Category Archives: Woolf

Illuminations

We cycle up the coast towards Holme, chain our bikes to a tree and walk on a sandy path through the woods. S. stops here and there to open her wildlife book and identify some plant or insect. We chat without paying attention to our surroundings, the wood opens up, and suddenly we find ourselves before a wide-open view: on one side the sea and sky a vast sheet of whites and blues, on the other scrapes and grassy dunes stretching inland.

*

No story, rather those moments when you’re stopped on your path and made to see where you are with new eyes – as when you work on a problem until it seems insoluble and the answer comes to you in a flash: it was obvious all along, why couldn’t I see it!

Or those passages in novels in which the story gathers itself into fleeting moments of clarity and illuminates itself. I daydream of a book containing only such passages – something like Stephen Hero’s book of epiphanies, or a collection of Woolf’s ‘little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark’.

*

‘Wait, be quiet, still and solitary’, wrote Kafka. ‘The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.’ Here I am, the world seems to say, if only you could see me.

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The idea has come to me that what I want now to do is to saturate every atom. I mean to eliminate all waste, deadness, superfluity: to give the moment whole; whatever it includes… Waste, deadness, come from the inclusion of things that do not belong to the moment; this appalling narrative business of the realist: getting on from lunch to dinner: it is false, unreal, merely conventional. Why admit anything to literature that is not poetry — by which I mean saturated?

— Woolf, diary (via here)

So she stood thinking. Without making any thought precise – for she was one of those reticent people whose minds hold their thoughts enmeshed in clouds of silence – she was filled with thoughts. Her mind was like her room, in which lights advanced and retreated, came pirouetting and stepping delicately, spread their tails, pecked their way; and then her whole being was suffused, like the room again, with a cloud of some profound knowledge, some unspoken regret, and then she was full of locked drawers, stuffed with letters, like her cabinets.

— Woolf, ‘The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection’