Sunday, December 5, 2010


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.

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