Stream of consciousness

26 12 2012

Stream of consciousness is a narrative device used in literature “to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind. Another phrase for it is ‘interior monologue’. ” The term “Stream of Consciousness” was coined by philosopher and psychologist William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890):

  • consciousness, then, does not appear to itself as chopped up in bits … it is nothing joined; it flows. A ‘river’ or a ‘stream’ are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. in talking of it hereafter, lets call it the stream of thought, consciousness, or subjective life.[2]

In literary criticismstream of consciousness is a narrative mode that seeks to portray an individual’s point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character’s thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue (see below), or in connection to his or her actions. Stream-of-consciousness writing is usually regarded as a special form of interior monologue and is characterized by associative leaps in thought and lack of punctuation. Stream of consciousness and interior monologue are distinguished from dramatic monologue and soliloquy, where the speaker is addressing an audience or a third person, which are chiefly used in poetry or drama. In stream of consciousness the speaker’s thought processes are more often depicted as overheard in the mind (or addressed to oneself); it is primarily a fictional device.

In the following example of stream of consciousness from James Joyce’s Ulysses, Molly seeks sleep:

  • a quarter after what an unearthly hour I suppose theyre just getting up in China now combing out their pigtails for the day well soon have the nuns ringing the angelus theyve nobody coming in to spoil their sleep except an odd priest or two for his night office or the alarmlock next door at cockshout clattering the brain out of itself let me see if I can doze off 1 2 3 4 5 what kind of flowers are those they invented like the stars the wallpaper in Lombard street was much nicer the apron he gave me was like that something only I only wore it twice better lower this lamp and try again so that I can get up early (1922, rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986, p. 642).

20th centuryStream of Consciousness While many sources uses the terms stream of consciousness and interior monologue as synonyms, the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms suggests, that “they can also be distinguished psychologically and literarily. In a psychological sense, stream of consciousness is the subject‐matter, while interior monologue is the technique for presenting it”. And for literature … “while an interior monologue always presents a character’s thoughts ‘directly’, without the apparent intervention of a summarizing and selecting narrator, it does not necessarily mingle them with impressions and perceptions, nor does it necessarily violate the norms of grammar, or logic- but the stream‐of‐consciousness technique also does one or both of these things.” Similarly the Encyclopædia Britannica Online, while agreeing that these terms are “often used interchangeably,” suggests, that “while an interior monologue may mirror all the half thoughts, impressions, and associations that impinge upon the character’s consciousness, it may also be restricted to an organized presentation of that character’s rational thoughts”.

While the use of the narrative technique of stream of consciousness is usually associated with modernist novelists in the first part of the twentieth-century, a number of precursors have been suggested, including Laurence Sterne‘s eighteenth-century psychological novel Tristam Shandy, while in the nineteenth-century it has been suggested that Edgar Allan Poe‘s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” foreshadows this literary technique. Because of his renunciation of chronology in favor of free association, Édouard Dujardin‘s Les Lauriers Sont Coupés (1887) is also an important precursor to the stream of consciousness narratives of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and Joyce is believed to have known this work.  There are also those who point to Anton Chekov‘s short stories and plays and Knut Hamsun‘s Hunger (1890), and Mysteries (1892) as offering glimpses of the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative technique at the end of the nineteenth-century.[10] Henry James has also been suggested as a significant precursor, in a work as early as Portrait of a Lady (1881). But it is only in the twentieth-century that this technique is fully developed by modernists. Marcel Proust is an important early example of a writer using the stream of consciousness technique in his novel sequence À la recherche du temps perdu (1913–1927) (In Search of Lost Time), while Dorothy Richardson is the first to use it in English, in Pointed Roofs (1915), the first novel in her novel sequence Pilgrimage (1915–35). In a review of Pointed Roofs, in The Egoist, April 1918, May Sinclair first applied the term “stream of consciousness” in her discussion of Richardson’s stylistic innovations. The other modernist novelists that are associated with the use of this narrative technique are James Joyce in Ulysses (1922), Virginia Woolf in Mrs Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse(1927) and William Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury (1928). However, it has been suggested that Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931), in his short story ‘”Leutnant Gustl” (“None but the Brave”,1900), was in fact the first to make full use of the stream of consciousness technique. Another early example is the use of interior monologue by T. S. Eliot in his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915), a work probably influenced by the narrative poetry of Robert Browning, including “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister”. Another possible example from the 1920s is Italo Svevo‘s La coscienza di Zeno (1923).[citation needed]

