Thursday, May 3, 2012

Xanadu Redux

To say that there is a possible world in which Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived in Nether Stowey and wrote some of his principle works is to say that our actual worlds are such that it could have happened that he did. The laws of nature that once obtained in Nether Stowey are the same laws of nature that obtain in Seattle. There are, of course, significant differences. But these are social and cultural differences, not differences pertaining to universal physical laws such as gravity or retail.  

If thinking in general is to be understood in terms of possible worlds and grapefruit, then it makes sense to decorate our rooms with pictures and decorate our minds with surf and sand. Or whatever else may make itself available to our perceptions. The crackle of a fire on the beach, the sizzle of burned marshmallows or hot dog meat. One finds the ego totally absorbed in the work, an aura of vigorous decadence.The explosion of a marshmallow that has received too much heat.

Do you feel it, though? A profound dissatisfaction at the core of this? It is plain that reflective consciousness goes far beyond this curious and limited subject-matter. We can think of impossibilities. I can imagine a pocket full of Tuinol, or Valium, or gumdrops. I can imagine the anatomy of an angel. I can feel the muscle and skin and the feathers of the wings. The skin feels soft, like silk. The muscle is deep and apparent. The feathers are prayers.

I can have thoughts that go beyond Seattle. Possible worlds can be real as mushrooms. Impossible worlds can answer needs that we can barely articulate.

Thinking, in a general sense, is the meat of propositions. We perceive, we feel, we propose. The proposals are, in some sense, the chemistry of the street, the feeling of the pavement beneath our feet, the great round world coming out of our throats in the form of words. Concepts and propositions. Chitchat and postulation. Judgments and canoes. Opinions and derisions. Fecundations and  Xanadus. Exemptions and conferrals. Predictions and conceits.

And wonderful sorrow. If you’re going to think, think about boxing. Don’t pull punches. It’s one thing to get hit down. It’s another to get back up.

Life hurts. Love hurts. Shit in general hurts.

Poetry is just the outer crust of an inner prodigality. It has nothing causally to do with, say, Metro tickets. Abstract objects are not swimming pools. They are not things in space and time. They’re more like the glimmer of light in a swimming pool.

So much for the bare idea. Can we get a better view of things by marrying Queen Elizabeth? And which Queen Elizabeth?

If we try to conceive of a suitable relation between abstract thinking and the neural processes, we discover a poetry of bright things, blossoms and Studebakers, and conversations among birds.
Neuroscience is not an a priori discipline. Coleridge, I feel, is a radical absence. We all belong in Xanadu. Xanadu is curiously obtainable. But at a price. You probably won’t be able to hold a job at Boeing or Microsoft. I say this as a warning to you potential Coleridges out there in poetry land. When you get into the a priori, you’re getting into some pretty potent stew. And I don’t mean Mulligan.

It is not just that we need a new sort of relationship between thought and neural process for the purpose of escaping Boeing or Microsoft. We must learn to grasp our reflections and shake them into music. I think of how personal relations become fire. People dancing hard and hungry in dance clubs, thrilling caresses, hypothetical empires, stellar Parisian ceilings squirting hatchets of peppermint amnesia.

To talk of someone thinking with her eyes closed as being in a world of thought calls a realm of imagery into our minds that harnesses the intellect to a narrative muscularity. Impulses become conquests. Ecstasies become inquiries. Lips create contraptions of seductive ache and singularity.

A representation can make you smile, or peremptorily order a pizza. I don’t know what to say about track-and-field. A doctrine can either make you giddy or unbecoming. These are the instances of the written or spoken words that litter our lives and make us crazy with feelings. Texts are processes rather than products, mind you. 

There is a kind of winter in our breath when we manufacture lies, but there comes a summer when we can no longer help ourselves, when the impulse to speak is too strong, too giddy, too wild, and abstractions assume a physical presence. It is then that we must learn how to structure our thoughts according to a blueprint formulated in our sleep.

Mold rivets out of dreams. Drink the milk of paradise.

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