From Virginia Woolf to Tom Wolfe: Writing Into Existence
Books of the Southwest Classics Looks at the Arrival of the Magic Bus from Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test to Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway's Party
Originally published 1 January 2015
To be more fully aware is to live a different experience. The Counterculture movement in the 1960s inspired by works such as Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest sought to live the experience and to take awareness to its furthest reaches outside the bounds of all societal structures and mores in order to change life and America. It was a time in which it was deeply felt that the brilliance in literary creativity and boundlessness needed to come to life and be known against the rigid structures so long suffocating the self, not to mention killing off the young and innocent in foreign wars and oppressing its own at home. A difference between what was expected and experienced is that, as opposed to the expansion of the mind through mind-altering drugs, the written text creates something formidable that acts internally in increasing awareness and becomes its own intertextual, alive flow. The answer to this flow is awareness, but it is also going further in understanding the genius of what is at work. With awareness comes now, according to Joseph Campbell, an important rite of passage: an arrival at a responsibility, not to turn against the conditions, but the hard growth of oneself internally from forces that would cause one to react and the acceptance of beginning to generate from the now known source of the self. According to Campbell, arrival to maturity is to accept one's part in those very conditions as a beginning and then to become the living, breathing, innovative creative center that is the very thing that now is the world. In his lecture and essay "The Importance of Rites" delivered in New York City in 1964 Joseph Campbell wrote: "The first requirement of any society is that its adult membership should realize and represent the fact that it is they who constitute its life and being." He also importantly stated another imperative point: ". . . the crude notion that energy and strength can be represented or rendered by abandoning and breaking structures is refuted by all we know about the evolution and history of life."
Becoming more aware and discovering more and more of the wonder at work is in the hard labor of contributing not only that new-found awareness but now the inventiveness and skill it takes to create a different great work built on the labor in the known forms and that also adds to that and communicates with it in a masterful way. A work as such takes on its own life and becomes a powerful acting force. What is created carries with it an essence beyond what is known or planned; it comes with the spirit with which it is created and grows. The heart of it is that it has to be brilliant within its accepted form and inspired—awareness moving within it. Then, art and life merge but in an unexpected way: with an alchemy revealing wonder that has not been seen before. In this it awakens the human structures instead of tearing down. It expands awareness. It creates something real that was not known before. It creates a world that is opened more by its presence.
Nothing goes by luck in composition. It allows of no tricks. The best you can write will be the best you are." Henry David Thoreau
In the article "The Path to Cultural Enlightenment: Writing, Literature and Music Finds the Miracle in Its Magic" Books of the Southwest showed the cultural movement in literature in this direction. Campbell also importantly points out the evolution of human mythology that likewise culminates in this in our time. Fifty years after his article, the evolution even further in the direction to which he speaks is evident. He wrote in exploration about "what the proper source of awe might be for the race of [human]kind today." Of Frobenius' observations he noted that in human evolution in the hunting civilizations it was the animal that was the primary source of mystery and identification. In moving into the agricultural and planting societies, it was the earth and the miracle of life coming from the ground and the return to the earth. This was followed by the study of the "mathematics of the seven moving cosmic lights," the identification with and the mythologizing of the cosmos and heavens in the high civilizations of Eastern Asia. Science demythologized these and they became seemingly empty. Finally, it is in Western civilization at the time of the Greeks that the focus shifted to the "center of mystery" beginning as "man himself: man as a Thou, one's neighbor; not as 'I' might wish him to be, or may imagine that I know and relate to him, but in himself, thus come, as a being of mystery and wonder" (58). A culture's rites and rituals evolve from its understanding of what Campbell calls the "secret cause" (59). Thus a society looks to its artists and visionaries to determine the understanding that will bring the awareness into cultural practice and make the knowledge alive, active and realized.
