But, Now, But

For tomorrow’s session in my seminar on the essayistic I asked the students to read Virginia Woolf’s essay „How Should One Read a Book?“ – an essay that was first started in 1925, presented as a lecture for school girls at Hayes Court the following year, later revised for publication in the  Yale Review, revised again and finally included in her 1932 Second Common Reader as the concluding essay. A text that is not talking about reading as a definite skill, not as  a strategy, but as a journey and an experiment.
But when looking at the transcription of her manuscript, presented by Beth Rigel Daugherty in the Woolf Studies Annual Vol. 4 (1998) I come across this passage here.


It is undoubtedly one of the most crucial passages of Woolf’s text – remaining central in all its many versions – where the author is not only making clear that to read always means to read again (something that also Roland Barthes will argue forty years later in S/Z) but that to read eventually also means to write. Readers must become authors and the supposedly passive audience is to be imagined as active producers.

And I am struck by how in this very moment the manuscript shows how difficult, how painful, the act of writing can become. How Woolf begins and halts, how she writes the words and crosses them out and begins writing them anew. To me it is as if this very hesitancy, this stop-and-go is the perfect scriptural embodiment of this trembling between reading and writing; making us viscerally aware that in both reading and writing you are never on safe ground, never on a clear path but just feeling our way forward. The way to begin exists only as crossed out. We start anew. Now. But.