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I - Crossovers: The Visual Arts

Dallying along the Way: Virginia Woolf at the Crossroads of Cinema and Literary Creation

Adèle Cassigneul
p. 59-72

Abstract

Cet article analyse en quoi, dans l’œuvre de Virginia Woolf, le cinéma a contribué à nourrir une réflexion sur la création littéraire. Fortement lié à la modernité urbaine depuis ses origines, le cinéma offre de nouvelles visions et de nouveaux modes de pensées que Mrs Dalloway, roman péripatétique publié en 1925, semble avoir absorbés. Partant de l’article sur le septième art que l’écrivaine écrit en 1926, nous nous attacherons à voir en quoi la ville se fait le site de la création entre-deux (devenir deleuzien). A travers l’esprit aventurier de Peter Walsh, la flânerie londonienne donne à Woolf l’occasion de lier topographie urbaine et esthétique cinématographique (images-mouvement). Mettant l’accent sur la perception, l’observation et le rôle de l’imagination (phantasmagorie), nous verrons en quoi la plasticité du texte woolfien fait naître une œuvre innovante au carrefour des mots et des images, qui requiert un type de lecture imaginatif et créatif.

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Author's notes

All translations from the French are mine.

Full text

  • 1 For a detailed analysis of Virginia Woolf’s relationship with art and images, see Maggie Humm (ed.) (...)
  • 2 As early as 1932, Winifred Holtby spotted Woolf’s acquaintance with the cinema and its potential in (...)

1“All human relations have shifted” (“Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown”, 91), claimed Virginia Woolf in 1924; she might have added all artistic means of expression too. Throughout her life, Virginia Woolf kept exploring and testing the modalities of narrative creation. As early as 1908, she meant to “re-form the novel” to “capture multitudes of things at present fugitive, enclose the whole, and shape infinite strange shapes” (Nicolson 356). It is clear that Woolf’s innovative creativity owed much to images, painting, photography and cinema.1 She experimented with what we now call intermedial relations between the arts, or intermedial crossroads, by introducing images in her texts–such as drawings by Bloomsbury artists like Vanessa Bell and Dora Carrington, photographs and reproductions of paintings–to negotiate new ways of apprehending reality beyond words. This essay will focus on a single aspect of Woolf’s text as a “meeting place of dissemblables” (Woolf Orlando, 113), a crossroads of intermedial creation, on the influence of an art which was itself at the crossroads of creation, the cinema, to see how Woolf relied upon her readers’ cinematic “optical unconscious” (Benjamin 2005, 12) to create textual motion, make “raids across boundaries” (Woolf 2003, 139-40) and indeed reform literary creation.2

2At the dawn of the twentieth century, the cinema was closely connected to urban modernity, with its intense and endless movement and original ways of thinking. Mrs Dalloway, a peripatetic novel published in 1925, appears as the perfect case study to observe the convergence of cinematography, modern urban life and literary creativity. London is made the site of creation in-between, the fictional place where Deleuzian movement-images unfold through the topos of flânerie. Woolf links the modern metropolis to cinema aesthetics, and, in Mrs Dalloway, walking is conjoined with an acute sense of observation and an active, phantasmagoric imagination. Underlining the plasticity of the Woolfian text, I will see how in the cinematic city, at the crossroads of words and images, the phantasmagoric mind breeds an innovative plastic vision which encompasses a metatextual dimension and makes us ponder over the relation between literature and cinema and the creative potentialities of their interaction.

“Making raids across boundaries”

  • 3 The Hungarian photographer László Moholy-Nagy defines the optical (or photographic) unconscious as (...)