As the arts and living the new awareness in literature moved closer together in the 1950s and 60s in order to capture that essence of the experience available, the role of the observer and the experience was central and the actions, rites and rituals that followed spoke to what was understood for exploration and expression. It was importantly asked, "What does the artist have to say? What is the artist delivering? What can we now experience?" and the focus moved closer to what could come of it. The focus was also turning more towards the artist as the human, physical source of awareness and the literal embodiment of this "source of awe for human kind" as can be seen with Ken Kesey in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. In this art and journalism also moved closer together: artist and observer. The goal is for the awareness created to come to life and be knowable and visible and in this time it moved directly to the writer who was the one obviously taking things "further." On his "Magic Trip" bus tour from California to New York Kesey stated, "This wasn't literature anymore. It jumped off the pages and into the streets." The fact that "Dean Moriarty" (Neal Cassady) from Kerouac's On the Road was actually driving the bus even further merged this "fiction come to life." This merge was of course also visible in publications such as Rolling Stone and Interview magazines who later sought to document the spirit alive, and in all the ways the artists were trying to meld media forms with life itself as in filming real life. In a reversal of art and life, Andy Warhol saw this evolution of mass production of art as on its way to finally come to the erasure of the individual (with such an insight perhaps already showing the imperative direction inward eventually toward the human spirit.) The practice of such art was expanding the mind through drugs, living and creating without rules and structures and embracing the music that delivered the experience. It brought the necessary new senses of freedom and the art forms but its inability to permanently alter the core of societal structures has lingered for half a century. The domination of institutions seem like a failure of the determination of those who sought to change the world in the 1960s, John Lennon and Joan Baez, for example, when they were in fact strengthening the art forms and creating genius within those forms that makes it the most universal, formidable structure in culture and available as alive across a spectrum of human consciousness and existences. It is rooted in eternal forms (knowingly or unknowingly) and awakens in awareness and expression. This equation brings the experience to life in culture. The history, mythology, religions, shifts in consciousness and the arts show that it is not merely a human undertaking but a universal song being composed. The expression in art, then, the universal dance is not one of free form but first of acceptance of what is "grave and constant" in human experience that enables it to unite with what is common and always underlying across humanity. Campbell wrote, "It cannot be denied if life is to be affirmed" (59). This is the commonality first to be found. Life is profoundly affirmed in this way in such works as Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. The book's foundation is on that acceptance and its brilliance grows from there.
In the 2000 movie Almost Famous that chronicles the freedom to be alive in the early 1970s, the muse is Penny Lane chasing and living the ineffable. She's the spirit, the sprite and the magic. She is the soul of what is happening. Her observations are the observations that make it real. She even teaches the neophyte journalist. She, like the place where Ken Kesey lived (and the Beatles' song) when he began his experimentation with mind-altering substances and his writing did in the 60s--Perry Lane--holds the key and the mystery. Kesey wanted to create the place where art could come to life. Likewise, the female (and artist) in mythology, art and literature is most closely tied to life and so is closer to the "secret cause." One cause of the immense uproar over women's suffrage in the 1920s was due to the fact that without the female in the household life would fall apart. (Who would accept the responsibility?) The foundation of the home had already altered radically after the Civil War with the shift in the home away from being producers to becoming instead consumers, an outward move away from the center of family.¹ It seemed like an impossibility that the female then could hold together life and also step into roles of creativity when things seemed to be falling apart. The right to a voice and vote had further and deeper ramifications for Virginia Woolf who in 1928 wrote in her lecture and essay A Room of One's Own that throughout all of human history there is no female counterpart to the level of creative mastery of Shakespeare. The challenge then for Penny Lane is that her spirit is not given to creativity or language and, according to Woolf, the normal structures of society do not allow for it. Penny Lane remains a muse and the end of the movie demonstrates the limits of her fate as muse, as magical, wonderful and insightful as she is. One other quality also stands out: in the midst of the highs and lows of experience her never-dying spirit of innocence and naturalness prevails. It is because of this that she is timeless (therefore her story is not over and must transition). Innocence is also the answer given by both Campbell in his essay and his reference to California poet Robison Jeffers' poem "Natural Music" as the natural force that is recognizable across humans, cities, and nature. It speaks powerfully but very subtly and softly—even without words. We recognize her inner being because it has qualities that are eternally true to natural and thriving existence despite circumstances. Once seen, as the poem brings to light, this awareness and natural innocence is a living source of commonality. That Jeffers also ties it to the dreaming female is crucial. Her voice is both one of observation and acceptance.
