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Intimacies: Ethics and Aesthetics in Virginia Woolf's Writing
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Languages, Department of English.
2012 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study investigates Virginia Woolf’s configurations of intimacy in her experimental inter-war novels Jacob’s Room, Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and The Waves. It focuses on the ethical and political positioning enabled by Woolf’s aesthetic delineation of moments of interiority in which distinctions between self and other are suspended. Such moments are depicted in these texts not simply as unsettling to subjectivity, but primarily as a mode of intimacy which makes possible, on the one hand, recognition of another individual’s perspective and, on the other, a critique of private and political forms of violence. I propose that Woolf’s representation of intimacy opposes an ideal of absolute subjective autonomy which, in her account, sustains patriotism, militarism and fascism. For Woolf, the defensive assertion of the first-person point of view is a kind of ethical violence closely related to the aggressive nationalisms causing two world wars. I read her fiction alongside recent theories of ethics, politics and representation by Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, all of whom seek not only to account for the aggression of the self-assertive individual, but also to articulate notions of the individual subject as not strictly autonomous and therefore capable of ethical relations. I show, thereby, that Woolf’s writing casts intimacy and violence as questions of aesthetics. Her experimental novels emphasise the writer’s role in promoting non-violence: Woolf’s aesthetic practice and concern with interiority allow her to take a stance against the violence structuring British inter-war life. While critics tend to distinguish between Woolf’s exploration of the mind and her engagement with political and ethical concerns, this study argues that her modernist style conveys ethical as well as political commitments by affirming intimacy and interiority.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Engelska institutionen, Uppsala universitet , 2012. , 199 p.
Keyword [en]
Virginia Woolf, intimacy, interiority, non-violence, ethics, aesthetics, Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva
National Category
General Literature Studies
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-179440OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-179440DiVA: diva2:544767
Public defence
2012-09-29, Geijersalen, Humanistiskt centrum, Thunbergsvägen 3P, Uppsala, 10:15 (English)
Available from: 2012-09-07 Created: 2012-08-15 Last updated: 2012-09-07

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