Virginia Woolf on Self-Knowledge and the Blind Spots of Sympathy – The Marginalian

Challenging the dangerous allure of being perfectly understood and held in perfect sympathy — by others, or by ourselves — she writes:

That illusion of a world so shaped that it echoes every groan, of human beings so tied together by common needs and fears that a twitch at one wrist jerks another, where however strange your experience other people have had it too, where however far you travel in your own mind someone has been there before you — is all an illusion.

In a sentiment the poet May Sarton — who was half in love with Woolf — would echo in her abiding insistence on solitude as the seedbed of self-discovery, Woolf adds:

We do not know our own souls, let alone the souls of others. Human beings do not go hand in hand the whole stretch of the way. There is a virgin forest in each; a snowfield where even the print of birds’ feet is unknown. Here we go alone, and like it better so. Always to have sympathy, always to be accompanied, always to be understood would be intolerable

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