Today, the stream of consciousness has washed me ashore on; the “Stream-of-Consciousness”. Conceptually, that seems a little like photocopying a mirror but such are the byzantine workings of the mind of Harper’s Keeper.
Today is the birthday of English writer Dorothy Richardson (1873 – 1957). Happy Birthday D.R. I’ll admit I’d never heard of her before a few hours ago but my BFF du jour, The Writer’s Almanac advises that her first novel,Pointed Roofs (1915) was the first stream-of-consciousness novel written in English. It was later expanded to sequence of 13 novels collected under the title, Pilgrimage. I gather the qualifier, “written in English”, acknowledges Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, the first volume of which was published two years earlier. A tangent for another day; regarding the title of Proust’s work, my other BFF du Jour, Wikipedia, translates it as “In Search of Lost Time; earlier translated as Remembrance of Things Past” . The translation of the title has changed? Who knew?! But I digress.
I acknowledge Ms. Richardson because it is reported that she did not like the term ‘stream-of-consciousness’ preferring instead to describe this literary style as “interior monologue”. With all due respect, she was just wrong. And I’ll add, for someone who thought the conventions of punctuation were more guidelines than rules, that seems more-than-a-little fusty.
I love interior monologues, or ‘soliloquies’, in drama. The audience’s job is much easier when they are not required to figure out what the character is thinking. They tell you. It’s like an audible thought bubble; “To be or not to be…”. I have a hard time envisioning that as a novel, however; much less 13 novels. That is one humongous thought bubble.
The term ‘Stream of Consciousness’ comes from the world of psychology. It first appeared in an 1890 book called; The Principles of Psychology by William James. I’m not sure whether I’d heard of him before. From the photo I think he may also have invented the cough drop. Maybe not.
It’s hard to imagine a better metaphor than stream of consciousness. The flowing of a stream is a pretty accurate way of describing the experience of letting ones mind wander. You move from one topic to the next; constantly in motion, sometimes moving on faster than you’d like, other times taking far too leisurely a pace and spending more time than is necessary. (Who said’ “Like this post”?) You’re just following a course you cannot see; pushed in one direction and then another by whatever you encounter along the way. And like a stream, it is much easy to continue to float along than to go back upstream to revisit something once you’ve floated passed it.
Yes, Dorothy, I understand that it is, in fact, a metaphor. There isn’t really a stream. Aren’t metaphors one of the tools of the trade for a writer? “Stream of consciousness” has a lyrical sound. It conjures images of peaceful freedom and contemplation. “Interior monologue” sounds too clinical; as if the reader were going to pry open the writer’s skull and look inside. When you do that you see their brain, not their thoughts.
I mean…. I imagine. I think that’s what one would see…..if one were to do that. I’ve never actually done it myself, of course… I mean… personally. At least that’s my story and I am sticking to it. I mean…no one gave me a Miranda warning or anything.