“Speak you too, speak as the last, say out your say. Speak-But don’t split off No from Yes. Give your say this meaning too: Give it the shadow.
Give it shad...more“Speak you too, speak as the last, say out your say. Speak- But don’t split off No from Yes. Give your say this meaning too: Give it the shadow.
Give it shadow enough, Give it as much As you know is spread round you from Midnight to midday and midnight.
Look around: See how things all come alive- By death! Alive! Speaks true who speaks shadow. But now the place shrinks, where you stand: Where now, shadow-stripped, where? Climb. Grope upwards. Thinner you grow, less knowable, finer! Finer: a thread The star wants to descend on: So as to swim down below, down here Where it sees itself shimmer: in the swell Of wandering words”
Mrs Dalloway is vibrantly alive not in spite of but because of the death Virginia Woolf makes room for in the novel, because she speaks of the pain and not just the pleasures of life. This is one way to read what Mrs Dalloway is about—as Celan says, “Speaks true who speaks shadow.” Celan’s line “By death! Alive!” seems to be an echo of Clarissa's line: “She felt somehow very like him--the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it…he made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun.”
Woolf is saying a key to not losing the essential piece in us is to allow space in our lives for the shadow and for sharing the pain in an intimate connection. Septimus underscores the importance of including the shadow. As Virginia wrote in the 1928 introduction to this book, ""in the first version Septimus, who later is intended to be her double, had no existence; and that Mrs Dalloway was originally to kill herself, or perhaps merely to die at the end of the party. Such scraps are offered humbly to the reader in the hope that like other odds and ends they may come in useful." Septimus the shadow is denied an intimate person with whom he can speak freely and truly of his pain, to say the unspeakable and to be heard and thus to allow the light and truth in. Septimus exposes the way that when we cut off the pain or are cut off by others from our pain, we cut off the sustaining source of light and vitality.
Woolf reveals that it is the soul that is at stake when Clarissa says, ““A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter. This he had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death. But this young man who had killed himself—had he plunged holding his treasure?” Clarissa sees through the doctor and intuitively understands the truth of the situation, the true danger that the psychiatrist poses to Septimus “Suppose he had had that passion, and had gone to sir William Bradshaw, a great doctor yet to her obscurely evil…capable of some indescribable outrage—forcing your soul, that was it—if this young man had gone to him, and Sir William had impressed him, like that, with his power, might he not then have said (indeed she felt it now), Life is made intolerable; they make life intolerable, men like that?” She captures the what Sir William wishes to do to Septimus, to “force his soul.”
Septimus kills himself in response to the soul destroying message of disconnection and silencing that is offered to him under the euphemisms of rest and care. “But he remembered Bradshaw said, “The people we are most fond of are not good for us when we are ill.” Bradshaw said, he must be taught to rest. Bradshaw said they must be separated.” So Septimus, the shadow, is being removed from life as punishment for his pain, as punishment for serving his country in wartime. He’s hidden away with the euphemistic name ‘rest’ so the others do not have to witness his suffering, and so to enable their denial of inconvenient truths. This is the most damaging lie for Septimus, for his hope lies in the restoring power of his connection with the one he is fond of, with the one who is fond of him.
His extreme pain is not tempered with attentiveness, understanding and loving connection. The connections exist outside the world of his pain. He is excluded. No one will hold his stories with him. For Septimus, just as for Mrs Dalloway, the world rushes in, raw beauty exposes itself in sensory waves, and Septimus loves the aliveness, as Mrs Dalloway does. What Septimus lacks are the resources to protect his gift, his soul, what he lacks are the connections to people to share his pain experiences and so create the sustaining and resisting power of intimate connection. Woolf is showing that the antidote to pain is connection. By showing the counterpoint of Clarissa and her many connections, but still lonely for she is missing the deepest connection (missing yet with a presence, for Peter is her deep connection), Woolf intimates that there can be no true speech when we hide the shadow.
