Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I'm Limiting Myself To That Particular Pleasure Once A Week

I am trying to give up the fun and amusing game of setting off the automatic engines of umbrage through dissing what passes as idols of kulcha these days.  Though, having picked up "To The Lighthouse" and trying for about the fifth time to get past the tenth page I'm really tempted to say Virginia Woolf was one of the most overrated writers in the history of commentary on writing.  I wonder how much the unarticulated knowledge that she was a second-rater might have played in her suicidal depression - I can't see any evidence that she or her fellow Bloomsbury phonies ever felt deeply about anything more important than that.  They certainly never thought deeply about anyone but themselves.  Now I'll wait for my mid-brow trolls to pretend they've made it through even one of her books when I know they never have. 

Having recently begun on the project I should have started a long time ago, reading all of Mari Sandoz, she was Woolf's superior in every single aspect of thinking and writing.   I don't think I'm going to have any trouble getting through Old Jules or Crazy Horse.  

Update:  [*raspberry!]

Interviewer:  This is part of your philosophy of writing, isn't it, you should write the truth rather than what shocks.

Mari Sandoz:  Yes, oh definitely yes.  You have no right to falsify life.  Ever.  No, never at all.  That I think is the, that's the cardinal sin of the writer.  That's the thing you cannot face yourself after.
I think.  

Interview recorded for NET in 1961

You could, if you wanted to, contrast that with what Woolf said in her short essay,  "The New Biography," in which she advocates manipulating fact to make a more pleasing arrangement.  She said,

On the one hand there is truth;  on the other, there is personality.  [How you're supposed to discern the “personality” of someone dead and unknown to you as a person except through the truth is something that apparently didn't much concern Woolf.  I think by “personality” she meant turning them to her own entertainment.]  And if we think of truth and something of granite-like solidity and of personality as something of rainbow-like intangibility and reflect that the aim of biography is to weld these two into one seamless whole, we shall admit that the problem is a stiff one and we need not wonder if biographers have for the most part failed to solve it.  

How she imagined she was going to capture something “intangible” even something as entertainingly “rainbow-like” except through truth one wonders.  After some compliments to the truth, Woolf goes on in a famous passage that gives her real meaning away.

… For in order that the light of personality may shine through, facts must be manipulated;  some must be brightened; others shaded; yet, in the process, they must never lose their integrity.

In Virginia Woolf we're talking about a woman who failed, during many years of the most intimate daily, the closest personal contact and her own dependency on their labor,  failed to recognize the inner life of her and her family's servants.  Through the truth gained by her own writing, seemed to see them as barely human or, at least, humans of a lower order than rich people who didn't need to consider them very deeply.  She was opposed to education for the lower classes or their even reading.  How someone so obtuse could, somehow, figure she was able to discern the life of people she would never see or meet though some pleasing arrangement and selection of that so off-puttingly "granite-lie" truth instead of facing it squarely is worth asking.   I think what Woolf was was self-centered, snobbish and vapidly superficial.   I've tried to read her without success for about as long as I read things because people told me I should read them.

You should read the article linked to, above.  If nothing else than to see that Virginia Woolf's much abused and long time cook, Nellie Boxall, once Woolf had fired her lived happily after, first working for the much nicer (and more talented) Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, getting the stimulation of their household that she certainly wouldn't have with the Woolfs and then going to work in a hospital canteen.

1 comment:

  1. "Now I'll wait for my mid-brow trolls to pretend they've made it through even one of her books when I know they never have. "

    And you know this for the same reason you know that I've never read Raymond Chandler. Because of the splendid research of Dr. Otto Yerass.