Stream of Consciousness – WIF Rambling

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Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness is a narrative device that attempts to give 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 some or all 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 afictional device.

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, let’s call it the stream of thought, consciousness, or subjective life.

Cover of James Joyce‘s Ulysses(first edition, 1922), considered a prime example of stream of consciousness writing styles.

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 the alarmlock next door at cockshout clattering the brains 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

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, includingLaurence Sterne‘s psychological novel Tristram Shandy (1757). In the nineteenth-century it has been suggested that Edgar Allan Poe‘s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843) 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. Indeed, the possibility of a direct influence is evoqued by James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and having “picked up a copy of Dujardin’s novel [ … ] in Paris in 1903″There are also those who point to Anton Chekhov‘s short stories and plays (1881-1904) andKnut 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. Henry James has also been suggested as a significant precursor, in a work as early as Portrait of a Lady (1881).

Stream of Consciousness

Henry James “Portrait of a Lady”

– WIF Rambling

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