Sunday, December 5, 2010

#7

I also read an article by Lorraine Sim, “Virginia Woolf Tracing Patterns through Plato’s Forms”. This article explores the connections between Plato and Woolf and their views on reality and something beyond reality. Sim begins by talking about Woolf’s concepts of common experience and being, of the ordinary and extraordinary nature of life. To her, reality consists of the empirical reality and a metaphysical world that is behind all everyday appearances. Woolf sees a pattern behind the “cotton wool of daily life”, a pattern that gives life order and meaning and does not devalue the ordinary.

Sim discusses the various ways pattern and the metaphysical world is thought of in Woolf’s works. The Voyage Out, Night and Day and The Years, for instance, both contain some philosophies on this subject. In the first one, there is a notion that there is a pattern to life, an order that provides understanding for things happening as they do and makes life reasonable and interesting. According to Sim, this resembles the classical notion of logos, the rational principle that shows the right relation of the universal to the particular). In the next novel, Woolf suggests that there is a scheme of life and the individual has a certain role in this scheme. In the last novel, Woolf uses music as a form that that expresses a concept of an underlying pattern or structure. This marks a certain shift from a rational order to an aesthetic one, a shift in the conception of logos, from classical to romantic.

According to Sim, Woolf constantly writes of the relation between empirical reality and the metaphysical world that emanates through reality, a secular “divine” emanating through reality. To Woolf, reality can be both visible and invisible (the empirical and metaphysical), audible and silent, but is single in nature, one complex, abstract pattern behind appearances. Reality also makes things fixed and permanent to Woolf, but not dependable, because she experiences it only periodically and through various empirical means. This awareness of reality is what Woolf talks about in her notion of states of being and non-being. Moments of being result in a heightened awareness of and pleasure in ordinary things. In turn, this increased awareness of things in the empirical world gives some idea of the pattern behind the moments of non-being, the cotton-wool of daily life that one goes through inattentively.

Sim also points out Woolf’s history of reading Walter Pater and his interpretations of Plato’s philosophy, as well as her reading of the Greeks herself. There were Pater’s works in Leslie Stephen’s library and Woolf studied with Pater’s sister as well. According to Sim, Plato influenced Woolf’s notion of the relation between intellectual insight and physical vision and gave her representations of the visible world that she could not have found in the realist fiction of the time. This was probably also influenced by Pater’s reading of Plato as a philosopher engaged with the sensible world (as opposed to one that distrusted the illusions of the senses) and understood the relation between the two types of insights – intellectual and physical. Lastly, Sim emphasizes that both Woolf and Plato refer to two different modes of being – Woolf believes in a objective non-material principle that gives order and meaning (the pattern behind the cotton-wool) and this pattern reveals the nature of ordinary things. This is similar to Plato’s Forms and the ordinary objects of reality.

Sim, Lorraine. “Virginia Woolf Tracing Patterns though Plato’s Forms.” Journal of Modern Literature 28.2 (2005): 38 – 48. JSTOR. Web.

#6

I finally read one article of the frequently-mentioned Thomas Caramagno. The article was “Manic-Depressive Psychosis and Critical Approaches to Virginia Woolf's Life and Work”. It was a very interesting read in that it actually traces out Woolf’s mental illness and talks about it in context of the time during which she lived.

Caramagno begins by discussing critics that have been very quick to define Woolf by her illness. He discusses the paradigm of the artist-neurotic, as in, an artist because neurotic, which according to him is false, albeit very popular among critics. Through this paradigm it is easy to see Woolf’s suicide as an artistic act and her novels as suicide notes. It also reduces the artist to the status of a sick child and elevates the critic to the role of an adult. This is because of a view of art inherited from Freud – art is reduced to infantile fears. Also, Freud believed neurosis to be a regressive illness. Woolf was misdiagnosed as a neurotic by her doctor and both he and Freud instilled the notion of her own inadequacy, her own defects into Woolf. Dr. Savage believed mental illness in general to be a “defect in the moral character” of a person.

However, Caramagno continues to say that manic-depressive disorder is not considered a part of neurosis any more. Thus, Woolf was not neurotic, but simply manic-depressive, a disorder that ran through her family from her father’s side. Caramagno stipulates that Laura, the invalid sister from A Sketch of the Past was a case of childhood schizophrenia and mentions that Vanessa was the only healthy child of Leslie Stephen and that madness had run in his family for generations – Caramagno brings up various examples of people in the Stephen family that fell into and often died because of their illness.

In the end, Caramagno discusses how the illness affected Woolf and her writing. He does not view her like the critics he talks about in the beginning of his article. To him, Woolf merged, needed to relate, the two states of her being – the sane and the insane Virginia. She incorporated this into her writing by placing the disorder into it through moods of perception and a comprehensive structure of self, sane and insane together (Mrs. Dalloway Clarissa and Septimus; The Waves multiple selves). She realized that the self is not given, but constructed through wondering about the reality of any feeling. She gave voice to her madness, to her illness and thus, authorized the self and at the same time, did not reduce complexity to simplicity by eliminating the meaning of complexity. She did this through drawing the reader’s attention to the act and need of clarifying and systematizing complex texts, which she does not do herself, she merely suggests, leaving the interpretation to the reader.

Caramagno, Thomas. “Manic-Depressive Psychosis and Critical Approaches to Virginia Woolf's Life and Work.” PMLA 103.1 (1988): 10 – 23. JSTOR. Web.

#5








I read a very interesting article by Frances Restuccia about androgyny in A Room of One’s Own – “Untying the Mother Tongue: Female Difference in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own”. What I thought was interesting about it was Restuccia’s approach to the notion of feminine difference and androgyny in this particular work of Woolf’s.

She begins by discussing how critics have equated Woolf’s words in this essay with her call for androgyny. Restuccia finds this is not the case, however. She notes that neo-feminist movements have taken interest in the notion of “female difference” – the experience of all that is feminine instead of gender-blindness. The thinkers of this particular movement she calls the “gynocritics” that explore the difference of the writing of women.

However, she notes that in Woolf’s “androgynous heaven” differences between the sexes are not dissolved, they do not disappear, but instead Woolf emphasizes these differences, as opposed to calling for an androgynous mergence. This female difference is primarily apparent thorough what Restuccia perceives as Woolf establishing a female tradition, a culmination of “thinking through her mothers”. The “androgyny” might be collaboration between man and woman, with their differences still intact. This is because Restuccia perceives Woolf’s androgyny as part of her artistic vision, not a vision of nature or naturalness. Since, according to the author, Woolf could escape her impending madness only through the order or art, she provides a non-sequitur in suggesting androgyny – the preceding chapters work out differences in the sexes, but Woolf needs to find mental solace in the artistic vision of androgyny.

Restuccia also makes another point about this notion of androgyny. In this work, Woolf traces out a genealogy of women writers primarily and laments the state of writing of men. Thus, androgyny in writing would mean primarily that men have a lot to learn from women, while women themselves should explore their own writing and not become androgynous. Here Restuccia mentions Woolf’s love for Austen and the Bront√ęs, both of whom wrote as women (the only problem here is that Woolf also mentions Shakespeare and Austen in conjunction, calling them both great, androgynous minds). But according to Restuccia, Woolf lauds women writers as the ones with the ability to renew creative powers and fertilize old ideas of “illustrious men”. Restuccia also points out Woolf’s “I like women” part of this particular essay, which again points out Woolf’s love for women and their difference, which is not androgynous.

