Academic journal article Text Matters

Let Rhoda Speak Again: Identity, Uncertainty, and Authority in Virginia Woolf's the Waves

Academic journal article Text Matters

Let Rhoda Speak Again: Identity, Uncertainty, and Authority in Virginia Woolf's the Waves

Article excerpt

It is beyond our reach. Yet there I venture.

-Virginia Woolf The Waves

In her introduction to Sexual/Textual Politics tellingly titled "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Toril Moi observes that even though Woolf's project "reveals a deeply sceptical attitude to the male-humanist concept of an essential human identity" it has been frequently misconstrued by feminist critics (10). Moi, who identifies deconstruction of the concept of the unitary self as one of Woolf's major preoccupations, further points out that unitary selfhood is a notion central to traditional Western male humanism, a phallic self in disguise, based on an inherently patriarchal assumption that every individual needs to "adopt a unified, integrated selfidentity" (7-8). It is hardly a coincidence that Moi devotes the opening chapter of her book of feminist literary theory to Woolf, whose writing was indeed deeply preoccupied with problematizing the Transcendental Ego1 through exposing it as a patriarchal construction, and instead conceived of subjectivity as implicated in a dynamic of intersubjective processes of becoming rather than being. As Roxanne J. Fand remarks in her book The Dialogic Self, in Woolf's time "being a woman was not without ego boundaries, but rather feeling ego as an imposition, . . . empowered for a man, dis empowered for a woman" (45, my emphasis). Contributing to the impressive body of available scholarship devoted to Woolf's oeuvre, I would like to propose a reading of her 1931 modernist masterpiece The Waves in the context of a number of critical perspectives that open new avenues for thinking about Woolf's work, and show a commitment on her part to push the writing towards the non-unitary and non-dualistic conceptualization of female identity, as well as its dynamic evolution over time and recuperative potential. One such noteworthy perspective is offered in Kim L. Worthington's Self as Narrative: Subjectivity and Community in Contemporary Fiction, which re-examines a number of the currently debated critical approaches to the question of identity constitution, and effectively tries to overcome the poststructuralist impasse in defining the modern self that has been frequently enough bemoaned as fragmented or theorized along much more dramatic lines as being under the constant threat of complete dissolution. By contrast, Worthington sets out to explore subjectivity as "an active interpretative process"; "a narrative of personal continuity through time" (13). Her project's emphasis on the spatio-temporal dimension of the self reminds us that subjectivity has always been implicated in the larger concept of intersubjectivity, since, as Worthington aptly states, " [o] ne's conception of self is never fixed simply in one permanent structure of representation, but in a plurality of shifting affiliations" (80). Whereas intersubjectivity is undoubtedly an underlying trait of Woolf's entire oeuvre,2 it is particularly conspicuous in the experimental narrative of The Waves, where the intertwined planes of spatiality and temporality play a major part in structuring the characters' collective and individual experience. Worthington's approach may serve as a valuable context for rethinking The Waves as a text that is deeply preoccupied with the question of identity in process, which Woolf masterfully articulates through a set of characters whose interrelated soliloquies simultaneously and continuously test the singularity of T in the common world "where many selves come to mingle and depart" (Worthington 165).3 As Woolf famously observed with a considerable dose of calculated irony in her Letters·.

The six characters were supposed to be one. I'm getting old myselfI shall be fifty next year; and I come to feel more and more how difficult it is to collect oneself into one Virginia; even though the special Virginia in whose body I live for the moment is violently susceptible to all sorts of separate feelings. Therefore I wanted to give a sense of continuity. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.