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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Divine Politics: Virginia Woolfs Journey toward Eleusis in TTL" CR#14

When I began reading Tina Barr's article "Divine Politics:  Viriginia Woolf's Journey toward Eleusis in To the Lighthouse, I initially felt that I would be overwhelmed with her turgid speech with words such as "prosodic" and "semiological," and after looking at the definitions, I realize that she is vastly more educated than me, and this is going to be a scholarly article written above my head.  She calls upon the literary gods:  Northrup Frye, Nietzche, and Kierkegaard to assist her with her "very detailed reading of the text in light of its mythic resonances (Barr 126).

Barr writes about how this novel helped Woolf to confront her childhood trauma, and, in doing that, she adds to the growing array of literary feminist discourse.  She then delves into the mythical resonances and also mentions how this was a self-psychoanalytic novel for Woolf.  Many scholars have used the Demeter - Persephone myth to illuminate the Mrs. Ramsay/Prue relationship.  In my own estimation this errs.  Barr does not critique this idea, so much as just comments on it: however, she does bring up a concept that I find more believable:  Demeter is Mrs. Ramsay, and Lily Briscoe as the adopted daughter is Persephone.  Lily only spends summers with Mrs. Ramsay, and it is believed that Lily represents Virginia Woolf in the story (Barr 130).  Thus, as Lily is beginning to work on her painting, she finds it difficult to begin which takes us back to her quote from Nietzche in that he "susggest that man creates the mythic out of his fear of his ancestors" (Barr 129).  So, at the end of the novel when Lily finishes her painting and thinks, "It was done; it was finished.  Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision" (TTL 211), we can now realize that this is Woolf saying that writing this was indeed carthartic and she is now free of the obsession.  I never felt that Lily was as caught in the netting of the cult of Mrs. Ramsay until the last of the book as she struggled to finish her painting.

Barr believes that using the tool of the mythic substrata that Woolf can resolve character's identities by asserting importance to Lily's vision she has as she tries to finish her painting.  Just as I'm feeling comfortable reading the article, this sentence comes along, "This mythic supplementation si not simply some Lacanian prosthetic simulacrum (OED: a material image made as a representation of some diety, person, or thing) of the missing phallic signifier" (Barr 131).  She then relates to the reader how Mrs. Ramsay received many goddess images from Woolf which she uses her verbal prowess to prove.  Just as I am reconciled that Barr has nothing to say about Augustus Carmichael, she comes up with a fresh idea:  Mr. Carmichael acts as the hierophant (OED: An official expounder of sacred mysteries or religious ceremonies, esp. in ancient Greece; an initiating or presiding priest.).  It was like a lost piece of the puzzle was found and properly placed.  Logic had arrived.

In summation, her article is somewhat above the average undergraduate level being that she has interposed the ideas of many of the literary theorists; however, her basic sentence structure is not difficult to follow and her turgid speech was fitting.  (I learned the word turgid for that other critical read, so I must make sure to employ it at every opportunity.)

Works Cited:

Barr, Tina.  "Divine Politics:  Virginia Woolf's Journey toward Eleusis in To The Lighthouse."  boundary 2.20 (1993): 125-145. Web.  6 October 2010.

"hierophant, n." The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 23 Nov. 2020

"simulacrum, n." The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 23 Nov. 2020

Woolf, Virgina.  To The Lighthouse.  1927.  Ed. Mark Hussey.  Orlando:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2008.  Print.

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