Winter 2014: the semester I read so much my eyes fell out.

After entering recluse-mode for many an hour, I have finished my first book of the semester! The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf.

the voyage out 1

*takes breath*

Assigned for my Virginia Woolf class (whodathunkit?), the novel was a quick head on collision to what would be in store for me this semester: a whole lot of reading and a whole lot of feelings. The combination of reading and feelings often leaves me home alone, on my couch without pants, ignoring ambient/electronic beats wafting into the air like my incense, and staring into the massive void that is the winter in Ann Arbor because it never stops snowing.

While it was by no means Woolf’s best work, The Voyage Out is “a beginning” of sorts. Although not her earliest diary nor letters, this first novel stands as a type of fluid production from one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century. I can see question and figure out what it means to write a novel as she pieces together allusions–from Conrad to Milton to Bronte to Austen to Plato. She tropes Victorian themes (the dying heroine) and twists them into a new modern sensibility as she meditates on deathly illness rather than the sentimental last breath of life. Unlike her other “more modernist” novels, however, there is a clear plot. WOAH. Step back.

Rachel goes to South America, falls in love, and dies. OR A bougie woman travels to a middle class wet dream of what the exotic other-as-land would be and becomes a body with out organs and disintegrates from life. OR Woolf’s creative idea of her dead sister, Stella, comes of age (whatever this means) in a post-Victorian world, and dies. The dying part is pretty consistent, but the other elements of the novel, well, including the death, too, are wildly complex. Meditating on the inability for anyone to really know anyone else, the downfalls of language, the ways humans feel, the ways human name their feelings as emotions, the ways men and women interact, the ways classes interact, what colonialism does to a collective consciousness, how patriarchy fucks over all women (and men), what death and life and love seem to be, etc., etc., . . . *this is a fragment I’m trying to save* . . . the Voyage Out covers a lot of territory that will reappear in the later fiction of Woolf.

the voyage out 2

Not only has Woolf impressed me but she has made me rethink what it means to be a reader in the 21st century.

As an English/Philosophy lover/snob/being, I enjoy a good book. To me, “good” refers to something along the lines of: published out of one’s century (unless your name is Toni Morrison) that either invests too much in the world, consciousness, and humankind or is entirely skeptic of everything including the very page it is written on. Whether Naguib Mahfouz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, James Joyce, or Audre Lorde, Elizabeth Bishop, or Sylvia Plath, or Michel Foucault, Frank B. Wilderson III, Gilles Deleuze–I have a lot of opinions on what is “good.”

However, as a bibliophile that is moving closer and closer from the hallowed halls of libraries (let’s be real, libraries here means hipster/queer coffee houses) into the real world where the library is anything I can fit on a shelf in my hypothetical apartment in an imaginary Washington D.C. (my future plans), I realize that “good” means more than just “good.”

In reading Virginia Woolf’s first novel I have a newfound respect and curiosity for new authors. This–the ability to read for pleasure and explore new authors–is a epiphany that is oh-too-recent. I have always despised new books because nothing can replace what has already been written. But this despair, I’ve learned, is stupid. Just as I think I have merit and worth in the realm of scholarly writing (HAHAHAHA MY THESIS WHAT), others, too, have merit writing in the scope of fiction. I should honor their creativity.

the voyage out 3

Although new writers can be sloppy, can have an fluctuating style, can be apprehensive, they can also be full of new insights to my queer world–filled with new relations to humans, technologies, and myself, new relations to others, new relations to the environment, and so on. The world is not static, and, I guess what I’m trying to say is, neither should my bookshelf.

Thanks, V.

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