The Care-free Disposition

The aesthetic disposition which tends to bracket off the nature and function of the object represented and to exclude any 'naive' reaction - horror at the horrible, desire for the desirable, pious reverence for the sacred - along with all purely ethical responses, in order to concentrate solely upon the mode of representation, the style, perceived and appreciated by comparison with other styles, is one dimension of a total relation to the world and to others, a life-style, in which the effects of particular conditions of existence are expressed in a 'misrecognizable' form.

These conditions of existence, which are the precondition for all learning of legitimate culture, whether implicit and diffuse, as domestic cultural training generally is, or explicit and specific, as in scholastic training, are characterized by the suspension and removal of economic necessity and by objective and subjective distance from practical urgencies, which is the basis of objective and subjective distance from groups subjected to those determinisms.

The aesthetic disposition, a generalized capacity to neutralize ordinary urgencies and to bracket off practical ends, a durable inclination and aptitude for practice without a practical function, can only be constituted within an experience of the world freed from urgency and through the practice of activities which are an end in themselves, such as scholastic exercises or the contemplation of works of art.

In other words, it presupposes the distance from the world [...] which is the basis of the bourgeois experience of the world.

It is not surprising that bourgeois adolescents, who are both economically privileged and (temporarily) excluded from the reality of economic power, sometimes express their distance from the bourgeois world which they cannot really appropriate by a refusal of complicity whose most refined expression is a propensity towards aesthetics and aestheticism.

[...] the aesthetic disposition is defined, objectively and subjectively, in relation to other dispositions. Objective distance from necessity and from those trapped within it combines with a conscious distance which doubles freedom by exhibiting it.

This affirmation of power over a dominated necessity always implies a claim to legitimate superiority over those who, because they cannot assert the same contempt for contingencies in gratuitous luxury and conspicuous consumption, remain dominated by ordinary interests and urgencies.

The tastes of freedom can only assert themselves as such in relation to the tastes of necessity, which are thereby brought to the level of the aesthetic and so defined as vulgar.

[Pierre Bourdieu]
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, p.54-6

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Games of Culture

Games of Culture

To be able to play the games of culture with the playful seriousness which Plato demanded, a seriousness without the 'spirit of seriousness', one has to belong to the ranks of those who have been able, not necessarily to make their whole existence a sort of children's game, as artists do, but at least to maintain for a long time, sometimes a whole lifetime, a child's relation to the world.

(All children start life as baby bourgeois, in a relation of magical power over others and, through them, over the world, but they grow out of it sooner or later.)

This is clearly seen when, by an accident of social genetics, into the well-policed world of intellectual games there comes one of those people (one thinks of Rousseau or Chernyshevsky) who bring inappropriate stakes and interests into the games of culture;

who get so involved in the game that they abandon the margin of neutralizing distance that the illusio (belief in the game) demands; who treat intellectual struggles, the object of so many pathetic manifestos, as a simple question of right and wrong, life and death.

This is why the logic of the game has already assigned them rôles - eccentric or boor - which they will play despite themselves in the eyes of those who know how to stay within the bounds of the intellectual illusion and who cannot see them any other way.

[Pierre Bourdieu]
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, p.54

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The Care-free Disposition
Only Playing

Arrows pointing at Arrows pointing at ...

[...] the celebrant's or devotee's intention is not that of understanding, and, in the ordinary routine of the cult of the work of art, the play of the academic or urbane references has no other function than to bring the work into an interminable circuit of inter-legitimation,

so that a reference to Jan Breughel's Bouquet of Flowers lends dignity to Jean-Michel Picart's Bouquet of Flowers with Parrot, just as, in another context, reference to the latter can, being less common, serve to enhance the former.

This play of cultured allusions and analogies endlessly pointing to other analogies, which, like the cardinal oppositions in mythical or ritual systems, never have to justify themselves by stating the basis of the relating which they perform, weaves around the works a complex web of factitious experiences, each answering and reinforcing all the others, which creates the enchantment of artistic contemplation.

It is the source of the 'idolatry' to which Proust refers, which leads one to find 'an actress's robe or a society woman's dress beautiful ... not because the cloth is beautiful but because it is the cloth painted by Moreau or described by Balzac.

Analogy, functioning as a circular mode of thought, makes it possible to tour the whole area of art and luxury without ever leaving it. Thus Chateau Margaux wine can be described with the same words as are used to describe the chateau, just as others will evoke Proust apropos of Monet or César Franck, which is a good way of talking about neither. [...]

