach into the weave of our so-called tree of life (inverted bush, like any genealogy) that results in a given mind. Minds are the province of minds, no matter the degree of intricate neuroscientific architecture meshed into phenotypically-genealogical integrations of ontogenically-born ventures of explanatory efficacy.

4: McGinn’s point might be that neuroscience barely manages to explain primal experience, let alone intelligent life, just as physics barely manages to explain biology (biochemistry), let alone a phenotype, as biocultural individualities inherit all sense of the issue, as well as strictly biological paradigms of explanation, notwithstanding that psychology cannot reduce to biology, and, say, poetic freedom to academic psychology. Likewise for conceptual prospecting, relative to psychology—and neuroscience: McGinn’s main critique of V.S.R. is a critique of neuroscientific confidence altogether: The conceptual issues of mind and brain (an object of minds) are essentially inaccessible to neuroscience, due to the nature (I would argue) of conceptuality. We’re left to our own designs—be it inquiry, conceptualization, or prospecting what we may be.


1: I want to call this a psychal condition, not to be enchanted with neologistic license. Like “mind” and “mindality,” what is “psychology” about, “psyche”? Is “the” psyche the same as mind? Sociology is about what’s “social,” so psychology is about what’s psychal? Our lexical inheritance is not very fine-grained, given the tangibility of life that language originally served. We can create finer terms, and that’s what we do, refining distinctions, giving our ventures sensitivity otherwise impossible. It’s not that things have apt coinage or lack it (as if by some essential trait); rather that we make distinctions, wear them, sail, refashion, move on. I want to distinguish psychal interest from psychological interest. Psychal interest in mind or psyche is experiential (or phenomenological). Psychological interest in mind is methodic, structural, or conceptual. Poetic venturing may be essentially psychal. Literary psychology is about a general character of such venturing.

2: “He blows” is the English meaning of Sanskrit babhasti, borne by sea, I suppose, to ancient Greek traders who enkindered that (according to etymologists—a wonderful branch of linguistic anthropology, no?) with their psychein: “to breathe, blow, make cold,” i.e., I guess, to affect the air—the aire?—in turn akin to Greek psyche: life, spirit, soul. So, our more-discreet sense of our specieal being emerges from a confusion of there being intangible efficacy embracing us, as if the horizon speaks. In the beginning, to be mental is to be spiritual, yet conversely: to be spiritual is “just” to be mental—they thought: “coextensive with, but independent of, body” (M-W Unabridged), but the prevailing reality was a mystery of the intangible for a species strapped with mastering tangibility, surdity, the frustrating resistance of the world we were learning to control, for control brought comfort—and peace (in the air, the aire) of mind.

3: Psyche, soul, mind—personality?—we enkinder as it suits us. But could there be good reason to make differences? With ‘self,’ do we still need soul? You feel the difference: It’s a cultural legacy of fidelity to the air (highly “spiritualized”)—far yet from being “environmental,” let alone “ecopsychological” [Theodore Roszak], as we’re destined (says retrospection) to identify with all planetarity (a mythical Gaia made Romantic, now scientific). If not soul distinct from self, maybe Self distinct from self? (That was my choice, though I’ve barely put the difference to good use: finding Self echoing eonic evolution.) And I would distinguish personality from self—a large hill to engage later.

4: So, the tale goes that ‘mind’ came to be “specifically” associated with psychoanalytic differences: There being a psyche meant “the totality of id, ego, and superego including both conscious and unconscious components.” “Components”: that’s sweet. It’s like saying that the 3 dimensions of space are components of space. Then, of course, there are numerous attitudes to Freudian concepts, then new concepts—it all becomes vertiginous air.

5: In Greco-Roman mythology, Psyche is “a beautiful maiden personifying the soul who was loved by the god of love Eros. synonym see MIND...”

6: The intangibility of a psychal condition is just the singularity of a life’s horizon, all manner of phenomena brought into play—and there’s a keynote: all manner of phenomena, all may be brought into play, such genius of evolution restrained in common senses of free play. What may be the scale of intangible value brought into appreciability, especially afforded by a limitless potential in textual weaves, such windowing of mindality we may entwine each other as?

7: The psychal condition—psychality (or psyche demystified—Psyche brought back into oneself)—is phenomenological, as are things, apart from the fictions of the natural attitude (very useful, though) that put us in primarily a tangible world (we’re so embodied—what can we say?) as if there’s a hard fast distinction between the objectness of things and the subjectness of our distinguishing—and there is primordial difference: Things don’t intend, save in our personifications. But the surdity of things is their kind of phenomenality versus our intendings–contrary to all the apparently-self-moved moving of nature having its way, to our dismay, like tragedy that couldn’t be otherwise, because that’s how things are, until we’ve figured how to master them—and master them we shall.