Septimus, Clarissa’s shadow, has been thrust outside of this light circle and he is rejected by everyone (except sometimes Rezia, who rejects him when he acts outside the boundaries of social prescription, rejects his pain, rejects his saving imagination, but loves him when he fits her very limited idea of who he is [an idea that includes him completely shutting all his pain off when he is around her “suffering sometimes through this terrible war, but even so, when she came in, he would put it all away.”]). Rezia doesn’t recognize the man she loves when Septimus is in pain, when he’s desperate for connection, she withdraws from him. No one wishes to hear the words he might speak if they dared to listen. He’s been abandoned to the authority of psychiatry and silence. The solution is to send him away where no one will be in danger of hearing his shadow words or seeing his pain. Many people in the story are missing deeper fulfilling connections because they don’t allow themselves to engage with the shadow. The book is alive and deeply connected because Virginia does not shy away from Septimus, the shadow, death and pain, because she shows us this, the book burns with vitality by the light of the raw death. Virginia speaks true.
(A note on Peter) We see Clarissa through Peter as we see life through Virginia Woolf. Peter loves someone who does not love him back (or does she), but in his heartbroken embracing love for Clarissa, he finds a model for loving life—seeing the flaws and loving with passionate wholeheartedness, “kindling all over with pleasure” “i will come…what is this terror? what is this ecstasy?...what is it that fills me with extraordinary excitement? It is clarissa, he said.” Clarissa through peter’s eyes, life through virginia’s… His love for her imbues him with life. He feeds on his memories and dreams of her and it is not enough and it is enough. His wound carries his own anodyne.
I can’t leave without one nod to Virginia’s feminism in the book. Peter observes: “With twice his wits, she had to see things through his eyes—one of the tragedies of married life.”
************ "dissatisfied with nature for giving an idea, without providing a house for it to live in...The novel was the obvious lodging, but the novel it seemed was built on the wrong plan. Thus rebuked the idea started as the oyster starts or the snail to secrete a house for itself. and this it did without any conscious direction...the book grew day by day, week by week, without any plan at all, except that which was dictated each morning by the writing." june, 1928, introduction by Virginia Woolf to Mrs Dalloway
“Are you afraid of the tigers? Do you hear them padding all round you on their fierce fine velvet feet? The speed of growth of tigers in the nightland...more“Are you afraid of the tigers? Do you hear them padding all round you on their fierce fine velvet feet? The speed of growth of tigers in the nightland is a thing which ought to be investigated some time by the competent authority. You start off with one, about the size of a mouse, and before you know where you are he’s twice the size of the Sumatra tiger which defeats all comers in that hemisphere. And then, before you can say Knife (not a very tactful thing to say in the circumstances anyhow), all his boy and girl friends are gathered round, your respectable quiet decorous docile night turns itself into a regular tiger-garden.”
It's the story of a girl who finds the way home to her cold mother is to retreat to the night time world, while the flesh and blood mother didn’t show the girl love, mother Night loves and holds the girl in an intimate secret embrace. In the house of sleep, mother Night never lets the girl go. It’s the story of her resistance to losing herself and her gift in the face of a world filled with enemies that offer her only rejection, pain, and betrayal.
““By what judgment am I judged? What is the accusation against me? Am I to be accused of my own betrayal? Am I to blame because you are my enemies?...I had no weapon against you, not realizing that there was need for weapons until too late. This is your place; you are at home here. I came as a stranger, alone, without a gun in my hand, bringing only a present that I wanted to give you. Am I to blame because the gift was unwelcome?”
She finds the only thing of substance she can build something real with is herself, herself and the ghost of her mother are the dream plasma she uses to create her protections from a callous world intent on destroying everything worth anything inside her that they don't wish to share anyway.
“I relied on what I wrote to build a bridge which could not be cut down. It was my own self in which I trusted, not seeing self as that last cell from which escape can only come too late.”
“Inexorable self, carried like the superfluous and tiresome piece of luggage which it is impossible to lose; franked with the customs’ stamp of every frontier, retrieved exasperatingly from the disaster where everything else is lost, companion of the dislocation of cancelled sailings and missed connections, witness of every catastrophe, survivor of all voyages and situations…I”
It's about the power of her resisting I, that survives so much and remains with her, her only source of solace. it's about the terrible cruelty of the people in the world, even as she experiences the powerful beauty of the world and the wondering about the price she pays for her security...
The girl, B is identified by her fair hair and by her green slippers.
Stories repeat through the book as the backgrounds shift and change, primarily the stories of the betrayals and the repetition of her leaving the daytime scene to be with the dark shadowy figure of her mother…and the mechanical lies of society pressing to engulf her in it's mechanical design. Against all this, she has her internal protector, the Liason Officer, who gives speeches defending and interrogating the meaning of retreat, “retreat it does not mean evading the law, which is an impossibility anyhow: it means that he is effecting a change of authority, a transfer from one set of laws to another…so that he is certainly not making an escape of any sort”. The Liason Officer is often very funny, he is her internal authoritarian, he defends her against her enemies using their language.