3Throughout the 1920s, film and literature overlapped to create early-modern aesthetics and fresh modes of perception. John Dos Passos famously drew inspiration from the experimental cinematic techniques developed by Eisenstein, who himself drew on Dickens’s art of detail and Joyce’s prose to build some of his own film theories (Eisenstein 2007). Unlike Dos Passos, Woolf does not explicitly refer to a cinematic model for her novels, but it may be detected in the very concepts she uses, as when she says that “literature has always been the most sociable and the most impressionable” (Woolf 1974, 173) of all arts; impressionable as photosensitive paper, film rolls or reels are, but also as a text subjected to the influence of images. She was quick to detect the influence of pre-cinematic and cinematic vision in other writers, what she calls the search for a “third eye” (what Benjamin calls an “optical unconscious”) that transformed ways of seeing:3

[Proust, Hardy, Flaubert or Conrad] are using their eyes without in the least impending their pens, and they are using them as novelists have never used them before. […] it is the eye that has fertilized their thought; it is the eye […] that has come to the help of the other senses, combined with them, and produced effects of extreme beauty, and of a subtlety hitherto unknown. […] A writer thus has need of a third eye whose function it is to help out the other senses when they flag. (Woolf 1974, 174-5)

4Because the cinema asserted itself as a new mode of perception and of creation, as a new language that challenged modes of representation, literature had to react and adapt itself. The silent art of images engendered new ways of seeing and thinking the world, and influenced literature which, as a powerful “machine to make us see” (Milner 7), became cinematic; becoming cinematic, or cinema-like literature, but a like that is “becoming and not imitating, real and not metaphorical, an intense variation and not analogy” (Sauvagnargues 197). Indeed, Deleuze’s theory of becoming may be used to underline the metamorphic qualities, the intersemiotic “kinetic transformations” of art and literature (Sauvagnargues, 253).

La rencontre de deux disciplines ne se fait pas lorsque l’une se met à réfléchir sur l’autre, mais lorsque l’une s’aperçoit qu’elle doit résoudre pour son compte et avec ses moyens propres un problème semblable à celui qui se pose aussi dans une autre. […] Il n’y a pas d’œuvre qui n’ait sa suite ou son début dans d’autres arts. […] Tout travail s’insère dans un système de relais. (Deleuze 1986, 26-28)

  • 4 “By 1925, American movies were the norm. Hollywood dominated the international market. Cinema was a (...)

5In 1926, Woolf wrote “The Cinema”, an essay reflecting as much on her own conception of literature as on the newly born seventh art. As the cinema was taking shape and finding different ways of defining itself, the questions arising with and through cinematic representation helped Woolf to find answers to her queries regarding literature. In the 1920s both writers and movie directors were struggling with the questions of mimetic representation, of objectivity and chronology. And Woolf, underlining what cinema cannot and must not do, eventually came to define her conception of apprehending the world. Mainly focusing on experimental cinema, she strongly criticises filmic adaptations of novels,4 “in line with the anti-narrative ethos of avant-garde artists, writers, and film-makers” (Marcus 116). Challenging mimetic realism, she suggests that cinematic images, movement-images, may go beyond a flat rendering of reality and prompt new ways of thinking.

The eye wants help. The eye says to the brain, ‘Something is happening which I do not in the least understand. You are needed.’ Together they look at the king, the boat, the horse, and the brain sees at once that they have taken on a quality which does not belong to the simple photograph of real life.

They have become […] more real, or real with a different reality from that which we perceive in daily life. […] As we gaze we seem to be removed from the pettiness of actual existence. (Woolf 1993b, 55)

  • 5 According to Suzanna Hême de Lacotte, Deleuze ne prête pas au cinéma le pouvoir de rendre visible l (...)
  • 6 “Qu’il s’agisse de penser le devenir, ou de l’exprimer, ou même de le percevoir, nous ne faisons gu (...)
  • 7 “Ce flux d’images, de sentiments, d’émotions constitue un courant de conscience ersatz qui s’adapte (...)
  • 8 This is something that Woolf acknowledges in her short article “Oxford Street Tide", when she write (...)