[Pierre Bourdieu]
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, p.53

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Tasteful Distance

[The detachment of the aesthete] is seen whenever he appropriates one of the objects of popular taste (e.g., Westerns or strip cartoons), [introducing] a distance, a gap - the measure of his distant distinction - vis-a-vis 'first-degree' perception, by displacing the interest from the 'content', characters, plot, etc., to the form, to the specifically artistic effects which are only appreciated relationally, through a comparison with other works which is incompatible with immersion in the singularity of the work immediately given.

Detachment, disinterestedness, indifference - aesthetic theory has so often presented these as the only way to recognize the work of art for what it is, autonomous, selbständig, that one ends up forgetting that they really mean disinvestment, detachment, indifference, in other words, the refusal to invest oneself and take things seriously.

[...] the refusal of any sort of involvement, any 'vulgar' surrender to easy seduction and collective enthusiasm, which is, indirectly at least, the origin of the taste for formal complexity and objectless representations, is perhaps most clearly seen in reactions to paintings.

Thus one finds that the higher the level of education, the greater is the proportion of respondents who, when asked whether a series of objects would make beautiful photographs, refuse the ordinary objects of popular admiration - a first communion, a sunset or a landscape - as 'vulgar' or 'ugly', or reject them as 'trivial', silly, a bit 'wet', or, in Ortega y Gasset's terms, naively human [...]

[Pierre Bourdieu]
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, p.34-5

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Forming a Judgement

In order to apprehend what makes the specificity of aesthetic judgement, Kant ingeniously distinguished 'that which pleases' from 'that which gratifies', and, more generally, strove to seperate 'disinterestedness', the sole guarantee of the specifically aesthetic quality of contemplation, from 'the interest of the senses', which defines 'the agreeable', and from 'the interest of Reason', which defines 'the Good'.

By contrast, working-class people, who expect every image to fulfil a function, if only that of a sign, refer, often explicitly, to norms of morality or agreeableness in all their judgements.

Thus the photograph of a dead soldier provokes judgements which, whether positive or negative, are always responses to the reality of the thing represented or to the functions the representation could serve, the horror of war or the denunciation of the horrors of war which the photographer is supposed to produce simply by showing that horror.

Refusal of the meaningless (insignificant) image, which has neither sense no interest, or of the ambiguous image means refusing to treat it as a finality without purpose, as an image signifying itself, and therefore having no other referent than itself.

If formal explorations, in avant-garde theatre or non-figurative painting, or simply classical music, are disconcerting to working-class people, this is partly because they feel incapable of understanding what these things signify, insofar as they are signs.

[Pierre Bourdieu]
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, p.41-3

The Case for Big Brother

Big Brother is, amongst many things, an opportunity to talk ethics on a national scale.

Like any drama, it affords us the opportunity to comment upon the actions of its protagonists, to discuss morals and negotiate personal politics; and like any cultural product, it affords us the opportunity to create meaning.

And yet, this opportunity - unique in its nature; its scale, its availability, its prominence - is refused by many. At a time - amongst the subjectivity and relativism of post-modernism, and the proliferating distractions of advanced capitalism - when the discussion of ethics may be a particularly pertinent one, should we not at least consider the positive opportunities that Big Brother affords us?

What happens when our so-called highbrow media would, without question, rather discuss the interior of a graphic designer's house than the implications of one human being refusing to engage with another? When the baton of talking everyday ethics is instead taken up by the so-called gutter press?

We could, perhaps, point to the 'insignificance' of Big Brother and its fame-hungry contestants, but then we would, perhaps, be missing the point. At its root, it is the interaction of individuals - it may lack the poetic prose and resonance of your average Shakespearian drama, but it remains a fiction about human beings. This much is inescapable.

Represent

Is the black male the most unassailable member of our society? Is he the most feared, and the least 'known'?

The definition of the black male still appears to be a narrow one - he does not, in the popular imagination, have as many 'roles' as the white male.

For the black male to become more known (and therefore more assailable, and less feared) his representation within culture would have to be more widespread and varied than it currently appears to be. A wider range of roles would also afford freedom; it would allow the (average) black male greater room to manoeuvre, and more ways to be.

In-between

To become too much of a singular 'type' (to transcend) is to sink into the ground, into the soil, from where you can no longer see or communicate with other 'types'. By sinking you have curtailed your ability to communicate on a wider level.

In this way society becomes compartmentalized. How do the various elements of society (the various sunken 'types') understand and communicate with each other?

If we decide that it is important for lines of communication to stay open, then we need those who have not sunk, or have not sunk too far down. Those that can skirt the surface, slip between types and carry messages from one to the other. These would be the oil between the gears, slipping and sliding and keeping things turning smoothly.

