This essay demonstrates the centrality of impersonal intimacy to Virginia Woolf’s modernist poetics. In contrast to the major forms of intimacy—marriage, friendship, and family—the “minor” intimacies to which Woolf attends generate a sense of significant relation with a proximate other without the backing of intersubjectivity or of established social form. Focusing on The Voyage Out (1915), “An Unwritten Novel” (1917), and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” (1924), the essay highlights minor intimacy as an alternative to the given forms both of intimacy itself and of realistic fiction. Drawing on contemporary critiques of intimacy by Lauren Berlant and Leo Bersani, I argue that sociality in Woolf’s writing is an unhealing scar, a problem of subject-world relation that necessarily persists, but that in doing so, stimulates Woolf’s formal inventiveness. Registering impersonal affective transmission through innovative literary form, Woolf frees her narratives to propose alternative modes of relation.
Contagion of the World: Minor Intimacies in The Voyage Out
Aleksandr Prigozhin is assistant professor of English and literary arts at the University of Denver, specializing in British modernist fiction, media studies, and affect theory. He is at work on a monograph about the modernist uses of media as figures for a politics of common life.
Aleksandr Prigozhin; Contagion of the World: Minor Intimacies in The Voyage Out. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2020; 66 (3): 283–304. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-8646852
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