Monday, April 14, 2008

The Four Seasons Experience

What primarily caught my attention reading T.S. Eliot's striking later work, Four Quartets, was its resolution of earlier themes and motifs from his other poetry -- particularly, his transformation of negative elements into positive ones. This process underscores his rather zen message of life in death (while most of his poetry seems to quite obsessively study death in life).

For example, his oceanic and water imagery in "Dry Salvages" seem to convey a far more optimistic meaning than in "Prufrock": instead of faceless sirens luring him into the depths of a disturbed subconscious, Eliot depicts the "river," evoking the Ganges and the Thames, as a "strong brown god." Modernity may ignore these "river gods," but this does not diminish their existence and power. Eliot also seems to reference from his earlier work the "ancient women gathering fuel in vacant lots" with his portrayal of the " anxious worried women / Lying awake, calculating the future,Trying to unweave, unwind, unravel." Instead of remaining the final, controlling image of the poem, Eliot instead chooses to highlight an "older" time and an "older" power, a vague Supreme Entity.

Indeed, I was surprised and delighted to find a more complex, inclusive sense of spirituality than even Eliot himself espouses in his political, critical works. Upon reading the Four Quartets, I did not see a cut-and-paste "royalist in politics, Anglo-Catholic in religion," but, say, an elderly monk who envisions a forever-deferred, mysterious Absolute behind the veils of many traditions. It is interesting, however, in the context of many of our (well, maybe my) fixations on the British-Indian imperial connection and its influence on Modernist literature that he chose Christianity and Hinduism to be the main vehicles of this message. Perhaps Eliot is envisioning a dual-sided trade of ideas and values rather than material goods and shady business deals. A particularly intriguing instance of this Hindu influence occurs during his borrowings from the Baghavad Gita's early chapters -- those that describe its hero, Arjuna, on the battlefield surveying the myriad soldiers assembled. Obviously, Eliot would be inspired to write this work during the blitz, which adds another depth of meaning, that of a material battle to be fought, along with the main idea of the spiritual battle. Like Krishna/Vishnu's cyclic operation in the world, periods of destruction pave a way towards a new, purer order: one that Eliot apparently believes he is to forecast.

Uniting this theme of decay and regeneration is the image of burnt roses and ashes: "Ash on an old man's sleeve / Is all the ash the burnt roses leave." Though the rose has dwindled to dust, the otherwise-morose vignette is complicated by the word "leave," as if the roses are springing to life and growing "leaves" on the man's arm. Nevertheless, the word "burnt" signifies unnatural violence that has cut growth short rather than a natural decay. Fires and roses also appear to have a Christian (specifically Catholic) religious significance earlier in the work, as Eliot describes the soul's "dark night": "And quake in frigid purgatorial fires / Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars." The interpretation that the roses represent memory here (an obviously torturing one) is certainly valid, although in the Catholic sensibility Purgatory allows ample room for further hope in salvation, as its suffering is known to be temporary.

Furthermore, the symbol of roses also alludes to Mary, who often is depicted as playing a mediating role in either lifetime or deathtime purgatory, and therefore may depict life in death as well. These contrasting juxtapositions proliferate when Eliot describes his God as a darkness: "be still, and let the dark come upon you / Which shall be the darkness of God." Set in contrast with a "heart of light" earlier on in the poem, the resulting message is an injunction perhaps to lie in wait, in purifying suffering, and in hope.

Monday, April 7, 2008

To the Triptych

Mark Hussey's most illuminating point (one of many) in his Introduction to To the Lighthouse for me is his observation that the novel operates "as a triptych whose central 'panel' simultaneously divides and unites the other two parts" (lxi). This particular depiction is a loaded one considering the work's preoccupation with visual art, the relationship between subject and object, and the passage in time. A classic, Renaissance triptych may traditionally consist of biblical events in a linear fashion, commonly Christ's birth, death, and resurrection. Woolf's own work both constructs and critiques this meta-structure: though the novel's three sections do correspond to a beginning, middle, and end, her placement of nunhuman, natural processes in the central portion (Neely, Woolf and the Art of Exploration, 210) deconstructs the sort of positivist, objective mode of thought portrayed through Mr. Ramsey. Indeed, while Mrs. Ramsey is often objectified by the narrative as part of a setting (her Madonna & child consecrating Mr. Ramsey's thoughts or pictured as a shadowy triangle), her husband's worldview "subjects" nature to its domination. For example, Lily Briscoe's understanding of his "splendid mind" is comprised of imagining a table hanging incongruently in a tree. It is interesting that the man-made table, structured and pulped down from its original form, derives from the life-giving (to Mrs. Ramsey's birds), dynamic, natural tree; Mr. Ramsey's table could not exist without Mrs. Ramsey's tree. The table interrupts and disrupts its background, in a similar fashion to Mr. Ramsey's interruptions of Lily's painting and his wife's thinking.