These people are imminent people, and they embody the psychic hermaphrodite. The opposite of imminence is transcendence; this is when something, or someone, becomes predictable - becomes, in other words, a 'type'.

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Empirical sciences, pursued purely for their own sake and without philosophical tendency, are like a face without eyes. They are, however, a suitable occupation for people of good capacity, who nevertheless lack the highest faculties that would even be a hindrance to minute investigations of this kind. Such persons concentrate their whole strength and all their knowledge on a single limited field.

Therefore in that field they can reach the most complete knowledge possible, on condition that they remain in complete ignorance of everything else, whereas the philosopher must survey all fields, and indeed to a certain extent be at home in them all. That perfection which is attained only through detail is necessarily ruled out here.

In this connexion, these persons are to be compared to the Geneva workmen, of whom one makes nothing but wheels, another only springs, and a third merely chains; the philosopher, on the other hand, is to be compared to the watch-maker, who from all these produces a whole that has movement and meaning.

They can also be compared to the musicians in an orchestra, each of whom is master of his own instrument; and the philosopher to the conductor, who must be acquainted with the nature and method of handling every instrument, yet without playing them all, or even only one of them, with great perfection.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, p.128-9

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When you are dependent on the earth under your feet and the community around you for your survival, you experience interdependence as a fact of daily life. Such a deep experiential understanding of interconnectedness - feeling yourself a part of the continuum of life - contrasts starkly with the analytic, fragmented, and theoretical thinking of modern society.

We need to return to a more empathetic relationship with the living world and learn to see broader patterns, process, and change [...] Our static and mechanistic world view has reached its limits, and some scientists - particularly quantum physicists - now speak of a paradigm shift away from the old "building block" view of reality to a more organic one.

In direct opposition to the trend in mainstream culture toward greater specialization, we need to actively promote the generalist - the one who sees connections and makes links across different disciplines. In this regard, one of the most hopeful trends is the increasing respect for more feminine values and ways of thinking.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.189

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The video letter that I got was from Mike Gover. He's interested in the recycling center which I think is great and he already is an artist as other people have pointed out. Creating pieces already. I'm wondering how I could best help that out. I don't really think it is by making any "art" for that place. Instead I think if I was going to work for him it would be more along the lines of trying to create an informational package that could be sent out for funding sources. He's already got the ideas. He just needs the money to do them. His ideas merge art, functionality and education. Now they just need to happen.

I've never had any definition as to what art is or what my art is. Back in graduate school, what I was considering my art was changing policies at the school. So it seems like a completely appropriate thing for me to come in to help him put together some kind of interesting packet that could help get him funding to do his own projects.

Then, John (Malpede) and I have had some discussions about the hardware store and the woman we met there. Maybe doing something that would involve her. It's been great. I'm trying to figure out what exactly to do and what the structure would be. What the support system would be to get these things to happen.

[Harrell Fletcher]
http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/hf1.html

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That was one thing I didn't know. I was hoping, coming here, that I would be able to do a lot of swimming. When you look around you see all these creeks and they look really appealing. But everyone is saying, not only don't swim there, don't even touch it. It's pretty devastating to realize that in a place that is so beautiful, all the foliage, the mountains, the creeks -- it's all in a very fragile contaminated state. It's a real sad thing.

I don't know exactly what we as artists are going to be able to do about that - getting on to your other question. We asked the Gishes, the people who run the newspaper in Whitesburg, what they thought about how art could contribute, and they said that they didn't think that it could. Maybe thinking traditionally about what art is maybe it wouldn't. Maybe we need to come up with a different way of working.

Of course, on the other hand, I fear dilettantism. I don't want to pretend that I'm some sort of scientist or politician that would be able to make some kind of change or know what the change should be - because I don't really. I don't know if that can be my role. More, what I'm capable of doing is allowing voices that are already here to become more audible. If that's what they want to say then that's what they will say. I'm not going to determine issues and then find the sound bites to fit into that. That's not the way that I work or the thing that I find interesting or enjoyable to do. I have difficulty thinking, "Let's try to tackle this issue and as artists fix this thing". I don't know if that's really the way that I can function.

[Harrell Fletcher]
http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/hf1.html

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[...] she wrote as a woman, but as a woman who has forgotten that she is a woman, so that her pages were full of that curious sexual quality which comes only when sex is unconscious of itself.

Coleridge certainly did not mean, when he said that a great mind is androgynous, that it is a mind that has any special sympathy with women [...] Perhaps the androgynous mind is less apt to make these distinctions than the single-sexed mind.

He meant, perhaps, that the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent, and undivided.

