A Room of One’s Own

Notes on a Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf, especially the differences in the voice of the male writer vs. the female writer:

My original intent was to return to the beginning of the book after finishing my first read for content, and to reread more analytically, with notes.  However, on the final page I encountered this, “If we escape a little…and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees…”

Ah yes, Ms. Woolf unwinds two lengthy essays that often drift and meander of their own accord, yet ultimately she lands lightly upon the far more challenging difference between male and female perspectives in fiction than her oft cited five hundred a year and a room of one’s own.  Fast forward to current day with the Mars – Venus dichotomy and we see the essence of the vast difference in world view between the sexes.

The female view of reality through the prism of relationships can be a gift to the fiction writer whose lively and accurate accounting of the human condition draws in the reader; while the descriptive reality of the male view can be highly successful in many concrete forms of writing, especially the action or spy novel genre. To tap into each view in a strongly balanced manner gives birth to that rare film or novel that has both universal appeal and a developed world view.  Our task then as writers, is to develop our weaker viewpoint and strive for the balance to tell our tale more fully.

That said, I find in myself that much of my internal dialog is focused on relationships.  It is most commonly the relationship between an individual and the reality as I see it.  The subtle nature of the blank space between two objects that contains the “relationship” to the other is both wondrous and daunting.  Where the female may be attuned to the infinite minute exchanges that occur, she may at the same time lack a full and clear observation of the solid reality.

The risk here falls on both sides.  For the female, the risk is to mistake the relations she observes and intuits as real, even though the truth may be hidden from us by the private inner workings of the observed.  To illustrate and step away from humans for the moment, imagine the casual encounter of dog and cat.  Although they are likely to signal their intent in a visible and seemingly easily interpreted manner, the final intent lies within each creature and therefore hidden until acted upon.  Since humans have evolved and learned to muffle and subvert the more obvious physical signals, the female view relies on quiet undertones to attempt to decipher reality.

Since my view is of the decidedly female perspective, I can only briefly comment on the cold hard facts of the male view.  It seems to me that much nuance can be overlooked, but I do wonder at the value of these soft edges if the hard boundaries are already known.  The risk here I believe, is the certainty that the male view owns the “truth”.  The truth of the edge of a cliff that stands three hundred feet above its rocky base, and the truth of the same cliff that now has its base covered by three hundred feet of a summer lake appear the same from twenty five yards back.  Twenty five yards past, and the outcome for trusting these to be the same will be vastly different.

I too have joined the writer upon whose work these reflections are based and begun my own meandering path.  As one line of thinking lends itself to another and another, I find myself lodged against one of the most basic and analyzed topics…truth.

Does the truth require belief, proof, validation; or is it a solid immoveable object?  Truth is the currency we trade in, the map to guide our way, the bread for our bodies, the salve for our souls.  Yet what if truth is not in fact a fixed and finite object or bit of information, but only holds its weighty title based on each individual’s own formation of belief, proof and validation related to that bit of information?  Thus your truth is not necessarily mine.  The founding fathers of the United States held certain truths to be self-evident, but are they universally so?  When the argument begins with concepts such as Rights and of the absolute of a Creator, it is possible to set these aside and point rather to science.  But for every known and proven fact to be absolutely true, no new evidence that may contradict it can be offered or considered as there cannot be a change to the truth of the facts.  Yet new knowledge and proofs occur with great frequency, so is not the truth of science based wholly on what is known at this very moment, by a specific individual which may be colored by belief, proofs trusted or discarded, validation by sources known or not, equally suspect?

Is it possible that there is no bit, no fragment of fact, knowledge, or information that is universally true for all humans across all cultures and time?  Are each of these bits altered and understood in the moment by the comingling of the culture, experience, knowledge and ability of the individual?

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