Thus, Restuccia makes an argument that the notion of androgyny is a veil spun over the notion of female difference, as a compromise to reach humanity in general, men and women. And androgyny in this particular essay, according to Restuccia, is truly just the suggestion that men should be and write more like women and this does not subvert her love of the female difference and women who stir her imagination.

Restuccia, Frances. “Untying the Mother Tongue: Female Difference in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 4.2 (1985): 253 -264. JSTOR. Web.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

#4

This time, I read an article by Barbara Andrew, “Psychology of Tyranny: Wollstonecraft and Woolf on the Gendered Dimension of War”. It’s an interesting article comparing and contrasting Virginia Woolf and Mary Wollstonecraft and their thoughts on war and gender. Since both women were figures in the feminist movement, it is clear they have similar ideas on this particular issue. However, Andrew points out that their theories do differ in some aspects and that Woolf takes Wollstonecraft’s thinking, builds and expands upon it and sometimes arrives at a different conclusion. For evidence that Woolf was very well familiar with Wollstonecraft’s work, Andrew points out a line in Three Guineas, where Woolf quotes Wollstonecraft, but does not cite her; the quote is about there being no marriage in heaven.

Both women clearly abhorred war and both of them agree that the private tyrannies of a patriarchal society cause the public tyrannies that can lead to war and violence. The cultural valuation of heroic virtues and the culture of war also plays into this. This valuation is socially constructed, however, much like the gender roles of both males and females. Thus, both women insist on finding new ways to act out our genders. While Woolf calls for men to be man-womanly and women to be woman-manly, Wollstonecraft compares the positive manly virtues to the feminine virtues that are considered sins; she mocks the soldier by stating he acts womanly in his obeying orders (just as a woman learns to please), his cunning in war (just as cunning in seduction), lack of education (and thus, independent thought), and concern with medals (just as a woman is concerned with fashion and looks). Woolf focuses on the soldier’s internal motivation as well – the old thought of masculinity as aggressive, possessive and combative. Both women agree that soldiers and women are co-conspirators in their own enslavement in that they are both too concerned with being seen as virtuous rather than with truth and freedom. Both also make the distinction that women perhaps have different duties, but not different virtues. Here, Woolf is interested in the role of the professions and how they perpetuate war in that they provide exhibition for men’s possessiveness, selfishness and pride.

The notion of duties and virtues brings up Wollstonecraft’s notion of unnatural distinctions as opposed to natural distinctions. Unnatural distinctions in the family, the relations between men and women, where men are tyrants and women are slaves shape children and degrade both men and women and preclude the possibility of a free society. Wollstonecraft also believed that social hierarchies were connected to the system of oppression. Woolf, on the other hand, believed that sexism was the root of all oppression – in war, men “protected” women and country (alienating women into the bounty, the Other). Woolf rejected this as false.

Andrew also talks about Freudian concepts of the infantile fixation and Oedipus complex, as well as the Creon complex. Infantile fixation leads men to controlling/dominating women, while the Creon complex is the desire to dominate. Much like Creon from Antigone, Hitler and Mussolini desire to remain unchallenged in their authority, but this desire to dominate is present within all of man, according to Woolf (which I am not sure whether she means man as in male, or all people, regardless of gender?). The dictator is the patriarchal paradigm for the man, while the slave is the patriarchal paradigm for the woman. Thus, Andrew describes Ismene as the silenced, patriarchal paradigm of a woman, while Antigone is the non-patriarchal female, because she rebels. What comes of this is the cycle of the psychology of tyranny; women must participate in it by dominating men (illegitimate power through seduction) or by being silenced or killed (by rebelling).

Both women also call for the abandonment of possessive mothering. In their opinion, this leads men to dominate women (need for mother’s love, but hatred because of the power she wields). Men become tyrants out of fear of losing access to women and women that do not rebel become slaves trying to enslave. If the society can free itself from this and the desires for possession and domination, peace will be possible.

Andrew, Barbara. "Psychology of Tyranny: Wollstonecraft and Woolf on the Gendered Dimension of War." Hypatia 9.2 (1994): 85 - 101. JSTOR. Web.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

#3

I read yet another article about Between the Acts and the notion of politics in Woolf’s work and life!

Michelle Pridmore-Brown begins her article by saying that in Woolf’s time a lot of people accused her and the Bloomsbury group of political quietism and that even now, critics have pointed out the lack of technology and its importance in the Bloomsbury canon. However, Pridmore-Brown claims that this is not true and that Woolf used technology, particularly in this last novel, and with its help commented upon the rise of fascism.
She claims that Woolf’s use of the gramophone in Between the Acts describes the notion of people being turned into a herd by technological means – people listening to one leader, one disembodied voice that distracts them from the real issues and reality and reduces them to the state of animals; the individual is liquidated, when this type of the act of listening is employed. This does, in fact, sound very much like the fascism in Germany, where Hitler is described as using all types of technological means to control the people, which is why he was such a “successful” dictator. However, Pridmore-Brown points out that Woolf is very interested in the act of listening, which short-circuits the herd impulse due to the individual act of interpretation. This is how, according to the article’s author, Woolf’s novel fights fascism; Pridmore-Brown quotes Woolf’s words, “thinking is my fighting”.

She goes on to talk about the novel being set in about the same time during which Woolf wrote it, that is, right before the outbreak of World War II and thus, the novel is permeated by the same kind of immediate doom, impending war that hung over Britain itself. The war is omnipresent. When La Trobe turns the mirrors onto the audience, Pridmore-Brown claims that the audience becomes politically implicated in what they have been observing, they become implicated in the rise of fascism and the imminent outbreak of war. But what they have been observing up to this point is very important as well. Pridmore-Brown claims that the objects La Trobe uses on stage look very beautiful from afar only, but she means to have them scrutinized, which emphasizes Woolf’s thinking about her own country, about the Hitler in England. She refuses to perpetuate the great myth of Britannia (which is also made clear through the reference to an actual rape of a British girl by British soldiers). Thus, both La Trobe and Woolf herself (despite the problematic relationship between the notions of an author and a dictator) become the antitheses to the fuhrer figure. In addition, La Trobe is uncharismatic and an outsider that destabilizes the standard dichotomies of gender and politics (she does not allow fixed emotions or identities, as Pridmore-Brown says) that can lead to war and systematized oppression such as fascism or patriarchy.

Pridmore-Brown also explores Woolf’s interest in the emerging sciences of radio waves and other particles that influence life (wires and waves), but are not clearly seen with the naked eye. Here she cites Woolf’s interest in Einstein’s theories as well as the scientist James Jeans, both of whom gave her the notion of an “insubstantial reality”, an unseen world, that one cannot actually perceive with the eye, but that exists around us and in which she was very interested (especially its relationship with the mind). Thus, Pridmore-Brown also explores the use of sound and noise in Woolf’s work, as previously described. The unity attained, or enforced, by the gramophone is not sustained in Woolf’s work, as the gramophone draws attention to itself, even if it is hidden. The imperfections in the sound, the static noise draw attention to the machine. The silences between the acts also become important.

