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JornalistEmmaTeitel

Journalist Emma Teitel uses Woolf to critique social media.

Although Woolf lived in a pre-Internet world, one journalist has connected her ideas about artistic and social conformity with contemporary society’s obsession with social media, and the depressive effects of scrolling through photos and updates of others’ curated lives.

The Canadian publication TheStar.com has published an essay by Emma Teitel which uses some of Woolf’s ideas from The Common Reader to describe the, “soul-numbing sensation of too much time spent on social media.”

Teitel writes:

In 1925, English novelist and outcast Virginia Woolf wrote about what happens to a person when she spends her entire life trying to fit in.

‘Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it,’ Woolf wrote in The Common Reader, a collection of essays, ‘and a lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul. She becomes all outer show and inward emptiness; dull, callous, and indifferent.’

Woolf Quote--Conform

Woolf’s words from 1925 are as relevant today as they were in her own time, and when applied to social media, her critiques seem to explain the depression many people experience when looking through social media sources. Teitel explains:

…there are no words more precise than ‘dull, callous and indifferent’ to describe the emotional after-effect of scrolling your way into a funk on Facebook and Instagram, where you’ve inwardly begrudged the success and beauty of other people, all the while attempting to make your own appear far greater than it actually is.

KylieJennerSelfie

A selfie of Kylie Jenner, a member of the Kardashian family, who has 58 million followers on Instagram.

Teitel asserts that Woolf’s critical line, “outer show and inward emptiness,” can even be used as the “official tagline” of social media. And perhaps the best lines from Teitel’s article, link Woolf’s writing to Kylie Jenner:

In fact, ‘Outer show and inward emptiness,’ could serve as the medium’s official tagline  not to mention the caption beneath every Twitter selfie of Kylie Jenner.

Is there any aspect of contemporary life to which we can’t apply Woolf’s writings?

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Still winter here. Snow falling. Roads bad. People complaining that their usual 15-minute drive home took two hours.

So I am staying indoors and putting up my third blog post of the day.

This one is easy. All I have to do is link you to Fernham‘s post on “Pearls and Power,” which aptly summarizes the sometimes edgy discussion that took place on the VWoolf Listserv during the last few days.

See if you agree with list mistress Anne that the dispute was between the “‘No sex, please, we’re British’ camp versus the acolytes of the clitoris.”

To illustrate the topic, I decided to play it safe. I snapped a photo of my piled-up pearls — genuine, imitation, new and hand-me-down. You may think of them however you wish.

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I had the best of intentions, but I didn’t give myself enough time. That is why I have not finished my re-read of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.

As a result, I won’t be able to plunge into the Woolf in Winter discussion of the novel led by Clare on Kiss a Cloud. But I can stick my toe in the water. So here it goes.

During the past few days, I worked my way through the early years of Woolf’s six characters: Jinny, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Bernard and Louis.

When I left them last night, all six were on their way home from boarding school for the summer holiday. Each was looking forward to something different. Susan was longing to be back in the country. Jinny was picturing herself as an independent young woman. Louis fancied himself a poet. And so on.

What struck me so far was how beautifully and accurately Woolf captured the minds and moods of children on their way to being grown-ups. The innocence, the complications, the wretched insecurities, the brave dreams, the pleasures and the pains of childhood can all be found in Woolf’s poetic words.

In the novel, Woolf outlines each character. Then she fills in the details in the same way that the pointillist painting provided by Kiss a Cloud does.

From a distance, the dots in a pointillist painting may seem alike. But up close, each one is different. In a similar way, young children may seem alike from a distance. But up close, each one is unique.

Woolf looks at her six children up close. She bends her knees to look at the world from their perspective. She tells their six stories from the shifting vantage points of children on their way to adulthood. She understands the way they think and feel.

What I take away from these first few chapters of The Waves is that despite her own childlessness, Woolf got kids in a way that few adults do. That’s just one more thing to like about her.

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When I first read about Woolf in Winter, I planned to reread all four novels and participate in all the discussions. I regret that I have failed in my mission.

If you are in the same predicament, links to the online discussions we missed are below.

But please note that we still have a chance to redeem ourselves — albeit with one of the most challenging of Virginia Woolf’s novels, The Waves. The online discussion begins a week from today, on Friday, Feb. 23. You can join Clare and other Woolf readers at Kiss a Cloud.

I plan to put Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins aside for the moment and ride The Waves for the next week. Won’t you join us?

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I am enjoying a snow evening. Not a snow day, just a snow evening.

My university cancelled evening classes because of the snow, which means I don’t have to teach tonight. So instead of standing in front of a classroom, I am sitting at home on a sofa.

The unexpected free time feels especially fine. Outdoors I can hear my neighbor running his snow blower. In the kitchen, the tea kettle sounds ready to boil. The only jarring note is the TV, but it is the news hour, and my husband does have it tuned to PBS.

Meanwhile, with Jim Lehrer in the background, I pull together Woolf notes:

  • From Anne Fernald of Fernham, comes a tweet advising us to read “Always A Rambling Post on Common Readers, Classes and the Noise of Poetry,” which extols the virtues of Woolf, “a poet who wrote novels.”
  • S. Shulman shared a story about a Princeton exhibit in the Firestone Library’s Main Gallery called “The Author’s Portrait.” The exhibit runs through July 5 and includes a 1928 portrait of Woolf.
  • She also sent a link to a Londonist story, “Which is the Best London Novel?” Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is tied for the number three spot on the list. And Ian McEwan’s Saturday, inspired by Mrs. D, is number nine.
  • In an article in the London Times, Naomi Wolf cites Virginia Woolf in her article, Sleep is a Feminist Issue.
  • On The Walrus Blog, a post called “Ghost Stories” argues that the cult of authors may result in ” fancy editions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grocery lists, or leather-bound copies of Virginia Woolf’s to-do reminders.”
  • A note from the Literary Gift Co. illustrates our fetishization of authors. The company offers “Virginia Woolf Parcel Tape” to seal your special packages. It is emblazoned with a Woolf quotation, “Life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope which surrounds us from the beginning of conciousness to the end,” from her essay  “Modern Fiction.”
  • A VWoolf Listserv conversation about Woolf’s mental state generated tips for further reading. They include:
  • And if you need a chuckle after all this serious talk, take a look at the Punch cartoon whose link was sent by Stuart N. Clarke in response to the discussion on the VWoolf Listserv regarding Woolf and weather, a topic obviously dear to my heart.

Which leads me full circle to the topic with which I began: I am enjoying a snow evening. And it is pure white bliss.

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Today is the day for the Woolf in Winter online discussion of Mrs. Dalloway. To join it, subscribe to the comment feed for the original invitation post: “Woolf in Winter: An Invitation.”

  • To find out more about the upcoming discussions on three other novels, go here. The discussions will be led by the four bloggers, SarahEmilyFrances and Claire, who came up with the plan.
  • Read thoughts on Mrs. Dalloway at “Nonsuch Books.”
  • “Lakeside Musing” has already posted her wintertime thoughts about reading MD. She says it is a novel that improves with age — the age of the reader.
  • Another blogger–and an English professor to boot–shares her experience of falling under the spell of Woolf’s words after struggling with “how to read” MD. Rohan Maitzen blogs about her reading experiences on Novel Readings.
  • To find out what some first-time readers of Woolf have already had to say about Mrs. D, go to this post at “another cookie crumbles,” the blog of a 23-year-old book lover living in London.
  • To read William Patrick Wend’s thoughts about the novel in an intertextual context, read his essay, “The Intertextual World of Mrs. Dalloway” on Blogging Woolf.

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