Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Waves, Virginia Woolf

        "How strange," said Susan, "...Something irrevocable has happened. A circle has been cast on the waters; a chain is imposed. We shall never flow freely again."
        "For one moment only," said Louis. "Before the chain breaks, before disorder returns, see us fixed, see us displayed, see us held in a vice.
        "But now the circle breaks. Now the current flows. Now we rush faster than before. Now passions that lay in wait down there in the dark weeds which grow at the bottom rise and pound us with their waves." The Waves, p.142
In all the books I've read by Virginia Woolf, there's some variant on this occurence: a social event brings the characters of the book together, but the event ends up being nothing more than a chaos of individuality. Then, abruptly, the characters are bonded for a few moments before it all falls apart again. (See, for example, this passage in To the Lighthouse:
Some change at once went through them all, as if this had really happened, and they were all conscious of making a party together in a hollow, on an island; had their common cause against that fluidity out there.)
But I'm fond of the above passage in The Waves because it emphasizes how the bonds that develop between people at such gatherings can also be chains, forcing you to behave in accordance with everyone else, to obey the dictates of the perceptions they have of you. Or more often, there's no bond at all, but you're chained to the charade of pretending a bond exists.

Observe last-period Biology, Thursday afternoon. Half the class was sitting on stools around a lab table, for we had been given a free period. I forget what they conversed about - college, or how we're all bad drivers, or how unfair our parents are. But from my vantage point on the other side of the room (where I was ostensibly reading The New York Trilogy), patterns surfaced. The conversation went in waves. As in, somebody would say something, someone else would say something, then someone would interject with a witty comment, and everyone would break out into laughter. Repeat. It was an ineluctable rhythm.

Although these bonds/chains may structure interaction, they completely inhibit self-definition. All individual opinions and thoughts are impatiently shoved aside rather than probed. People become traits, for it is too tiring to explore what one really wants to think and do. Instead, one trims off all the excesses and becomes the cynical one, or the silent one, or the stupid-funny one. This way, one doesn't have to worry about oneself, whose complexities interfere with the bonding. And then if everyone else does the same thing you don't have to worry about getting to know their complexities, either. That's really how it's always been, and lately it's just gotten exhausting.

The solution, I concluded, was to be more solitary. When you're alone, you don't have to simplify yourself. You can ooze in whichever direction you'd like. And that's how you explore, that's how you fashion a self.

When I was done reflecting, the first thing I did was search out a friend, so that we could disdain social interaction together.
We are more complex than our friends would have us to meet their needs. Yet love is simple. The Waves, p.89