Contradiction, in its different modes and senses, seems to lie at the heart of Woolf's thinking about the world and the self. It may thus prove interesting to begin to adumbrate some of the modalities of the presence of contradiction in her thinking about being, history, art and even thinking itself in their various inter-articulations and ethico-political implications.
Paradoxically, or perhaps appropriately, contradiction itself is manifested in contradictory ways in Woolf's work. To begin with, it appears as both a symptom and a means of pointing to an injustice that needs to be critiqued and corrected. Such an instance paradigmatically occurs in the exploration of the relationship of women to fiction taken up in A Room of One's Own (1929), which, as has of ten been noted, is dialectically organized around the striking contradiction, permeating cultural history, between the omnipresence of woman as sign and her absence as producer of signs, her being the object of poetry but being denied the status of the subject of history. By famously condensing this set of contradictions in the fictitious image of Judith Shakespeare, Woolf seems to line up with the Marxian tradition of dialectical materialism which recognizes in identifying contradictions a political task, a revolutionary chance against a history of oppression. As Walter Benjamin puts it apropos the task and method of materialist historiography in his 1940 “Theses on the Philosophy of History”: “Thinking involves not only the flow of thoughts, but their arrest as well. Where thinking suddenly stops in a configuration pregnant with tensions, it gives that configuration a shock, by which it crystallizes into a monad. A historical materialist approaches a historical subject only where he encounters it as a monad. In this structure he recognizes… a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past” (254).
On the other hand, even though Woolf politically contests historical contradictions which point to and sustain various forms of oppression, she equally employs contradiction as a means of thinking about a subject, especially in her essays.