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Ekaterina V. Svetova
DOB: 02/08/69
SS# 132-82-5124
Dept: GSAS, Draper Interdisciplinary Program
Page 1 of 12
Sampling Reality
An Exersise in Using Applied Informatics for Establishing Time Patterns
in ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ by Virginia Woolf
Overview
It is a popular sentiment that we live in the Digital Age. With digital technologies
increasingly permeating many aspects of human life, there is also a growing temptation to use
the language of applied informatics when discussing more traditional forms of human cultural
production, such as arts and literature. The cybernetics guru, Stafford Beer, eloquently defined
information as “that which changes us” (SB p. 283). It could be argued that the objective of an
artistic work of any significance is to fascilitate some sort of change in the viewer or the reader,
or, in the terms of information theory, communicate information.
While understanding that attempting to reduce literature to data transfer would be
simplistic, and may even seem sacrelegious, I would like to explore the possibility of
approaching literary analysis with some tools of applied informatics, specifically, one of the
fundamental formulas in the field of information theory - the Nyquist–Shannon sampling
theorem.
Ekaterina V. Svetova
DOB: 02/08/69
SS# 132-82-5124
Dept: GSAS, Draper Interdisciplinary Program
The Need for Conversion
Page 2 of 12
The idea of continuity of the universe has played a crucial role in scientific thinking
through the centuries, inspiring philosophers, from Aristotle to Bergson, and physisits, from
Newton to Einstein. Even the theory that introduced non-continuous thinking to physics quantum mechanics – in its latest incarnations employs a form of the continuity concept (XXX).
Human mind glimpses this flow of reality and reflects accordingly in an intuitively continuous
fashion. While we may percieve reality as a flow, we remain limited by the nature of our
language which, being a system of signs, is bound to be discrete (SAUSSURE). Even our silent
thoughts, when they reach certain degree of sophistication, take verbal shape. It could be said
that as human beings we are engaged in a constant process of translating the infinite existence
into the units that the human language is made of, in a way not dissimilar to an electronic device
that converts continuous signals to discrete digital numbers.
It appears that a loss of data is inevitable – the language is a limited form of expression,
and the poet is right when he declares,“A spoken word is a lie.” (Feodor Tutchev"Silentium"). It
is not obvious that an exact reconstruction of an analog signal is possible at all, since a complete
continuous signal is replaced by a fiinite number of samples. However, the process of adequate
reproduction is proven to exist in tele and radio communication, and it is dependent on adequate
sampling.
Sampling is a process used to convert a signal from continuous time to discrete time.
Measurements of the signal, or samples, are taken at certain intervals, or frequency. The signal’s
value is quantized, as well as the amplitude, however for the purposes of this paper I will group
value and amplitude as one category, refering to it as simply value.
Ekaterina V. Svetova
Page 3 of 12
DOB: 02/08/69
SS# 132-82-5124
Dept: GSAS, Draper Interdisciplinary Program
Also known as the Whittaker–Nyquist–Kotelnikov–Shannon sampling theorem, or the
sampling theorem, it states in essense that the sampling frequency must be greater than twice the
highest frequency of the input signal (so-called Nyquist rate) in order to reconstruct the original
perfectly from the sampled version.
Continuity as Reflected in a ‘Stream-of-Consciousness’ Novel
The question of time and human perception of time is probably the best illustration for
this complex continuity. It found a manifestaion in the literary form known as ‘stream-ofconsciousness’ novel.
Coining the term 'Stream of consciousness' is attribured to William James (Principles of
Psychology); the expression he used to describe the flow of conscious experience in the brain.
Bergsonian novel, as an effort to reflect internal reality.
Bergson introduces the hypothesis that all we sense is images. Perception subtracts from
the image, as it dresses it words. Representation is dimunition of the image brought upon by the
necessities of human body, registereing only what is to be utilised and supressing the rest, the
“necessary poverty “ of conscious perception. (Matter and Memory, p.38) Bergson: “because we
fail to reconstruct the living reality with stiff and ready-made concepts, it does not follow that we
cannot grasp it in some other way. (HB p.68 ). This attempt to grasp and describe the flowing
reality is the essense of the “stream of consciousness” novel, of which Virginia Woolfe is a noted
representative.
Ekaterina V. Svetova
Page 4 of 12
DOB: 02/08/69
SS# 132-82-5124
Dept: GSAS, Draper Interdisciplinary Program
Woolf draws a clear distinction in the novel between psychological time and clock time
(XXX wintworth 146)
There have been comments by people living in London that it would be physically
imposible to hear the stiking of the Big Ben clock in this or that particular locale where Woolf’s
characters hear it, however she insits on introducing this punctuation in the text at spesific
intervals.