6Cinema makes you see and, putting thoughts in motion, it also makes you think.5 Woolf’s essay intimates that she understood that consciousness was what Deleuze calls the “third eye, the mind’s eye” (Deleuze 1990, 78), an autonomous and creative mind’s eye which makes its own associations, projections and montage, and which eventually creates an internal mental cinema as Henri Bergson suggested.6 The indescribable photogenic and plastic quality of black and white images becomes, in Edgar Morin’s words, “a complex of reality and unreality” (Morin 107) that provokes the viewer’s mind7 and incites her to create her own associations between projected images (the images seen on screen) and new virtual ones (her fancy and free associations). In the 1920s, the cinema was indeed considered a “new sensory organ” (Balázs 1925, 11), an endless source of creativity through vision. According to filmmaker and film critic Béla Balázs, it “appropriated, in urban people’s imagination and feelings, the part that myths, legends and tales used to perform in the past” (Balázs 1925, 10).8 Yet if for Woolf “so much of our thinking and feeling is connected with seeing” (Woolf 1993b, 57), she nonetheless believed that the cinema had not yet reached its goal. “We get intimations only in the chaos of the streets, perhaps, when some momentary assembly of colour, sound, movement, suggests that here is a scene waiting a new art to be transfixed. ” (Woolf 1993b, 58)

7And if for Woolf, by 1926, the cinema had failed to live up to expectations, literature, through the stream of consciousness, might as well try its luck. Analysing her prose through the prism of intermediality, we can unveil and reveal the optical unconscious that has seeped through her fiction.

Street haunting

  • 9 “Where is cinema? It is all around you outside, all over the city, that marvellous, continuous perf (...)
  • 10 Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927), James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), Virginia W (...)
  • 11 A short documentary film on early-twentieth century Manhattan.
  • 12 An experimental silent film showing life in Paris through one day, the first insert title showing: (...)
  • 13 The films focuses on metropolis life and its rhythms from dawn to dusk.
  • 14 Vertov films one day in the life of the people of Odessa, from morning to night.

8In the mid-1920s, innovative film aesthetics were closely linked to urban dynamics (Williams 31-50), whereas conversely cities came to be seen as cinematic,9 “a world where everything is in circulation” (Crary 20). Together with groundbreaking modernist novels10 the films of the 1920s explored the subtle connections between vision, perception, feelings and rhythm. We may recall Manhatta11 by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand in 1921, Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein in 1925, Alberto Cavalcanti’s Nothing but Time12 in 1926, Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis13 in 1927 and in 1929, Man with a Movie Camera14 by Tziga Vertov, to name only a few examples.

9In his 1903 essay, The Metropolis and Mental Mind, Georg Simmel underlined the metropolitan “intensity of nervous life” (Simmel 9), echoing Baudelaire’s early definition of the modern urban environment and its crowds as “a reservoir of electric energy” (Baudelaire 17). Similarly, Walter Benjamin talks about specific urban “optic experiences”:

comme celles qu’entraîne […] la circulation dans une grande ville. Le déplacement de l’individu s’y trouve conditionné par une série de chocs et de heurts. Aux carrefours dangereux, les innervations se succèdent aussi vite que les impulsions d’une batterie. (Benjamin 2000, 360-1)

10Cars, tramways and trains blend cityscapes and swift motion, become imaginary crossroads rather than mere vehicles. As Marc Desportes argues in Paysages en mouvement, “the cityscape of modern cities matches trajectories, paths, an oriented gaze” (Desportes 271). Circulation in great cities was accompanied by the ceaseless irruption of framed images: those springing from the urban spectacle glimpsed through windscreens or windows–an experience that Woolf describes in the last part of Orlando–and those stuck on walls. Philippe Hamon recalls that, with advertisement, the city was turned into a kind of city of paper, it was “clothed with posters” (Hamon 131). Consequently, the conjunction of speed and proliferating images called for an intense, energetic and active perception.