This innocence must be defined in order to understand its far-reaching significance. In a December 19, 2014 article on Henri Matisse, Vogue writers Laird Borrelli-Persson and Brendan Dunne call this spirit "that ultimate intangible, a sense of unbridled, childlike joy." It is an inner space that remains untouched. This kind of spirit dances "between the worlds" of the spiritual and creative and that of the realm of hard, sorrowful existence. Ironically, it is difficult to arrive there. For females the definition requires a cultural clarification as innocence internally speaking is something far more intangible than having to do with her body and physical choices and likely requires metaphor to express its more expansive meaning and its vast importance to life. Its recognition has to be beyond the physical because it is the signifier of an on-going, undying life underneath the layers of the known physical world. The understanding of this becomes pivotal. It does begin to show that innocence is a natural, spiritual state. To be in that state is to begin to see revealed the vast wonders at work. Dropping only into the physical realm, life is of complete loss, suffering and sorrow: aging, losing each other, dying. Becoming the accepting and therefore filter-less observer, this natural state is naturally eternal, unflawed, flowing and a part of a universe of unfathomable existence. It is how to know the eternal while we are alive. Because we are in the physical realm it is how to open this experience to all that is that we don't yet perceive. When we recognize internal innocence, then, we are going towards finding the eternal truths of existence that are alive and at work. That this has remained true over all of human history shows that it prevails no matter the conditions or thoughts or plans of humans. Recognizing this internal state is a beginning gift of realization in our time. Acceptance of it comes before the ability to create and bring this awareness to life.
In the 1960s "innocence" was assumed to be merely a natural state of humans and nature, easily attainted. The cultural importance of Tom Wolfe's observations in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test comes through to show that this definition was also lacking. As Jed McKenna points out in his Spiritual Enlightenment books, the LSD trips were skipping the intense, crushing realizations and therefore whatever they realized was periphery and could not alter awareness. Culturally speaking these peripheral realizations also altered little. The Acid Tests proved the cultural course, as McKenna stated, always "further." Ken Kesey and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, as writers, knew that this was not it and that there was further to go. The Merry Pranksters wished to realize this natural state of being and live it automatically, a quick fix without the hard processes of coming to it consciously and found that the complexities of life and nature were still barren: in one instance on the Magic Bus Trip while in Florida the Merry Pranksters wanted to engage in a free form dance and music session when one member took up a saxophone for the first time and got extremely upset because, according to another member, didn't immediately sound like John Coltrane (Magic Trip, 2011). The cultural movement shows that hard-won innocence is also hard experience, changed and deepened by it, not rejecting of it. Like the wonders of the universe actually do, it also demonstrates a hard-won high intelligence that does go beyond merely a thinking mind. Awareness is a state that matches the universe. This very much deepens the perception and definition of what innocence is. Coming to know it is to move further. The difficulty, endurance required and the gift of this is shown in Jeffers' line he holds in parenthesis: "(Winter has given them gold for silver . . . )."
According to Robinson Jeffers' poem the voice of a river is innocent. It makes no effort to be other than the gentle clearness of what it is. It flows on, undaunted, like the unbiased, unfiltered, undying, undisturbed but life-filled "bird-chatter." In his comparison these things are importantly the same: the "old voice of the ocean," "the storm of the sick nations," "the rage of the hunger-smitten cities" and then, also: the voice "clean as a child's" is "like some girl's breathing who dances alone/By the ocean-shore, dreaming of lovers." Awareness is in the commonalities, in the acceptance of life as it is. When the harmony is seen, it "intone[s] one language." This is the language that must be written.
