virginia woolf’s summer madness

The only thing in this world is music–music and books and one or two pictures. I am going to found a colony where there shall be no marrying–unless you happen to fall in love with a symphony of Beethoven–no human element at all, except what comes through Art–nothing but ideal peace and endless meditation. The whole of human beings grows too complicated, my only wonder is that we don’t fill more madhouses: the insane view of life has much to be said for it–perhaps its the sane one after all: and we, the sad sober respectable citizens really rave every moment of our lives and deserve to be shut up perpetually. My spring melancholy is developing these hot days into summer madness.

Source: The Letters of Virginia Woolf Volume 1: 1888-1912 (from a letter dated April 23, 1901 to Emma Vaughan)

(thanks: lost fun zone)

observation without judgment

She walks fast, and yet anything distracts her. Now she seems to see, and now to notice nothing.
—Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

The greater the capacity for judgment, the greater the wariness. Our wariness slowly permeates everything.
—Thomas Bernhard, Gargoyles

Speed operates independent of concentration. What moves past looks more interesting than what stands ahead. It is a simple matter to feign sight, as it is to appear unaware. Perhaps the only proof of either is in the details, in one’s ability to report them.

(Does she not notice, or only appear to not notice.)

Seeing everything makes it impossible to focus on the narrow. The truth of the world’s incongruities shatters that focus knob into splinters. White-out conditions descend. A heart cannot expand to fill this wide a field of vision. All-consuming observation is a form of slow death, even as it deepens awareness.

(Does she walk fast because she does not want to be noticed.)

Moments of clarity pierce the cotton wool with no warning. The inherent lack of preparation precludes gain, and the resultant thatching into solid theory. With no philosophy to peddle, no brilliant answers to impossible question(er)s, there is only ostracism.

(For the impartial observer must embrace anonymity.)

From the outer edges objective observation appears to alienate the observer from others. Yet it is important not to judge, to strike with this tinder an internal corruption. Consumption by inner judgment brings another form of death, slow but more painful than all-consuming objective observation.

(The myth of universal truth shelters beneath the canopy of only what we see.)

Objective observation necessitates separation from the self. Motion away from the self occurs with judgment. The two are dissimilar, separation and motion away. One observes but does not compare to the self. This is static separation. One judges, compares to self, and in so doing increases distance from the self. This is motion away. Observation without judgment preserves the self. Observation with judgment disparages it.

somewhere else

City

Dallas

Sunset

Sunset

Pelicans

American White Pelicans
(with Am. Coot in background)

Bonus Photo (note: closer to home than above)

Lighthouse

To the Lighthouse (V.W.)

Somewhere Else (SE) constitutes a removal of oneself from fixed behavior chains, thought patterns, and/or emotional states. It does not necessitate a change in physical place, although such a change can certainly strike flame to tinder.

(Photos taken with crappy cell phone camera. Pelican photo taken through binocular lens.)

seaside

At times I can go back to St Ives more completely than I can this morning. I can reach a state where I seem to be watching things happen as if I were there.

Now if this is so, is it not possible—I often wonder—that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence?

—Virginia Woolf, “A Sketch of the Past”

I stood in the grass, breathing in stories of stunted pitch pines. The house, grey clapboard weathered in sea air, loomed behind me. I remember walking on zigzagged boardwalks over brackish marsh. Jigsaw puzzles in yellow afternoon light, pouring across the floor like liquid pollen of no real substance. I still hold this yellow light. The stretch and scrape of the screen door spring as it opens, the loud slam as it shuts. Riding bikes down sand-strewn streets. Comic books and chewing gum. Beach grass swaying in salty breezes. The rising dunes in purple evening light.

virginia woolf on words

How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth? That is the question.

It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, ranging hither and thither, falling in love, and mating together.

Regrettably the audio recording of Virginia Woolf’s discussion on ‘the mysterious demands and duplicity of words’ has been removed from the BBC archives due to copyright restrictions. I found a transcript of the recording here, though, and it is a good read. Until the copyright police yank it down, there is also this excerpt of the recording on YouTube:

more on mist

I have been reading Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse and yesterday evening I came across this passage:

It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself. There rose, and she looked and looked with her needles suspended, there curled up off the floor of the mind, rose from the lake of one’s being, a mist, a bride to meet her lover.

Naturally I wondered if this was the same mist Kafka writes about not being able to expel from his head. He says that no one will want to lie there with him in those clouds of mist. Woolf’s speaker, Mrs. Ramsay, is troubled by this mist, by her inner life. She is at odds with it, and feels uncomfortable when her husband witnesses her in the throes of it:

Had she known that he was looking at her, she thought, she would not have let herself sit there, thinking. She disliked anything that reminded her that she had been seen sitting thinking.

And yet Mrs. Ramsay’s inner life seems extremely rich and rewarding. She maintains a special relationship with the third stroke of the Lighthouse beacon (the long steady light she refers to in the first quoted passage above):

Watching it with fascination, hypnotised, as if it were stroking with its silver fingers some sealed vessel in her brain whose bursting would flood her with delight, she had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough! It is enough!

