Saturday, July 4, 2015
she drew a line there, in the centre
Going back to some of Woolf's earlier essays in the first Common Reader I saw her searching here and there for ways to impregnate the landscape with the weight of her ideas, which was also the weight of time, with biography as a means to parcel out time; see (I say to myself) how many autobiographical books she reads, and how she tends to detach the events from the person's method of telling them, and then how she will re-tell the same events for her own audience, and comment on the veracity or strangeness of the original teller's own telling when she compares it to the broader view that she has created out of her fertilised imagination. "He was impervious to the romance of the situations in which he found himself." (The Lives of the Obscure.)
There she is in the first essay, The Pastons and Chaucer, returning like an elastic to John Paston's grave: "the grave of John Paston in Bromholm Priory without a tombstone," "his father’s tomb was still unmade," "the very church where her husband lay unremembered," this focus that can locate her in any other subject she decides to discuss; and later in her writing she will, again, find a physical object where the weight of some ineffable force will hang: think of the car in Mrs Dalloway with the unknown person inside, and everyone compelled to orbit around it for a moment.
How does a person describe their own life, she wonders: but the point-of-focus idea doesn't seem to have come from any of these diaries or books of letters. It appears to have evolved out of her way of storytelling. This structural device is being used as a way of parcelling out time-in-life as well as time-in-story. (Is that a good thing -- question --)
I go back to David Ireland yet again to compare their methods of approaching the Ineffable: Woolf hanging this focal point out like a hook to find that fish (not expecting to catch it, but planning for the sight of a ripple), and Ireland, who is less scientific, making his people butt their heads blindly and stupidly in the direction of Something: they don't know exactly what. Whatever it is, they can't have it, a fact that makes him savage; this savagery is absent from Woolf's civilised holistic observations. She oversees the broad reach of time but he is inflamed by the obdurate present, that will not let his people proceed to the end-point right now; and so he is more violent than her; and so the Canoe and the Prisoner can end with bursts of destruction that, in her books, are replaced by quiet gestures of reconciliation and wholeness. "With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished." (To the Lighthouse.)