Set free the enormous eye

The past two days, I tore through Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, a collection of essays which includes her now-famous piece of the same name, the contents of which I’ll reflect on later this week.

In an accompanying essay titled Woolf’s Darkness, a piece about Virginia Woolf, Solnit discusses Woolf’s propensity for writing about escaping the home as an act of freedom, especially for women of her time. One passage in particular spoke strongly to me—and likely would to many of us—of the sense of clear, clairvoyant observation we find outside, walking around. It speaks to the voice in our head we wish we could capture.

Introspection is often portrayed as an indoor, solitary thing, the monk in his cell, the writer at her desk. Woolf disagrees, saying of the home “For there we sit surrounded by objects which enforce the memories of our own experience.” She describes the objects and then states, “But when the door shuts on us, all that vanishes. The shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves, to make for themselves a shape distinct from others, is broken, and there is left of all these wrinkles and roughnesses a central pearl of perceptiveness, an enormous eye. How beautiful a street is in winter!”

You can read an adapted version of Woolf’s Darkness in the New Yorker.