11In Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, we find this intensification of perceptive abilities linked to intense energy in the “divine vitality” (Woolf 1985, 7) of what Clarissa loves: “life; London; this moment of June” (Woolf 1981, 4). The novel functions as a succession of anachronistic quasi-autonomous sequences or intervals that are edited into a literary montage that aims at “go[ing] beyond the formal railway line of the sentence” (Pryor 109). Woolf transposes cutting rather than mimicking it; indeed, she dismisses what she calls “movie novels”, excessive disruptions which crudely mimic films–in “The Leaning Tower”, she writes: “The influence of the films explains the lack of transitions in their [writers in ”the leaning tower group“] work and the violently opposed contrasts” (Woolf 1974, 145). Conversely, in her novels, Woolf uses sudden cuts but she also subtly connects sequences, using motifs and images, repetition with variation, to weave her work. Take for instance the moment when, walking to Clarissa’s party, Peter Walsh, the street haunter, reacts both physically and psychologically to the exposed London scene, hence the series of visual shocks but also of intersections between physical reality and mental reality, between Peter’s viewpoint and actual objects:

Beauty anyhow. Not the crude beauty of the eye. It was not beauty pure and simple—Bedford Place leading into Russell Square. It was straightness and emptiness of course; the symmetry of a corridor; but it was also windows lit up, a piano, a gramophone sounding; a sense of pleasure-making hidden, but now and again emerging when, through the uncurtained window, the window left open, one saw parties sitting over tables, young people slowly circling, conversations between men and women, maids idly looking out (a strange comment theirs, when work was done), stockings drying on top ledges, a parrot, a few plants. Absorbing, mysterious, of infinite richness, this life. And in the large square where the cabs shot and swerved so quick, there were loitering couples, dallying, embracing, shrunk up under the shower of a tree; that was moving; so silent, so absorbed, that one passed, discreetly, timidly, as if in the presence of some sacred ceremony to interrupt which would have been impious. That was interesting. And so on into the flare and glare.

His light overcoat blew open, he stepped with indescribable idiosyncrasy, lent a little forward, tripped, with his hands behind his back and his eyes still a little hawklike; he tripped through London, towards Westminster, observing. (Woolf 1981, 163)

  • 15 “Cet homme-là est un daguerréotype mobile et passionné qui garde les moindres traces et en qui se r (...)
  • 16 “That is true: to escape is the greatest of pleasures; street haunting […] the greatest of adventur (...)

12The spectacular photogenic beauty of the street, the square and the lighted windows attract the observer’s gaze, transformed into “a central oyster of perceptiveness, an enormous eye” (Woolf 1993a, 71). Body motion and thought process merge, tuned to Peter’s idiosyncratic walking rhythm. Woolf’s flâneur becomes a sensitive plate on whom the real gets imprinted and who, in turn, reveals and develops into a myriad of images.15 Through flânerie, urban topography becomes Peter’s mindscape. His stream of consciousness, as the series of commas underlines, mirrors the accumulation of perceived images, and he becomes, in Baudelaire’s words, a “kaleidoscope equipped with a consciousness” (Baudelaire 17). The multiplicity of vision, its kinetic quality born of a will to see intensely, turns Mrs Dalloway into a “novel in motion” (Pearce xiii) which recalls the kaleidoscopic quality of avant-garde experimental films by Man Ray, Tziga Vertov or Jean Epstein and their endless proliferation of intricate fast-moving images. With Woolf’s “fluid vision” (Woolf 1975, 115) and her swift prose we even get intimations of what Deleuze calls movement-images, moving images that show movement (Deleuze1983, 11). “In the city the visual impressions succeed each other, overlap, overcross, they are cinematographic” (Marcus 91), writes Ezra Pound in 1922. The “eye is sportive and generous; it creates; it adorns; it enhances” (Woolf 1993a, 75), writes Woolf in her 1924 short story, “Street Haunting”. Seeing becomes creative, walking becomes an adventure.16 It widens the imagination’s perspectives, it weaves up embryonic scenarios and suggests new creative directions, just as movies, for the film critic Iris Barry, “help to live complete lives, in imagination if not in fact” (Barry 16). Internalizing cinematic processes as if it were at the intersection of film, city and imagination, the mind becomes a plastic phantasmagoria.

