Chapter Five: Shifts into Quantum Consciousness: Virginia Woolf's Moments of Being

By Grace, Daphne M. | Consciousness, Literature & the Arts, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Chapter Five: Shifts into Quantum Consciousness: Virginia Woolf's Moments of Being


Grace, Daphne M., Consciousness, Literature & the Arts


"Women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems," writes Virginia Woolf in her famous essay A Room of One's Own (1928: 6). Despite such doubts raised by the women writers themselves, literary critics such as R. Brimley Johnson present a clear picture of the "feminine novelist of the twentieth century", who had abandoned realism and was now reformulating fiction: "She does not accept observed revelation. She is seeking, with passionate determination, for that Reality which is behind the material, the things that matter, spiritual things, ultimate Truth" (1966: 147).

Disillusioned by wars, frustrated in the attempts at suffrage, many women yet again withdrew within to explore inner dimensions of reality in order to explain external chaos and to formulate new modes of spirituality and ways of being in the world. The interior female experience constitutes a constant battle with inner and outer forms, with having to be defined by and to negotiate society's bifurcated gendered existence. Many female writers, were, in fact embracing ever more exploratory and deep-seeking social and sexual encounters and spiritual practices, yet for many, literature was the chosen path for investigating the problematic negotiations between inner and outer realities that characterised women's lives.

Twentieth century revolutions in thought

Literature, science, and art simultaneously underwent a transformation in thought-a paradigm shift-in the early years of the twentieth century. At about the same time that science relinquished a belief in the certainty of some underlying vital essence to all biological living creatures, the idea of life (and history) as a unitary, meaningful narrative, collapsed. Perhaps the two most important discoveries at any time of human evolution are those of Darwin and the founders of quantum physics. The former changed the way "man" is understood, and the latter our understanding of the universe. Both theories together proved forever that "no man is an island", that the overlapping and interactions of physical realities bind us together in time and space.

In the last decade of the nineteenth century, William James's revolutionary treatise The Principles of Psychology (published 1890) had launched into the world the mysterious depths of consciousness as a major field of study. Human thought, according to James, resembled the ever-changing nature of a stream: a concept that was to revolutionise techniques of writing as well as how the structure of the human mind and identity were henceforward to be perceived. Consequently, the psycho-analysts Freud and Jung; the physicists Bohr, Schrôdinger, Heisenberg, through to Bell and Wheeler; and the symbolists and modernist writers and artists, all transformed the way we looked at human consciousness for ever. Freud and Jung famously focussed on the problematic dream state of consciousness or relegated consciousness to a mire of the ultimately unknowable, with areas of the unconscious mind not accessible to direct experience. Associated with hysteria, sexuality and suppressed memory, their catalogue of traumatic psycho-physiological illnesses and key ideas on the nature and structure of the mind spawned many popular misconceptions, further muddling definitions of consciousness.

At the time of the greatest revolutions in the history of ideas, the intellectual breakdown of certainties was certainly part of the agenda of many artists, writers and scientists, both male and female.

The "New Woman" of the twentieth century

It was not only women authors, however, who desperately sought to challenge the late Victorian or early Edwardian social status quo. Arguably one of the greatest iconoclasts of society and sexuality, Oscar Wilde died just as the twentieth century was being bom. Wilde (although sometimes unpopular himself with the Feminist movement) can in many instances be read as an unlikely champion of women's rights-by exposing society's double standards. …

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