Woolf further satirizes arbitrary structurality of thought (and its distracting consequences) by Mr. Ramsey's attempt to string all the letters of the alphabet together to reach Z by the force of his will and dedication (as well as his recollection of Scott's Arctic voyage, according to Neely). This syllogistic method perhaps further represents and parodies the educational system's use of Greek or classic thought, privileging males who would be more acclimated to it. However, I would hesitate to say that Mr. Ramsey is a wholly unsympathetic (though perhaps dislikeable) figure. After all, the surrounding women from Minta to Mrs. Ramsey to even Lily coddle and enable his need for attention and stature, leading to the quite pitiable figure of the bereft, unloved father and widower.

Once again, the women in the novel are far from in need of him, while his very essence must both dominate and rely upon them. It is Captain Obvious to now relate his character to Woolf's relationship with her widowed, dependent father, moreover, Lily's attempt to capture the essence of her own emotions and relationships while maintaining a critical distance probably parallels Woolf's own.

Lily's "line in the center" (211) that completes her painting and leads to an artistic epiphany may correspond to Woolf's own "center" in the novel, "Time Passes," which I mentioned previously. I found this segment to be the most lengthy to digest and difficult of the work, yet its depiction of a house's entropy towards a natural state and window into the mind of the servant Mrs. McNab is what differentiates it from a more "sentimental" or "old-fashioned" work. It also de-privileges the upper-class "presence" of the other characters, and complicates their importance or relevance to their contemporary events of WWI, encroaching modernity, and the fragmentation of the Victorian familial structure/gender relations. "Time Passes" additionally appears to utilize the "Waste Land's" motif of a barren, depersonalized realm lying in wait for either life or rebirth. "The Window" and "The Lighthouse" are nevertheless not without their own experiments with the spacetime continuum. Mr. Ramsey's unceasing recitation of Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" hauntingly prefigures the events of WWI and its effects on the Ramsey's family. Cam & James's final journey to the lighthouse and Lily's artwork can only be understood and filtered through their and the reader's memories of the past.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Two Cheers for Bloomsbury!

First of all, I will shout out two cheers for our Bloomsbury essays this week: one, for their ability to remain light and amusing in spots in an era of fascist dreariness, and two, for their poetic nature. No dry polemics for Forster and the Woolfs! The prevailing tone of the three treatises is one of courage, balance, and reason in that they avoid the pitfalls of the "hard-line" right and left and embody what at the time must have seemed as the last defense of liberal democracy.

Leonard Woolf's "Fear and Politics: A Debate at the Zoo" parallels Swift and Wilde, remaining incisive yet hilarious. He seems to take an extremely different view of "civilization" from Forster's view of civilized "decadence" as our only hope against force; instead, L. Woolf presents it as confinement and an insidious force unto itself. Leonard posits no "third way" alternative to the Darwinian "jungle" of force and the spirit-sapping "zoo cage" of civilization, implying that the human species must merely compromise and negotiate between the two. He lampoons Victorian/early Modern debates about science and religion, as the animals swiftly progress from monotheism (all zookeepers are truly one Secretary) to materialism (humans are animals too). Of course, the fact that the zoo members reach these conclusions at a quicker pace than ourselves reflects upon the human species poorly. I predicted correctly L. Woolf's criticism of his contemporary Conservatives, as paleolithic hippopotami obsessed with their bloodline, or as "ostriches" who choose to remain in ignorance of modern events and care mainly for their own food (140). However, his treatment of extreme Bolshevism, given his own Socialistic persuasion, came as a surprise: his monkey stand-in remarks that "true wisdom is found only amongst the commoners" (144) with equivalent haughtiness, while of course drawing attention to his own inherited pedigree and emphasizing his choice in throwing in with lower classes. Leonard here underscores the similarity between both systems of domination, whether it is a tyranny of an old aristocracy or a new proletariat.