Pridmore-Brown, Michelle. “1939 – 1940: Of Virginia Woolf, Gramophones, and Fascism.” PMLA 113.3 (1998): 408 – 421. JSTOR. Web.

Friday, November 19, 2010

#10

This was my first time reading A Room of One’s Own in its entirety – we read Shakespeare’s Sister in Literary Criticism last semester and I remember how amazed I was at what I was reading for some reason. At that time, the only work of Woolf’s I had read was Mrs. Dalloway and I think I found I liked her essay more than the novel, which I still think is the case now. What I found particularly interesting upon reading the whole of this speech/essay are the last parts in which Woolf looks out the window and begins to wonder about the unity, the harmony of the male and the female – the notion of the androgynous mind (as she quotes from Coleridge), examples of which she finds in Jane Austen and Shakespeare. As I read this, I began to wonder whether this notion of the androgynous mind, the perfect, impersonal mind of the ideal writer, was a notion relative to the time during which Woolf lived. Did she dream of this notion as ideal, because of the circumstances women suffered at this particular time, namely, the worry of patriarchy about the increasing demands of women and about the violence of the English feminists? Is it possible that now, in the 21st century, this mind should be sexless altogether, as opposed to the combination of male and female? Which again poses the question of whether the ideal writer is a product of his/her times and circumstances – a relative term? Would Woolf think this same way had she been living in today’s society?

That aside, I started to wonder whether this union of male and female, the androgynous mind, could somehow be exemplified in The Waves? Woolf herself said that she did not write any characters in this novel. We did talk about the possibility of this particular novel being about the many sides of one’s personality. After one class we also talked about the impossibility to pin one person down with just one character of this particular novel – I, for one, probably have some parts of all three: Jinny, Susan and Rhoda. The fact that all three are so specifically distinct, almost too distinct, could also point to this. What I found particularly interesting was that all three men share the drive to write in some way – does that mean that writing is primarily a male activity? The women in the novel, aside from perhaps Rhoda, who has no face, which almost negates her own body, somehow relate to their sexuality, their gender, their bodies, in one way or another – Susan through her traditional, natural tendencies and Jinny with her sensual, flirtatious self. Could the combination of all six consciousnesses from the novel create the one, androgynous mind Woolf muses on in A Room of One’s Own? Does the fact that the unanimity, unity, harmony between these six characters is temporary and dissolves eventually, except in the face of death, does any of this has to anything to do with Woolf’s interest in the continuity of the self, the will of continuity, disrupted by the event of death? The symmetry of the characters – three female and three male could also point to this notion of three different parts of both the female and the male counterparts of the androgynous mind. The fact that Waves came after Room could also point to the fact that Woolf was thinking about this notion and decided to carry it out in the form of a novel.

#9

Woolf's essay "The Cinema" is probably one of my favorite essays of hers that we have read this semester. I am currently taking a class on Philosophy of Film and I thought it was very interesting how Woolf, in 1926 and thus, years before the main realist critics, paved the way for them with her own musings upon the art of cinema. The fact that she considers it an art, but a completely new one, with its own, unique possibilities, is what was so interesting to me, because it is years later that Bazin and Kracauer seem to echo these sentiments against the current of the orthodox school, members of which wanted to elevate cinema to the heights of literature and thus, insisted it is similar to other types of classical art such as that or painting. What I also found interesting was Woolf’s connection with the Russian filmmakers (we all know she loved Russian writers and literature) – Eisenstein and Pudovkin. Both of them believed in the power of montage as the key ingredient of cinema, something that equated it with the literature for instance, in that through montage, the filmmaker is thought to actually create an art form from scratch – from separate shots. However, this ties in with Between the Acts quite interestingly; through montage, the filmmaker believes he can make associations for the viewer, create them as his own. This is not something Woolf particularly looked for in any kind of art, as she admired the possibility of “shared meaning” arising from the author and the audience as well as the players. So, inspired by this essay, I wrote my term paper for Philosophy of Film upon this subject – Woolf and Film as Film, Woolf and the realist school. I thought I’d share some of my reflections upon this subject through what I wrote in my paper.

What is very interesting about Woolf’s essay is that she, perhaps unknowingly, acknowledges different sides of the argument that surrounded the medium of film at its birth. In “The Cinema”, she addresses the view that films are not art and are often considered below such mediums as painting and that of her own, writing. In the beginning of her essay she writes, “Yet at first sight the art of the cinema seems simple, even stupid” (1), but still refers to film as an art and even compares it to the art of music, the art of Mozart. To Woolf, film is to her contemporary, modern man the same as “two bars of iron” to “bright-eyed naked men who knocked them together and heard in that clangour a foretaste of the music of Mozart” (1). Thus, it is evident from the very beginning that Woolf sees film as a medium with great potential in the hands of modern men, however, she is convinced these modern men are not exactly sure of what to do with what they have been given. This is probably the core of the argument between the orthodox and realist schools; each group held its own kind of restrictive extreme, whether it be attempting to elevate films to the status of literature and painting or insisting that film creates a new understanding of reality, while heavily relying on it, to the point where, as Perkins writes, it was not due to these critics that film became more and more popular and loved, but rather because of talented filmmakers that took this new medium and ran with it (10). It seems that Woolf is very much right in this comparison; both schools created so much clamor with their bars of iron in their own defense of film, because nobody was entirely sure of what to do with this new medium and how to legitimize it in the eyes of the public. Woolf rightly describes the chaos that arose from the birth of film, “All is hubble-bubble, swarm and chaos. We are peering over the edge of a cauldron in which fragments of all shapes and savours seem to simmer; now and again some vast form heaves itself up and seems about to haul itself out of chaos” (1). Here, Woolf seems to almost compare film with some sort of magic, still a bit obscured from view for the modern man, but struggling to free itself and reach its full potential.


Yet in her musings upon the art of cinema and her analysis of this medium, Woolf tends to lean towards the likes of Bazin and Kracauer. While she acknowledges that people may perceive film as a medium where “the brain, agreeably titillated, settles down to watch things happening without bestirring itself to think” (1), she ends the same paragraph with the statement, “The eye says to the brain, ‘Something is happening which I do not in the least understand. You are needed.’ Together they look at the king, the boat, the horse, and the brain sees at once that they have taken on a quality which does not belong to the simple photograph of real life” (1). Thus, here she begins to lay the groundwork for the realist school’s thought that film enriches reality, even though it mirrors it to a certain extent, because of its imitative nature. But Woolf, much like the realists after her, does not dismiss this certain degree of imitativeness, but rather embraces it and elevates it to a new height by saying that these objects depicted on the filmstock have become “more real, or real with a different reality from that which we perceive in daily life. We behold them as they are when we are not there. We see life as it is when we have no part in it” (2). This is very similar to what Perkins writes about Bazin and his idea that film eliminates, liberates art from the presence of man, which leads to a new kind of experience of reality, a more objective one, a new dimension, rid of habit and prejudice (29-31). Very similarly, Woolf goes on to say, “From this point of vantage, as we watch the antics of our kind, we have time to feel pity and amusement, to generalize, to endow one man with the attributes of the race…we have time to open our minds” (2).