The single day is marked by Big Ben’s chiming, which establishes a structure within
otherwise amorphous flow ocuring inside the minds of several characters. Reaching out with
their thoughts far into the past (Peter, Clarissa) and into tshe future (elizabeth on her profession)
External time is often commented on as opresive, however I believe that without this
structure proper sampling would have been imposible, the reader would have been drowned in
the flow of the character’s internal motions. An example of this overwhelming span is
encountered as early as first pages:
“Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows
why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one,
tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most
dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t
be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love
life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar;
the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging;
brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high
singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment
Ekaterina V. Svetova
DOB: 02/08/69
SS# 132-82-5124
Dept: GSAS, Draper Interdisciplinary Program
of June.” (p.4)
Page 5 of 12
A single “moment in June” is filled with such abundance of movement (“swing,
tramp, and trudge”), sound (“in the bellow and the uproar”), objects (“carriages, motor cars,
omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging”) and complex concepts (love of life),
that a whole story of any length consisting of only such “moments” would be increasingly
difficult to communicate. So, while establishing from the early pages that she percieves the
reality as continuous and simultaneous happening, Woolf also introduces a beacon in the river of
the narrative – the mark of time, which serves not to meausre the external time as much as to
mark intervals for the internal experiential time of the characters.
The strikes of clock are such beacon. This prominent image is not easily missed by the
reader, neither is it ignored by the characters, who seem to be struck out of their reveries by the
sound. I would like to explore a possibility of establishing a pattern.
Altogether, there are 7 distinct moment in the text of the novel, where clock striking is
explicitly brought up. In most cases the clock mentioned in the Big Ben tower clock, followed
by the recurring sound-image of “the leaden circles” dissolving in the air every time the bells
chime. Later in the novel it is other nameless clocks (“The clock was striking—one, two,
three…” (p.64)), for example the chiming clock Rezia hears in Dr. Bradshaw’s office at the
moment of Septimus’ death.
If the moments of clock striking are designated as the points marking the intervals, then
the amplitude, or value of the signal sampled at each mark, would correspond to the intensity of
the events in the narrative. Understandibly, the intensity of the moment in text is a subjective
value, as it is interpreted by each reader according to his own understanding, but for the purposes
of this exersise my personal interpretation will be the benchmark. My reading begins with an
Ekaterina V. Svetova
Page 6 of 12
DOB: 02/08/69
SS# 132-82-5124
Dept: GSAS, Draper Interdisciplinary Program
assumption that the main subject of the novel is becoming, understood in the spiritual sense as a
quest for self-awarennes. Such awarennes is achieved through being one with the creation
through intimate awarenness of others, or quite simply, love. If read this way, all the inner
motions and external behaviours of characters can be measured by the degree of approximation
or distancing from this state of ultimate wakefullness. If the sampling theorem is applicable,
then the intervals between mentions of clocks (or sampling rate), will be in correlation to the
intensity of the events described (or the sampling value).
The first mention of the clock is on p. 1. The event’s intensity is low, the action, both
external and internal is minimal as Clarissa Dalloway begins her morinig errand; not without a
degree of enjoyment she anticipates the sktriking of the Big Ben clock: “There! Out it boomed.
First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air.”
There is nothing sinister about the irrevocability of the passing time, at the first glance the
character appears at peace with herself and the outside world. Absorbed in her materialistic
concerns, Clarissa dalloway mintains a harmony, however this harmony seems somewhat
shallow.
The second mention of the clock comes only on p. 20. During the previous 20 pages the
pace of the action is quiet, the narrative mostly rotates around Mrs. Dalloway’s past as she
reminisces on her youth. We are early in the narrative, and the character is still far from her
future epiphany, however, the reader begins to see the subtle instability of the character’s inner
world, the insecurities and frustrations that create a degree of tension in her relation with the
world outside. The action picks up around p. 16 when one of the important figures of her past
reappears in her present – after years of separation Peter Walsh pays Clarissa Dalloway a visit,
and they have an emotional reunion, which culminates with him asking Clarissa whether she is
Ekaterina V. Svetova
Page 7 of 12
DOB: 02/08/69
SS# 132-82-5124
Dept: GSAS, Draper Interdisciplinary Program
happy, forcing her, and the reader, to face the issue of harmony or lack of thereof. The intensity
peaks when the important conversation is interrupted by entrance of Mrs. Dalloway’s daughter,
Elizabeth, and it is then when the clock strikes.
The third mark is set on p. 39. The intervals between the marks are growing shorter,
while the intensity of the narrative is rising. Most of the pages are occupied by Peter’s narrative,
as he wanders around the city, absorbed in his thoughts and moods. His inner world is far from
harmonious, and the reader’s tension is growing. Around half-page 27 the focus switches to
Septimus Warren Smith, first viewed through the eyes of his wife Lucrezia. As the narrarion
reveals the confised mind of the shell-shocked veteran who is desperately trying to make sense
of the world, to understand, yet clarity eludes him – instead, he sinks deeper into delusion. The
intensity level climbs, culminating with Septimus’ hallucinations and hysterical outburst, and
that is when the Big Ben strickes twelve o’clock.
The fourth mention marks peak of Richard Dalloway narrative on p. 49. The interval is
shorter yet, and the state of intensity reflects in concentration of proufound emotions that
Richard is capable of experiencing but is unable to express, “..it is a thousand pities never to say
what one feels.”(p.49) In a way, well-adjusted Richard is not that different from insane Septimus
as both men fail to relate to the reality a meaningful way: Septimus cannot connect to the world
outside, and Richard – to his own emotions. Juxtoposition of Richard’s awarenness of the
possibility of love and his inability to manifest it, takes the narrative to yet another level of
intensity.