Again and again in social situations in the sun, she feels herself to be worshipped, then despised, but never loved, never is she a part. Never is she seen or wanted. Every time she thinks she's found a friend, she discovers the friend to be an enemy. She has no home in the world, and every new betrayal and heartbreak traces right back to the mother who was cold, rejecting, abandoning. As she experiences more betrayals and more enemies, as she feels herself to be unloved and unseen, as she discovers "WHAT IS LOST NOW IS OUR HOME IN THIS WORLD" she retreats deeper, deeper inside herself, creating an entire world of her own, a house that is made of herself. She experiences the daylight world of received reality as false, mechanical, chaotic and staged and filled with dangerous enemies (tigers in the night language). These enemies take many forms, the most insidious which attempt to make her one of them, to make her reject that which is true in herself. She holds on to her gift, though no one wants it.
She seeks the mother. She seeks home. Her mother dies when she is a child, she identifies with her mother, she identifies with her deep sadness, she feels that her fate is tied up with the fate of her mother because as a young child she has the sense that she followed her mother into hell.
“neon sign in red letters EXIT TO HELL…A walks under the arch….she seems not to notice where she is going….Just as the angels are preparing to carry the arch away B makes a desperate dash at it and dives through. Everything blacks out… What happens when you start the downward trip?...Of course there isn’t a hope of ever getting out again into the light. Once you’re on your way down, the machinery takes charge of you, you’re caught, trapped, finished for good and all…you might just as well give in and pluck the cruel thorn of hope out of your heart.”
There’s a theme of doubling with her mother. Throughout the book, there are scenes where B’s mother, A, appears in the background, as a silhouette, and B feels mental anguish and inevitably leaves the daylight world to join A in the darkness. And this tension, is A saving B or is she destroying her…
“From which tenuous chrysalis presently emerges another B. B’s doppelganger, materializing out of the shadows, coming nearer the light…in fact, of course, A.”
She finds home in night, night her only mother, sleep her only lover, she dwells in night’s house, sleep’s house, sleep has his house in her, she is the house and the house is filled with mirrors. Finally, finally, she is mirrored (a big piece of what she never received from her mother was this essential stage of mirroring). In the house of sleep, she is seen, and she is not alone. She is home, in a home created of herself, her experiences, her imagination, a house that exists outside time, where doors open upon all times at once and where the cinematic felt experience of her life carries more weight and hidden meaning than the straightforward memories themselves. The experiences are described as if they are a film that is projected on the screens of her inner eyes, she uses cinematic language and the descriptions are visually lush. The night language translates her experiences into the language of felt experience, it plays out on a larger scale, it’s more fluid, more layered, more dramatic, the intensity more overt.
And so many times, the fabric of the dream falls apart, she loses her home, her very inner retreat is often in danger. Often, the dream breaks apart, and exposes the memory that is underlying the dream drama, as a princess under threat of siege is revealed to be merely child in a paper crown. She must retreat deeper and deeper inside herself to protect the fragile dream, until she has finally moved from the escape of dreams to the construction of her own dream house in which sleep lives. The dreamscapes are stories that endarken and enlighten her pain, her resistance, her gift, her I
“And in the night my own mother came to the window to meet me, strange, solitary; splendid with countless stars; my mother Night; mine, lovely, mine. My home…”
“How does a girl like B feel, you may wonder, alone in this great dark place? The question can be answered in four simple words: B is at home.”
"Just one more minute. Yesterday, before I left, I read Tales from Moomin-valley to Ido as I was putting him to sleep. I don't know if you know it--I...more"Just one more minute. Yesterday, before I left, I read Tales from Moomin-valley to Ido as I was putting him to sleep. I don't know if you know it--I read him the part where the Moomintroll, one of the creatures, hides in a big hat that completely transforms his shape. All his friends playing with him run away in fear. Then Moomintroll's mother enters the room--she looks at him and asks him, Who are you? He begs her with his look to recognise him, because if she doesn't know him, how will he live? Then she looks at this creature, who doesn't at all resemble her beloved child, and she says quietly, "It's my Moomintroll." All of a sudden, a miracle--the way he looks changes, the stranger peels off and drops away from him, and he returns to being himself."