The recognition of the commonalities of these seemingly different voices gives further insight to the natural state of being where hope and life deeply flows. It must be a voice through and through undisguised, alive, moving, unpretentious, unwilled yet the always moving life-force flowing in a clean, clear voice around obstacles, over rocks, down mountains and falls, always toward the ocean of being, whatever the obstacle, very much like the notes of music itself leading straight back to the heart to which it must go to be alive. Hers is an essence: a breath. For it to come to life it must come into its form and into consciousness. It is foundationally a natural force of clear conscience with the subsequent potential power of creative expression: "dreaming of lovers." This quality of it gives it the ability to unite across all lines. This quality of consciousness in a human then can be seen to hold a universal truth: this is the voice that is the awareness and the observer and the potential, life, art and consciousness and the form that has the great possibility of uniting everything in its recognition and awakening. That it is naturally innocent and unfiltered makes it akin to the natural wonder alive in the universe. It is the voice that is inherently recognized and, in turn, the voice of the ocean, the rivers, the cities, the hungry would also be recognized. Like Penny Lane, this is the voice that rolls over rocks, takes the rapids, broadens the curves, falls when necessary to get where it is going, cleans and hones and ever-moves with never a fault or harmed by bitterness but with a fullness of spirit and an on-going, undaunted core existence. It is a voice that is one with life, nature, being, and music itself. It naturally carries over into other realms. This is where she and art are to be positioned in the beginning acceptance of what is in order to move beyond the divisions. In order to be masterful and brought to life, it must first do the hard going to these depths.
This voice then signifies life and joy and the possibilities of life and love, endurance and sustaining through any trial. It also signifies the path that there is more to know, more to be found in the voice of this kind of spirit. It opens a different kind of door than has been known looking at the female. The place from which it comes, its place of orientation deep in the soul, the source is the determining factor. Shakespeare refers to something bent as an unnatural growth in nature: a knotted, gnarled tree unable to grow. The greatest sources of life are those that survive beautifully to bring on further growth. That in Jeffers' poem she is "dreaming" is that she has not given up on life nor does she need to scheme. She is connected to the eternal already. The flow and growth is natural. She follows the natural rhythms of her soul and if pain comes she takes that too, like the bends and rocks of the undaunted river, her core not touched or damaged or made to react with twisted bitterness or revenge; her being is one with the ocean, her awareness expanding to all things.
In popular culture, this timeless, unbiased, innocent accomplice caught in the heart of the swell of experience is what we looked for in our muses: In the 1960s in Suze Rotolo with Bob Dylan in the coming-into-awareness and action times of just starting, figuring things out, wanting to make things different, do things differently; Pattie Boyd with George Harrison's boyish heart and then with Eric Clapton, experiencing the first rush of the unknown in rock-n-roll, spirituality and cultural transition. We wanted their stories to work, to be filled with passion and love and to change the world.
It was to be found later in the movies in the natural appeal of actors such as Tom Hanks, Renee Zellweger, and Julia Roberts to name a few who each held an unspeakable spark of life and joy sometimes saddened but the light never put out. We watch their stories and know their spirits implicitly and are able to openly love them. We know to trust Meryl Streep as her awareness and unbiased, hopeful voice seems to stretch far past the screen. We too expect her to grow and to show us the depths and thereby expand the experience. Nicole Kidman brought it to life even in roles with flawed and damaged characters. Her spirit prevails. To go further means to move from cultural muse to an aware (not necessarily altruistic) voice capable and demonstrating of mastery. Like the river, she is neither for nor against but powerfully is. That is where her depth is to be found: where the commonality and the soul of life exists. Open that door and one will have opened the door to eternity.
In literature this is the voice of the observer. In great literature it is the voice of the sensitive, perceptive heart able to give language to the living. It is our natural longing for the spirit to be expressed and alive. We want to feel the experience, touch it, know it. Writers with the greatest depth and mastery give us the most experience with layers upon layers of new understanding. We want Penny Lane to step off the screen and inspire us with amazing depth and skill. We not only want to be inspired by her, we want her to go further and show that there is a way to know more life. In desperately seeking this spirit to be truly alive and to be our realized experience of living, even the audience of Almost Famous holds Penny Lane to the role of visible muse. It is no wonder—she lights up the whole story and movie. She stays in our imagination. But what of her magic? The reason it is not furthered realized is because we do not see her spirit come to fruition. We don't see what she is truly made of, the inner workings put to the hard life test. We get the glimpse of her but what does she become? Her inspiration in lyrics has certainly been visible. To follow out her evolution it would be very fitting, then, that Penny Lane's true destiny be revealed through a furtherance of the poetic.