Woolf also emphasizes her realist stance by directly challenging the orthodox school’s attempts to elevate film to the status of art. She begins another paragraph,

the picture-makers seem dissatisfied with such obvious sources of interest as the passage of time and the suggestiveness of reality. They despise the flight of the gulls, ships on the Thames, the Prince of Wales, the Mile End Road, Piccadilly Circus. They want to be improving, altering, making an art of their own. (2)

This reference to the flight of the gulls and ships on the river is, of course, a very realist one. To Woolf, this notion that life goes on despite the absence of an immediate spectator other than the lens, the passage of time, the accidental occurrences caught on film, the busy Piccadilly Circus in London, all of this is very much important to Woolf in regards to cinema and its capabilities. She is most interested in these notions she mentions earlier, notions of watching life and beauty as an observer, an uninvolved spectator, and delving deeper into newly unearthed dimensions of life, ones that one might miss while in the midst of action and life. She is not very interested in leveling film with literature or painting, because she seems to understand that cinema is capable of something different than these two already established and beloved mediums, and she clearly admires all three.

This direct challenge of the orthodox school, which included the likes of Eisenstein and Pudovkin, is perhaps her acquaintance with these Russian filmmakers. In his essay, “Virginia Woolf and Cinema”, David Trotter poses the hypothesis that Woolf, in fact, attended screenings at the British Film Society founded in 1925, where various films were shown, including German Expressionist and Soviet montage films, and various filmmakers came to speak, Eisenstein being one of them. This is perhaps where she borrows from her notion that film should portray “emotions mingling together and affecting each other…the most fantastic contrasts could be flashed before us with a speed which the writer can only toil after in vain” (5). This notion of contrast is strikingly similar to Eisenstein’s theory of montage, where juxtaposition and collision of images creates an explosion of meaning. However, similarly to Bazin and Kracauer, Woolf recognizes the dangers of montage. As Trotter writes, “What Woolf didn’t like about films of this kind was what she didn’t like about novels of a certain kind: their determinism, their reduction of suggestiveness to meaning” (18). This recalls Bazin’s belief, as quoted by Perkins, that montage is “essentially and by its very nature opposed to the expression of ambiguity” (33). For Woolf especially, this is a very dangerous thought. In her essay, “The Authority of Illusion: Feminism and Fascism in Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts”, Patricia Klindienst Joplin explores the notion of authority and fascism and what it meant to Woolf as an artist. As a writer, Woolf understood very well the possibility of swaying the audience into her way of thinking, a very tempting possibility for a woman in a patriarchal society. However, as a writer preoccupied with the thought of subjectivity as well as peace and the prospect of World War II approaching Britain ever so fast, Woolf rejected this kind of meaning that Eisenstein sought to provide with his montage films. To her, the very underlying notion of authoritarianism was such abuse of language, in this case the language of film, abuse that abolished the freedom of ambiguity and of continuously created meaning outside of that of the author (90). In contrast, Eisenstein’s belief was that the collision of images created meaning for the spectator and thus, manifested the genius of the director, who arranged the images in a particular, meaningful way through the art of montage. In this way, the filmmaker was presented as creating a film in a fashion similar to the creation of literature by a writer; by placing images in certain spots and sequences, he was almost as if arranging words on a piece of paper, creating prose rather than reproducing already existing reality. Even though this representation of film and the filmmaker was a noble attempt to legitimize cinema as  an art flowing from the creative genius of a person rather than simply imitating reality outside of filmmaker’s control and creativity, this method still tended to hand meaning to the spectator on the proverbial silver platter. This was not something Woolf approved of and it was certainly not what she sought in the cinema.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

#2

I think I’ve found the topic of Woolf and politics very interesting.

This article I read was by Patricia Klindienst Joplin and it is about fascism in Woolf’s Between the Acts. In it, Joplin discusses the Woolf’s musings on what it means to be an artist and how that relates to the rising of totalitarianism in Europe. According to Joplin, in this novel Woolf seizes the gap she has explored in previous novels, but now, instead of rejecting it as a disruption in the will of continuity, it is elevated to a positive, natural status – in the history of Europe, the gap between the British Isles and the Continent helped to prevent the spread of Hitler’s influence and aggression in Britain. Joplin says that in this novel, the gap is not an interruption or death, it is rather the white space on a piece of paper or canvas, waiting for creation.

Another point Joplin makes is about Woolf’s meditation upon the role of the artist. Woolf understood the artist to be responsible to keep peace and freedom alive, to unify differences. But in the character of the playwright in Between the Acts, she explores the proximity between artists and dictators and authoritarians, for whom there is no gap between sound and meaning, just like the artist who believes his art to be the whole meaning as he conceived it, his meaning. Also, Joplin makes the point that as a feminist, Woolf understood the temptation of an artist being turned into a dictator, because in writing, there exists the possibility of bending the audience to the writer’s will, as opposed to creating a shared meaning between the audience, players and the author.

Joplin also mentions Woolf’s destruction of a false sense of unity. During the War, the common enemy, the Germans, united the British under the patriarchy in this very false sense of unity. But as a woman, Woolf saw this a little differently – she creates an instance of rape of a British woman by British soldiers, which undermines this sense of unity and the common enemy is called into question and the suppressing of internal differences is revealed. Thus, according to Joplin, Woolf, unlike her husband Leonard, had no easy sense about England being superior in civility to the “barbaric” Germans. To her, fascism is not alien to any country and this is why she wants to attack the Hitler in England in her essay “Peace in an Air Raid”.

Joplin also states that Woolf calls art into question by mentioning how the Nazis effectively used and exploited art as propaganda to unify the country and suppress internal differences in order to manipulate people and impose authority of the leaders. This, according to Joplin, is similar to what happened in Britain as well – in the face of danger of an imminent attack by the German army, men in Britain desired to keep the gender status quo and stop women from attempting to gain equality (suppressing internal differences) and there were a lot of ways to unify people against the common enemy through the arts (theater, for example). Joplin says that this gender status quo was desired in Britain, but actually enacted in Germany through the Nazi ideology.

Joplin also makes a very interesting point about Woolf’s works in general. She hypothesizes that Woolf explores the question of whether identity is possible, as an individual and/or group, except at the expense of the “other” (the rival, the victim, etc.). She also talks about the creation of authority by various characters in Woolf’s works – this is the origin of totalitarianism in the individual. For instance, in The Waves the characters gather around the exaggerated character of Percival (the master, the authority). It is similar in Jacob’s Room and To the Lighthouse, where women compare Jacob to a perfect marble statue, which he is not, and Lily idolizes Mrs. Ramsay.