[...] men, that is to say, are now writing only with the male side of their brains [...] It is the power of suggestion that one most misses, I thought, taking Mr B the critic in my hand and reading, very carefully and very dutifully, his remarks upon the art of poetry.

Very able they were, acute and full of learning; but the trouble was that his feelings no longer communicated; his mind seemed separated into different chambers; not a sound carried from one to the other.

Thus, when one takes a sentence of Mr B into the mind it falls plump to the ground - dead; but when one takes a sentence of Coleridge into the mind, it explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas, and that is the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of perpetual life.

[Virginia Woolf]
A Room of One's Own, p.108, 114, 117

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All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority, belong to the private-school stage of human existence where there are 'sides', and it is necessary for one side to beat another side, and of the utmost importance to walk up to a platform and receive from the hands of the Headmaster himself a highly ornamental pot.

As people mature they cease to believe in sides or in Headmasters or in highly ornamental pots.

[Virginia Woolf]
A Room of One's Own, p.122-3

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No alliance exists between hackers and specific political organisations. In spite of the fact that each would benefit through interaction and cooperation, the alienating structure of a complex division of labour keeps these two social segments separated more successfully than could the best police force.

Here are two groups motivated to accomplish similar anti-authoritarian ends, but which cannot seem to find a point of intersection [...] The schism between knowledge and technical skill has to be closed, to eliminate the prejudices held by each side - hacker intolerance for the technologically impaired, and activist intolerance for those who are not politically correct).

Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular Ideas, p.19-20

Is the artist the point of intersection?

Inasmuch as the State relies on alienated relations to maintain power, the artist, by remaining in-between, works against the State simply through existing.


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Hermes

We find him, with wings on his feet and wings on his helmet, carrying messages from god to god and from gods to humans. When the god Hephaestus fashions Pandora, the first woman, we find Hermes bestowing on her his very special gift – persuasiveness. When Hephaes­tus springs a trap on his wife the goddess Aphrodite and her lover Ares, god of war, netting them in the middle of their love-making, Hermes remarks without embarrassment how glad he would be to take Ares' place.

We find him charming gods and mortals alike. He is the lover of Aphrodite, and even of the virgin goddess Artemis. He takes a decidedly non-heroic stance in life, always avoiding conflict. This slippery, deceiving, seductive, non-heroic character seems to have been the best-loved of the Greek gods, and perceived as the friendliest to mortals.

He has many names and takes many forms: the god of travellers, the god of shepherds, the god of merchants and markets, the god of persuasiveness, the trickster, the god of lies and deceit, the god of gamblers, the god of thieves, the god of illusions, the god of shamanic medicine, the god of the crossroads, the god of connections, of quicksilver, of fast footwork and smooth talking, the god of boundary-crossing.

He is the divine entrepreneur, a con man without ethics and without malice. He has no values of his own, no concern for substance. He enjoys doing deals, being clever, playing the game. He is the herald of the gods, the connector, the carrier of information. Hermes does not craft anything, like Hephaestus. He does not manage anything, like Zeus, or lead us to understanding, like Apollo, or ensure the smooth functioning of society, like Hera, or harvest and hoard, like Kronos. He does not fight, like Ares, or nourish, like Demeter, or protect the weak, like Artemis. He loves paradox and process, trickery and risk. He is ambiguous and many-­faced. He is everybody's mate. He is not associated with a particular place, does not have a temple and priests like the other gods, but is worshipped at every crossroad.

[Bernie Neville]
THE CHARM OF HERMES: HILLMAN, LYOTARD, AND THE POSTMODERN CONDITION

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Seeking out a challenge
Playing the Art Game | Art as In-between
The Principle of Polarity
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Walk a Straight Line

Local Hero

Is it that towering individuals (the artist-genius, the rock-star, etc) are a psychological necessity (a manifestation of the hero-archetype)?

If this is the case, then perhaps we need to think carefully about how we create our towering individuals.

A local hero is accessible and understandable (and implicitly supersedable in a way that the global hero is not). The ultimate local hero is the parent or, in Buddhism, the lama (mentor). Global heroes are often unattainable, and by their distance appear unearthly and perfect. We have a sense that we will never reach them, let alone supersede them; in this sense they exert a tyranny over us.

We are currently saturated with global heroes, but are these - and should they be - balanced with local heroes?

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The cultural centralization that occurs through the media is also contributing to a growing insecurity as well as passivity. Traditionally, there was lots of dancing, singing, and theater. People of all ages joined in. In a group sitting around the fire, even toddlers would dance, with the help of older siblings or friends. Everyone knew how to sing, to act, to play music.

