Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Today's seminar provided an untimely reminder of the horrors of Narrative and Culture, a compulsory first year course the memory of which continues to plague me and disturb my sleep. In ten agonising weeks we experienced the same recurring pattern. Tutor asks horrifyingly vague and terminally answerable question along the lines of 'what is the meaning of life as construed by Foucaultian structuralist thought?' and looks around expectantly. Class stare back blankly. Silence. Tutor rephrases question several times in increasingly indecipherable terms. Class form a collective pseudo-thoughtful frown and sheepishly look at collective feet. Tutor becomes angry. One brave individual attempts to answer question in excruciatingly simplistic way. Tutor glares. Class become collectively frightened. Each individual loses ability to speak. Tutor asks similarly impossible question. Class brace themselves. Process repeats for two hours. Last half hour is occupied in stoney and embarrassing silence. Traumatised class stagger out. Process repeats ten times.

This morning, following eighty minutes of absolute silence, our tutor ended our misery by declaring that 'we didn't seem very motivated' and terminating the seminar. Oddly, she seemed almost surprised that we were unable to motivate ourselves to analyse the horrifying work of the most terrifying and dangerous female author ever; the woman solely responsible for viciously blasting into oblivion the spirit and maliciously destroying for eternity the remotest ability to take enjoyment from life of all English students. I speak of Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf occupies a notable position in the pantheon of modernist English writers for her extraordinary ability to write 200 page novels with no discernible narrative whatsoever. 'To The Lighthouse' is a peerless example, being the only novel ever written where the entire plot occurs in the title. There are several mind-numbingly uninteresting characters with apparent psychotic disorders. They go to a lighthouse. Reader dies of terminal boredom. The End.

However, simply as a consequence of being a) modernist (modern) and b) feminist (female), expertly positioning herself in the most nebulous and entirely meaningless of all literature buzzword categories, she is mysteriously worshipped by all English tutors, resulting in an extreme conflict between tutor and student.


TUTOR: Virginia Woolf is the mistress of the fragmented 'stream of consciousness' style of writing, concentrating on the psychological nature of the characters as opposed to a traditional plot-driven narrative structure. Her female characters battle against their suppression in the patriarchal society they find themselves occupying, discovering a freedom of expression and identity within their own private thoughts.
STUDENT: So basically no-one ever wanted to have sex with her?
TUTOR: Haha. What I'm trying to get across to you is her phenomenal characterisation, her incisive grasp of the psychological nuances that affect each and every one of us.
STUDENT: So basically no-one ever wanted to have sex with her?
TUTOR: Very funny. She extended the philosophical debate about the truth of our identity - the intangible connection that links us to our Self - beyond any previous understanding, illuminating the truth behind our external repression.
STUDENT: So basically no-one ever wanted to have sex with her?
TUTOR: Er. Well. No, they didn't. She had a bloody huge nose.

In order to assist those poor unfortunates considering undertaking an English degree, therefore, I have kindly decided to provide all the plot information for Virginia Woolf's two most 'popular' novels and one of her most prominent short essays:

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE: Several annoying characters waste two hundred pages unnecessarily analysing in the most infuriatingly minute detail all the aspects of their frightening and psychotic natures. For no apparent reason, they go to a lighthouse, foolishly waiting until the main character has arbitrarily died. The End.

MRS DALLOWAY: One annoying character wastes two hundred pages unnecessarily analysing in the most infuriatingly minute detail all the aspects of her frightening and psychotic nature. She may or may not have lesbian tendencies depending on how much you want her to. She holds an evening party so that she can converse with other equally frightening and psychotic characters. Nothing of the remotest significance happens at the evening party. The End.

CINEMA: Virginia Woolf wastes the resources of several valuable rainforests by describing her hatred of cinema for not being pretentious or depressing enough. She wants a cinema that only pseudo-intellectuals can enjoy where everything is hopelessly and annoyingly abstract. No-one cares. The End.

In conclusion, drowning oneself in a vat of hydrochloric acid, impaling oneself on a thirty foot stake and lighting a fire directly underneath and inserting one's nether regions between the irons of sadistically hot GHD hair straighteners are all far more attractive prospects than studying anything that bears the signature of the Woolf. Make the right choice. Burn yourself.

Ed's Mood: Sardonic

Ed's Incessant Auto-Repeat Musical Tip: Kula Shaker - Hush


Blogger Sarah said...

And yet, ironcially enough, you've left me wanting to read her... just to find out for myself ;)

7:07 AM  
Blogger Chandler said...

Oh dear God. That was not the desired effect! I can't answer for the consequences if you read Woolf without an intensive preparation course of paint drying spectating first.

6:36 AM  

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