Klindienst Joplin, Patricia. “The Authority of Illusion: Feminism and Fascism in Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts.” South Central Review 6.2 (1989): 88 – 104. JSTOR. Web.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

#1

I read an article by Allen McLaurin, “Virginia Woolf and Unanimism”. I chose to read this particular article, because it talked about The Waves, but it also relates to the topic on which I plan to write my paper, which is the opposite of unanimism in Woolf’s work. I thought it would be a good idea to read something opposing this particular theme of alienation, loneliness and subjective experience I found in her writing.

McLaurin’s main point in the article is that Woolf creates a certain “group mind”, a unity of consciousness, in her works. He brings up the example of The Waves, as the characters gather round Percival after his death and likens this to Woolf’s experience of being a part of the Bloomsbury group, which, he argues, shared this same kind of unity of consciousness and likens the character of Percival to Woolf’s brother Thoby, whom many of the Bloomsbury members admired greatly. He also mentions Jules Romains, a figure of great importance in French unanimism in literature and a figure well known to Woolf. McLaurin argues that Woolf actually wrote a favorable review of Romains’ work for a magazine in which she often wrote, despite the fact that the review is anonymous. McLaurin also argues that Woolf’s works – The Voyage Out, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Years, Between the Acts as well as The Waves present the unanimous themes found and championed in Romains’ work. In Between the Acts McLaurin argues that the gramophone represents a means of unity between people. In The Waves, the characters share each other’s innermost thoughts and images, according to McLaurin. He emphasizes the importance of Bernard, as the one character who feels most explicitly the notion of the group, a group mind, especially at the death of Percival.

However, in response to this article, I have began reading another article relating to Between the Acts and it compares the gramophone to fascist propaganda, uniting people into an easily controlled herd. Thus, this article undermines the benign nature of unanimity that McLaurin focuses on. Also, he mentions that at the end Bernard abandons this notion of unanimity, which points to the idea that maybe Woolf was not entirely convinced that such a “group mind” could be achieved. After all, even though Bernard says all the characters felt the same, common emotion at Percival’s death, it is not entirely clear that they did. Also, McLaurin cites Neville’s love for watching people pour out of the Tube in what he perceives as harmony, unanimous, but this kind of unanimity does not seem possible for an extended period of time; once people pour out of the Tube and into the streets, they are dispersed again. Thus, the theme of unanimity, although perhaps present in Woolf’s work, is not followed entirely – Woolf recognizes that this unity cannot be sustained for long and if it is present at all, it is perhaps superficial.

McLaurin, Allen. "Virginia Woolf and Unanimism." Journal of Modern Literature 9.1 (1981-1982): 115-122. JSTOR. Web.

Monday, October 25, 2010

#8

The Waves is definitely a very interesting form of novel. I have not read anything like it before and I guess Virginia Woolf was the first one to write this way? It’s a very modernist form, in the vein of Joyce’s stream of consciousness, except this stream of consciousness, extremely poetic, is externalized through dialogue.
But what I found really interesting about the “dialogue” is that even though the characters technically speak, at least that’s what the quotation marks indicate and every time there is an indication of “so and so said”, the characters do not seem to be speaking to each other or anyone in particular. This, in turn, brings me again to the notion of alienation throughout Woolf’s works. And so far, in this particular work, there are quite a few instances that point to this theme.

First is, of course, the form itself. The characters take turns and speak, externalize their thoughts and feelings, describe what is going on around them, but there is no clear recipient. Also, no character really directly responds to what has already been said, no character reacts to it and it seems that the only persons that hear what these characters say are the reader and the speaker himself or herself. This way, Woolf shows us different perspectives on certain events – such as Jinny kissing Louis (we get Louis’ view, as well as that of Jinny, Susan and Bernard, also a bit of Neville’s) – and through this, the alienation of personal, subjective experience of certain things is very clear. It is almost as if Woolf shows us that we are essentially locked into ourselves, separated from others, even though others can look at us and experience us in their own subjective way, which will not always be compatible with the real way we are. And thus, every character gets his or her separate paragraphs, which may, at times, describe the same events or similar things, but are always separate and in no way reference anything that has been said previously. There is no relation between these characters’ experiences. Thus, when the three boys go to school for the first time, Bernard perceives the other two as not scared, while he himself is terrified. However, Louis is scared as well, but chooses to follow Bernard, because he doesn’t look nervous. Here the incompatibility between the self and the way other people see the self is quite clear.

Thus, different characters have different ways of alienation. Louis, for instance, sees himself as separated from everybody else, because he is from Australia. The issue of colonialism separates him from the other English kids. He continuously mentions his Australian accent and attempts to speak like the other kids: “I will not conjugate the verb until Bernard has said it. My father is a banker in Brisbane and I speak with an Australian accent. I will wait and copy Bernard. He is English. They are all English” (12). Here the issue of British colonialism is quite clear. Louis, even though he is intelligent (as he says, “I could know everything in the world if I wished”), is perceived as inferior to the other kids, because of his colonial heritage, especially Australian, which was a convict settlement.

Bernard also has his moment of alienation, as he likes to relate everything into stories (which is why he is seen as Woolf’s alter ego, I suppose), he finally bores his peers with this, despite some elaborate phrases. Here Woolf writes, perhaps out of personal experience, “Among the tortures and devastations of life is this then – our friends are not able to finish their stories” (26).

It is similar with the girls. Each is by herself with her own loneliness. Rhoda is perhaps the most obvious – her insecurity completely bars her from her peers, as does her childhood presumably – Louis says she has no father (I am not sure about whether the incident with the math problem indicates she’s not as intelligent as the other kids?). Susan is alone with her anger, which she likes to project on physical things and bury them. Jinny is also self-conscious, although she may not show it. What is very interesting is that Susan suffers at the thought of even the teachers loving Jinny as opposed to her (unlike what she experiences at home, which is why she only loves her father, I am guessing), while Jinny looks at herself and sees Susan as more beautiful, more inspiring. This once again, points to the fact that all characters are locked into their own selves, unable to transcend themselves, unable to see themselves or anything else outside of their own experience, which sometimes points them in erroneous directions. This is very similar to the themes of Woolf’s other works, where subjective experience is of utmost importance, but at the same time, can be very destructive

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

#7

Clearly the character of Mr. Ramsay is based on Virginia Woolf’s own father and in the third part of To the Lighthouse especially, the portrait of Mr. Ramsay is based on Leslie Stephen after his wife has died. This brings up the question of whether Virginia herself identifies with the character of the artist Lily Briscoe – had she too, been eclipsed by her father’s self-indulgent grief to the extent that it hindered her artistic ability? After all, Lily cannot focus on painting, while Mr. Ramsay storms up and down the patio, blaming Mrs. Ramsay for her husband’s behavior – she had been the self-surrendering wife and now that she was dead, there was nobody left to quietly give Mr. Ramsay some sympathy.