The mind as phantasmagoria

  • 17 The flâneur/passante encounter was already a topos at the turn of the twentieth century. We can fin (...)

13According to Stephen Winspur, crossroads are a metaphor for narrative shifts: “cross-streets provide […] the ideal of hidden narratives brought about by chance encounters” (Winspur 62), they “generate two sorts of cities: first, the city here and now, and second its Baudelairean counterpart that is the ʻelsewhere’” (Winspur 67). Coming out of Clarissa’s house, “free” and “escaping […] from being precisely what he was” (Woolf 1981, 52), Peter Walsh, the figure of the “loner gifted with an active imagination” (Baudelaire 19), suddenly sees a young and attractive passante dallying along the London street.17

But she’s extraordinarily attractive, he thought, as, walking across Trafalgar Square in the direction of the Haymarket, came a young woman who, as he passed Gordon’s Statue, seemed, Peter Walsh thought (susceptible as he was), to shed veil after veil, until she became the very woman he had always had in mind; young, but stately; merry, but discreet; black, but enchanting. (Woolf 1981, 52)

  • 18 Woolf knew the Surrealist aesthetics notably through her brother-in-law, Clive Bell and his knowled (...)

14The beat of commas and semi-colons and the marked tempo of the repetition of the same structure (adjective + “but” + adjective) at the end of the sentence mould the glimpse of a woman into an ideal figure. Here, “in the random uproar of the traffic” (Woolf 1981, 52), through the mesmerizing and fleeting moving image of the unknown woman (at once in movement and stirring a deep and strong emotional response), the actual becomes virtual, perception and imagination mingle as in Edgar Morin’s definition of primitive cinema. “[Le] cinéma est un complexe de réalité et d’irréalité; il détermine un état mixte, chevauchant sur la veille et le rêve” (Morin 157). Peter’s eyes record the scene like a camera, capturing the seventh art’s ability to create a “multisensory and multidimensional space” (Morin 146). In Peter’s daydreaming mind, the young woman is at once a magnetic physical presence (“she’s extraordinarily attractive”) and an ethereal evanescent fantasy (“the very woman he had always had in mind”), recalling the fascinating and hypnotic quality of film images; a quality relayed by the implied beat of Peter’s eager pace and the syntactic rhythm of punctuation and repetition. Through the stream of consciousness, Woolf explores the shifting succession of things seen or imagined, a technique that tallies with the porosity praised by Surrealists. With the help of film and photography, the Surrealists aimed at going beyond the flat surface of phenomena to express their poetic essence, the virtual always seeping through the surface of the actual.18 Just as in André Breton’s image/text Nadja or Man Ray’s experimental film Emak Bakia, Peter’s eye turns reality into a fruitful reservoir of poetic and erotic virtuality.

  • 19 The avant-gardes that made cinema a new challenging art in the twenties were German Expressionism ( (...)

15From the late eighteenth century onward, through the projection of images onto a white screen, the phantasmagoria offered a space of interaction between the visible and the invisible, the external and the inner gaze. According to Max Milner, it used to be a “spectacle or optical entertainment that created, through the magic of shadows and lights, of reflections, of real and virtual images, a world comparable to that of dreams” (Milner 20). Phantasmagoria, from the Greek phantasma, phantom, illusion, and agora, meeting-place, refers to an extraordinary apparition, an enchanting spectacle. As the avant-garde works of Dziga Vertov, Robert Wiene, Man Ray, René Clair, and others have shown, in the 1920s and 1930s, cinema became the twentieth-century phantasmagoria, defamiliarizing perception and figuring inner vision through montage.19 This is what Sergei Eisenstein underlines in his 1933 article, “An American Tragedy”:

The film alone has at its command the means of presenting adequately the hurrying thoughts of an agitated man.

Or, if literature can do it too, it can only be literature that transgresses its orthodox bounds. (Eisenstein 1933, 120)

  • 20 Throughout the sequence, references are made to detached images, a succession of punctums that stri (...)