Moving from muse to artist has been a very long course interestingly traceable through lyrics and the poetic over centuries visibly arriving in the 1960s where the spirit of the muse was celebrated. The Counterculture was inspired by such thinkers as Robert Graves who sought to show the reality of the muse throughout the history of poetry. Both poets and critics Robert Graves and Ted Hughes look at the question of the muse through the poet's point of view—as a spirit alive in history, writing and culture. Robert Graves addresses the "White Goddess" muse that he says has remained across time to be known through "myths, poetic power, and a store of ancient verse" and his opinion is that the magic of the muse has been locked in poetry and has been knowable through real women who inspire. From another standpoint but also through poetic inquiry, critic and poet Ted Hughes writes of the struggle through Western culture as seen in Shakespeare's evolution of writing of the emergence of an equation of a "Goddess of Complete Being." He traces the muse's development from the myth of Venus and Adonis of prescribed love to the crimes against her in The Rape of Lucrece and on to the magic in art demonstrated in Shakespeare's last play The Tempest where Miranda is restored to her rightful place through the magic of art itself. What can be seen is that she has remained the source of inspiration and for these writers it became a living source to be known through writing and poetry. It is another tracing of the literary to the real into the 1960s that exploded into desire and creativity. The necessary shift since that time, however, is acceptance from muse to learned and masterful poet, for her to know her self, move into the embodiment of consciousness and the actual hard step—that rite of passage into center of generative creation—into life. To actually inspire with a true spirit, as these poets pointed out and to actually take it further, is for her to emerge into culture and come to life as artist. She cannot do this staying locked in the role of dependent muse. The hard growing is to accept circumstances as they are and to begin to generate from the source of self that is life. Her (and the artist's) awareness as creator is key. Awareness unlocks the literary into consciousness and it becomes what we live and breathe.
The 1960s' desire to live the poetic is understandable and on the right path. The poetic is aware, perceptive, gentle, thought-provoking, inspiring, beautiful, deeply engaged, and once known, a spirit inherent in all things. A culture about death tries to become a culture about life. Inspiration is indeed a spirit that is alive. It finds its heart in the depths of life and rises to the occasion.
What was done in literature between the World Wars was played out with drugs in the 1960s in an effort to get the same effect that the brilliances of the likes of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf had created in their writing with astounding results. The awarenesses in their pages are urges towards wanting to come to life. One is altered internally through their pages. Both authors articulated an expansion of consciousness flowing in the mind following the devastation of World War I of what it means to be alive and to know and feel with a far-reaching interior awareness and the poetic ability to articulate the experience from within the confines of the prescribed existence. Jack Kerouac and Tom Wolfe among others in the 1950s and 60s turned writing more towards the recognizable human in taking writing like this essentially into non-fiction. Even in these instances again the written word is the thing holding ground and causing the individual mind to become more aware and thus also thereby causing the cultural landscape around it to be radically altered. James Joyce defied his motherland and his church, much like would take place later in the 1960s. It is Virginia Woolf, though that does something in light of this that is momentous and exceptional: she stays and through perceptiveness, sheer strength of spirit and command of her creativity and chosen form projects further than the 60s were able to realize even in their efforts to live the freedom of the human spirit. She is the human spirit proving it by putting it to the pages. She puts her awareness to existence. She looks at what in the spirit can survive in the face of war, disillusionment, lost love, and even daily life. She starts at that common core of all existence and does the thing that seemingly cannot be done—she comes from consciousness and builds from it. Accepting the forms within which she must work (being female and in-between the domestic and professional realms and the evolution of the literary form of the novel), she dissolves the confines of the body (while remaining in it) and becomes the spirit and written consciousness and creates something that alters her world.
