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Graham Parkes IMAGINING REALITY IN TO THE LIGHTHOUSE Supposing truth is a woman — what then? Are there not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, have been very inept about women? that the gruesome seriousness, the clumsy obtrusiveness with which they have usually approached truth so far have been awkward and inappropriate means for winning a woman's heart? These opening lines from Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil bear upon the question of why philosophers have been so afraid of Virginia Woolf, and why their approaches to her work have failed to touch the heart of its poetic truth. Perhaps their advances have been so inept because these philosophers (almost all male) think themselves alone suited to woo the goddess of revelation. Uncomfortable with a woman novelist's having disclosed some profound truths about human existence, they have supposed that if these truths are in any way philosophical, they must be due to the influence of professional philosophers within her range of acquaintance. In the discussion that follows, I shall demonstrate that the way scholars have so far approached Virginia Woolfs work misses its philosophical import, and I shall present alternative perspectives from which the philosophical achievement of the novels can be more fully appreciated. I If philosophy and literature both — at their best — disclose certain truths about the nature of human being and of the world, it would seem reasonable to applaud their concomitant pursuit — whether by a philosophical novelist or poet, or by a philosopher with a forceful literary style. One would be justified, too, in asking that the two be integrated — that the philosophical ideas be woven into the fabric of the literary text and not just tacked on, and that the style be germane to the ideas and not merely thrown around them as an afterthought. But Philosophy and Literature Vol. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 Pp. 33-44 0190-0031/82/0061-0033 © 1982 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 34Philosophy and Literature in most cases of a writer's being influenced by a philosopher, such influence tends to manifest itself as outer trappings rather than as the core of the work — unless (as with the influence of Platonism and Neoplatonism on such poets as Shakespeare and Blake) the philosophy in question has been so powerful as to inform the entire Weltanschauung of an epoch. More interesting than cases of influence are those in which a writer's ideas derive from independent meditation upon philosophical issues. The problem with recent treatments ofphilosophical ideas in Virginia Woolfs work is that one of the main ways they have attempted to reveal the philosophy in her novels is precisely through demonstrating influence. And not only is it left unclear what the significance of such demonstration is, but the sources of this putative influence seem to me quite infelicitously chosen and attention to them to blind the reader to the genuine philosophical significance in the novels. The currently voguish fascination with the Bloomsbury Group has given rise to a number of attempts to demonstrate the influence on Woolfs fiction of certain philosophical figures on the periphery of the Bloomsbury circle. I shall focus my criticisms upon two of these attempts in particular, since they embody much that is misguided in contemporary approaches to Virginia Woolf's philosophy: the first is an essay by S. P. Rosenbaum, entitled "The Philosophical Realism of Virginia Woolf," which purports to show that the philosophical position that informs her work is "realism" (a major ground for this claim being that she was greatly influenced by G. E. Moore); the second is an article byJaakko Hintikka, entitled "Virginia Woolf and Our Knowledge of the External World," which argues that her epistemological position is congruent with Bertrand Russell's (but that this is due to quasi-osmotic rather than direct influence).1 In both cases the external evidence for influence is slight. Rosenbaum does show that Moore's philosophy had been enthusiastically espoused by a number of men in the Bloomsbury Group, including Leonard Woolf; but aside from an expression of baffled admiration in a letter written to her sister after struggling through Principia Ethica, no direct evidence is presented...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 33-44
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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