Virginia's own "Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid," while written in a much later date, dwells on complementary themes while adding a more gendered perspective. Indeed, one of her more intriguing criticisms of war (at least until very recently in human history) is its exclusion and virtual rape of women. Woolf points out that women cannot defend themselves and "must lie weaponless" and in wait of whatever may happen: their relationship with war is one of victimhood alone. Though I doubt she would change her pacifist stance with women's inclusion in the military, I still wonder what her reaction to this change might have been. Furthermore, V. Woolf presented the "love of the gun" and of "medals" as an innate trait in men, not as a socially-encouraged or conditioned one, and in fact a characteristic that must be compensated (by what? sports?) in a peaceable society. However, if "human nature" indeed "changed in 1910" as she most famously noted, could male (and female) nature not change to adapt to a more stable, female-inclusive civilization? Virginia herself seems to offer a window into such a transformed society by her inclusion of Blake's infamous phrase, "I will not cease from mental fight." This reference is particularly poignant given its hope for a "New Jerusalem" in England itself, rising above "Satanic" (ammunition in this case) "mills." The notion of "mental fight" may justify a literati's pacifism in the context of genuine defense against tyranny. However, if this New Jerusalem is fought for through the spirit alone, perhaps it will exist only in a spiritual or mental space.

Though Forster's political essay would in no way be considered (in contrast to the Woolfs') controversial (except for its "betrayal" quote) by most anyone in our own time, its apologia-style tone demonstrates just how under fire the democratic system, which we now take for granted as the de facto superior political structure, was during this time. We can see his message of valuing personal connections over Big Ideas or Nationalism in Howard's End, though such connections are problematized when they are channelled through ideology (Helen's treatment of Leonard) rather than value in the relationship itself. He supports elements of the democratic system that were, and still often are, condemned, from its "decadence" to its disorganized "chatter," the slow-moving talk that does not solve issues rapidly but allows for freedom and dissent.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Prunes vs. Cigars

Though Woolf's essay demonstrated an anti-elitist clarity throughout, but Marcus's "Saphistry as Lesbian Seduction in a Room of One's Own" certainly helped to both support my own interpretations of a few significant passages as well as open an entirely new window on Woolf's seemingly idiosyncratic references and observations (the tailless, "Man"x cat was a personal favorite). For example, it helped to know that, for the Victorian patriarchy, male homosexuality with its more "hierarchical" relationships was far less threatening than the more horizontal lesbian relations among women -- a dynamic that I feel is reversed in our own society, which is generally more homophobic towards males (perhaps because male androgyny is still unacceptable, while female androgyny is at times crucial for our culture's schizophrenic expectations of women).

Woolf's amusing critique of favored male writing, with its "Big Ideas" about "the Flag, the Battlefield," ect., as a "male orgy" "embarrassing" to the female observer is now illuminated as even more trenchant. This statement may have its homophobic elements, but Woolf's primary purpose seems to be an examination of how homosocial bonding (including homosexual relationships) has served to both exclude women, but, even more harmfully, led to a misguided self-worship that at its extremes results in the fascist society. (Her argument playfully fears the bad poetry that will be effected by this process rather than the bad politics.) Woolf counteracts this tide of masculinity-worship by, as Marcus argues, glorifying the capability of women to write thus far under extreme conditions, and also, as Woolf herself puts it, "noticing the spot on the back of men's heads, as they have noticed ours."

This spot-checking of course willfully excludes men from her discourse, especially since "there is no one in a Room of One's Own for the male reader to identify with," except misogynists or bi-sexuals. However, an emphasis on this tactic may run the risk of neglecting Woolf's concurrent message: just as misogynists or masculinists must lose their disdain for women in order to reach a creative zenith, women must also let go of their indignation at indignities, a difficult task when it is so justly acquired. Indeed, the crux of Woolf's argument implies that more equal societies, just as more "blended" minds, earn greater artistic achievements, just as gender-segregated societies stifle great writing on both ends. Had Woolf lived through the second-wave, I believe she would take issue with both the more essentialist camp that sought to create a removed space for women's writing in its unique glory and those who argue that all differences are fully socially-constructed.

