Author of Proust was a Neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer discusses in a NPR programme how novelist such as Virginia Woolf anticipated what neuroscientists discovered decades later. A summary article.
There is an extract from the book at the bottom of the page.
Originally published in Hudson Review Autumn 2003
* The easiest to read
* Most valuable
* If you write or try to write you will learn from it
There is an ideal of the sympathetic imagination that passes from eighteenth-century moral philosophy into nineteenth-century literary criticism, which holds that an effort of imaginative sympathy makes it possible for the mind to break through the barrier that separates it from its object, and, for a moment, to inhabit the object in an act of whole identification. This ability then becomes the writer’s most important faculty and is in a sense the natural instinct of the poet. “He had only to think of any thing,” as Hazlitt wrote of Shakespeare, “in order to become that thing, with all the circumstances belonging to it.” “If a Sparrow come before my Window,” Keats wrote, “I take part in its existence and pick about the Gravel.” In entering an object outside the self, the imagination is able to perceive the inmost nature of the object with an intensity and a fullness that reason cannot match; but the absorption of the mind in what lies outside the self necessarily requires the self to be, at least temporarily, extinguished. This is what Keats meant when he wrote that “Men of Genius have not any individuality, any determined Character.” It is a mystical, impersonal aspiration, almost always associated with literary creativity, and it accords deeply with Woolf’s sense of character, inwardness, and impersonality in fiction. Not surprisingly, the older idea is most frequently employed in describing Shakespeare, the writer Woolf most admires, and whose unimpeded clarity she is most apt to praise. It is for Shakespeare that Keats coins the expression “negative capability,” Shakespeare who prompts Hazlitt to write that “He was nothing in himself, but he was all that others were.” Hazlitt continues:
When he conceived of a character, whether real or imaginary, he not only entered into all its thoughts and feelings, but seemed instantly, and as if by touching a secret spring, to be surrounded with all the same objects, ‘subject to the same skyey influences,’ the same local, outward, and unforeseen accidents which would occur in reality.
Twentieth century Literature, Spring 1994
* some on Merlot-Ponty vs. Sartre (phenomenology)
William R. Handley
Twentieth century Literature, Spring 1994
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
U. of Adelaide e-text
wiki: To the Lighthouse
Large parts of Woolf’s novel do not concern themselves with the objects of vision, but rather investigate the means of perception, attempting to understand people in the act of looking. In order to be able to understand thought, Woolf’s diaries reveal, the author would spend considerable time listening to herself think, observing how and which words and emotions arose in her own mind in response to what she saw.
Themes, Motifs and Symbols – The Subjective Nature of Reality
Toward the end of the novel, Lily reflects that in order to see Mrs. Ramsay clearly—to understand her character completely—she would need at least fifty pairs of eyes; only then would she be privy to every possible angle and nuance. The truth, according to this assertion, rests in the accumulation of different, even opposing vantage points. Woolf’s technique in structuring the story mirrors Lily’s assertion. She is committed to creating a sense of the world that not only depends upon the private perceptions of her characters but is also nothing more than the accumulation of those perceptions. To try to re-imagine the story as told from a single character’s perspective or—in the tradition of the Victorian novelists—from the author’s perspective is to realize the radical scope and difficulty of Woolf’s project.
by Christie Lamon-Burney and Srirupa Dhar
Auerbach states that Woolf’s technique is achieved through “[t]he design of a close approach to objective reality by means of numerous subjective impressions received by various individuals….
Notes on Novels: To the Lighthouse
Jane Elizabeth Dougherty, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 2000.
deals with characterization of Lily Briscoe
Virginia Woolf’s Comments on To the Lighthouse
I suddenly remembered Sartre’s description of light in Nausea, and decided to check how often the word was mentioned in To the Lighthouse in the e-text. I think he ripped the idea of light as a philosophical metaphor from Woolf !
Refs. on realism
There is an essay:
Light in To the Lighthouse
Jack F. Stewart
Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Oct., 1977), pp. 377-389
This essay refers to Stewart:
By Anne-Marie Walsh
There is :
Erich Auerbach’s essay, “The Brown Stocking”
which I have not found on online.