This question of sympathy is a very curious one in Woolf’s works. At least, it was one of the primary themes in her short story “The New Dress”. In it, both the main character as well that of Mrs. Holman constantly focus on some sort of sympathy from the people around them. The main character of Mabel Waring obsesses over her new dress that she supposedly loved in the privacy of the dressing room and her seamstress. Now, that she has stepped out in it and into Mrs. Dalloway’s party, the dress has become the central point of her “frock self-consciousness”, but the question is whether this self-consciousness is actually true. On the one hand, she could simply be unsure of how she looks among other people, whom she sees as better dressed. On the other, she says things such as, “It’s so old-fashioned” in reference to her dress (and not the picture), which could essentially be considered pity-fishing. When Charles, for example, does not fulfill her expectations in regards to offering her sympathy, she regards him as “malice itself”, simply because he says, “Mabel’s got a new dress” as opposed to “you’re looking charming to-night!” At the same time, there is Mrs. Holman, whose family is always ill with something. She is very similar to Mabel in that she fishes for sympathy as well, which, in turn, makes Mabel dislike her, even though they are doing the same exact thing, just in slightly different ways – Mabel criticizes her own dress, so that someone will tell her she is wrong, that she looks beautiful, while Mrs. Holman preys upon the sympathy of others offered due to her family’s constant poor health. Woolf essentially compares this greed for sympathy and assurance to a form of currency – she describes Mrs. Holman “taking” the sympathy offered and looking at it as if it was a halfpenny, when it should have been a pound. Woolf even finishes one paragraph, “Ah, it was tragic, this greed, this clamour of human beings, like a row of cormorants, barking and flapping their wings for sympathy — it was tragic, could one have felt it and not merely pretended to feel it!” indicating that she saw this clamoring for sympathy among various people, most notable example of whom would probably be her own father. After all, she writes in To the Lighthouse, “this was one of those moments when an enormous need urged him, without being conscious what it was, to approach any woman, to force them, he did not care how, his need was so great, to give him what he wanted: sympathy” (154).

Thus, Woolf presents this greed, this clamoring for sympathy, as something that transcends gender; in the story, it is the two women, while in the novel it is a man. However, in To the Lighthouse, Woolf makes another, further claim that, as Lily Briscoe thinks, “and it was all Mrs. Ramsay’s fault. She was dead” (153), and as we also have discussed in previous classes, the blame for Mr. Ramsay’s behavior is partly upon Mrs. Ramsay for allowing him to be this way, extremely childish, except that after her death she was not there anymore to give her husband all he wanted (his arms were left empty) and so he begins clamoring for sympathy from other people.

The fact that Lily eventually realizes her point of view, her last brilliant stroke of paint that finishes the painting, exacting her own, subjective, distinct vision and the fact that the novel ends on this note may signify Woolf’s own overcoming of her father’s ways as well as the pressures of society as a whole and exacting her own vision through the act of writing. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

#6

Upon starting To the Lighthouse, I once again realized how different this novel is from Mrs. Dalloway. I guess that one has become a bit of a marker to me, since it was the first Woolf novel I have ever read and I’ve read it so many times. This novel actually reminds me more of Jacob’s Room stylistically, although the narrator is not actually present in the story as in Woolf’s earlier novel. Still, it’s reminiscent of it in the way it follows different characters, despite the centrality of Mrs. Ramsay. I suppose the setting of the beginning helps this connection – the influence of St. Ives, Cornwall, the lighthouse.

In this particular novel, Woolf once again busies herself with the problem of perception it seems, although this time it is also more intertwined with the “woman question” and also art. Particularly important seems the struggle of Lily Briscoe, as Woolf writes, “such she often felt herself – struggling against terrific odds to maintain her courage; to say: ‘But this is what I see; this is what I see,’ and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast, which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her” (23). Through Lily, these three notions – of perception, of femininity, of art – are explored by Woolf. She is not a traditional woman in that she occupies herself seriously with art, which, in turn, isn’t taken seriously by anyone else. Even Mr. Bankes questions her on her portrait of Mrs. Ramsay, in which he believes she reduced a woman of great beauty to a purple shadow. But it is, she insists internally, what she sees – she is not after mimicking reality, but capturing her own vision. Thus, the problem of perception appears – is there such a thing as the “right” vision? Is Lily’s perception and portrait wrong because it does not suit Mr. Bankes aesthetic values and perhaps the values of the Victorian era? A couple of pages later, Lily herself wonders about the notion of liking or disliking people and what that really means – does it mean anything? Once again, we are back to the question of whether we can ever know another person or do they remain – like Mrs. Ramsay – as only our impressions upon the canvases of our lives? Is it important for Lily to realize her vision in capturing Mrs. Ramsay’s portrait or is it more important for her to capture the essence of Mrs. Ramsay and is that even possible?

The character of Mrs. Ramsay is another question – that of femininity. This is a woman, I presume, somewhat modeled after Woolf’s own mother – very much admired and very much beautiful. But Woolf questions what is behind that outward beauty. Mrs. Ramsay says she never has time to read books, despite the fact that she had received so many from various poets inspired by her beauty. She is a bit of an “angel of the house” – always subordinate to her husband, always pleasant, always saying “yes” to her children, but minding if Mr. Ramsay says “no”. Her thinking is eclipsed within the marriage scheme – she keeps mentioning Lily’s facial features that might make it harder for her to marry. Thus, even she does not take Lily’s art seriously. This brings about the question of patriarchy, so deeply ingrained in Victorian women, that they fail to see the advantages of supporting each other in other aspects and only focus on what they know, what they have been taught to be their role in society, into which Lily does not necessarily fit right in the traditional sense.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

#5

Having read Jacob’s Room as well as Mrs. Dalloway, I found that the two novels have a certain common tendency: fleshing out of modern alienation, the gap between people, modern aloneness. In Jacob’s Room, this is predominantly visible with the character of Jacob, although it is definitely true for all characters. After all, someone – I am not sure whether it was Leonard or Strachey or maybe someone else – described all the characters in the novel as ghosts. This is certainly true and even Woolf supports this notion by a once previously mentioned quote, “Nobody sees any one as he is, let alone an elderly lady sitting opposite a strange young man in a railway carriage. They see a whole – they see all sorts of things – they see themselves…” This means something close to a permanent, inevitable alienation – if we don’t see other people as they are, but we see ourselves in them, the world is full of us, a vast I am, ever-present. Does this ever allow any kind of real connection with anyone else? Jacob’s Room does not really answer this question positively. Ever since the beginning of the novel, someone is always searching for Jacob, but at the end, all that is found are Jacob’s old shoes, his room, his things. Both Clara and Bonamy and even Florinda are left longing for Jacob, but at the end of the novel, the gap is materialized – Jacob is dead and cannot be reached anymore in any way. Everyone is alone – Bonamy without Jacob; Clara, even though with her dog and an older man companion, tangled in her thoughts; Florinda, sitting alone, with distance between her and the supposed father of her child – a child that does not necessarily bring any hope; Mrs. Wentworth Williams, looking out at her (and presumably Jacob’s) child; Jacob’s mother engulfed in her thoughts of her dead husband; the Captain’s invalid wife, abandoned by him. Even the brothers Archer and Jacob are never portrayed as having a real relationship, not even with their mother. As Virginia Woolf explores the notion of the human mind, she unsettles – it is almost as if everyone is locked inside their own mind, without the ability to really be open with another person.