To return to the text, Woolf also observes how the divergence in day-to-day living between the genders, even in "amenities" (20) such as brandy and cigars and trifles such as walking on the grass, has effectively thwarted female genius. Here, I am reminded of just how contemporary her argument remains. Gender inequities are still more insidious, more under-the-radar, than, say, economic ones, and therefore more difficult to examine and transform: while charting her second-rate dinner at the women's college, she notes that it was better than perhaps a coal-worker's. Improvements for women therefore come to be a secondary goal to class-based reforms in the liberal sphere. Attempting to digest my academic material over spring break with the family, where I most definitely do not have a room of my own, underscored Woolf's argument. Intellectual work, particularly of a creative nature, necessitates a certain level of isolation that most individuals, but especially women, have historically not been afforded. While I can accept contemporary critiques of Woolf's proposal, insomuch it reflects a male and upper-class model of the writing process, it still marks the "Sophie's choice" or tightrope act women must yet undergo, between their creative and material offspring.

Monday, March 10, 2008

It's my party, I'll jump out a window if I want to

Though Erwin R. Steinberg offered a compelling case for why we should read T.S. Eliot into the character of poor Septimus in his "Mrs. Dalloway and T.S. Eliot's Personal Wasteland," I am suspicious of such a linear, direct ratio between biography and art in this work. Rather, Woolf appears to borrow from her own experiences and those of her social circle to blend and complicate them in her highly fraught, ambivalent characters. For example, in Septimus one can observe not only Eliot's loss of Jean Verdanal, but Woolf's own personal struggles with a "scientific," positivist system that clinicizes and simplifies trauma and difference, as well as perhaps even her own frustrations with supporting her despairing father after her mother's death. Mrs. Dalloway herself also pre-empts singular readings: whether she is emulative of Woolf's own proclivity for London socializing or satiric of traditional domesticity and its "trifles." Indeed, while Clarissa once in a while operates as a mouthpiece for Woolf's preferences and opinions (she also shares Woolf's ambiguous sexuality), we could not imagine a starker contrast between Woolf's and Dalloway's lifestyles and statuses -- Clarissa is overwhelmingly non-intellectual and has chosen to fuse her identity (and obviously her name) with her husband's. Above all, however, Woolf rejects the label of a "perfect hostess" as a condemnation and stereotyping of upper class women's work at the turn of the century; such an activity is crucial for the "soft power" husbands need to strike political bargains and effect change (only at a party does there emerge hope for solving "shell-shock"). Furthermore, trivializing all traditional women's activity only serves the masculinist agenda Bonnie Kime Scott examines as a way of "reclaiming the culture from" so-called Victorian "decadence and feminization" (Intro., li).

Presenting a daughter that is completely dissimilar from Clarissa is perhaps a way for Woolf to analogize changing attitudes in the Modern era towards women and sexuality. Despite this possibility, Elizabeth acts primarily as an enigma, occupying some frankly odd spaces between masculinity and femininity, homosocial and heteronormative roles, and even East and West. Like Lily in To the Lighthouse, Elizabeth has "Chinese eyes in a pale face" and "an Oriental mystery." Her odd aloofness and removal from her family and their posh realm posits her as a differing mirror-image to Clarissa, in a similar fashion to India's frequently mentioned but ostensibly small role to the central action. To return to Steinberg's Waste Land connection, Elizabeth is also, as he briefly notes, associated with Eliot's "hyacinth girl" (14). Woolf depicts her as "a hyacinth which has had no sun" (120). Given that Apollo is the sun god, this passage could be indicative of Elizabeth's virginity and inexperience, but its back story also nods to her homoerotic friendship with Mrs. Kilman and her mother and tutor's possessive jealousy over her. If we are to understand the Hyacinth myth as relevant to Elizabeth's role, we can perceive her desire for agency in this triangle as well as for a more public, active destiny to be as foredoomed as a sunless flower.

Indeed, Kime Scott argues that Woolf uses trees to "offer" "parallel images" and "enable us to see her characters side by side" (lxi) -- I would extend this interesting observation to include flowers, particularly the hyacinths I've mentioned, along with roses. Associated with marriage, domesticity and the month of June (summertime and life), this rose motif is every bit as ambivalent as Mrs. Dalloway. Mr. Dalloway brings his wife "flowers -- roses, red and white roses" in lieu of bringing "himself to say he loved her; not in so many words" (115), after which "she understood" and thanks him. While this scenario may appeal to the sentimentalist in me, the critic in me can also understand it as problematic. Mr. Dalloway does not communicate love, but rather gives her a conventional cultural symbol of it, one that like Hugh's necklace is bought in capitalist exchange, underpins England's political dynamics (Clarissa receives her present instead of being invited to her husband's political luncheon), and resonates with the novel's fixation on appearance and artifice.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Shantih, Shantih, Shantih