16Trespassing traditional boundaries, Woolf’s fiction offers a kind of optical phantasmagoria. Rather than the portrait of a woman, she gives quick shifts and angles.20 Aiming at “record[ing] the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall” and “trac[ing] the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness” (Woolf 1984, 49), her prose captures the rhythms of the city and Peter’s whimsical mind. Woolf creates an innovative and plastic literary montage through the use of punctuation (commas, dashes, parenthesis), the repeated abrupt irruption of the conjunction “but” and the constant shifts from external to internal focalisation. For Sergei Eisenstein, cross cutting, “regarded structurally, is the reconstruction of the laws governing the process of thought” (Eisenstein 1933, 123). Through Peter’s flickering visions, Woolf manages to make thought and its irregular patterns visible before they smash to atoms, just as on the cinema screen “thoughts take shape, directly, visible without the help of words” (Balázs 1925, 18). The plasticity of the Woolfian text comes to echo the character’s protean mind and identity.

17Plasticity is that which both shapes and takes shape. The concept has been theorized and defined in the neurosciences and philosophy in the works of Catherine Malabou and Marc-Williams Debono among others. According to the latter, “la science horlogère du dix-neuvième siècle laisse place à un monde chaotique, en système ouvert qui a engendré la pensée complexe” (Debono)–an open chaotic world that we find in turn-of-the-century European metropolises, reflected in films and fiction. With Woolf, literature is conceived as a new space where porosity and contact prevail, where heterogeneity leads to co-signifying. In this way, Mrs Dalloway can be seen as what Debono calls a literary “plastic complex”, a complex that “is inserted between two realities to form another unique one” (Debono). Indeed, a new literary form appears in the “trans-action between the form and the emergence of the form” (Debono), that is between literature and a becoming cinematic.

She moved; she crossed; he followed her. To embarrass her was the last thing he wished. Still if she stopped he would say “Come and have an ice,” he would say, and she would answer, perfectly simply, “Oh yes.”

But other people got between them in the street, obstructing him, blotting her out. He pursued; she changed. There was colour in her cheeks; mockery in her eyes; he was an adventurer, reckless, he thought, swift, daring, indeed (landed as he was last night from India) a romantic buccaneer, careless of all these damned proprieties, yellow dressing-gowns, pipes, fishing-rods, in the shop windows; and respectability and evening parties and spruce old men wearing white slips beneath their waistcoats. He was a buccaneer. On and on she went, across Piccadilly, and up Regent Street, ahead of him, her cloak, her gloves, her shoulders combining with the fringes and the laces and the feather boas in the windows to make the spirit of finery and whimsy which dwindled out of the shops on to the pavement, as the light of a lamp goes wavering at night over hedges in the darkness. (Woolf 1981, 45)

  • 21 Balázs notes that the cinema “does not reproduce its images, it produces them" (Balázs 1979, 40), a (...)

18We are very close to what Elie Faure calls cineplasticity, the “permeation, crossing and association of movement and rhythm” (Faure 22), that is the “sudden animation” (Faure 23) of a life captured on screen. This plasticity blends three kinds of movements: the hustle and bustle of the city, the movement of the recording camera or mind and the reader/viewer’s imagination. The “escapade with the girl” is half real, “half made up”, “invented”. Observing, Peter shapes visions that distort reality. Woolf graphically conveys the eroticism of charm, the dreamlike flounces of the woman’s light coat, Peter’s fascination for fluid movement and the playful hide-and-seek sensuous chase. Readers enter the stream of a consciousness that generates its own energy, a fanciful mind that invents a close connection between Peter as a “reckless” adventurer and the fantasised feminine presence. Through projection, Peter models the young woman, creates her as an idealised image. And her alluring mystery turns him into an adventurous “romantic buccaneer”. Peter Walsh’s plastic identity is born of the conjunction of lived experience (the encounter) and creative imagination (“exquisite amusement”). His mind takes hold of reality to recreate it, a slender enchanting body caught in an “enveloping kindness”, which becomes “more real or real with a different reality” until the escapade abruptly comes to an end. He has entered the realm of fiction that “makes fantasy visible, brings it to light and transforms it into an object of seduction, of fascination and aesthetic pleasure” (Milner 253). A world akin to the one produced (and not reproduced) by cinema.21

