As for the mot juste, you are quite wrong. Style is a very simple matter: it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here I am sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. But no doubt I shall think differently next year.
Virginia Woolf, Letter to Vita Sackville-West, 16 March 1926, Letters III
Woolf recognised that an act of recollection has its own unique heart beat and chronological ‘pulse.’ This recognition of the pulse of remembrance finds expression in all Woolf’s greatest works. We read passages from Woolf and know them to be true as they ( literally) sound true. We ‘hear’ them as truth. They seem to correspond to a feeling we may have forgotten we ever had , but once ‘heard’ again, it becomes reanimated and resurrected within us. Memory is thus physically experienced, to use an analogy from Jeanette Winterson, it is ‘Written on the Body”.
I do find this analogy very helpful when considering the fundamental foundation of memory which is surely loss? Loss is always felt physically. The body responds to the lack of some one or something and literally ‘stows away’ this experience. Michael Ondaatje in The English Patient describes the utter resignation of loss in this way:
‘He is old. Suddenly. Tired of living without her. He cannot lie back in her arms and trust her to stand guard all day all night while he sleeps. He has no one. ‘
The rhythm of remembrance is the slow, dying down pulse of a living that has become a non-life, a non-being being. Truly a wave of the mind bidding farewell.
How to analyse a text quickly!
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