you can feel like a stranger until someone sees you, it transforms you back into yourself again. seeing yourself with another's eyes. seeing another with new eyes, or finding a way back to seeing with the old eyes. this passage is a key to the story. grossman is playing with metamorphosis in many different ways here. there are many references to kafka and woolf. i don't want to read this as what it seems to be. this is a story with so much doubling. i haven't worked it all out, but i don't want it to be just what it seems, that is infuriating and the last scene crosses a line for me. but, look at the names--yair and yokhai, anna and amos, miriam and maya (and ido) when they address letters with simply a first initial, when miriam at one point complains about yair making up a name for her...i have the sense again and again that there is only one couple here, finding each other again through a game of strangers. but that could only be that i want it to be, because the other way makes me feel alienated and infuriated by these people.
"It is as if you had come and tucked a note inside the cocoon I am, addressed to my true name. I was a soft, permeable container, a little bagpipe, and the entire world was playing me. I only write these words and I immediately feel the need to smash someone's face in. The world flooded over me like an ocean, retreated in waves and returned and filled and retreated. That was how it felt to be a child--this soft, infinite, stormy wave motion, all at the same time. Have you ever known such huge motion inside you?...I was always like that. Always."
"When a man cries out, 'I'm hurt,' he doesn't necessarily believe that his pain can be relieved; more often than not, he just needs someone to chase away the loneliness inside his pain."
he tells her his secret pain and shame, he hides like moomintroll, and she recognises him inside the hat. but does he do this for her too. i don't know. i think he fails her a lot. he can't handle her pain. he is the kind who wants to be soothed and saved, but doesn't seem much interested in soothing and saving her too. he doesn't like her intensity though he courts it, he underestimates what is inside her. at the same time, she seems to find that she is telling him things that she never let herself say even to herself and perhaps she is recognising herself in her own stories and is thankful to him because she wouldn't have gone there without him. it's uncomfortable the way the book plays with the woman as mother/rescuer/sufferer and man as child/sufferer in a way that seems to naturalise it.
i love the part about the egg and i can't find it. the story is he is on a field trip with his child and he is handed a shellless egg at a farm, an egg born with no shell and it's the symbol of himself, he is a skinless man, and he sees himself as putting his soul in her hand.
i loved parts of this and i hated parts of it. for me, it's the only time i've read a character by david who reads like, well, like the worst in stereotypical male asshole. he fucks with her head and thinks it makes him cute. i hate him for his tone with her. the most compelling story to me is the story of the relationship between yokhai and miriam. the last scene...this crosses a line for me. i am left with a bad feeling, a feeling of something important missing. i don't feel the love and forgiveness for yair that she feels, that david makes me feel for other characters. the ending the ending the ending what the fuck is up with the ending
*i left out the epigraph, which i adore (and which contradicts some of the above, i know, this is what is true--)
"When the word turns into a body And the body opens its mouth And speaks the word from which It was created-- I will embrace that body And lay it to rest by my side."
-Chezi Laskly, "Hebrew Lesson #5" in The Mice and Leah Goldberg
victim--n. “one that is acted on and adversely affected by a force or an agent, one that is injured, destroyed or sacrificed, one that is tricked or d...morevictim--n. “one that is acted on and adversely affected by a force or an agent, one that is injured, destroyed or sacrificed, one that is tricked or duped” (merriam-webster dictionary)
[there is a] “strong cultural bias toward aversion when confronted with victims who act as if they have suffered…fragile, powerless, and helpless victims make us uncomfortable, evoke complicated responses in us, and make it hard to empathise with the humiliation they underwent….to be really credible, a victim has to appear to have mastered his or her suffering. (carolyn j. dean)
anna kavan audaciously writes a victim who does not conform to the rules, she refuses to fold herself into the false mainstream narrative to comfort the reader. in doing this, she shows the reader the way that we tend to talk about victims reinforces dog-face’s views of the girls, and how and in doing so are part of the chorus that keeps her frozen alone in that house with him. in asking "who am i?" she implicitly asks the reader "who are you?" will the reader choose to feel with the girl and be her suede boots or will the reader protect dog-face by thinking the girl is only worthy of our empathy when/if she "overcomes" her helplessness, when she acts according to our ideas of “strength”. if she can’t see a way out of her terror and despair, she’s not worth saving, right, she wants to be the victim, right, that’s why we leave her there alone when we know what he’s doing to her and comfortably refuse her our hand, right? that’s why we reserve empathy for the ones who have “overcome”, the ones we say are “not victims.”
