Amy's Reviews > The Waves

The Waves by Virginia Woolf
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May 23, 10


In Mad Science in Imperial City (Futurepoem, 2005), Shanxing Wang asks: “Is there a 4th person narration?” In physics, the fourth dimension of space is time, when time intersects with the three dimensions of space. In a multiverse conceived of multiple dimensions of space and time, fourth-person narration invites us to consider temporality and higher dimensions in relation to point of view. To write within or beyond the fourth dimension of time might be to write outside of time, or in all times, making simultaneity itself a point of view, as in Virginia Woolf’s novel, The Waves (1931). The stream-of-consciousness, first-person monologues of the six primary characters are framed by italicized sections describing the sun rising and setting over the sea during one day. The compression of time in the italicized frames swells against the elongated passages of time that follow the six lives from childhood through adulthood. The monologues exist in present tense, thus colliding Alfred Jarry’s imaginary present and Gertrude Stein’s continuous present with both the compression of time, as evidenced in the italicized frames, and the expansion of time, as shown in the primary narrative. By adopting the same hypnotic idiom, the monologues suggest that consciousness is both an individual and collective construct and reality and the self are constructed through language. Agency is multiplied and expanded through the varied immediacies of perceptions existing in a collective medium—which seems to be the sea-setting of the novel and also the novel itself. It is no surprise that Woolf thought of the text as a “play-poem.” Its self-reflexivity challenges expectations of form through its formal structures and also through overt strategies where characters directly address language, poetry, and story-telling. This self-reflexivity provokes a relationship between fourth-person narration and the fourth dimension in physics; fish must jump out of the sea to perceive the waves in relation to the sea-bed and the sky.


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