With Madness too, this terrible fear that haunted Woolf

With Jacob’s Room, her third novel
published in 1922, Virginia Woolf rocked. More exactly, it has happened. It
is overwhelming to witness this spectacle, a writer who truly and completely
accedes to himself, who becomes before our eyes a perfect singularity. This
sharing of souls that is the reading experience acquires a new dimension, here
again complicated by the underlying saying of the text, which runs throughout
the work, constitutes its paradoxical flesh: the elusive depths human. Woolf
stands out from classical romantic psychology, descends, not without some
irony, from the Olympus of divine and divinatory narrators, and tirelessly
works on the question of being in the world. And it is the very form of
the story that comes out of it, inevitably, transfigured. First stone of a
work that finds its structure there,The Waves .

In
his questioning of the canons posed by the nineteenth-century novel, Woolf did
not follow the path of Proust and James. That of a spiral writing that
digs, to the rhythm of a languorously languorous and essentially literary
phrasing, the demonic precision of the sensations to reveal the infinite strata
that compose them. No, the scriptural experience at Woolf is a bursting
experience. The story draws a fractal curve. A fascinating object, a
pure creation of the mind, which no longer content itself with reproducing the
real, from a poorly situated exterior, but emerges from within, invents it, as
one invents an archaeological site, by posing the puzzle of his apparent chaos. To
the reader, then, to plunge into it, to add the piece of his own consciousness
in this incessant flow, and to help, by this initiatory gesture,

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The flow of
consciousness (s), masterfully staged in The Waves , is
the heart of Woolf’s work. It has two faces, indispensable to each other; flow
of consciousness in the world, which perceives it and seeks to hear it; flow
of the world in consciousness. Writing arrives at the meeting point of
these two streams, which are probably parallel, but not Euclidean. Madness too,
this terrible fear that haunted Woolf all his life, emerging with renewed
violence after each time of intense creation, until suicide – ultimate act of
resistance, where we prefer to disappear voluntarily in the waves, that
voluntarily in the absence of consciousness.

Woolf in her Diary , precisely about her progress in Jacob’s Room , tells us, says to herself, that
“writing is always difficult”. Of course, it’s a huge risk. Virginia,
close to madness every time she puts her “universe” into play, knows
it better than any other. Jacob’s Room seeks to write –
write, yes, and not describe – presence. Jacob’s. To engrave, with
the chisel of language, this reality, incredibly alive, incredibly evanescent,
in the reality, no less alive, no less evanescent, of the book. And she
will go further in The Wavesin writing the presence
of Percival, the one by whom everything happens, the one around which the flow
of consciousness of all the others coils, precisely that which one will never
hear. It is commonly accepted that Jacob as Percival are two figures
inspired by the beloved brother, died at 26, of Virginia, Thoby Stephen. No
need to dwell on the autobiographical aspect: it is easy to understand that the
literary stakes are immense. Vital, basically.

The loss and the disappearance form, at the heart of the galaxy made up of
these two books, a kind of black hole which attracts the light of all eyes
inexorably to him. From the very first pages, Jacob is noted for his absence
and seems to exist at first only through the cries of his brother gone in
search of him. The story closes on the image of Mrs. Flanders, holding in
her hand the desperately empty old shoes of her dead son. Between the two,
Jacob is there but we never manage to grasp it entirely. We live in his
space (“Jacob’s room”) for the time of reading, but the space that
contains a being teaches us about it, really, only one thing: this place that
it occupies, now, under our eyes, none other than him can occupy it at the same
time. That alone gives all its power, its inalienable, literally
irremovable character to presence. All the rest is a matter of
suppositions, more or less erroneous interpretations – sometimes brilliant but
fleeting divinations. This is what the story, so singularly constructed,
of Woolf teaches us. This is the experience he makes us live.

It’s
a succession of looks that pass and settle on Jacob. None can contain it
alone. The impossible meeting of their diverging beams could not contain
it. He necessarily exceeds them all. Nevertheless, it is they who
reveal it to us, in its very mystery, just as light reveals a whole universe to
be deciphered. And it is Jacob, more deeply, it is this “space”
where Jacob exists, this black hole, which gives – brilliant paradox – their
coherence to all these glances, its architectural unity to the story, as well
as Woolf has very quickly understood by writing.

So the echo of An Unwritten Novel makes perfect sense. And the scene that opens the
third chapter of Jacob’s Room , this chapter
where Jacob stands out from his mother until then in the center of the story
and takes full possession of her space, acquires a transcendent dimension
because it vibrates with this resonance. The parts of the work, too, are
interconnected by millions of fibers, stretched from one book to another,
forming a network, a nebula where the infinite possibilities of the literary
universe are born and die. .

Again, a
train compartment – a place often favored by Woolf because conducive to the
fugitive meets solitudes. Jacob goes to Cambridge. By a remarkable
reversal, it is not the look of the hero that we follow, but that of his
traveling companion, a Mrs Norman whom we will not see again after this scene. This
is one of many examples of the great narrative originality of Woolf’s novel. Each
passer-by barely crossed, usually sent back to the near-void of the realm of
nameless shadows, in Jacob’s Roomon the contrary, is
systematically named as soon as he looks at Jacob; the narration even opens
a door, offers us, in a few sentences, to take a look at the life of these
fleeting identities, which stand out as so many singularities in the overall
curve, as so many possibilities left unresolved and which persist incidentally
in the mind of the reader. This process, far from being artificial, gives
the story an extraordinary thickness, to the universe which takes shape a
reality of a shocking acuteness. The book becomes a real place of
existence.

 

The
story, like the universe, obeys the law of entropy. And, in this advancing
world, it’s impossible to predict what will leave a trace, or for how
long. The thought can be distressing. Clarissa Dalloway, at the
beginning of her day, is surprised at this apparent caprice of memory. The
whole novel is built on this ascent, irrepressible as well as stochastic,
memories. The question is the same as in Jacob’s Room: can I,
in them, define myself? Memory, the fourth dimension of consciousness and
being, further complicates apprehension. It is what, while giving it its
thickness, of it remains the most impalpable and the most
uncontrollable. The narrative, this is its unequaled strength, is a
wonderful explanation of time, it is what makes it possible to think of it
beyond its inevitable fainting.Time is space – the one defined by the
book. He decides for himself what will leave a trace, foiling anguish
while spreading it before our eyes, driving the reader while leaving everyone
free to his own memory. Which of these looks will I take on Jacob, that of
Mrs Norman or that of Madame Lucien Gravé crossed on the Acropolis (the vestige
par excellence …)?Another one? The story, finally, has a
significant power: it offers to go back, to constantly renew the experience of
reading, to change, not its course unalterable, but the memory that I
have. And the story of Woolf offers, better than another, to build, Jacob,
a memory both alive and never frozen. It offers to think what, on the
other hand, through these encounters, so fortuitous sometimes, but always irremediably
lived, I remember. It’s in but still irreparably lived, I
remember. 

There is obviously no
point in asking what trace we will leave, much less seek to force the
inscription, always surprisingly accidental – and yet so significant and
profound. It suffices to allow oneself to be embraced by the other’s gaze
and, for an instant of eternity, to exist in him, to become for him that unique
fragment, indispensable to the unlimited figure, impossible to grasp as a
whole, that compose my being; to inhabit, like Jacob, space and time, and
to be inhabited by them; to be an irreducible point of this immense constellation
of consciousness which intertwine, separate, then remember. The story, the
words, even imperfect, just imperfect, will keep track, ensure the persistence.

In
the end it is the book, and the life of the book, that hug us, and bend under
the organic imprint of the one who has passed.