Argentinian author Julio Cortázar‘s Rayuela (1963) brought this narrative technique to new audiences.[citation needed]. The also Argentinian Manuel Puig used this technique in The Betrayal of Rita Hayworth (1968), Heartbreak Tango (1969) and Kiss of the Spiderwoman (1976).The latter novel’s form is unusual in that there is no traditional narrative voice, one of the primary features of fiction. It is written in large part as dialogue, without any indication of who is speaking, except for a dash (-) to show a change of speaker. There are also parts of stream of consciousness. What is not written as dialogue or stream of consciousness is written as metafictional government documentation.

The technique continued to be used into the 1970s. Thomas Pynchon‘s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) and the Robert Anton Wilson/Robert Shea collaborative work Illuminatus! (1975) are popular works that make use of this narrative deviceGravity’s Rainbow is narrated by many distinct voices and the style and tone of the voices vary widely: Some narrate the plot in a highly informal tone, some are more self-referential, and some might even break the fourth wall. Some voices narrate in drastically different formats, ranging from movie-script format to stream of consciousness prose.[citation needed] With regard to Illuminatus!The Fortean Times warns readers, to “[b]e prepared for streams of consciousness in which not only identity but time and space no longer confine the narrative”.[15] Most of Bret Easton Ellis works, but particularly Less Than Zero (1985) and Glamorama (1998), also use of stream of consciousness. Less Than Zero is titled after the Elvis Costello song of the same name, and follows the life of Clay, a rich young college student who has returned to his hometown of Los Angeles, California for winter break during the early 1980s. Through stream of consciousness,first person narration, Clay describes his progressive alienation from the youth party scene, loss of faith in his friends, and his meditations on important events in his recent past.[citation needed] Sylvia Plath with The Bell Jar (1963), Salman Rushdie in Midnight’s Children (1981),[citation needed] as well as Irvine Welsh in Trainspotting (1993) use this narrative technique. Michael Cunningham, a contemporary American writer, used stream of consciousness in his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Hours. The book was deeply influenced by Virginia Woolf‘s Mrs Dalloway, and mentions three women, including Virginia Woolf, and their association with the novel Mrs Dalloway. Cunningham’s novel also mirrors Mrs. Dalloway ‘s stream-of-consciousness narrative style in which the flowing thoughts and perceptions of protagonists are depicted as they would occur in real life, unfiltered, flitting from one thing to another, and often rather unpredictable. In terms of time, this means characters interact not only with the moment in the time in which they are living, but also shoot back to the past in their memories, and in so doing create a depth of history and back story that weighs upon their present moments, which otherwise might appear quite trivial. Toni Morrison used the stream-of-consciousness style of writing in several of her novels depicting the life of African-American women, such as Beloved. Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, becoming the first black to do so. Another figure within African-American literature to use the technique is Terry McMillan, in her novel How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Stream of consciousness continues to appear in contemporary literature, expanding on the innovations of predecessors. Dave Eggers‘s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000),and Roberto Bolaño‘s By Night in Chile, (2000) are among the last examples of the old century. The first decade brought further exploration, including Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Everything is Illuminated(2002) and Will Christopher Baer‘s Phineas Poe trilogy (2005).[citation needed] Mark Z. Danielewski‘s Only Revolutions (2006), Dimitris Lyacos‘s “Z213: Exit” (2009) and Iimani David’s “Anathema Rhodes” (2009) are late-decade entries also worthy of mention.

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