Mainly because its name intrigued me, I chose to focus on Maud Ellman's article, "A Sphinx Without a Secret," from the Norton as a way to organize and complement my own reading of the Waste Land -- a poem which quite obviously could be analyzed throughout the rest of my natural life without exhausting its critical possibilities. Luckily, Ellman's interpretation confirmed my own initial suspicions that the work might be in many ways an examination of text and the literary tradition's own status as a "waste land" of interrelated but pastiched references. In other words, the Waste Land is a poem about poetry, and one that like the "sphinx" is "symbol of the symbolic itself" because it "does not know the answer to its own question" (Ellman, 259) (by extension, Eliot problematizes literature as a medium of such "answers" or truth). Though Ellman does not choose to focus on another of Eliot's iconic classical females, the Sybil, I propose that, with its rotting (feminine) corporeality, eternal life, and status as a publicized mass spectacle -- not to mention its rhyme with "symbol" --the Sybil also operates as a stand-in for the status of text in modernism, one whose elements are displaced and dispersed throughout the Waste Land.

Indeed, while Eliot's misogyny towards the female body is rampant throughout this work, his inclusion of the Philomela myth not only, as Ellman argues, act as a way to demonstrate the silencing aspects of male violence, but in addition displays how modernity reduces both literature and speech to brief allusions, snippets, and "soundbites". For example, note how Philomela's remaining voice that calls out "twit twit twit" "So rudely forc'd / Tereu" (203-6) directly reflects the broken jingles and nursery rhymes of "O O O O that Shakespearean rag" (128) and "London bridge is falling down falling down falling down" (426). The result of such inclusions is a sense of cacophony and disjunction from the "higher" allusions to Shakespeare and the classics; indeed, Eliot's references at times seem self-negating.

To further relate Eliot's use of gender and textuality, I will now explore his use of Tiresias as an androgynous middle-ground between author, reader, and text. Emily (Eichler), I found your idea that the Waste Land's narrator may be at least at times feminine to be interesting, particularly in a context where, as Ellman states, "it is a collapse of boundaries that centrally disturbs the text" (262). While the Waste Land's speaker transitions from the feminine roles of "Marie" and the silenced Philomela, the author is of course male, which perhaps creates a hierarchical ambivalence between masculine and feminine, author/speaker and reader. Tiresias fills these gaps through his ambiguous status as a hermaphrodite and a blind seer, as well as an observer and voyeur to the poetry's action: "I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs / Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest" (229). What he perceives is of course an unsatisfying act of physical copulation (a state that may be more visceral due to Eliot's own sexual misfortunes and corporal struggles).

In accordance with the poem's obvious theme of sterility, Tiresias is impotent as both male subject and female object and unable to bequeath concrete nourishment to his audience. While Tiresias becomes the all-encompassing speaker with many voices, he also implicates us in his voyeurism: through the Waste Land's speaker, the reader obtains coy glimpses of both the literary tradition and seedy modern realities, but without a sense of consummation or closure. Like the symbol/Sybil, he embodies both physical degeneration and occult prescience. Ultimately, the speaker in Eliot's schema remains an incorporeal cipher; however, Eliot may be positing here the necessity of literature's removal from the concrete aspects of daily modern life for its voice to regain power. Like Philomela, the text may reach a purer state of art (Ellman, 260s) shed of its citationality -- but then it would be "feminized" and disempowered (particularly in regards to the historic gender inequality of classical education).

These analytic dilemmas were clarified for me after reading Ellman's article, in which she acknowledges Eliot to be both a "vicar" and a "blasphemer" of the literary tradition. However, I would extend her point further to critique some conventional interpretations that present Eliot's use of biblical and Upanishad motifs, as well as his final blessing of "shantih shantih shantih," to be messages of immanent hope. Eliot's references to Exodus (the "dry stone" beginning in line 24) and Ecclesiastes ("the dead tree gives no shelter," 23) are interwoven with the rest of his pastiche. Therefore, Eliot starkly demonstrates the textuality, and thus indeterminacy, of theology (God and logos!): it cannot logically represent an independent, removed force here. Religious texts, ironically like the dead tree or dry stone, are no shelter from modernity's subjectivities.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Stories About "Nothing"

To really get into this week's Woolf, I feel that a meditative, Zen-like, haiku-appreciating state of mind is helpful to navigate the short stories' startling images and labyrinthine sentences. For example, in the first sentence:

"From the oval-shaped flower-bed there rose perhaps a hundred stalks spreading into heart-shaped or tongue-shaped leaves half way up and unfurling at the tip red or blue or yellow petals marked with spots of colour raised upon the surface; and from the red, blue or yellow gloom..."

