Tuesday, July 21, 2015
leap and sizzle, making the cauldron bubble like boiling silver
I think over Powys' criticism of Woolf on the grounds of "Life Itself" and wonder if it is a) legitimate because the gap between Life Itself and life-in-fiction is a phenomenon that she often considers on the page and here is someone willing to situate her on one side or the other, but b) illegitimate because I have already seen her decide that she is making art, not life.
It would be intellectually dishonest of her to pretend that a book is "Life Itself;" that's her belief.
But tantalised, she's tantalised. "Let us again pretend that life is a solid substance, shaped like a globe, which we turn about in our fingers," says Bernard at the end of The Waves; "Let us pretend that we can make out a plain and logical story –" she'll concede that perfect possession of life is impossible: "Whatever sentence I extract whole and entire from this cauldron is only a string of six little fish that let themselves be caught while a million others leap and sizzle, making the cauldron bubble like boiling silver, and slip through my fingers." Or: "Out rush a bristle of horned suspicions, horror, horror, horror — but what is the use of painfully elaborating these consecutive sentences when what one needs is nothing consecutive but a bark, a groan?"
The question that she asks of herself is, how should life be misrepresented?
She has already judged Edgeworth, who can't achieve the detachment that she wants from him.* She is uneasy in the face of Margaret Cavendish, "diffused, uneasy, contorted," as well as charmed by her; in the Cavendish essay she comes back and back around the other writer's inability to measure her capacities and be guided by them. "It was from the plain of complete ignorance, the untilled field of her own consciousness, that she proposed to erect a philosophic system that was to oust all others." So there needs to be cool estimation and measurement ...
She invents other modes of symmetry or patterning. She reasserts order. It will be her own order, which she has made, in order to measure and assess and weigh, and also to contain the awareness that measurement is not possible: "How impossible to order them rightly; to detach one separately."
When she is dissatisfied with Richardson's Tunnel she will say that the other author does not measure and asses, "sensations, impressions, ideas and emotions glance off, unrelated and unquestioned;" but Richardson is willing to risk the Cavendish judgement where Woolf is not; she will write from "the untilled field of her own consciousness." She will risk not being witty. A reviewer in Full Stop who has read Viviane Forrester's "strange little book about Virginia Woolf," says that aesthetes prefer wit, therefore literature will be judged for its lightness – Richardson will not do it – and she will drive herself against the sensible realisations of Woolf, about art and life – she will go into the tantalisation – like someone driving their boat down the whirlpool plughole –
* I think he's more aware of romance than she says.