Thursday, June 30, 2016

On Virginia Woolf.

I've been reading Virginia Woolf's Moments of Being, and it's been moving. Well, parts of it have. There are long segments that list names of lords and ladies, parties and calling cards. I resolve those dry sections to be equivalent to me telling anybody about my day, it would be tedious. Our days are filled with people and happenings of no real value outside of propelling our story forward. It seems only the peaks and valleys really make their mark. So I am drawn to Virginia most when she is lost in thought.

I've not read the interpretations of her, the forewords and notes, I want only to read what's written by her hand. I've been working my way through her work, and I've been increasingly drawn to her voice.

She describes concepts in a way that speaks directly to me.

She mentions "ancestral dread," (68) how she feels she's inherited the puritanical from her ancestors. She also briefly mentions what sounds like a sexual molestation, and the shame she feels in recognising her beauty, or even looking at herself. She's quick to move away from this, and focuses instead on her feelings of always having been older than herself.

During difficult times, I've often felt my depression was deserved. Inherited. That maybe it was a past life, manifest. Maybe I was fucking awful once. Maybe my people were. I'm white - that's likely historically accurate. Maybe I inherited this pain from someone. Maybe it's my birthright. This ancestral dread, is another way to externalise the depression, to name it. It's a demon. A curse. An ancestral dread.

She also names how much of our time is spent in a state of  "non-being" (70).  These, the parts of our day we don't really recall due to monotony and habit. These moments we move from one place to another, as automatons. "Every day includes much more non-being than being," she says, from over 70 years ago. Now we experience that non-being with a screen in our face. But it's easier than that. It takes so much energy to focus. It takes so much to be alert, to be active. It comes in bursts. Now like then.

She describes her depression as only a writer can:
"But it was not over, for that night in the bath the dumb horror came over me. Again I had that hopeless sadness; the collapse I have described before; as if I were passive under some sledge-hammer blow; exposed to a whole avalanche pf meaning that had heaped itself up and discharged itself upon me, unprotected, with nothing to ward it off, so that I huddled up at my end of the bath, motionless." (78)
 "The dumb horror" is indeed what it is. No doubt her use of the word "dumb" is meant in a dumbing sense, meaning temporarily unable to speak or communicate. And that would be an apt description. Both work, really. There's a cutting into you that disables the parts of you that communicate, that reach out. There's also a return to more rudimentary processing, more immediate and needs-based. I liken it to being sleep-deprived. There's a real pull you can't just "snap out of," no matter how hard you fight it.

Overall the read got long at times, Woolf goes over the social nature of 20th century England in a way that's exhausting to even imagine. Did these people have jobs? They're mainly aristocrats, so no, they didn't.

Woolf is best when she floats above the world, not when she's bogged down by social-decorum and the daily "non-being."

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