Monday, January 02, 2012

"The loneliness which is the truth about things"

[Update: after posting this, I was informed (see comments) that Frank Cioffi had died the previous day. It seems fitting, in acknowledgement of this strange coincidence, to dedicate this post, humble as it is, to his memory. He helped us to think through our loneliness to the end. May he rest in peace.]

It just occurred to me that I might have been remembering the quote wrong. Sure enough, I've now located it in a book I read many years ago. In his contribution to The Impulse to Philosophize, "Congenital Transcendentalism and 'the loneliness which is the truth about things'", Frank Cioffi writes:

I take the phrase ‘congenital transcendentalism’ from Santayana who defined it as ‘the spontaneous feeling that life is a dream’. ‘The loneliness which is the truth about things’ is a phrase of Virginia Woolf's. The thesis I will advance is that many expressions of doubt or denial of the shareable world are self-misunderstood manifestations of the state indicated by Woolf's expression. But the loneliness of which Woolf speaks must not be construed as the kind of loneliness which can be assuaged by family, friends, lovers or company. Nor is it the loneliness which a convinced solipsist might experience. It is rather the loneliness of ‘that “I” and that “life of mine’” which is ‘untouched whichever way the issue is decided whether the world is or is not’ (Husserl, 1970, 9).

He concludes the same essay by saying that Woolf's phrase sums up "the unique ontological structure of being" (p., 138).

We can easily construct supplements: "the friendship which is justice among people", "the common ethnographic texture of becoming" (clear, no?). I like the idea of a loneliness that brings us closer to truth just as much as I like the idea of a friendship that brings us closer to justice. Naturally, both experiences can be perverted and succumb to illusion.

Update: I probably read it in Cioffi's Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer. But Cioffi does not provide a reference and I have still not been able to locate the phrase in Woolf's writings.


Presskorn said...

Cioffi is quoting it wrong... (Perhaps intentionally to make the quote fit his text more elegantly...)

"Mr Ramsay had almost done reading. One hand hovered over the page as if to be in readiness to turn it the very instant he had finished it. He sat there bareheaded with the wind blowing his hair about, extraordinarily exposed to everything. He looked very old. He looked, James thought, getting his head now against the Lighthouse, now against the waste of waters running away into the open, like some old stone lying on the sand; he looked as if he had become physically what was always at the back of both of their minds — that loneliness which was for both of them the truth about things."

- Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse , part 3, first sentences of section 12

Thomas said...

Thanks for this! It's a bit more melancholy than I had imagined. (I thought she meant it as a description of a fundamental state of being, perhaps specifically that sought by a novelist ... i.e., a novel emerges from that loneliness, the writer's experience is that loneliness.)

In my own search I came across this in The Voyage Out:

"He lived the perfect life, according to St. John, very lonely, very simple, caring only for the truth of things, always ready to talk, and extraordinarily modest, though his mind was of the greatest." (195)

Presskorn said...

Although I have always liked his stuff on W. and Frazer, I hadn't read Cioffi for years, when I reread the essay you posted from yesterday. Sadly enough, Cioffi apparently (also) died yesterday...

Thomas said...

That is a very strange coincidence. RIP, Frank Cioffi.