Fin in a Waste of Waters

"These moments of escape are not to be despised. They come too seldom....Leaning over this parapet I see far out a waste of water. A fin turns....I note under 'F.,' therefore, 'Fin in a waste of waters.' I, who am perpetually making notes in the margin of my mind for some final statement, make this mark, waiting for some winter's evening." (from Woolf's THE WAVES)

08 July 2007

Waiting for inspiration...from my inspiration

In one of several installments of his autobiography, Beginning Again: 1911-1918, Leonard Woolf recalls the way in which his wife Virginia's mind often worked: for days, weeks, even months, she would sit starting out the window, at the fire, at her paper, contemplating "the problem," until, in a sudden flash, she would solve it, her pen dashing across the page so that she could hardly keep up with her own voice - she finished The Waves with "such intensity and intoxication," she recorded.

Perhaps because I know this about her, my own writing about her fluctuates between contemplation and fulguration. True, I experience those "flashes" of inspiration (who doesn't, regardless of vocation/purpose/hobby?) in my other writing (fiction, epistolary, even email, even here [today not being an example of this]), and in my critical writing about other subjects (most notably Joyce, with whom I have a love-hate relationship; trapped in a dead-lock with the man/author/myth for weeks, until suddenly, either he or I give, and the words landslide down page after type-written, single-spaced page) - but with Virginia, the struggle is more exhausting; the inspiration, purer. Perhaps all Woolf scholars like to imagine this sort of intimacy with their subject, but I like to think that after years of reading and reading about Virginia, writing informally and more recently, formally, about her; after listening to her voice in the only existing recording of her at the library; after deciphering (rather unsuccessfully) her hand in the Monks House Papers; after visiting most of her homes (and her sister's) and haunting her neighborhoods and favorite walks (Regent's Park, St. George's Gardens, the downs, etc) - I like to think that after this, I have absorbed something of the essence of this presence who still permeates London, Sussex, and that this will in turn inform my writing of her.

Unfortunately for me, however, I have not the luxury of months to contemplate - nor even weeks. 3 September, work schedules, health concerns & autumn living plans inform my writing now. I become impatient with my research; and worse, with my writing. I push unprepared into unexplored territory, and naturally, lose myself in the brambling complexities of Virginia which are otherwise part of what I love best about her. And I finally find my way only to be heartbreakingly interrupted, never to lose sight of her in the thick, but rather, to lose my way to her. Only a few weeks ago: working steadily, writing well - then, a vague email from my doctor that my blood results have come back "abnormal"; he thinks kidney problems, but isn't sure what it means. A week of nearly daily doctors' appointments combined with at-home observation throws me. Then: the weekend. Relief: doctors don't call or email on weekends; there is no post on Sundays. I work again. Monday: a provisional "diagnosis" ("in all probability," they say - thank God it's not my kidneys; rather, it's miscommunication between my pituitary gland and my kidneys, it seems) which I continue to work under, unconfirmed and untreated as it is, waiting for the doctors. I work. Then: a week-long visit from my mother. We slog through a week of rain in London and Brighton (at least she got the "authentic" British experience! Jane Eyre: "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.") which leaves me sick for days after she's gone. My writing still has not recovered, exactly a week after she's departed. The ideas are all there; I write and rewrite; I cannot organize, which is why I have come here, in the hopes of, as if I were casually batting ideas around with you, as if you were here in this room with me (a time when a woman wants anything but a room of her own!!), the form will organize itself in my mind:

In this chapter in my diss, I am looking at Night and Day as one of Woolf's most important war novels - a novel which is often overlooked in the Woolf canon, and even charged with "deliberately looking away" (Briggs) from WWI, during which it was written. At this moment, I mean to be discussing the structure of repression (and the equally dual nature of that repression: both of the war experience & civilian "madness") practiced by the novel - at once contextual (the architecture within) & textual (the "architecture" of) which Woolf parallels from the opening pages (we enter the novel as Denham enters Cheyne Walk). Further, it is temporal repression on several levels: Mrs. Hilbery & Mr. Fortescue in the novel look even further backwards, thus highlighting the novel's own self-conscious awareness of its location in the past, which at moments threatens to erupt in masked references to the present. ... Sounds easy, right? I think I need a pen & paper for this one. And a moment of inspiration, as I've been staring at this for a week now...


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