“A porous vessel afloat on sensation”: Temporal Poetics and the Waves of Subjectivity in the Work of Virginia Woolf Restricted; Files & ToC

Rosen, Jeffrey (Spring 2023)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/1544bq48k?locale=en


This thesis addresses the relationship between memory and the body in the works of Virginia Woolf. I extract a distinctly Woolfian poetics of time and subjectivity through a formal and theoretical analysis of her memoir, “A Sketch of the Past,” (1939) alongside her novel, The Waves (1935). I find that Woolf’s personal writings on memory reconfigure the shock experience as a rapturous realization of life as art. Such a notion of the shock experience leads Woolf to a new theory of ‘extra-voluntary memory’: a memory dynamic in which recurring memories are brought into the body from somewhere outside of or beyond the body. Woolf poeticizes this relationship between the body and extra-voluntary memory through the rhythm of the waves. This rhythm textually takes form in The Waves through the formal motif of ‘unity-dispersion,’ a pattern of movement which perpetually structures experience for the novel’s narrative consciousness. The Woolfian subject in this sense is figured as a blank vessel, a container for sensations, which cyclically takes on sensations and thus a stable sense of identity, only to disperse and reconfigure itself in accordance with the materialist wave-like rhythms upon which the subject floats. This Woolfian temporal poetics offers itself as a pedagogical tool for teaching an embodied experience of time. 

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