“Which life should one live – the life one likes. I like writing. I like change. I like to toss my mind up and see where it goes.” – Virginia Woolf, diary entry, 1934
Most of us – me for one – toss our minds up very rarely. What we like at 18, we bear on our shoulders at 68. Partly this is because we don’t lead the life we like. Virginia Woolf was no exception to this rule. She was subject to neurological assaults on her sanity, sexual assault by a step brother when she was young, and (more positively) the comforts of her circle and place. Her likes, and thus the life she liked, were hugely conditioned, imperially conditioned, and this she knew well. The question of our likes after 18 comes so often too late for us to recognize – instead, the crucial questions are what we can tolerate, what we need to do tomorrow, how we can negotiate with the bill collector, the colleague, the family member That internal oracle falls silent, as the path to it is overgrown with weeds. Our likes are trivialized, and instead of the lifescale likes, we like a tv series, we like the restaurant recommended in a magazine. It is not the love that passeth understanding that guides us, but the understanding – of small gains and losses, of the claims on us of tasks we won’t remember in a week, to which we have chained the day, of the entire world of cops and plutocrats at the door – into which that love is sucked up and thinned out.
Yet of course the entire story is not a grimly deterministic novel of social realism and misery. There’s the mind toss still. That beanbag made up of will and whim.
What’s the good of it? To my mind, this question is foregrounded in a barely disguised servility, emanates from a world in which the mind is simply a coin, a world in which the coin has bested the spirit. A ridiculous world. Questions have motives, and this one, in particular, is thrown out by the devil of banality, well versed in turning grammatical forms against liberation. What’s the good of living in, or collaborating in, a world in which tossing up your mind becomes a trivial thing, even to the tosser? Where it seems too tiresome or too frightening?
Hmm. Well, enough with this hortatory tone today. Tomorrow, this could all be wrong.