On Poetry and Culture Shock

Virginia Woolf as a literary critic

Like any other artist working overtime as a literary critic, Virginia Woolf’s criticism, witty and tough, says that writing should be what she did. This passage from A Room of One’s Own sounds harsher than it really is because I’ve taken it out of context, but even so there is some truth in it (if you’re reading from Spain, remember that fatal means “lethal, deadly”):

“It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex. It is fatal to be a woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech; for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It ceases to be fertilised… it cannot grow in the minds of others”

What would Woolf have thought of literature written from a purely queer perspective? Or about political literature, leaving gender aside, that puts a “stress in grievance”? I think she is exaggerating a wee bit, although I agree if what she means is that whatever there is of political in writing must be subordinated to the attempt to achieve excellency (whatever excellency may be).

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