Rereading The Waves

This is what she does so well: “what is the use of painfully elaborating these consecutive sentences when what one needs is nothing consecutive but a bark, a groan?” Conventional narratives fail to give any genuine sense of life itself, with its flow of associations, impressions, memories, its subliminal, discordant orchestration that pierces our moment to moment existence.  Woolf gets close in The Waves, maybe the closest of any writer to capturing the intersection of sensation, thought and other people. Imposing artificially coherent structure is part of our myth-making, our fear of apparent chaos. In place of complexity and mutation, we seek simplification and artificial beauty. “How tired I am of stories, how tired I am of phrases that come down beautifully with all their feet on the ground!”

Part of the lie of rational narrative is this falsified sense of identity. As Bernard argues in The Waves, he is expected to be a “certain kind of man”, but of course there are “many Bernards . . . I am not one person; I am many people; I do not altogether know who I am – Jinny, Susan, Neville, Rhoda or Louis; or how to distinguish my life from theirs.”

Give me rupture, fragmentation, allow me to perform in the sense that I use my own interpretive failure to finish making a story, to fully appreciate the “mystery of things”.

I listened also to the Foucault episodes of Philosophize This! The third (episode 123) is very good, especially in its discussion of Bentham’s panopticon as a model for how we internalize constant surveillance. This seems also true of popular fiction with its apparent unique access to character’s private thoughts and lives, a superior position that enables us to identify with the watcher or narrator. Woolf denies her reader this superiority by not offering readers this higher perspective.

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Anthony

Time's Flow Stemmed is a notebook of my wild readings.

5 thoughts on “Rereading The Waves

  1. Discovering Woolf at age 17 was so exhilarating and liberating. Though I’ve read To the Lighthouse many times since then, The Waves is the novel of hers I most want to revisit now.

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