Now that radio has come to Ladakh, you do not need to sing your own songs or tell your own stories. You can sit and listen to the best singer, the best storyteller. But the result is that people become inhibited and self-conscious. You are no longer comparing yourself to neighbors and friends, who are real people - some better than you at singing, but perhaps less good at dancing - and you are never as good as the stars on the radio.

Community ties are also broken when people sit passively listening to the very best rather than making music or dancing together.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.123-4

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They have a turtle pond in front of the museum that everyone has to walk by to get in. It looks like a nothing kind of pond with water lilies in it. We decided to do an underwater video. In a really klunky way, we put on waders, got an aquarium, put a video camera in the aquarium, submerged it part way and walked around. The images that were shot that way wound up looking beautiful.

We projected them as three big video projections inside the museum. It felt like you had entered inside the water. It was like uncovering the beauty of a place that's already there in the same way that we'd done with people. We were uncovering the inherent culture that exists within a place. Making that visible to people. Valuing what is already there, rather than bringing something new in and saying, "This is what art is," or "This is what culture is. This is what's important."

Instead, we were very subtly pointing to things and putting and highlighting various aspects of a community or place or person. Several projects I have done have been about one individual who is local to the place where the show is going to be. Redefining what a celebrity might be. Taking control of that system.

Often when you go to a community and say, "I'm going to do something about this place", people will say "You should do it about the mayor." "You should do it about this person who is famous and who came from here." And I'll say, "No. I want to do it about regular people. Those people are important too." There will be this reluctance at first, but then they will be excited.

It's a shift in how you understand what is important or what history is. What an important person in the community is. It's trying to flip a lot of those things on their heads and value everyday things. Using things like a museum context, or gallery context, or media, inherently adds that to it. Making a movie about somebody. People are used to movies being made about famous people. It's reversing that. It's always been pretty positive.

[Harrell Fletcher]
"An interview with Harrell Fletcher: Merging art, functionality and education" from In Motion Magazine

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Enlightened Ignorance

According to W. K. C. Guthrie's The Greek Philosophers, while sometimes erroneously believed to be a method by which one seeks the answer to a problem, or knowledge, the Socratic method was actually intended to demonstrate one's ignorance.

Socrates, unlike the Sophists, did believe that knowledge was possible, but believed that the first step to knowledge was recognition of one's ignorance. Guthrie writes, "[Socrates] was accustomed to say that he did not himself know anything, and that the only way in which he was wiser than other men was that he was conscious of his own ignorance, while they were not. The essence of the Socratic method is to convince the interlocutor that whereas he thought he knew something, in fact he does not."

Socrates generally applied his method of examination to concepts that seem to lack any concrete definition; e.g., the key moral concepts at the time, the virtues of piety, wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice. Such an examination challenged the implicit moral beliefs of the interlocutors, bringing out inadequacies and inconsistencies in their beliefs, and usually resulting in puzzlement known as aporia.

In view of such inadequacies, Socrates himself professed his ignorance, but others still claimed to have knowledge. Socrates believed that his awareness of his ignorance made him wiser than those who, though ignorant, still claimed knowledge. Although this belief seems paradoxical at first glance, it in fact allowed Socrates to discover his own errors where others might assume they were correct. This claim was known by the anecdote of the Delphic oracular pronouncement that Socrates was the wisest of all men. (Or, rather, that no man was wiser than Socrates.)

Socrates used this claim of wisdom as the basis of his moral exhortation. Accordingly, he claimed that the chief goodness consists in the caring of the soul concerned with moral truth and moral understanding, that "wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual and to the state", and that "life without examination [dialogue] is not worth living". It is with this in mind that the Socratic Method is employed.

Wikipedia
'Socratic method'


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The Incandescent Mind

[...] the mind of an artist, in order to achieve the prodigious effort of freeing whole and entire the work that is in him, must be incandescent, like Shakespeare's mind [...] There must be no obstacle in it, no foreign matter unconsumed.

All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world the witness of some hardship or grievance that was fired out of him and consumed. Therefore his poetry flows from him free and unimpeded.

Clearly her mind has by no means 'consumed all impediments and become incandescent'. On the contrary, it is harassed and distracted with hates and grievances.

One might say, I continued, laying the book down beside Pride and Prejudice, that the woman who wrote those pages had more genius in her than Jane Austen; but if one reads them over and marks that jerk in them, that indignation, one sees that she will never get her genius expressed whole and entire.

Her books will be deformed and twisted. She will write in a rage where she should write calmly. She will write foolishly where she should write wisely. She will write of herself where she should write of her characters. She is at war with her lot.

[Virginia Woolf]
A Room of One's Own, p.66, 68, 80-1