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Explain what Virginia Woolf means in "How Should One Read a Book?" when she says: "There is always a demon in us who whispers 'I hate, I love,' and we cannot silence him."

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those [library] sanctuaries.

The excerpt you ask about is taken from the latter portion of the Virginia Woolf essay , "How Should One Read a Book?" With a faulty logical premise as its basis, that being that literary judgement (i.e., literary criticism) and literary taste are contradictory and mutually exclusive approaches to reading [see top quotation], this essay makes the case...

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dukeyandluna | Student

Woolf is speaking of the 'second part of reading'. If the first part is our openness to and reception of the work, encountering it abstractly, on its own terms. This part requires that we 'sympath[ize]' and 'identi[fy]' with the work. We must absorb entirely what we have read. The second part is critical judgment of the work. For this we must disassociate from the work, criticize it, compare it with other books. It is out duty as truthful readers to say 'this is bad; that is good' of the book. The first part of reading is love; the second part is hate. Woolf admits that we can never lose and identify entirely with the book; there is always a part of us that is critically distant from it. What is important however for Woolf, is that is it this commingling of hate and love that defines real intimacy: 'Indeed, it is precisely because we hate and we love that our relation with the poets and novelists is so intimate'. Intimacy is not reducible simply to love. Both parts of reading, love and hate, the sympathetic identification and the critical distance, define true intimacy for Woolf.