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June 1, 2017

The Genius that is Virginia Woolf.

I feel like we are all children in a way.

We are thrown into this world, innocent, unblemished, and are forced to contend with the sheer magnitude and complexity of being.

Even when we become adults, there remains that childlike innocence within us, and I feel as though it might be important to tap into that innate sense of wonder and curiosity so that we may live more happily and be more loving to others.

It seems as though when we tap into the child within us, we are living more closely with nature, and this is a powerful thing.

I don’t know that anyone has helped me more along the way than Virginia Woolf.

A good friend of mine, who I’ve unfortunately become somewhat alienated from quite recently, has been an intensive follower of Virginia Woolf for quite some time, and in order to perhaps reconcile with her I thought I would pick up one of Virginia’s books so as to garner a better sense of my friend’s experience as well as to get a taste of Mrs. Woolf’s enchanted vision.

I’m not much of a novel guy, really, but there was a kind of burning desire and intensity inside that led me to Barnes & Noble on that fair spring evening to see what could be uncovered of Mrs. Woolf’s widely renowned collection of works.

What I was left with was a crisp and finely kept copy of To the Lighthouse, the cover of which was a pristine landscape with some vaguely distinguishable figures—faces shadowed and obscured, yet somehow full of subtle expression and aliveness.

These figures actually preface the book quite nicely, being that we are getting insight into the shadow side of each character throughout the story, peering into the deeper layers of their psyche and spirit, peeking into the very fabric of their souls.

I don’t know if I’ve ever read anyone that articulated the human experience as eloquently and veraciously as Virginia Woolf. She encapsulates what it means to be alive through her portrayal of the raw field of human emotion, and does so in a way that asserts our personal autonomy and individuality as well as our total banality and frailty in relation to the sheer vastness and complexity of the universe as a whole.

“As summer neared, as the evenings lengthened, there came to the wakeful, the hopeful, walking the beach, stirring the pool, imaginations of the strangest kind—of flesh turned to atoms which drove before the wind, of stars flashing in their hearts, of cliff, sea, cloud, and sky brought purposely together to assemble outwardly the scattered parts of the vision within.”

This segment of the book is one wherein the passing of time and our relationship as humans to the ceaseless flux and transformation of the cosmos is most glaring, as depicted by the title of the chapter, “Time Passes.”

We are seeing the characters contend with notions of death, decay, and fragility—as they return to house where many of the previous inhabitants and close relatives had passed away in the preceding years. They wander the grounds of the property, each conveying their deepest and most intimate of thoughts of change and the metamorphosis of life, regarding their infinitesimal nature in relation to the magnitude of infinity, questioning the meaning of their sensibilities and affections amidst the flux of eternity.

Although they might feel fragmented, disjointed, and asunder at times, there remains something inherently unifying about nature, some innate connectivity and cohesiveness resting beneath the flux of it all. There is some underlying cooperation at play here, some divine mutuality resting beneath the disparate chaos and confusion of human life—a kind of archaic familiarity lying below the “scattered parts of the vision within.”

The the passage continues.

“In those mirrors, the minds of men, in those pools of uneasy water, in which clouds forever turn and shadows form, dreams persisted, and it was impossible to resist the strange intimation with every gull, flower, tree, man and woman, and the white earth itself seemed to declare (but if questioned at once to withdraw) that good triumphs, happiness prevails, order rules; or to resist the extraordinary stimulus to range hither and thither in search of some absolute good, some crystal of intensity, remote from the known pleasures and familiar virtues, something alien to the processes of domestic life, single, hard, bright, like a diamond in the sand, which would render the possessor secure.”

There is a kind of gravitational pull embedded in the very fabric of the natural world, a “strange intimation” built into the very structure of existence that is entirely transcendent of thought, knowledge, and human conception. We can only can get tastes, never can we swallow the thing whole, and Woolf seems to imply in much of her writing that it is only through the doorway of pure feeling, the threshold of raw and unadulterated emotion, that we can tap into this transcendent force, this sublime power of creation.

There seems to be something that calls upon the better angels of our nature, some universal undercurrent that implores the full and total expression of our highest selves, but of course our imperfections and infirmities shall forever remain. This is what it means to be human, at once moving in accordance with the vastness of infinity whilst at the same time dwelling in the realm of time and death.

We can never move beyond this existential contradiction, that of the inherent conflict between our humanity and our divinity, but what we can do is embrace the whole mess, immerse ourselves in beautiful tragedy of it all, envelop ourselves in the ‘full catastrophe’ of this life so as derive as much joy and power from it as possible—so as to live with love. Mrs. Woolf packages this quite nicely as the passage goes on.

“Moreover, softened and acquiescent, the spring with her bees humming and gnats dancing threw her cloak about her, veiled her eyes, averted her head, and among passing shadows and flights of small rain seemed to have taken upon her a knowledge of the sorrows of mankind.”

Although Virginia Woolf is a master of ominous articulation and bleak expression, she always seems to leave room for hope, and that is something I find quite beautiful. Although the human predicament may seem rather grim a first glance, being that we are thinking apes just intelligent enough to recognize how f*cked we are and not enough to lastingly solve anything, there lingers a hidden element of grace and poise behind the sorrow.

This is why I appreciate her so much, for surely she encapsulates this sentiment quite nicely through her writing. No matter how torn up we may feel inside, no matter how distraught, no matter how disheartened, no matter how sorrowful we might become, we will never be entirely without the gentle caress of nature, the kiss of the divine. We will never cease to be held by God, and Virginia understood this.

So, whether I picked up this book to up my chances of getting with a girl or not is secondary to the power and resonance of her words, her thoughts, her art. I intend to read all of her works so as to truly assimilate her extraordinary and captivating outlook on the human experience, for the more I read, the broader and deeper my perception comes to be. I can feel myself aligning with this natural order, this latent energy field that exists above, behind, and beyond all living things.

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Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Wikicommons
Editor: Travis May

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