Saturday, June 05, 2004

For There She Was

Finished Mrs. Dalloway Thursday night. (Wish I'd read it before The Hours, as both the film and the Michael Cunningham novel did constantly intrude.) I am becoming very fond of Virginia Woolf, who does remarkable things with commas and semi-colons. Consider the following, transcribed here exactly as it appears in the text:

"…Clarissa had a theory in those days—they had heaps of theories, always theories, as young people have. It was to explain the feeling they had of dissatisfaction; not knowing people; not being known. For how could they know each other? You met every day; then not for six months, or years. It was unsatisfactory, they agreed, how little one knew people. But she said, sitting on the bus going up Shaftesbury Avenue, she felt herself everywhere; not “here, here, here”; and she tapped the back of the seat; but everywhere. She waved her hand, going up Shaftesbury Avenue. She was all that. So that to know her, or any one, one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places. Odd affinities she had with people she had never spoken to, some woman in the street, some man behind a counter—even trees, or barns. It ended in a transcendental theory which, with her horror of death, allowed her to believe, or say that she believed (for all her skepticism), that since our apparitions, the part of us which appears, are so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide, the unseen might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this person or that, or even haunting certain places after death...perhaps—perhaps." (231-2)

I had to read the last line several times before falling in with its meaning and rhythm of Clarissa's thought. (Her "odd affinities" theory sums up well the emotion I associate with the heady first years of college.)

And now, for something completely different...Susan Choi's American Woman: A Novel, which I read for inspiration as I try to finish an article on 70s radicalism. In her first 50 pages at least, Choi seems similarly taken with commas and subordinate clauses, although sentences designed to convey character interiority click along linearly—soliloquies more rapid and more spare. It may end in a trancendental theory which, with my horror of banality, may yet cause me to believe, or say I believe (for all my optimism), that among writers in our 30s, the unseen part of us, the influence of 1970s television, might survive, be recovered somehow attached to this story or that, or even haunting certain contemporary prose to death...perhaps—perhaps.


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