In discussing Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway scholar Lee Edwards writes:
When the hero has become the artist, what worlds are left to conquer? In purely secular and social terms, the answer, I think, is: none; we are at one end of a representational line. The shift from the actor's role to the creator's, the identification of imagination as a source of social redefinition, permits a theoretically infinite set of particular narrative alterations which might display the passions and preoccupations of the woman hero. Once the heroic figure is free to invent new modes of human intercourse, she moves from the periphery of a hostile society to the center of a new communal form (236).
Woolf's will and brilliance offer incredible insight not only into expanding awareness but also into the immense power of creativity available with more and more awareness and practice that brings that central core she knows well back to the living through creation. She in no way stays wrapped in her own neurosis—the "grave and constant" that goes far deeper is present—nor has an agenda and is able to put that aware voice masterfully to the page. Mrs. Dalloway stays in her situation as Virginia must and from here the mastery begins: her descriptions go past any LSD trip in eloquence, depth and insight into the always flowing heart of the matter: right in the forms wherein we live and breathe, sustain and finally, if we are capable, create life. She shows one does not have to "run outside for better seeing." Woolf's depth of concentration makes her present in the creation because her spirit of genius is present. Spoken words don't create that—it is what Woolf is and she paid the lifetime price for it. She accepts all the daunting responsibilities and harshnesses of being alive and steps on and offers page and page of her awareness and extraordinary abilities. In her awareness and mastery of language she shows the continual flow from thought to event, a true layered fullness of existence tied together as one. She sets the precedent towards to which Campbell speaks when he wrote of the realization of the "prospect of unfathomed wonder" (60).
In Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test there is a sense of wonder at opening more and more doors of comprehension whereas in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, it is done within the confines of domestic life. Both works are actually opening those doors with thought and language. If the wonders of perception stay in the dreaming world, as Tom Wolfe's observations show, it isn't actually accessible and the ending is loss. It is "the days we tried and failed": the prevailing cultural attitude and it is therefore culturally accepted as "truth." Virginia addresses this too, forty years before, showing as author Lee Edward states, that the feelings of the character of Septimus, who finds natural wonder and astounding beauty all around him that the other characters do not see, as "incongruous, literally out of place" (264). Edwards writes: "He feels anguish because of the discrepancy between his intuition of the natural world's beauty and his knowledge of the human world's corruption, and guilt because, despite this discrepancy, his belief in goodness and beauty persists" (265). He has been "imprisoned by a cultural framework" (266). Tom Wolfe, in his role as observer of Ken Kesey's consciousness-expanding and literary efforts, reports back to a culture and can be seen to alter the path of journalism, the path of reporting the human efforts and to see if there is actually mystery there. In some ways the writing is a demythologizing of the human and the human efforts and the assumption is that this experiment, as wildly alive as it was, was taken as far as it could go. The structure of the culture remained intact. There is a resignation at the end. The voice closes the question, offers what seems like definitive proof, a pronouncement of truth in its observations and yet the literary aspect of experiencing the awareness and the spirit to which Ken Kesey aspired rises above that resignation and as the novel, lives on. Virginia Woolf, on the other hand, as the creator/observer, carefully viewing the culture, while also addressing this, locates the one path through to ultimately altering the foundation. She locates that one source of life and goes to the heart of it. She makes the hard way for giving place to the human experience and how, against all the strictures and confines, the spirit prevails. She successfully unites both worlds by first accepting what is "grave and constant." In this her spirit finds victory. She shows that it is done by awareness, acceptance, and mastery. No longer confined to the pages, Virginia Woolf herself shows that with a pencil in her hand she could alter consciousness, the experience of being alive, and ultimately expand reality. Her spirit and her humanity, between the worlds, bridges them. She does it as pure consciousness and as creator. Whereas Ken Kesey's hero finds his end at the edges of society unable to change the limits of his humanity or his culture, Woolf expands the boundary from within. As Edward writes, "Freedom, in Mrs. Dalloway, is measured by the extant to which individuals can manipulate their socially assigned and defined roles and provide a forum where submerged humanity may emerge into the light" (269).
