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289 THE SIGNIFICANCE OF STRUCTURE IN THE NOVELS OF E. M. FÖRSTER AND VIRGINIA WOOLF By Elizabeth Heine (Universiti Sains Malaysia) In reexamining the difference between E. M. Forster's and Virginia Woolf s practice of implementing the Bloomsbury idea of "significant form" in their novels, 1 have had recourse to some of the ideas of the more modern structuralists, particularly Lévi-Strauss. I have so far found the exercise to be of reciprocal benefit. On the one hand, Lévi-Strauss' comparison of the savage and the scientific mind seems to me partially applicable to the comparison of Forster and Woolf. Also, his particular definition of myth, complete with its impressive formula, led me to some interesting algebraic allegories. (1 will return to both these matters later.) On the other hand, the basic question about why form is significant seems to be answered similarly by both Bloomsbury and modern science. That is, the answer depends on the person who is questioning and his own preference in the matter. Jean Piaget observes that "what structuralism is really after is to discover 'natural structures' - some using this somewhat vague and often denigrated word to refer to an ultimate rootedness in human nature, others, on the contrary, to indicate a nonhuman absolute to which we must accommodate ourselves instead of the reverse."1 Piaget's own work, of course, both assumes and verifies the mind's ability to construct more and more complex logical forms. One has the impression that abstract structures, for him, are very far from "transcendent essences." Octavio Paz, discussing Lévi-Strauss and structural linguistics, demands an answer to the basic question directly! "if language - and with it all society) ritual, art, economics, religion - is a sign system, what do the signs mean?" Paz praises Lévi-Strauss precisely because he is concerned with the problems that interest Paz himselfi "the relations between the universe of discourse and non-verbal reality, thought and things, meaning and non-meaning . "2 And Paz, like Lévi-Strauss, appears to resolve the antinomies in a personal variety of Buddhist mysticism, a "detachment ." an "empty knowledge."3 For illustration of the Bloomsbury views consider Clive Bell's original exposition of the significance of form¡ Now the emotion that artists express comes to some of them, so they tell us, from the apprehension of the formal significance of material things; and the formal significance of any material thing is the significance of that thing considered as an end in itself. But if an object considered as an end in itself moves us more profoundly (i.e. has greater significance) than the same object considered as a means to practical ends or as a thing related to human interests - and this undoubt- 290 edly is the case - we can only suppose that when we consider anything as an end in itself we become aware of that in it which is of greater moment than any qualities it may have acquired from keeping company with human beings. Instead of recognising its accidental and conditioned importance, we become aware of its essential reality, of the God in everything, of the universal in the particular, of the all-pervading rhythm. Call it by what name you will, the thing I am talking about is that which lies behind the appearance of all things that which gives to all things their individual significance , the thing in itself, the ultimate reality.^ The influence of G. E. Moore and ideas of "art for art's sake" are clear here and I need not review them. But there is a basic difference of approach determined by whether the human emotion is regarded as the constant or whether it is suggested that something actually exists "behind the appearance of all things." Is the form significant because it reflects an extra-human ideal or because it inspires a constant response in humans? Bell's view appears to lean toward an extra-human ideal. Roger Fry's interpretation , on the other hand, presents the complete opposite of any philosophically idealist position. This is the crux of Fry's insistence that even Leonard Woolf deserved to be called "mystic " if he "could not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 289-306
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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