Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Spatial Thinking on Orlando

As I re-read (re-heard) Orlando this time, I found myself focusing on how much the novel is a meditation/ reverie on identity—how identity is made through imagination, by language, by social and historical constructs.  The malleability of the body seems like a metaphor for the transformative process of identity formation, both affected if not determined by the expectations of the Spirit of the Age.  As I read McDowell in particular, I began to understand something crucial about how nature works into this convergence,  Nature, like the self, seems like a given, a ground, but like the self it is continuous process of being created/ re-created, largely through the uses of imagination, especially through language and literature.   That is why Nick Greene’s name is what it is: “Green in nature is one thing, green[e]  in literature another” (14). Woolf’s assertion that “Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.  The shade of green Orlando now saw spoiled his rhyme and split his meter” (14) goes against conventional mimetic theory where Greene mirrors green.  Instead green interrupts Greene’s autonomy.   For Woolf, literature is not a mirror that reflects nature but its own system of meaning, which is distracted by attempts at mimetic fidelity.  As the interlocutor of the metaphorphosizing institution of Brit Lit, (he moves from being a poet to being a critic and an academic) Greene changes with the ages much as the weather and flora do.

This cracking of the mirror phase in the relation between nature and literature (see QUeen Elizabeth episode) is connected to the way that gender and sexuality are treated in the novel, for here too the expected correspondence doesn’t hold: Orlando’s sex is only sometimes reflected in her gender.  We are used to the idea that gender is socially constructed and its manifestations and fashions change with the culture and the age; it is much more radical to assert that sex also responds to cultural imperatives.  The idea that sex changes is akin to the idea that nature changes; both evolve in mysterious synchronicity with the Zietgeist.  The fact that nature is so often symbolically gendered female only adds to this correspondence.

In recognizing this plasticity, Woolf anticipates some crucial aspects  of Foucault— particularly the idea that the body and sexuality are also socially constructed.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Reading Jacob’s Room

  •  Read Vara Neverow’s Introduction.  What critical cruxes does she note: what are the usual issues discussed when analyzing this book? 
  •  What themes, images, structural principals do you see operating in Jacob’s Room that are similar to the short stories we read last week? 
  •  How does Jacob’s Room enact the manifestos for modern fiction that we read last week? 
  •  Make a list of space/place approaches that we have begun discussing.  Which of these “terministic screens” might prove to be a useful lens for examining Jacob? 
  •  What are the polarities in Modernism that Chris Reed defines in his Introduction?  Do you see any aspects of this political division in Jacob’s Room? 
  •  What are the places/spaces in which Jacob’s Room is staged?  What do the different locations tells us about Jacob’s life? 
  •  Read the deCerteau essay(s)  (we may add two shirt ones to BB on Monday).  What do you think are the central ideas in DeCerteau?  How can they be deployed to enrich our reading of Jacob?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Reading and Discussion Questions for Woolf's Early Short Stories


• You may want to start out by reading Woolf’s manifesto for the new form of writing she is trying to invent: “Modern Fiction.” Slightly revised from an essay called “Modern Novels” published in 1919 -- around the time she was writing “Mark on the Wall” (1917) and “Kew Gardens” (1919) -- this is Woolf’s best known and most often-quoted essay. You want to look for what she is attacking in the previous generation of writers and what she wants to see in the new writing. (make lists)

• Then think about how “Mark” and “Kew” embody these ideas.

• Jane Goldman has a brief section on “Modern Fiction” in her book (103-6), and Mark Hussey has a page-long entry on it in his A to Z (on reserve).


• As you read the short stories, be thinking about “A Sketch of the Past.” What structures/ ways of writing do these works have in common? Can you begin to articulate a sense of Woolf’s characteristic style? How does she think? And how is that revealed in the way she organizes or structures her stories? Also be alert for common themes and images. Twenty+ years separate these short stories from her memoir. Are there issues which she seems to be concerned with across that arc of time?

• There are several overviews about the short stories available:
o Goldman, Cambridge Intro, pp. 87-92 (R) REQUIRED

o Sandra Kemp’s Introduction to the selected short stories for Penguin (BB)

o Baldwin, Dean. “Bold Experiments” 13-26 in Virginia Woolf: A Study of the Short Fiction (1989) (BB)

o I personally favor A. Fleishman’s “Forms of the Woolfian Short Story” (1980) which posits 2 different forms for the stories: linear and circular (though we can argue quite a bit over which stories are which). (BB)

o Dick, Susan."Chasms in the Continuity of Our Way: Jacob's Room."Chapter Two of Virginia Woolf. London & New York: Edward Arnold, 1989. (R) Connects the early short stories up to the method and themes of Jacob’s Room.


• On first reading, this story appears to be quite random and chaotic. Just read it a couple of times, letting the images sink in. Then I would advise going through and trying to make your own outline of what each paragraph is about.

• Can you see any turning points in the story? Can you clump any paragraphs into groups?

• What seem to be the repeated images and concerns? ( Repetition is the key to meaning)

• What is the story “about”?


• Use the same reading process with “Kew.” Notice the various characters in the story and how the narration/ point of view shifts among them. Is there any pattern here?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Course Description

This graduate seminar explores a chronological selection of Virginia Woolf’s works, viewed  through numerous theoretical lenses, with special emphasis on phenomenological, feminist, and space/place approaches.  Sustained attention will be paid to interdisciplinary perspectives which link Woolf to a variety of other arts, to research opportunities in digital archives, and to participation in the lively international Virginia Woolf Community.  Students will be encouraged to bring in and adapt critical/theoretical contexts from other RCID classes to produce original, inventive  interpretations of Woolf’s work.   For the RCID program, this course will provide background for subsequent work with Dr. Holmevik in producing a serious game based on Woolf and her circle.