Heather Cross Analytical Argument Type
EH 618 –Virginia Woolf
October 11, 2000
Seminar Paper Proposal
Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. -Sydney J. Harris
As a possible chapter to my thesis (De-Silvering the Mirror: Women Writers Looking at and Using the Female Body), this paper will address how Virginia Woolf looks at the female body as a necessary tool for understanding a moment of being. The physical sensation shared by women allows the leap across the gap of gender and social constructs to unite as souls, beings that transcend the physical body. I will use the feminist readings of Butler, Cixous, Lacan and others as a point of departure; however, I do not want to focus on the lesbian or homosexual readings to which it seems the homosocial gaze always leads (Meese).
The metaphor around which the paper will revolve is Jacques Lacan’s Mirror Theory (Gallop; Grosz). Some feminist scholars, such as Julia Kristeva and Héléne Cixous, have used this theory of self recognition as a way of explaining the patriarchal construct that forces women to be seen as the “other” in the mirror—a reflection of man, not-male, or the castrated male—rather than an individual with female characteristics. Virginia Woolf’s use of the mirror image addresses both the social construct of body image and the self-recognition she strives to understand. In A Room of One’s Own, she describes women as “looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size” (35). The importance of the body for women in Mrs. Dalloway does not only exist in the moment of her remembered kiss with Sally Seton. Miss Kilman mutters that “It is the flesh, it is the flesh” that she must control (128), and Clarissa discovers that to understand a moment you must “touch, taste, look about you, get the whole feel of it and understanding” (153).
Women have seen each other in the social construct of “other,” yet Virginia Woolf’s females tend to have moments of seeing themselves or other women as intricate humans with a desire to connect. I will illustrate moments that Virginia Woolf’s female characters experience being only after a bodily or physical event. The examples she provides are rooted in the physical but not necessarily the sexual. Without the physical body the sensation and moment can be neither shared nor fully understood. Woolf uses her own and others’ bodies and physical sensation to anchor intellectual and spiritual insight and knowledge; the body transcends the desire of another’s gaze and is a vessel that takes her characters on a journey into themselves.
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