8: Anyway, psychality/mindality is phenomenological. You know, the visual cortex is in the back of one’s head, and the locus of perception is the prefrontal cortex. So, literally, we see “out” by looking back. The outwardness of tangible life is a construction, though finely integrated with our developmental history of coordinating our movements with things, especially with others, i.e., the presence of things is a function of being with others. The phenomenal outwardness of the world is also a socialized construction, and the sociality is inestimably oriented by the tangibility of the world (i.e., the world inasmuch as it’s tangible or outworldly). But the tangibility is also a means of gaining and securing interpersonal coordination among dependents, based on active, embodied psychal consolidation of phenomena as surd (resistant) “others,” i.e., objects.

9: The sense of objectivity we have arises (in child development) from the literal surdity of objects, which we find (through experience and education) can be manipulated, which is very satisfying. If only most of the world could be made objective to our purposes (the dream of scientism). So it goes.

10: Relative to a conventional, dependent, and sociocentric perspective, there tends to seem to be a social construction of reality. From a postconventional, independent, and highly individuated perspective, there tends to be a psychal construction of reality. From a conventional standpoint, postconventional understanding is mysterious, if not discomfiting. Intangibility or inworldness can be, relatively speaking, a profusion not easily conveyed to others. Yet, inworldness to itself with kindred others may be highly (deeply, broadly) well-formed, like “strong” poetry or good philosophy.

11: Psychology ventures to capture the psychal condition, as a matter of theory-laden modeling and structural description–which renders the psychal condition. But—as anyone knows about psychology—a life’s meaningfulness or rich character easily slips the surly bonds of modeling, like a transgression (to conventional understanding) or a “transcendental” character of poetic license (troped in sentimentalism, as well as transported dancing).

12: Subjectivity is a parasitic notion (in the conceptual sense: ...a function of...) distinguishing us from any tangibility of the world (albeit as creatures having evolved subject to the surdity and whims of tangible nature, in each instance born subject to other’s care). We “are” “not” objectivities at heart. We feel this non-objectifiability, though we’re so subject to our embodiment: happily (a gift), unhappily (a plague of emotion), the beginning of originality, a reverie’s “embrace,” the means of craft, and that we can so sensuously appreciate anything. So, the feeling beyond embodiment (of being beyond) is paradoxical. The psychal condition is essentially different from being subject to outwardness (as we’re a born inwardness already the basis for later knowing any difference), maturing “in” the world, yet—thanks to our own activity, our enacted experience—constituting outwardness as such, conventionally at first (as if being constituted by the environment—in conventional lives, prevalently remaining so), yet always already (potentially) growing in unprecedented ways.

13: High individuation especially knows psychality as originating from its own intangible nature, rather than in differentiation from tangibility. Any artist knows that interesting tangibility becomes a function of intangible potential found in what’s there. Imagination may transgress, transcend perception (whose phenomena include memories), even as perception provides a wealth of resource and inspiration for what a mind can do. Memory may grow to bathe what’s there in heights of meaning, which things thereby gain, only thanks to one’s imaginative granting—releasing their potential bearing.

14: So, you see how I might reach a desire to prefer a notion of interpsychal understanding over intersubjective understanding—interpsychality rather than intersubjectivity. I’ve written about differences between intersubjective and interpersonal relations—fine: Making a point is easiest in terms we share, when fabricating new terms isn’t yet needed. But I want all sense of “intersubjectivity” in earlier discussions to be read through a notion of interpsychal understanding (which I’m exploring ways to convey—through, by the way, a limitless potential of textual intimacy that strong poetry and conceptual adventuring may show).

15: In conveying explorations of differences between interpersonal and interpsychal understanding, I know of no one who even distinguishes interpersonal from intersubjective understanding. So, given a difference between psychal and subjective understanding (not yet given, but eventually, I hope), I feel entirely on my own (I won’t say: feel entirely alone) to make good (worthwhile, valuable, ideally appealing) a difference between highly interpsychal (highly innerworldly, intimate) and interpersonal (outerworldly, kindred) understanding.

16: I grant that difficulties of textual intimacy are a luxury—as, too, can be any art or academic enchantment. Two older minds fabulously attuned to each other may be a luxury, too—rare, to be sure (certainly beyond two minds collaborating nicely). Yet, we’ve had a sense of that in youth easily (back then attuned in terms of relatively—to later decades—little). Yet, complexities of further life—years building on each other (higher aspiration building on richer imaginability, as well as richness of presence built on investments)—decreases prospects of high attunement (except in rare, wonderful marriages of minds—which die, but for textual traces), as if a mind destines itself for solitude (and distant intimacies through inwordness), unless one gets lucky (e.g., the other doesn’t die early). Meanwhile (and otherwise), there are studied paths promising wonderful views up the road—a tired trope, but what can we say?

“Look at all the hills. Imagine them all folding into each other, weaving us like a topology of—.”