Trying to Imagine Post-Pandemic Life? Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison Can Help

Michelle Orange in The New York Times:

Early this spring, wary and disoriented despite the vaccine at work in my system, I sought a book to help me navigate the strange, bardo-like moment in which disaster and its aftermath begin to overlap. “To the Lighthouse,” Virginia Woolf’s 1927 masterpiece, was the one that kept coming to mind — specifically its experimental middle section, “Time Passes.” Parsed into 10 “chapters,” with its swirling rhythms, involuted structure and flights into abstraction, “Time Passes” presents an especial challenge to the pre-post-pandemic brain. I hoped to find in Woolf’s evocation of grief as a disruption of one’s sense of time not a solution but the solace of a riddle’s key connections laid bare.

Nine years after the end of World War I, which left 40 million people dead or wounded, and seven since a global flu pandemic killed at least that many, Woolf sought to mark the unmaking of the world as she knew it, and, with her depiction of the Ramsay family and the various artists and scholars in their midst, tell a new kind of story about grief and restoration. She envisioned the structure with a line drawing: two blocks, the before and after, connected by a thin corridor. “I am making up ‘To the Lighthouse’ — the sea is to be heard all through it,” Woolf wrote in her diary. “I have an idea that I will invent a new name for my books to supplant ‘novel.’ A new — by Virginia Woolf. But what? Elegy?” Dislodging elegy from its poetic traditions and long history of men memorializing other men, Woolf set out to explore its terms within a more expansive, narrative form.

More here.