Sunday, August 29, 2010

“A Sketch of the [Aesthetics of the] Past”

It is difficult to delineate whether Woolf’s “Sketch” is more like a novel or more like a poem.  Form wise, “Sketch” is presented in novel form:  there are no stanzas, for example, no couplets, no quatrains, or any other significant demarcations that would lead one to lean toward poetic form, formally.  However, when considering the form of the prose poem, “Sketch” does employ the stream of consciousness method so often seen in the works of prose poets. 

Yet Woolf’s “Sketch” is neither/nor. 

“Sketch” is, as Mitchell Leaska notes, “[Woolf’s] backward glance at the earliest years of her past in order to give the world a personal account of the people whose lives and deaths governed her own life and gave shape to her experience of it” (VWR, Leaska 3).

Leaska’s inclusion of “A Sketch of the Past” in The Virginia Woolf Reader is cut short by his edits.  As pointed out via email and in class, there are specific passages Leaska leaves out in the excerpt.  For an editor who devotes his time and scholarship to Virginia Woolf to carefully remove certain elements of her writing takes a deep bow toward irony, particularly considering the censorship involved here, which leads us to sex [both the act thereof as well as gender].  While Leaska leaves in some sexual moments, he excludes others, as well as his exclusion of the [fe]male question.

However, Leaska’s excerpt still offers the reader a vision of Woolf’s “Sketch,” in particular, a vision that directly relates to the next works we will read/study:  “The Mark on the Wall,” “Modern Fiction,” “Kew Gardens.”  What I mean by this, is by reading “Sketch” first, we are being set up to examine Woolf in the context of which she writes, that being a pattern on consciousness which is not linear.  From the get-go, Woolf tells us of her train ride, “We were coming back to London.  But it is more convenient artistically to suppose that we were going to St. Ives, for that will lead to my other memory, which also seems to be my first memory, and in fact it is the most important of all my memories” (VWR, Woolf 5).  Just this sentence alone tells us that for Woolf, thoughts have a way of connecting, often through images (or other sensory triggers).  This jumping from one thought to another, this conductive logic*, is an idea I will further explore in my next post, “Woolf and the Rhizome.”  

*For more information on conductive logic, check out Gr. Gregory L. Ulmer's book, Internet Invention.  Ulmer discusses Woolf's "Sketch" very briefly when discussing memory.  He also cites Julia Briggs (Ulmer 89-90).  

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