American culture assumes the death of the poet and thereby accepts it as truth with resounding defeatist results and a further clamp in societal structures. That assumption is found in its literature and has subsequently lowered the requirements of awareness and observation in journalism because it is assumed there is nothing more to find: the stone has rolled and so anything now can be a stone, there's no where to go. Mediocrity is then hailed as great because there are no standards extraordinarily necessary to experience life because life itself is demythologized by the publications themselves claiming to know the spirit it observes although Kesey himself lives triumphantly on through the art form; it is wrongly assumed there is not "further" to go and immediately. As Campbell pointed out, maturity and subsequent creation first comes from the acceptance of the responsibility of the conditions as they are—including death and sorrow—as Virginia Woolf does—and moving into a generative force. In years compared to other nations America is young but it is also the spirit of freedom that has to accept its rite of passage and that it is itself life. Its spirit did not die in the 1960s. John Lennon lives on.
Wolfe's observing as journalism is essentially asking and answering the question for culture. That it assumes an answer by its reporting that is not open-ended to wonder presumes it as an ending itself—as the limits of what was tried and what could not be. It marks an accepted boundary. It offers the observation as what must be true because here is what happened in the highest life experiment of freedom and boundlessness. It presumes an end in its final notes; the best and brightest went this far and this was it. However, that it is a work of literature does leave it open-ended to the spirit of Kesey that gives it a new boundlessness now because of new awareness. Looking to the realization of the female muse and artist who represents life and to the brilliance of Mrs. Dalloway's party while accepting all of these conditions is the one direction art and life must go. If she can rise to the occasion, the end of poetry is not death but life. The cultural rites and rituals practiced would then reflect this.
This direction is not optional because the loss and suffering pervades every area of living even when popular culture—which is not required to be altruistic, but in the least, aware that the limits previously assumed are not true—seems superfluous because it is entertainment and does not seem to define or limit a culture's perceptions. America has everything and is still tragedy, as in Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy or Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and only wants the next relief or the next thrill with no accepting rite of passage towards life. That America can't grow up makes it the epitome of the emptiness of Sister Carrie, Clyde Griffiths and Daisy Buchanan. Even stranger than LSD: these realizations also make visible the inverse of imagination as Lee Edwards points out: "a deformed society befouls even its dreams, and a sleeping reason encounters the monsters it has created" (280). It is not only that it can be done, it must be. Our lives depend on it. Edwards also shows how private realities are informed by accepted ideologies. America is the last place where a contrived, media- and adolescent-savvy ideology should prevail over adulthood. The divisions and the suffering, the isolation and the resounding hopelessness are accepted as final fact left to a religion to doctor. The vision of the artist does not act against the conditions but as Virginia Woolf did in her spirit and brilliance, finds the eternal commonality: the river powerfully coursing through the veins and masterfully making a natural song. That is the only actual celebration and realization of life. It is the beginning of the opening of awareness and culturally found only in art. Only then can pleasure begin to be known.
Like Ken Kesey's experiment, Woolf's characters are striving to live and to find the lightning strike of importance in the moments of their lives. Woolf's characters come across moments where her descriptions go to the heart of what is awakened inside. What is more, she is able to follow the commonality from character to character as they confront their lives. This is "further." Instead of escape, Woolf has her main character Clarissa Dalloway operate within her prescribed existence and in this pushes out the boundaries because of her ability to not only survive, but also to "buy the flowers herself"—to hold on to the beauty of existence in the surrounding human trials and to spiritually emerge for everyone else in the novel. In not being able to awake to a different existence, each word carefully chosen for its nuances and effects lends back to life expanding and enriching it from the inside out—the frontier where the rite of passage must happen.
