Waves of thought

by suu4leaf

I read another inspiring passage from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves where the young man Bernard ponders about writing. You must note it down, said I to myself. Yet I did not, like all the other passages I read and felt something about but which I did not note. I let them pass, like all my other thoughts, into the oblivion of memory. But that is not quite correct. People say that things we do not recall immediately reside in some hidden corners of our memory (which the psychoanalysts call the unconscious). But that is not true. The truth is things that pass by our mind do not even get a chance to be lodged in any corner of our memory. Before that even happens, they expire and are never found again. Sometimes I write to counter forgetfulness, sometimes I write to forget. He said he never writes because everything is safe in his memory, as if a reproach to my own forgetfulness. But the truth is whether written down or not, things slip away from the memory banks eventually, simply because the vessel of our memory, our bodies, age and die. How many things, I wonder, have we lost because they have not been written down, have been forgotten, and have expired with our bodies.

I was reading Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life. It was over 2 years since I finished that monolithic work of semi-autobiography. De Botton mentioned Virginia Woolf being so impressed by In Search of Lost Time that she even fell into depression at the thought that nothing remained to be done for the novelist. That was when I remembered my copy of The Waves, a Penguin paperback acquired at a second-hand bookstore at Nottinghill for 2 pounds, propped into my narrow bookcase in a dark corner of the corridor of my humid home in North Point and which never saw light since. I pulled it out, amazed at its fine condition despite of its treatment, and began leaving through it, reading out aloud on my bed under insufficient yellowish light (as my bedroom was painted mango yellow at my own request).

I am nearing half of the book, and for the first time I realise that despite its being in a second-hand bookstore, nobody has actually read it before me, for the fact that there is no crease on the book spine, not until now. I believe I have tried the book several times before but never got through the first few pages. It was too confusing for me, who preferred precision and detested pretension, though strange for a woman, who is always deemed poetic and romantic. Now I return to it, conquering the initial confusion and allowing myself to flow along the narration, I find that this, like Proust’s, may be the answer to my constant search for a personal style of writing. And I know how defiantly archaic it is to say that one would like to follow Proust and Woolf and Joyce, but I have always liked old stuff, and I am watching Downton Abbey in a frenzy like I did for the BBC Pride and Prejudice, and feel justified of being so, even when I am writing in English, as if I am some English writer in 1920s.