19In Mrs Dalloway, the cinematic energy of movies plays on three different levels. In tune with contemporary films, Woolf incorporates the motif of the city in her novel, making it stand both as a backdrop to the diegesis and as a dynamic character that fuels the plot. Characters evolve in a moving and changing scenery which alters their perception and reception of the urban scene. Active and alert, they watch and observe, transform the landscape into a mindscape that reinvents the reality they are experiencing. Then, reflecting the montage techniques of avant-garde movies, Woolf builds a plastic text which is moulded by the character’s thoughts and emotions and which, in turn, invents a new, challenging strategy of literary representation. Becoming-cinematic, the Woolfian text finally defies its readers, requiring a plastic reading that mirrors Peter’s day-dreaming meandering and his phantasmagoric interpretation of the world, and reflects the viewers’s perception in picture houses, which is caught between the actual images they are watching and the virtual free associations which film aesthetics suggest. Reading the Woolfian text through the prism of movement-images unfolds the cinematic unconscious that remains hidden in the folds of its sentences and reveals a set of yet unknown images that urge readers to open their own imaginative third eye at the crossroads of words and images.

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—, Orlando. A Biography, London: Vintage Classics, 2000.

—, Roger Fry: A Biography, London: Vintage, 2003.

—, The London Scene, London: Snow Books, 2004.

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Notes

1 For a detailed analysis of Virginia Woolf’s relationship with art and images, see Maggie Humm (ed.), The Edinburgh Companion to Virginia Woolf and the Arts.

2 As early as 1932, Winifred Holtby spotted Woolf’s acquaintance with the cinema and its potential influence on her prose. In 1993, Leslie Katherine Hankins published “Across the Screen of my Brain”: Virginia Woolf’s “The Cinema” and Film Forums of the Twenties”, mainly focusing on the cultural environment and debates that surrounded Woolf’s publication of her 1926 article. This subject has been thoroughly expanded by Laura Marcus’s seminal study on writing about cinema in the modernist period (The Tenth Muse). For the last ten years, several articles have been published on Woolf and the cinema (articles by Andrew Shail, Floriane Reviron, Anca Vlasopolos, David Trotter and Michael Tratner), all tackling the issue of Woolf’s part in a European debate about the new seventh art, some pondering over Woolf’s “The Cinema” as a reflection upon turn-of-the-century literature, and none coming to grips with the actual influence of cinema upon her writing and the reception of her work.

3 The Hungarian photographer László Moholy-Nagy defines the optical (or photographic) unconscious as follows: “Les progrès de la technique photographique de ces dernières années ont conduit à une transformation psychologique presque complète de notre regard, car la précision infaillible de l’objectif et sa définition ont développé nos capacités d’observation de manière telle que nous sommes aujourd’hui habitués tant aux instantanés les plus rapides qu’aux grossissements considérables de la photomicrographie” (Moholy-Nagy 257-8).

4 “By 1925, American movies were the norm. Hollywood dominated the international market. Cinema was a narrative art. It had had to become a narrative art in order to become a profitable mass-medium” (Trotter 161).

5 According to Suzanna Hême de Lacotte, Deleuze ne prête pas au cinéma le pouvoir de rendre visible la pensée, de la représenter au moyen d’images. Le cinéma a plutôt cette caractéristique de provoquer en nous la pensée" (Hême de Lacotte 71). This is an idea which Woolf would also endorse.

6 “Qu’il s’agisse de penser le devenir, ou de l’exprimer, ou même de le percevoir, nous ne faisons guère autre chose qu’actionner une espèce de cinématographe intérieur. […] le mécanisme de notre connaissance usuelle est de nature cinématographique” (Bergson 305).

