Scribbling Cynic

Rambling thoughts, sudden inspirations, general wittiness

Posts tagged Virginia Woolf

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…the daughters of educated men have always done their thinking from hand to mouth; not under green lamps at study tables in the cloisters of secluded colleges. They have thought while they stirred the pot, while they rocked the cradle. It was thus that they won us the right to our brand-new sixpence. It falls to us now to go on thinking; how are we to spend that sixpence? Think we must. Let us think in office; in omnibuses; while we are standing in the crowd watching Coronations and Lord Mayor’s Shows; let us think as we pass the Cenotaph; and in Whitehall; in the gallery of the House of Commons; in the Law Courts; let us think at baptisms and marriages and funerals. Let us never cease from thinking—what is this ‘civilization’ in which we find ourselves? What are these ceremonies and why should we take part in them? What are these professions and why should we make money out of them? Where in short is it leading us, the procession of the sons of educated men?

Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Well, this was the last Woolf book I had to (re)read for my class, so there probably won’t be any more Woolf (or Forster) quotes for a while.

You’re heartbroken, I know.

Filed under Virginia Woolf Three Guineas daughters

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I, who am always distracted, whether by a cat or by a bee buzzing round the bouquet that Lady Hampden keeps so diligently pressed to her nose, at once make up a story and so obliterate the angles of the crucifix. I have made up thousands of stories; I have filled innumerable notebooks with phrases to be used when I have found the true story, the one story to which all these phrases refer. But I have never yet found that story. And I begin to ask, Are there stories?
Virginia Woolf, The Waves

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Indeed, such differences of opinion are enough to cause bloodshed and a revolution. Towns have been sacked for less, and a million martyrs have suffered at the stake rather than yield an inch upon any of the points here debated. No passion is stronger in the breast of man than the desire to make others believe as he believes. Nothing so cuts at the root of his happiness and fills him with rage as the sense that another rates low what he prizes high. Whigs and Tories, Liberal party and Labour party—for what do they battle except their own prestige? It is not love of truth, but desire to prevail that sets quarter against quarter and makes parish desire the downfall of parish. Each seeks peace of mind and subserviency rather than the triumph of truth and the exaltation of virtue.
Virginia Woolf, Orlando

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Since I started writing my thesis, several people have asked me which authors my writing is inspired by, or which authors I am trying to emulate.  I think trying to emulate another writer can be a legitimate and successful way to write, but I personally don’t consciously try to do so.  And I wonder, why am I supposed to?  I am trying to develop my own voice and writing style.  I don’t see how I could discover what that is without trying to be distinctly me. 

I don’t want to intentionally become The Next… Whoever.  I know that people inevitably describe books by comparing them to similar books, but that doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to pick an author to write like.  And I know I am subconsciously influenced by writers.  Virginia Woolf, for instance, is creeping into my thesis like she is creeping into my Tumblr, because I keep reading her books for my Woolf and Forster class.  But that doesn’t mean I want to try to write like her.  I like sentences that end eventually.  And plots.

I also think that if I tried to write like someone else, it would probably end up feeling forced and contrived.  I would much rather hear a discussion of my “influences” later than feel obligated to pick them now.

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The Cynic

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New or used?

Reading a used copy of To the Lighthouse the other day, I glanced at a mysterious comment from a previous owner and thought: eBooks can never be books.  You can never buy a used eBook (though price-wise buying a used eBook would be pretty pointless, anyways).  You can never flip through the crinkly, stuck together pages of an eBook.  An eBook will never have its own smell, or its own unique stains.  And, perhaps most importantly, an eBook will never have the scrawled comments of an unknown previous reader, their emphatic underlinings, their faded highlights.  An eBook will never have that connection to the readers of the past.

I understand the reasons that people like eBooks.  I admit, begrudgingly, that eBooks are the wave of the future.  But I do think that we tend to fix things that aren’t broken in the name of consumerism, and there is absolutely nothing broken about the unique community of me and the other people who have held this particular book between their eager fingers.

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The Cynic

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Most novelists have the same experience. Some Brown, Smith, or Jones comes before them and says in the most seductive and charming way in the world, ‘Come and catch me if you can.’ And so, led on by this will-o’-the-wisp, they flounder through volume after volume, spending the best years of their lives in the pursuit, and receiving for the most part very little cash in exchange. Few catch the phantom; most have to be content with a scrap of her dress or a wisp of her hair.
Virginia Woolf, “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”

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For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of—to think; well, not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

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On the flat, in the crowd, half blind with dust, we look back with envy to those happier warriors, whose battle is won and whose achievements wear so serene an air of accomplishment that we can scarcely refrain from whispering that the fight was not so fierce for them as for us.

Virginia Woolf, “Modern Fiction”

I definitely feel sometimes like all the world’s inventions have already been invented.  All we have left are infomercials.  I guess that’s part of being “innovative,” living in the contemporary world and envisioning what more there could be.  But I tend to look at this world and wonder what more crap we could possibly come up with, how many more ways we can discover to ultimately screw ourselves over and kill the whole planet.

But ideas go beyond physical inventions.  Woolf, of course, is talking about fiction.  And I’ve heard the argument that we will eventually run out of new combinations of notes to make new songs.  We already recycle a lot of music, but I’m not sure that that’s the reason why.

Is it more difficult to be innovative today?  To make something unique and new?  Either way, it doesn’t stop us from trying.

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The Cynic

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The voice had an extraordinary sadness. Pure from all body, pure from all passion, going out into the world, solitary, unanswered, breaking against rocks—so it sounded.
Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

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Like my hero Virginia Woolf, I do lack confidence. I always find that the novel I’m finishing, even if it’s turned out fairly well, is not the novel I had in my mind. I think a lot of writers must negotiate this, and if they don’t admit it, they’re not being honest. You have started the book with this bubble over your head that contains a cathedral full of fire – that contains a novel so vast and great and penetrating and bright and dark that it will put all other novels ever written to shame. And then, as you get towards the end, you begin to realise, no, it’s just this book. And it has its strengths, it has its virtues, but there’s nothing about the Crimean war, there’s nothing about interstellar travel. It says what it says and that’s it. And it joins all the other books in the world.

A certain slightly cruel disregard for the feelings of living people is simply part of the package. I think a writer, if he’s any good, is not an entirely benign entity in the world.

Michael Cunningham, “Michael Cunningham: A life in writing,” The Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/feb/07/michael-cunningham-life-writing

Stumbled onto this article, which relates both to the fact that I just read The Hours and that I’m an aspiring writer.

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The Cynic

Filed under Michael Cunningham The Guardian Virginia Woolf writing