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Abstract

Performing a rereading of Virginia Woolf's 1931 experimental modernist masterpiece of The Waves, in this article I focus on the elusive and conflicted character of Rhoda, whose significance has been either overlooked or marginalized in the available criticism of the narrative. By pointing out a number of problems in the existing scholarship devoted to Rhoda, I propose to define her as a transgressive figure of uncertainty through which Woolf develops a critique of the unitary self. My point of departure for the following essay is Toril Moi's perspective on Woolf's oeuvre as openly feminist and deconstructive. Consequently, I begin with Moi's emphasis on Woolf's commitment to the problematization of the Western male humanism's underlying concept of the unitary self. Drawing from a number of critical and philosophical perspectives, I turn to Kim L. Worthington's idea of subjectivity as a sustained process of interpersonal narrativization in order to offer a more nuanced account of Rhoda's identity as compound and implicated in the dynamics of inter-subjective processes. I also consider Rhoda's much criticized rejection of identity vis-à-vis Woolf's strategy of impersonality, and, contrasting it with Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological concepts of the flesh and anonymous existence, I contend that Rhoda renounces the unitary selfhood, which corroborates Moi's critique of Woolf. Through a close analysis of Rhoda's position versus the other characters, as well as by examining how Rhoda's ego boundaries are delineated in the narrative, I demonstrate that Woolf's conflicted heroine emerges as an astute critic of gendered reality, since she is the one who most acutely feels the dualistic nature of selfhood and it is chiefly through her that Woolf points to the need to overcome this dualism. Shannon Sullivan's feminist revision of the Merleau-Pontian perspective on the anonymity and the body as well as the Deweyan notion of transactionality further helps to elucidate the ways in which Rhoda's experimental and subversive discourse engages in a polemic with the Cartesian conceptualization of identity presupposed on the dualism of mind and body simultaneously inquiring about a possibility of a non-dualistic and non-unitary conception of subjectivity. As a consequence, Rhoda gains authority and agency through uncertainty which prompts her to adopt an uncompromisingly and insistently questioning stance. Finally, I suggest reconsidering Rhoda's suicide as a metaphorical act of ‘distancing,’ as discussed by Zygmunt Bauman, via Adorno, in his 2006 Liquid Fear, another context for approaching Rhoda's uncertainty.

Disciplines

Arts and Humanities | Social and Behavioral Sciences

References

Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Fear. Cambridge: Polity 2006.

Bergson, Henri. The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics. Trans. by Mabelle L. Andison. Mineola NY: Dover 2007.

Fand, Roxanne J. The Dialogic Self: Reconstructing Subjectivity in Woolf Lessing and Atwood. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press 1999.

Little, Judy. The Experimental Self: Dialogic Subjectivity in Woolf Pym and Brooke-Rose. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press 1996.

Lucenti, Lisa Marie. "Virginia Woolf's The Waves: To Defer that ‘Appalling Moment.’" Criticism 40.1 (1998): 75-98.

Matz, Jesse. Literary Impressionism and Modernist Aesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001.

McGavran, James Holt Jr. "Shelley Virginia Woolf and The Waves: A Balcony of One's Own." South Atlantic Review 48.4 (1983): 58-73.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The Visible and the Invisible. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Evaston: Northwestern University Press 1968.

Minow-Pinkney, Makiko. Virginia Woolf and the Problem of the Subject. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press 1987.

Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics. London: Routledge 1985.

Oxindine, Annette. "Rhoda Submerged: Lesbian Suicide in The Waves." Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings. Ed. Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer. New York: New York University Press 1997. 203-21.

Schwab, Gabrielle. Subjects Without Selves: Transitional Texts in Modern Fiction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1994.

Sullivan, Shannon. Living Across and Through Skins: Transactional Bodies Pragmatism and Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press 2001.

Vandivere, Julie. "Waves and Fragments: Linguistic Construction as Subject Formation in Virginia Woolf." Twentieth Century Literature 42.2 (1996): 221-33.

Woolf, Virginia. The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Ed. Anne Oliver Bell with Andrew Mc Neillie. 5 vols. New York: Harcourt 1977-84.

Woolf, Virginia. The Letters of Virginia Woolf. Ed. Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann. 6 vols. New York: Harcourt 1977-82.

Woolf, Virginia. The Waves. New York: Harcourt 1931.

Worthington, Kim L. Self as Narrative: Subjectivity and Community in Contemporary Fiction. Oxford: Clarendon 1996.

Wussow, Helen. The Nightmare of History: The Fictions of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence. Bethlehem PA: Lehigh University Press 1998.

First Page

106

Last Page

122

Language

eng

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