“Isit her life? It hardly seems so. ..Who am I? she wonders vaguely. Why am I here? Is she the girl who won the scholarship last year? Or the girl living in this awful heat with the stranger who married her for some unknown reason with whom it’s impossible to communicate? Her questions remain unanswered; both alternatives seem equally dreamlike, unreal. Somehow she seems to have lost contact with her existence…” (p30)
the nonlinear structure (within a mostly linear narrative) is a brilliant way to evoke the sensations of unreality, the feverish nightmarish quality; the way that the story she tells herself of her life and her life don’t seem distinctly different. kavan shows the imagination working inside of a hopelessness and despair that’s so enveloping, so suffocating, so intense that she can only just barely imagine a way out for herself. she opens a door (or a window) (view spoiler)[for herself in her imagination, that she needs a man to do it is something i wish wasn’t true, but i understand, and it can be read as feminist commentary. (hide spoiler)]that she can't do it without the support of another person is an astute attack on our culture of individualism that blames and abandons the victim.
her gestures towards the way out gracefully communicate the liminal state the girl exists in. liminality is an essential quality of the story.
kavan skillfully avoids falling into the trap of (view spoiler)[making the second version into (hide spoiler)] the mainstream patriarchal capitalist narrative of overcoming that would be first, predictable and dull; second, it would destroy the liminal state of the narrative; and thematically, it would allow the reader the comfortable out that kavan boldy refuses. The girl is powerless with dog-face, but anna kavan uses her power to write to show the way that the mainstream narrative of victims works to blame the victim (even when it seems not to) and deny responsibility to every witness who abandons the girl. kavan relentlessly insists on representing to us the girl’s vulnerability and helplessness. this is a bold, brave move.
Aside—connections to ice The ambiguity and many layers of ice renders it more powerful; the way that you can read (view spoiler)[the warden and the narrator as one character adds a depth, complexity and reality that completely separating the characters into dog-head and suede boots takes away. (hide spoiler)]at the same time, the anger here is so focused, so sharp the prose is as cutting as it is in ice. kavan writes with a razor. in who am i, her honest unflinching refusal to deny the truth, her unwillingness to lie or obscure is breathtaking. she presses the reader to feel the powerlessness with the girl to go to that place of terror. her insistence on the helplessness of the girl, her refusal to conform to societal dictates of how to represent a victim, her pure driven language (and i didn’t even talk about the dizzying stifling heat of the book) are more forceful for the directness here.
“She cant breathe—the mans mouth fixed on hers, stops her breathing. She’s suffocating…dying…she’s being murdered.” (p112) (end of aside)
The repetition of the phrase "who am i?" conveys the feverish atmosphere, the loss of identity, the seemingly incompatible identities, the terror. it also serves as an attempt to separate who i am from what has been done to me. the way out is not in not being a victim (she can’t undo what’s been done), the helplessness is worse for the disconnect between identities. an important part of what the interaction with suede boots does for the girl is he sees the whole of her, and not only the parts and so invites her to connect the different identities and so find the suede boots inside her that was lost when she’s either feeling like a victim is her entire identity or resisting identifying with the her that is a victim. the way she wants the solace of her relationship with suede boots to play out like an endless repetition of the first conversation, for the relationship to contain no changes for she has the belief that if they change one thing, all will be lost forever captures her state of frozen terror.
reading this evoked memories of two of my exes, mostly though it made me think of my first boyfriend, i was 15 years old (perhaps because the girl herself is 18 or so) though c. was less dog-face and much closer to the warden/narrator of ice or to say it differently, c. was dog-face and suede boots in one. the way i was abandoned to c. by people/a culture unwilling to show empathy for a girl (the attitude is the same for women as women in our society are treated like girls and girls are treated like women) tortured by her boyfriend even as they saw the wild look in her eyes, heard her screams or saw blood leaking from the edges of her shirt. people who only say to the girl “stop being a victim” and say nothing to the boy/man who is hurting her.
“stop being a victim.” do you mean it makes you uncomfortable what he is doing to her, so you tell yourself that it’s her fault, that she is “letting” him so you don’t have to feel empathy for her or reach out your hand to help her? do you have any understanding why the girl stays with dog-face? this book gave me back my empathy for the girl that is me.