7 “Ce flux d’images, de sentiments, d’émotions constitue un courant de conscience ersatz qui s’adapte et adapte à lui le dynamisme conesthésique, affectif et mental, du spectateur. Tout se passe comme si le film déroulait une nouvelle subjectivité entraînant celle du spectateur, ou plutôt comme si deux dynamismes bergsoniens s’adaptaient et s’entraînaient l’un l’autre. Le cinéma c’est exactement cette symbiose : un système qui tend à intégrer le spectateur dans le flux du film. Un système qui tend à intégrer le flux du film dans le flux psychique du spectateur” (Morin 107).

8 This is something that Woolf acknowledges in her short article “Oxford Street Tide", when she writes that the “mind becomes a glutinous slab that takes impressions and Oxford Street rolls off upon it a perpetual ribbon of changing sights, sounds and movements” (Woolf 2004, 28).

9 “Where is cinema? It is all around you outside, all over the city, that marvellous, continuous performance of films and scenarios” (Baudrillard 56).

10 Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927), James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfert (1925) and Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929).

11 A short documentary film on early-twentieth century Manhattan.

12 An experimental silent film showing life in Paris through one day, the first insert title showing: “Ce film ne comporte pas d’histoire. Il n’est qu’une suite d’impressions sur le temps qui passe et ne prétend synthétiser aucune ville.”

13 The films focuses on metropolis life and its rhythms from dawn to dusk.

14 Vertov films one day in the life of the people of Odessa, from morning to night.

15 “Cet homme-là est un daguerréotype mobile et passionné qui garde les moindres traces et en qui se reproduisent, avec leurs reflets changeants, la marche de la cité, la physionomie multiple de l’esprit public, des croyances, des antipathies et des admirations de la foule”, Victor Fournel, Ce qu’on voit dans les rues de Paris (Hamon 159).

16 “That is true: to escape is the greatest of pleasures; street haunting […] the greatest of adventures” (Woolf 1993a, 81).

17 The flâneur/passante encounter was already a topos at the turn of the twentieth century. We can find it in Marcel Proust’s A l’ombre de jeunes filles en fleurs (1918), Nadja by André Breton (1928), Charles Baudelaire’s A une passante in Les Fleurs du Mal (1857), Allée du Luxembourg in Odelettes by Gérard de Nerval (1832) and F. S. Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) among many others.

18 Woolf knew the Surrealist aesthetics notably through her brother-in-law, Clive Bell and his knowledge of René Clair’s Entracte (1924). As her diaries show, she also knew Man Ray’s photography. All the more so as the artist took pictures of her in 1934.

19 The avant-gardes that made cinema a new challenging art in the twenties were German Expressionism (Weine), French Impressionism (Clair) and Surrealism (Man Ray), and Soviet aesthetics (Vertov, Eisenstein).

20 Throughout the sequence, references are made to detached images, a succession of punctums that strike Peter’s eye: a red carnation, the cloak and gloves she is wearing, her lips, cheeks, eyes and shoulders, some of her body movements, her bag and finally her house key.

21 Balázs notes that the cinema “does not reproduce its images, it produces them" (Balázs 1979, 40), and "it shows things differently” (Balázs 1979, 41).

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References

Bibliographical reference

Adèle Cassigneul, « Dallying along the Way: Virginia Woolf at the Crossroads of Cinema and Literary Creation », Caliban, 33 | 2013, 59-72.

Electronic reference

Adèle Cassigneul, « Dallying along the Way: Virginia Woolf at the Crossroads of Cinema and Literary Creation », Caliban [Online], 33 | 2013, Online since 09 December 2013, connection on 31 October 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/caliban/85 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/caliban.85

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About the author

Adèle Cassigneul

Université de Toulouse II-Le-Mirail, CAS (EA801).

By this author

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Caliban – French Journal of English Studies est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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