Can you tell us more about your transition as the editor for WSA?
With the blessings of the Woolf Studies Annual editorial board, Dr. Hussey reached out to me in January 2021 to see if I would be interested in stepping in as the next editor of the journal. He would see volume 27 through production while I took over responsibilities for volume 28, which Pace UP will release early in 2022. To be honest, I was overwhelmed by Dr. Hussey’s email. WSA is an incredibly rich, living archive of scholarship; it’s an enormous responsibility and humbling legacy. After my initial shock, though, and after discussing the role with both Drs. Hussey and Soares, I was excited to accept the position.
What goals do you have for the future of WSA? What specific topics would you love to cover?
I have a few infrastructural goals for the journal, among them a full and robust index of all WSA volumes (covering names, titles, and topics/themes). I’ve already put out a call to Woolf scholars with the hope of building WSA Index Team and have already had several positive responses.
Regarding topics, the journal is approaching several Woolfian centennials, including the publication of Jacob’s Room (1922), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando: A Biography (1928), and A Room of One’s Own (1929). My hope is that the volumes corresponding to these upcoming centennials will include rich clusters dedicated to new scholarship on these texts. Additionally, I would love Woolf Studies Annual to feature research that employs anti-colonialist and anti-racist methodologies; that puts Woolf in dialogue with the literary past or with our own present in novel ways; that questions the public role or responsibility of literary knowledge; and that reviews and reassesses the value(s) of Woolf studies.
What was the first piece of work by Woolf that drew you into academia?
The first book I read by Woolf is To the Lighthouse. I read it on my own when I first became interested in modernist literature (around age 19). I read it again at university when taking a Modern English Literature class. At the time, I felt more drawn to James Joyce’s writing, but when I began my doctoral studies I was lucky enough to meet Stephen Barber (University of Rhode Island) and to take a seminar with him on Woolf’s life and work. It was in reading her unfinished memoir, “A Sketch of the Past,” that something changed. It may sound odd, but I felt as if I had something important—truly vital—to learn through the study of this writer. That was 2008; I’ve been rereading Woolf ever since.
Your research about Virginia Woolf has been centered around a body of work known as “Sensuous Pedagogy.” Can you elaborate more about this and your book?
My book, The Sensuous Pedagogies of Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence, came out last year through Clemson University Press (and is reviewed in volume 27 of Woolf Studies Annual!). The term “sensuous pedagogies” is my own invention, and it comes from a study not only of Woolf and Lawrence but of the respective works of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Gilles Deleuze. I won’t belabor you with a full genealogy of the term’s origin (you can read the introduction for free online!), but what I can say is that I intend “sensuous pedagogies” to convey something quite simple: practices and theories of teaching and learning that center concerns with emotion, sensation, and intensity. Regarding Woolf, this framework leads to an investigation of the importance of solitude as a space where important learning and teaching happens (often by accident). My chapters on Woolf concern how she makes sense of the shape and texture of a developing life (namely, her own); how she conceptualizes the acquisition of literary taste (which books we come to like and why); and how she dramatizes the lessons girls and women learn in order to survive in (and combat) a patriarchal world.
Lastly, is there a quote by Woolf that you particularly admire?
There are too many passages to choose from, and most of them require some discussion to convey why they matter to me. But in a recent read thru of Woolf’s short fiction collection, Monday or Tuesday (1921), I was really taken (many of us were!) with this passage from “The Mark on the Wall”: “And what is knowledge? What are our learned men save the descendants of witches and hermits who crouched in caves and in woods brewing herbs, interrogating shrew-mice and writing down the language of the stars?” Remarkable.
Congratulations Ben: WSA is in such good hands and I look forward to the coming years’ volumes!