In Mrs. Dalloway, it is a similar case. Here, Woolf once again presents the reader with characters permanently locked in their aloneness. Clarissa and Richard, as a married couple, should be able to have some sort of connection, but in the end, despite his sudden passion and rushing home thinking “my Clarissa”, flowers in his hands, meaning to tell her he loves her, Richard fails to relate his feelings to his wife. Woolf leaves her response quite ambiguous – we do not know whether Clarissa really understands without Richard saying it out loud, or whether Richard hopes/believes her to understand, without having to say anything. Mrs. Dalloway’s relationship with her daughter is similarly superficial – she presents her at her party like an object and the reader never sees any kind of affection, aside from pangs of jealousy that have to do with Miss Kilman. All of these relationships are sterile, empty, lonely.

It is similar with Peter Walsh. Even though it is evident that there was something between them, both Clarissa and Peter cannot communicate very well. She is sitting, mending her dress, annoyed at Peter’s constant fidgeting with his pocket knife, while Peter sits and ridicules Clarissa’s hostess life in his mind. The words they say to each other do not reflect what they truly think or feel. Perhaps only “don’t forget my party” means something more, a “don’t forget me”, but this is still enclosed within something else, Clarissa cannot say out loud what she really wants and thinks and neither can Peter. Even though they may have loved each other and perhaps still do, the reader questions the depth of their relationship, the depth of any relationship and how far that depth can ever reach. The epitome of this aloneness, to me, has always been Peter’s thought, “and that is being young” (hence the address of the blog) when he sees Septimus and Rezia at the park, at a very turbulent and sad moment in their relationship. Peter interprets it completely differently, seeing himself in the situation, the youth he still wants to associate with, even though he completely misinterprets the event. At the same time, does the fact that he does misinterpret it even matter? Does it matter that we see ourselves in others and thus, misinterpret them, unable to know them? That point, after all, serves Peter only in the progression of his thoughts and has no implications. But it still tells a lot about human relationships and this particular feeling of alienation permeating this work. There is no hope of knowing your loved ones, let alone complete strangers.


Finally, there is Rezia and Septimus, each one locked in their own fantasy – for Rezia, it is one of a normal life and for Septimus, the horrors of the Great War. Once again Woolf presents a marriage unable to communicate (perhaps an influence of her own mental illness and the role, if any, it played in her marriage to Leonard?) and locked within their own separate minds. Rezia talks of birds and flowers, remembers her life in Italy, longing for it all over again, trying to convince herself and Septimus that everything is all right. Septimus, on the other hand, recedes further and further into himself, into the psychological turmoil the War had caused, unable to understand Rezia and her situation. Rezia cannot understand him, not participating in the War herself, and desperately locked in her own desire for a normal life.

This is only two novels so far, therefore I cannot really say if this pattern continues in Woolf’s other works. However, even in Kew Gardens, this is a bit evident – with the married couple, separated from each other by their pasts; the old and young men separated by experience; even the young couple seems a bit distant from each other, perhaps wanting different things; the women chattering, separated by language. All of these are little glimpses, impressions, of the ways people in modern London and, of course, beyond, can be lonely, even in these large cities, with thousands of people surrounding them. I’m not sure whether this would be a suitable topic for the final paper, but, aside from the role of Laura, the invalid sister of Virginia, in Woolf’s works, this is certainly something I am interested in exploring.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

#4

Your part is to insist that writers shall come down off their plinths and pedestals, and describe beautifully if possible, truthfully at any rate, our Mrs. Brown. You should insist that she is an old lady of unlimited capacity and infinite variety; capable of appearing in any place; wearing any dress; saying anything and doing heaven knows what. But the things she says and the things she does and her eyes and her nose and her speech and her silence have an overwhelming fascination, for she is, of course, the spirit we live  by, life itself” (212).

In the literary manifesto that “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” is, Woolf essentially repudiates the writers of the previous era, because, according to her, any insight into human nature, into life, was effectively lost among various and numerous descriptions, such as the houses the writer did not write any life into. However, at the same time, she acknowledges the difference between writers – based on nationality as well as the writer’s temperament. She writes, “You see one thing in character, and I another. You say it means this, and I that. And when it comes to writing each makes a further selection on principles of his own. Thus Mrs. Brown can be treated in an infinite variety of ways, according to the age, country, and temperament of the writer” (200). This, I feel, undermines the rest of the speech, in which she rejects the approach of previous writers. Literature is, truly, always about some aspect of human nature at least. And thus, while I have not personally read any Wells, Galsworthy or Bennett, I do believe they wrote about human nature in some way, only maybe this way was different than what interested Virginia Woolf. After all, she does say that the writer treats Mrs. Brown according to his own set of principles. At the same time, I do understand that at this particular time in the beginnings of the twentieth century, life was changing quite drastically and people like Woolf felt there was an unbridgeable gap between them and the older generation in various matters, literature included. Still, I guess every generation has its own values and sets of principles with which it looks upon life and Mrs. Brown. And here, Woolf tries to get her listeners to further define theirs. What I do like about this particular speech/essay is that she seems to want to make literature a more accessible thing – a sort of unity between writer and reader, no pedestals for either one.

Monday, September 6, 2010

#3: shakespeare was knocked overboard...and then he went under.

When I first began reading Jacob’s Room, I was actually quite surprised as to how different stylistically it is from Mrs. Dalloway. Whereas in the latter the reader spends his time entangled in the thoughts, minds of various characters, in this novel, the stream of consciousness is not so acutely present. It is more like reading Virginia Woolf’s mind, while she’s picturing and creating this novel in her own mind, with her narrating it. If that makes any sense. I imagine the difference stems from the fact that Jacob’s Room is an earlier novel and with Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf reached a different depth in her interest in the human mind and flow of thoughts and, of course, a different depth of writing as well as a different purpose.

After a couple of chapters into the novel, I began to realize how much this novel reminds me of James Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which was published six years earlier and as the essay on “Modern Fiction” suggested, Woolf was very much aware of Joyce as a literary figure. Also, in the chronology in the beginning of the novel, it shows that Ulysses was published the same year as Jacob’s Room. What reminded me of Joyce’s novel was at first the progression of time – from the early childhood of Jacob, with time skipping forward every couple of pages, presumably until his premature death and his lingering presence or marked absence carried through the people that knew him and long for him. There are also many scenes from school, which also reminded me of Stephen Dedalus and his schoolboy days. Other similarities include both  boys’ forays into love and lust, albeit for different reasons, but in similar circumstances – both are involved in some way with prostitutes. I do not know how much of an influence Joyce was on Woolf, if any at all, but I do not know whether these similarities are coincidental. After all, both Joyce and Woolf were the pioneers of modern fiction and literary forays into the intricacies of the human mind.

The difference is, of course, that Joyce’s novel is written entirely in stream of consciousness and presents the reader with a semi-autobiographical account of a writer’s life. While Jacob Flanders seems to like literature similar to what Stephen Dedalus admires,  he is not particularly defined as an artist and the reader certainly does not get to spend as much time in his thoughts. Woolf only gives us snippets of his sentences or feelings, while we see him through the eyes of other people. It is almost a reverse of Joyce’s novel in that this time, we see a character not from within, but without. It is also through the eyes and thoughts of ordinary minds on ordinary days, which Woolf was very interested in.