The fifth marks, in my opinion, the absolute culmination fo the novel: on p. 54 Clarissa
approaching her epiphany triggered by the sight of the old woman neighbor, the image that will
re-appear in the end of the novel enriched with new meaning. Ultimate intimacy with the world
Ekaterina V. Svetova
Page 8 of 12
DOB: 02/08/69
SS# 132-82-5124
Dept: GSAS, Draper Interdisciplinary Program
through another person becomes a metaphor for the self-acceptance and therefore onness with
the creation.
“Big Ben struck the half-hour.
How extraordinary it was, strange, yes, touching, to see the old lady (they had
been neighbours ever so many years) move away from the window, as if she were
attached to that sound, that string. Gigantic as it was, it had something to do with
her. Down, down, into the midst of ordinary things the finger fell making the
moment solemn. She was forced, so Clarissa imagined, by that sound, to move, to
go—but where? Clarissa tried to follow her as she turned and disappeared, and
could still just see her white cap moving at the back of the bedroom. She was still
there moving about at the other end of the room. Why creeds and prayers and
mackintoshes? when, thought Clarissa, that’s the miracle, that’s the mystery; that
old lady, she meant, whom she could see going from chest of drawers to dressingtable. She could still see her. And the supreme mystery which Kilman might say
she had solved, or Peter might say he had solved, but Clarissa didn’t believe either
of them had the ghost of an idea of solving, was simply this: here was one room;
there another. Did religion solve that, or love?”
Clarissa questions whether self-reighteous religeous piety ( as in case of Ms. Kilman), or
passionate erotic pursuits (as in case of Peter), both of which are associated with the concept of
love, can propell a person towards true happiness. What is the ‘supreme mystery’ that is the
pinnacle of the whole novel’s narrative? Like all great mysteries, it is left untold. Clarissa is
Ekaterina V. Svetova
Page 9 of 12
DOB: 02/08/69
SS# 132-82-5124
Dept: GSAS, Draper Interdisciplinary Program
reaching out to touch the truth, but still comes short of grasping it. The great puzzle of life is
almost resolved – all it’s missing is the last piece, and this last piece will be a death.
The suicide of Septimus that follows in the next pages, although could be considered the
apex of the novel, for me loses in intensity compaing to this moment of Clarissa’s meditaion on
the ‘supreme mystery’. His death serves as a tool to help Clarissa manifest.
Next, sixth mark in on p. 64, the choice of clock, rather than Big Ben, dennotes the lesser
significance of the moment.
As the intensity quiets, the intervals increase, so the next and last 7th mention of the clock
comes up at p.79.
To me the phrase “For there she was” indicates a moment of authenticity in Heideggerian
sense: there was Clarissa, reflected in the loving eyes of Peter Walsh, as present as a human
being can possibly be.
Conclusion
Anyone who appreciates the complexity of reality would be inclined to agree with
Bergson: “the demostration with have been given of the reality of our knowledge are therefore
tainted with an original vice; they imply, like the dogmatist they attack, that all the knowledge
must necessary start from concepts with fixed outlines, in order to clasp with them the reality
with flows.” (p.68-69)
Scientific method, however, offers that a representation holds true if it can be tested
against a fixed concept and not break. In my opinion, this appears to be the case of Woolf’s
Ekaterina V. Svetova
Page 10 of 12
DOB: 02/08/69
SS# 132-82-5124
Dept: GSAS, Draper Interdisciplinary Program
“Mrs. Dalloway”, with the sampling theorem serving as the fixed outline for the flowing
narrative.
Virginia Woolf’s diaries indicate that “The Hours” was a tenative title for the novel in
progress (XXX). Curiously, the author opted for a title that reflects the continuous (“Mrs.
Dalloway”, as in “the whole of her”, the fullness of the character’s being), rather than the
discrete (“The Hours”, as in small units of measurement, incriments, parts). This choice of title
may be another indication of the writer’s attempt to express the unexpressable, the great flux of
existence that defies human interpretation. Employment of the ‘stream-of-consciousness’
technique may have permited greater approximation to the actual internal experience of time,
yet as with any conversion from analog to descrete, some sampling rate had to be established. I
believe that the writer intuitevely applied the same principle to her sampling as described
mathematically in the sampling theorem, and that application of this formula allowed to perfectly
translate the reality into words, which makes “Mrs. Dalloway” a recognized masterpiece.
However, the
Bibliography
Bergson, Henri. Introduction to Metaphysics. Trans. T. E. Hulme. New York: G. P. Putnam’s
Sons, 1925
Bergson, Henri. Matter and Memory. XXX
Beer Stafford. The Hearts of Enterprise, 2nd ed., John Wiley and Sons, 1979
Ekaterina V. Svetova
DOB: 02/08/69
SS# 132-82-5124
Dept: GSAS, Draper Interdisciplinary Program
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. HBJ/Harvest, 2005
Tutchev, Feodor XXXX
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