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Feeling with Woolf

Feeling with Woolf

(p.117) Chapter Four Feeling with Woolf
Strange Likeness
Dora Zhang
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 4 turns to Woolf and the question of how to describe a feeling. Like Henry James, Woolf, too, is concerned with the representational challenges of describing what is invisible, particularly sensations and feelings, and she worked through the problem paradoxically via an engagement with the visual media of painting and the cinema. Like Proust, of whom she was a careful reader, Woolf also favors similes, but she turns them squarely toward the task of conveying affects, which in her novels often float free of particular characters and plots. This chapter elucidates her descriptions of feeling through the work of psychoanalyst and developmental psychologist Daniel Stern, who argues that “affect attunement,” that is, sharing another’s feeling, entails not directly imitating a behavior but matching some formal feature of it (e.g., intensity, rhythm, shape) in a different perceptual mode. This nonmimetic, nonrepresentational model of attunement both explains with new precision how affects can be conveyed in language and also alerts us to an important role of description in the novel: that of enabling moments of shared feeling. The chapter concludes with a consideration of how the temporality of affect complicates Lukács's critique of descriptive temporality as static and ahistorical.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, affect attunement, Daniel Stern, simile, temporality

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