James Wood On Secularism

James Wood has written a thoughtful article for the New Yorker magazine; it’s called “Is That All There Is?” Here’s a quote, which contains a quote from one of my favorite authors, Virginia Woolf:

I think of these anxieties as the Virginia Woolf Question, after a passage in that most metaphysical of novels “To the Lighthouse”, when the painter Lily Briscoe is at her easel, mourning her late friend Mrs. Ramsay. Next to her sits the poet, Augustus Carmichael, and suddenly Lily imagines that she and Mr. Carmichael might stand up and demand “an explanation” of life:

For one moment she felt that if they both got up, here, now on the lawn, and demanded an explanation, why was it so short, why was it so inexplicable, said it with violence, as two fully equipped human beings from whom nothing should be hid might speak, then, beauty would roll itself up; the space would fill; those empty flourishes would form into shape; if they shouted loud enough Mrs. Ramsay would return. “Mrs. Ramsay!” she said aloud, “Mrs. Ramsay!” The tears ran down her face.

Why is life so short, why so inexplicable? These are the questions Lily wants answered. More precisely, these are the questions she needs to ask, ironically aware that an answer cannot be had if there is no one to demand it from.

Read the rest of the essay here:

Is That All There Is?

Woods’ article is a classic example of a book review used as a springboard for further musings.



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