Going further than the "acid tests," Woolf expresses more than humans are consciously aware is happening in a flow within and without fluidly streaming together in unbroken interplay. (Stepping back one can imagine this microcosm as a small portion of the whole of the on-going inter-workings of the humanscape moving towards the ocean of fulfillment.) Woolf importantly takes it inward to the hard places. Some characters may remain in their own limits unaware, but Woolf in her deep concentration shows the powerful, unstoppable flow. Mrs. Dalloway struggles inwardly with the barest essentials of existence. It isn't an author merely panning from one mind to another, but each happening and each thought move together from one character to the next in a whole they cannot see. She describes the inner experience with incredible profundity and by doing so brings more awareness on the internal landscape as well as the external. The work is obviously a novel which is incomplete without seeing and realizing Woolf's role as creator and observer. In our view, she has to be visible for the perception to be visible. In the 1960s they wanted to live the freedom with all the senses revealed in the literary. With awareness we know the human constructs are our own novels, fictions (which begin as boundaries but turn into forms to be mastered because they are the path, the river that takes us there.) In order to go any further requires awareness of what is actually happening, not a rejection that nothing is happening or can happen. The role of the creator and the bounds of what is created then, is what is actually happening. It now has to be actually aware of the fictions, the limits of awareness so far and the interplay actually at work. For the female to continue to play the role of the muse would be to remain in the perceived limits of childhood and fiction, not realizing she's the author of the boundaries that exist and she must give powerful words to it. Virginia Woolf keeps her characters tied to life, tied to the form and finds the way from there. It is how to give awareness and therefore existence to what is real.
Woolf's awareness pushed the boundaries of what had been expressed and thereby realized. Her abilities deliver nuances that are present in our lives but are not generally recognized because we have not put language to them. Stepping back from the book is to be aware that the author in a clean voice clearly showed the whole fiction—herself included and the act of the novel marks the furthest line of human cultural development thus far. Woolf's own awareness and the human spirit are both her topics and her tools. In our time looking back it can be seen that the move culturally was towards the furthest possibilities of individualization (with the limits of the walls of society tried in the 1960s)—moving to that point where now awareness can set the stage for acceptance, responsibility and then masterful creativity that reimagines and rewrites the path of the rules of existence. The requirement as Ken Kesey dreamed and Jed McKenna wrote, is "further." Repeating the past or turning against an unreal state is absurd. The act that gets us past it is consciousness through writing, at whatever point the writer may be. While Jed McKenna took the novel Moby Dick apart in Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment to show the struggle for complete utter awareness—the battle to get to the boundaries and free from them—Virginia Woolf's novel puts Mrs. Dalloway in a domestic situation, right inside life and challenged her there to bring awareness and then her own spirit to life. It requires Woolf's extraordinary insight and creativity to loose the muse from her pages.
Her use of metaphors is not simply, as Tom Wolfe points out in Electric, metaphor for the sake of expressing something that sounds insightful. Woolf's metaphors create and build, illuminate and strike life. Woolf strikes to the heart of breaking, uncovering in facing death and truth and age. That her book is about throwing a party in the face of death doesn't allow for Clarissa to disengage at any moment, even when it hurts so much she can barely stand; doesn't allow her to shrug off the heaviness of breathing, but moves beyond, accepts the responsibility for being, and what is more for being the most innovative, creative center in literature. Her voice, through all the pain, memories, losses, impediments, slights and declines remains that of the clear, eternal, life-filled waters of the river moving towards its ocean. She sees past an LSD trip to the brilliance of the nuances of being, coursing through the veins, bringing it to light. Because of this she is going a step further. She never leaves consciousness but holds to it, holds to the hard battle of facing it all, holds to having to create and honor life under the unrelenting conditions. What Woolf does is show the answer to what is to become past the 1960s, to become of Penny Lane and her life-affirming spirit and beauty with its immense possibilities. Her role of muse is now to be inspired by the depth of beauty she knows and through the strength and courage it takes to be, create something that reshapes the known definitions and boundaries of the world.
1. "In the process many women experienced a change in roles from producers to consumers with a consequent transition in status. Some craftsmen suffered debasement of their skills as the division of labor and power-driven machinery eroded the traditional handicraft methods of production and transformed them from self-employed artisans to wage laborers. The resulting potential for class conflict threatened the social fabric of this brave new republic." McPherson, James M. (1988-02-25). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States) (p. 7). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.