Her husband sees a beauty emanating from her while she is in this ecstatic state and feels he cannot approach or interrupt her, and yet his interpretation of her state is flawed:

She was aloof from him now in her beauty, in her sadness. He would let her be, and he passed her without a word, though it hurt him that she should look so distant, and he could not reach her, he could do nothing to help her.

The novel clearly portrays Mrs. Ramsay and Mr. Ramsay as being at odds with both themselves and each other. She snatches moments to wade into the mist of her mind and yet feels guilty about her indulgence, not wanting her husband to see her in such a state. Mr. Ramsay, on the other hand, mistakenly interprets this state as distress or sadness. Perhaps he cannot conceive of his wife wanting time to think to herself? Either this underlines a fundamental misunderstanding between the two, bitterly lampooning a superficiality characteristic of many societal interactions (even among spouses), or it lays bare what Kafka concluded, that the mist itself prevents the necessary connection from being made between two people. This connection being one that would allow sharing of one’s most private inner ecstasies with another.

One theory I’ve considered is that the mist may not be translatable into language. Perhaps that is the problem. And yet, the mist may also be related to Jung’s collective unconscious; it may be the shared ecstasy we all feel from time to time, something primal that humans have always known but are unable to adequately express to each other. If that is the case, we may indeed share that connection, but only by sensing it in each other, not by communicating it with words.

the vagulator’s map

I want to be somewhere unfamiliar and yet I know it is merely a swirly chipped vision I see in my head. Outside a stone house at dusk, looking down the hillside at a copse of trees, wood smoke trailing from the chimney to the violet sky above, a pungent scent to breathe in, to savor. Gravel crunches underfoot, a lantern swinging from a hand slants yellow light across the path, scrape of the gate latch, a figure strides into darkness, never to return.

Canadian art house films don’t help, the lush scenery a starring role in itself, stealing the limelight, all humans fade to flat. I care less about what they are doing to each other, probing each other with words and organs, wrecking lives, all-too-familiar narrative arcs, but what about the waves forming across the lake, lapping onto the stony shore, the way that mountain looms like a haunted face over us all. These things matter. They outlast flesh.

I like words that start with ‘wood’. A woodnote is a song or call of a woodland bird. A wood nymph is a nymph of the forest. I would imagine a wood troll is a troll of the forest, or perhaps an orchard. A wood pussy is informal for a skunk. Wood sugar is xylose.

There is a bird (actually two of them) called a wryneck. These Old World species can twist their necks into unusual contortions. Perhaps they also demonstrate a dry sense of humor when relaxing amongst their bird friends and colleagues. I’d like to fancy myself a wryneck, but an old cycling accident prevents it.

In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf uses the phrase ‘vagulous phosphorescence’ to describe an old lady. Vagulous is a word that Woolf apparently made up (see p. 7 of this article), meaning ‘fanciful formation’. There is also a verb form, vagulate, meaning ‘to wander in a vague manner; to waver’.

In the woods today there were more birders than birds. The bird to birder ratio was not in my favor (and yet as I now review other reports online from that location today I see that two rarities were found, both of which would have been life birds for me…sigh). Even the typically less-traveled trails held women with feeder blobs secured to their midsections, guffawing young ones with canine friends, a full orchestra of humanity tuning up for the day’s symphony. And why not. The humidity broken, temperatures dipping to livable levels, cotton puffball clouds clotted a blue painted sky. Why not all converge in one spot.

I rose above it, literally, and found a Brown Thrasher. And an American Redstart. I need less input, more output. Rather, more filtered, structured input. Less information to influence, to make one waver. The vagaries of the vagulator, vacillating with vociferous vim and vigor.

In the port-a-john there was a violent-looking spider. It was perched calmly in the corner at seat level. This raises questions in my mind. Are spiders vindictive? Was that spider thinking I know you all hate me and think I’m horrifying so I will lurk here in this portable toilet until you sit down and then I will jump into your naked lap, possibly onto your private bits, scaring the living shit out of you and causing you to never use a portable toilet again? Was it thinking that? Or was it just thinking, damn, this sucks. I am stuck in this portable toilet. How am I gonna get out. Or was it thinking, I’m a spider, I’m a spider, I’m a spider. Or the abbreviated: spider, spider, spider. Or not thinking, just being its spider self, in the portable toilet, unaware of any special significance attached to its location or even its existence.

When you start researching things on the Internet you tend to see the exact phrasing used in Wikipedia articles repeated over and over, in blog posts, news articles, and ‘answer’ sites (which presumably exist for people who know how to get online and ask questions but don’t understand how to use a search engine). Take for example, the vapors (or vapours, if your people prefer the ‘u’), which is described in these exact terms in Wikipedia, as well as a million other places: “Vapors were considered to be the female equivalent to melancholy found in men.” So, really the movie I watched last night should have been called Vapours, not Melancholia. And who assigns gender to a planet, anyway. Of course the Earth is a she isn’t she and we have been legitimately raping her for years haven’t we. Maybe she will magically expel us all soon. Better get in your magic tepee, teepee, or tipi.

These are the days, the days we are living.

  • Recent Posts

  • Navigation Station

    The links along the top of the page are rudimentary attempts at trail markers. Otherwise, see below for more search and browse options.

  • In Search of Lost Time

  • Personal Taxonomy

  • Common Ground

  • Resources

  • BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS