In the twenty-first-century world of Woolf studies, we often meet each other in the more anonymous space of the cyber city before we meet in person. As scholars and common readers alike, we may meet serendipitously through a Web page, an e-mail, a Twitter tweet, or a Facebook group. We may also connect more purposefully via “Woolf spaces”—the Woolf Listserv, the Web page for the International Virginia Woolf Society, a Woolf Facebook group, or a blog. However we manage to connect with each other about Woolf in the online world, we do connect. And we make those connections relatively easily, especially when one considers that we may be doing so from opposite ends of the globe. The question for us today, I think, is how we use our ability to connect in the cyber city for creating a virtual public square. In this virtual meeting space, scholars and common readers alike can discover and share important resources, engage in dialogue about Woolf, and articulate our personal and intellectual responses to the author and her work. As with many things in life, Woolf herself offers guidance on this topic.
Woolf leads us to think of this virtual public square and the conversations it prompts as being shaped by location. In “On Not Knowing Greek” (1925), Woolf makes the case that the location of a writer's audience influences the form the discourse takes. The Greek writer, she tells us, communicated with his audience in an open air forum. This meant that he was forced to create something immediate, “something emphatic, familiar, brief, that would carry instantly and directly, to an audience of seventeen thousand people perhaps” (3). Unlike the English author's audience who was cozily ensconced indoors and centered on the sitting room hearth—where it could focus on details and individual sentences apart from their context—the Greek audience had to look at the big picture. It considered the work of art as a whole, focusing on its universal dramatic characters and themes, rather than memorable lines and phrases, according to Woolf (10).
As she explains it, the physical location in which the written word is consumed and contemplated affects the work itself and the audience's response to it. The open air setting in which Greek wisdom was shared lent drama and brevity to the work.