There were a couple of other very interesting things. For instance, Jacob’s thoughts on women in church (pg.31), where he compares them to dogs in church – a distraction that causes the mind to wander. Another description is that women are “as ugly as sin”, all of which is reminiscent of the idea of women as the cause of sin and temptation. While Jacob denounces all sorts of “elderly people” (which also emphasizes the difference between Victorian and modern generations, reminiscent of Woolf’s “Modern Fiction” essay, as one man Jacob visits for luncheon has a book by Wells on his shelf), he also shares this certain imbedded notion about women, which I thought was very interesting, especially in a Woolf novel, as she was a leading figure in the feminist movement. Also, every since A Sketch of the Past, I have been wondering about the figure of Laura, the mentally disabled sister of Virginia Woolf. For a feminist writer that she was, I am really interested in whether Laura has any presence in Woolf’s work or whether she is marginalized there as well. She was mentioned only in passing in Sketch, or at least the excerpt that we have read, so I am hoping I will have some sort of an answer to this after I read more of Woolf’s work. The one possible influence of Laura I see in Jacob’s Room so far could be Captain Barfoot’s invalid wife – she is stuck at home with Mr. Dickens (a very curious name for obvious reasons) taking care of her, presumably childless, knowing that her husband is making trips to Betty Flanders. I imagine such a knowledge would probably be very disturbing and saddening. Still, she seems to be physically disabled, while Laura was mentally disabled and eventually institutionalized and thus, disabled in a much more severe way than Woolf herself, as she was periodically instutitionalized.

To end with, here is my favorite passage so far, 

“Nobody sees any one as he is, let alone an elderly lady sitting opposite a strange young man in a railway carriage. They see a whole – they see all sorts of things – they see themselves…” (29). 

This is how I see Woolf’s fiction altogether – it is not necessarily a picture of other people’s minds, not even ordinary minds on ordinary days, but a picture of Woolf’s mind only. We cannot experience the act of being somebody else, their consciousness, their mind and thus, we are only limited to seeing parts of ourselves in everything and everyone. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

#2

After the slideshow on modern art in relation to the Bloomsbury group, I realized how much “Kew Gardens” reminded me of a painting. It is an interesting notion that literature and words can recall the notion of a painting, because the two mediums are very different. Still, the amount of color description and Woolf’s concentration on one particular place makes me visualize that one particular part of Kew Gardens on that one particular day with those particular people. It is a bit of a mixture of an impressionist painting, capturing the impression of the gardens throughout a period of time – a bit like Monet’s “Cathedral of Rouen”, which he tried to capture in many painting at different times of the day. At the same time, it is very much like Balla’s “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash” in that Woolf makes many references to time and space and people’s movement through both. Everyone in the painting of this story would look like the dog, blurry, with almost a trail of themselves dissolving behind them. The first couple especially talks of the past and people’s ghosts that inhabit the places they once visited, as if our existence is continuous, unending and we leave these seemingly imperceptible traces of ourselves everywhere we are. Thus, the couple walks away, eventually becoming transparent, as if dissolved in time and space.

What is also very interesting is Woolf’s repeated usage of imagery that often relates to her own childhood and her life in general. St. Ives, Talland House, lighthouses, flowers are all intertwined with her writing and I wonder whether a memoir such as A Sketch of the Past and even writing in general provided  Woolf with means of coping with various traumatic things that happened in her life – many deaths, sexual abuse, mental illness. She is very different from other writers, which is what makes me wonder about this – would she write as much, or at all, had she not experienced all these things? I suppose I just cannot think of another writer that includes so much of his or her own life and memories into writing, although all writers do this to varying extent. It definitely works to show just how the mind works – the influence of childhood, past events, traumatic or not, various, even the smallest things, and how all of this, whether we are conscious of it or not, stays with us for the rest of our lives and shows in different ways – in Woolf’s case, through her writing. But at the same time, does it show how an ordinary mind works, or how Woolf’s mind works. I guess this is what I have been struggling with for these past couple of weeks – even in “The Mark on the Wall”, we do not experience a real person’s mind, we experience what Woolf believes to be this character’s mind, but one can never truly know the mind of another person. We cannot experience other people like that, we only see them like other people see Jacob Flanders – from the outside.

“The Mark on the Wall” was a bit problematic for me, because Woolf uses the ambiguous mark for one purpose only – to start a chain of thought. It is very arbitrary to me, because the character sits there, staring at the mark and thinking of various unrelated things only because Woolf wants her to and the flow of thoughts we read is one that Woolf has made up, and so we are left with what perhaps Woolf would have done and thought had she seen a mark on her wall. Someone else might have just stood up and actually checked what it was. At the same time, I am writing this today, a century later, when literature has gone through a lot of changes since the time Woolf wrote. I understand that at that particular time, not many people wrote these kinds of stories and England was still reading the “materialists” as Woolf called them. She was one of the first to write about the human mind and how she thought it works. So perhaps I would have looked at it differently had I lived then, but now, after many stream of consciousness novels and experiences, I find “The Mark on the Wall” a little arbitrary. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

#1

The broad range of topics covered over the years by the Annual Virginia Woolf Conference shows just how much readers and enthusiasts of Woolf are able to uncover within her writing and other aspects of her life. For the 2010 Conference on Woolf and the Natural World, there was analysis of flower, water, landscape images in her works in addition to the other various ways nature is portrayed in Woolf’s writing. What I thought was most interesting were the discussions concerning animals: horses, dogs, birds. I have only read Mrs. Dalloway and I don’t really recall much of a presence of animals in that novel, so I think it would be interesting to see how they are relevant in other works. Especially interesting would be the idea of a “doggraphy” as one’s biography that one presentation mentioned, as well as the topics concerning birds, for example, “Birds as Social Deviants in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway”. I am really curious as to what arguments these presentations made.
           
The older conference concerning Woolf and the City also caught my attention. Some presentations in this conference seemed to be interested in women and their movement through urban areas, the importance of the distinction between the city and the countryside, as well as the bustling emotions and mindscapes that big cities contain and how these cities influence emotions, mindscapes and thus, the creative process. What particularly interested me from this conference was a presentation on Bloomsbury and Fashion, a notion that is very closely tied with metropolitan areas. I do not know much about Virginia Woolf in the context of fashion, but I believe that a group of people such as the Bloomsbury group she was a part of, one with distinctive ideas about life and literature must have some sort of aesthetic theory and practice – and we already have said in class that interior design of their house was part of this aesthetic, so I am hoping fashion may somehow be intertwined with this as well. I do recall Clarissa mending her dress and Miss Kilman paying particulate attention to the difference in her own dress and that of Mrs. Dalloway and so I am sure fashion plays at least a marginal role in Woolf’s novels, or maybe I did not pay close enough attention and maybe its role is a bit larger.
           
What I am really excited about with this class is the idea of the altered book. I have never encountered this kind of practice in any other class and find it very appealing and very creative. The only thing I would be worried about is actually destroying a book. However, at the same time, you are creating a kind of piece of art yourself. I hope we talk more about this idea in class though – does the book have to have a certain topic? does it have to be about a certain novel? I still have some questions. But I am looking forward to making one!