Emily Dickinson, “Experience is the Angled Road” (910)

Experience is the Angled Road (910)
Emily Dickinson

Experience is the Angled Road
Preferred against the Mind
By – Paradox – the Mind itself –
Presuming it to lead

Quite Opposite – How Complicate
The Discipline of Man –
Compelling Him to Choose Himself
His Preappointed Pain –


What is “The Discipline of Man?” It may or may not (“Quite Opposite”) emerge from a distinction between experience and the mind. That distinction is itself problematic. “Experience is the Angled Road,” but “the” may be conditional. One could say the Mind is an angled road: we approach things from a perspective; our reasoning takes twists and turns even with one object in mind.

So it seems to me “Experience is the Angled Road” when it is “Preferred against the Mind.” That leads to the question “What or who prefers?” It must be the mind, “by paradox.” We choose to let experience lead us. In fact, we usually think experience always leads us and by implication the mind simply follows along.

“Preferred against” is, following this logic, the same as “presuming.” Mind chooses against itself, and a questionable assumption lies somewhere in the tangle. That assumption cannot be formal given the concreteness of “Road,” the metaphor of leading, the primacy of experience. But if Mind as means or ways makes no sense, what does mind as an end in itself mean?

In the second stanza, “Him” precedes “Himself,” a reversal of “itself” (“Mind”) and “it” (“Experience”) above. This implies the priority of mind before experience, and “Man” seems whole in this stanza. But “preferred” has been swapped for “compelling,” “pain” indicates incompleteness, and “The Discipline of Man” is not “Man” simply. There is an explicit choice as opposed to preference or presumption, but the choice is in a way necessitated. It stems from a discipline that is not simple; mind does not just negate itself. But mind is only presupposed in “Discipline:” it is not said outright, and we know many of our actions are less the product of our reason and more the will of another mind (i.e. following the law).

“Quite opposite” seems to be the problem of choice. With the experience/mind distinction, there were preferences and presumptions, things that led to choice. But Mind made the “choice” within that distinction to let Experience lead. One could say it had to, given that content must matter more than form in a sense when our lives are the constant arrangement and rearrangement of content. Without the distinction, with “The Discipline of Man,” a mind/experience blend, there is only the choice for preappointed pain. One can pick one’s pain, it seems, but the circle is perverse: pain constitutes experience, the Angled Road, which Mind presumably is devoted to arranging properly. Mind is an end in itself; the discipline of man is dealing with the pain to make it work.

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