I found it at first difficult to navigate between subjects and their adjectival descriptors, a difficulty increased by the passive-voice construction in the first line. This phenomenon, however, I find to be far-from-accidental on Woolf's part, particularly given her pun on "rose" in the first verb. This word choice creates a dualistic parallel in the audience's mind, of both the rose flowers that may be blooming in "Kew Garden" and the plants' action of life and growth. Sandra Kemp states of Woolf's short stories that "time, space, and the habitual association of things are erased by this potential of the imagination"; likewise, I find that the dichotomy between "thing" and "action," or "subject" and "being," to be playfully blurred here.

Perhaps this strategy lends the sense of timelessness many sections of both "Kew Gardens" and "Mark on the Wall" contain. There is no traditional narrative with its linear progression of time in either story, but the narrative instead switches back and forth between past, present, and perhaps even future. "Kew Gardens" shifts between the present and a memory of "fifteen years ago," in which what is ostensibly marginal, unrelated background detail reigns over the bulk of the actual occurrence (40). Simon mainly recalls a "dragonfly" circling and the impatient motion of a shoe rather than, say, his lover's words or facial expression as per conventional expectations. Woolf here captures the idiosyncrasies of the individual mind, particularly, as Kemp notes, in regards to recollections (68) -- we often remember the past as a snapshot, and indeed remember minute details while faces and words grow hazy and diluted. There seems to be a tension between the thoughts that relate to the social sphere, socially acceptable thoughts about the weather or events in the "Times" ("Unwritten Novel", 19) and those eccentric flashes of perception that constitute a large part of our waking lives and often lend them meaning. (People ask what I am thinking often, and my answer is always, always censored somehow.)

To return to "Kew Gardens," I am unsure how to "interpret" Simon's "perception" (Kemp, 76), if even that is what Woolf intends, that the "whole" of his beloved "seemed to be in her shoe" (40). There is a hint of Prufrock here, of the fragmentation of the human Self, and particularly men's fragmentation of female syntactic/literary "objects," or bodies. However, given Woolf's love affair with detail and imagery in her short stories, perhaps remembering another by their shoe is not an insult, but merely a method by which Woolf imaginatively penetrates an"other"'s mind. Perhaps transferring preferred body parts from hands to shoes is Woolf's way of playing with and subverting Eliot's device. Furthermore, Kemp seems to view the old woman's "kiss" as mocking R/romantic conventions, yet I thought of a matriarchal transference and blessing upon artistic endeavor (to oppose Harold Bloom!), given that it was received in the company of six painting girls.

Speaking of connections with visual art, the finale of "Kew Gardens," in which "wordless voices" were "breaking the silence," only to be countered by the assertion that, in modern life, there are "omnibuses" and no true silence, paralleled the use of vibrant color at the expense of "shadow" in domestic painting. In fact, the flowers' "colours" (45) is our final remaining image. Woolf, in perhaps her only similarity to the Futurists, seems here to be embracing the dynamism and vitality of modern life rather than bemoaning its lack of silence; I recall a scene from The Hours in which Virginia feels an incurable draw back to her frantic-but-invigorating London lifestyle.

In "A Mark on the Wall," Woolf characterizes the act of interpretation (and indeed, the sense I get interpreting her short stories) as a "swarm" of "thoughts," a multitude like a group of ants or insects, each perception individuated and yet part of the whole (47) . She explores this mode of thought thematically throughout the piece, before her thoughts must be defined, pinned, and fixed by the "mark's" literal definition. I'm wondering if she is presciently hinting at our current analysis of language, in that agreeing upon a central "definition" of a word or even a work of literature necessarily prohibits that word/work's "play" and infinitude of possibilities. Woolf subtly takes issue with the masculine modernists' obsession with "hard, dry things" and specificities, exclaiming that "I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts" (49). Retaining the hard and the dry as sole literary obsessions, she implies, leads to a certain shallow vacuousness. Later, she returns to the problem of "standards," whether of "things" or of perhaps linguistic definitions, stating that "Man" has taken their place -- for now. What will follow, she hopes, is a sort of freedom, of expression and of thought, the feverish freedom to which she strives in her stories. However, the "Mark's" definition as a "snail" throws this reverie into question, perhaps displaying that for all our experimentations, the minute and the concrete, the small, slimy things, still matter in a narrative.