Posted by: kerryl29 | October 2, 2009

What I Have in Common with Virginia Woolf

Every two weeks or so I make the drive from the Chicago area to the Indianapolis area–or vice versa.  It’s not a particularly interesting drive and even were it so, I’ve made the trek so many times (I’ve been doing this for six years now) it would have ceased to be worthy of note long ago.  Some time ago, to help make the trip more tolerable, I began to listen to lecture series from the Teaching Company.  These lectures, taught by university professors, have the feel of college courses and I’ve let my mind wander widely, from a five thousand-year survey of Chinese history to the musical compositions of Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms and Liszt, to the biological origins of human individuality.  In a sense, I feel as though I’m informally working toward a second baccalaureate degree, this one in general studies.

I’m currently listening to a series entitled “Masterworks of Early 20th Century Literature,” which focuses on modernist writers such as James Joyce, Joseph Conrad and Franz Kafka, among others.  During a recent lecture covering some of the work of Virginia Woolf, I had something of an epiphany–one of those rare moments when the figurative light of recognition snaps on, illuminating a previously dark place with stunning clarity.  In reading a passage from To the Lighthouse, one of Woolf’s two masterwork novels (Mrs. Dalloway being the other), where one of the characters is reflecting on the meaning of life, the lecturer–David Thorburn, professor of literature at MIT–quoted from the novel:

“The great revelation had never come.  The great revelation perhaps never did come.  Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.  Here was one:  Mrs. Ramsay bringing them together.  Mrs. Ramsay saying: ‘Life stands still here.'”

And Thorburn continued, summing up his own thoughts:

“We might say that that ambition, to make life stand still here, if only for a moment, in a painting, in a poem, in a novel, is one of Woolf’s central ambitions.”

“That’s it,” I said to myself.  That’s what I’m trying to do:  make life stand still, for ever so fleeting a moment.

If I may be so audacious as to adapt Professor Thorburn’s summation to myself:

To make life stand still here, if only for a moment, in a photograph, is one of my central ambitions.

To me, photography in general, and the landscape genre in particular, is an incomparably well-suited medium to attempt to fulfill this aspiration.  It is, as I see it, the preservation of a specific place at a specific moment in time, one suffused, hopefully, with enduring meaning.

I don’t share much with Virginia Woolf; certainly not her artistic acumen.  But apparently I do share at least a semblance of intention.

Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico



  1. Yikes! So many echoes here…..

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