Love demands expression. It will not stay still, stay silent, be good, be modest, be seen and not heard, no. It will break out in tongues of praise, the high note that smashes the glass and spills the liquid. It is no conservationist love. It is a big game hunter and you are the game.
Your whole life you are really writing one book, which is an attempt to grasp the consciousness of your time and place– a single book written from different stages of your ability.
Woolf often conceives of life this way: as a gift that you’ve been given, which you must hold onto and treasure but never open. Opening it would dispel the atmosphere, ruin the radiance—and the radiance of life is what makes it worth living. It’s hard to say just what holding onto life without looking at it might mean; that’s one of the puzzles of her books. But it has something to do with preserving life’s mystery; with leaving certain things undescribed, unspecified, and unknown; with savoring certain emotions, such as curiosity, surprise, desire, and anticipation. It depends on an intensified sense of life’s preciousness and fragility, and on a Heisenberg-like notion that, when it comes to our most abstract and spiritual intuitions, looking too closely changes what we feel. It has to do, in other words, with a kind of inner privacy, by means of which you shield yourself not just from others’ prying eyes, but from your own. Call it an artist’s sense of privacy.
Joshua Rothman's New Yorker essay on Virginia Woolf’s idea of privacy is the best thing I’ve read in ages.
It rings especially poignant in the context of her own conflicted inner life, from her exuberant appreciation of the world’s beauty to her intense capacity for love to the deathly despair of her suicide letter.
Do yourself a favor and read Rothman’s full essay here.
My point was that in a country that has become so extraordinarily diverse, we still imagine a white writer as the universal writer – and that absurdity is becoming almost unsustainable. I visit high schools all the time. When I look at the kids that are coming up, they look nothing like the writers that we’re all running around calling the voice of this country. Despite what we would like to think, the lag time between what a culture recognizes as its country and what the country is, my brother, is quite extraordinary. Outside of a few strains, I feel like the literary apparatus still thinks of this country very much in the 1950s.
By art alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours, the landscapes of which would remain as unknown to us as those of the moon. Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied and as many original artists as there are, so many worlds are at our disposal, differing more widely from each other than those which roll round the infinite and which, whether their name be Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us their unique rays many centuries after the hearth from which they emanate is extinguished.