There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self – Aldous Huxley
Monday, December 24, 2012
WRITING AS "STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS"
Here I'm going to share with you a fascinating narrative style of two great novelists of 20th century whose novels I happened to read when I was a university student. This literary technique is called “Stream of Consciousness.” Virginia Woolf and James Joyce were the pioneers and both applied it to great advantage in their novels. These two novelists were actually a part of the syllabus of ‘Modern Fiction’, one of the papers for Masters in English literature which I was pursuing at that time.
In this narrative style the story is told through a type of interior monologue, which takes place in the characters’ minds, minus unity of time and place. The writer bares the internal soliloquy of the characters through disjointed, incoherent pieces of information which the reader has to put together by joining the incidents and events into a logical whole in one’s head. To be honest that bland diet was tough for a young girl of twenty. Those were the days with entirely untamed perceptions and impatience of the callow and restless, but there was no way out. The upside was that even the heavy content didn’t block the realization that you ‘ere grounded in a world similar to your own.
Much later when my perusal was purely for reading pleasure, the books proved to be a window to the existential complexities of our pilgrimage on earth. Like a real rainbow which appears on some rare day after rains, real life rainbows most often than not are rare too. But gnawing hot spots in life keep us subdued and these colors don't get noticed. This reflection is brought out most vividly in the books I’m referring to.
Now let me introduce the books. On my very first reading ofVirginia Woolf’s “Mrs.Dalloway” (pub.1925), as expected, I was led to a lonely road where I had to grope my way out. Later on, I became more familiar with it, and could read half way James Joyce’s "The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (pub.1916). At that time I found Mrs. Dalloway interesting and Joyce’s portrait somewhat cerebral. I attempted to read it through later, as its novel approach to story telling could not be ignored. However “Mrs. Dalloway”, I always enjoyed and experienced new insights unfolded in every fresh reading. Though I must confess that on the first reading of this experimental approach to fiction writing, one has to forage for narrative links to make sense of the intricacies of the plot structure. It challenges your intellect and you love this poking. A writer has to plunge into unknown territories to keep the grey cells motivated.
Undoubtedly the technique does give the writer enough scope for a in depth characterization. Joyce in his “The Portrait…” weaves the complicated journey of Stephan’s ( the hero) life from a submissive childhood to mature adulthood, through threading his thought processes, his sensory impressions, and his remembrances. His upbringing vis-à-vis his parents and his relatives; his homesickness, his sensitivities and his school life are revealed via his internal musings as a boarder.
“Mrs. Dalloway” is an account of a single day in the life of Clarissa the wife of a suave, high ranking government official Richard Dalloway; as she goes to buy flowers for the evening party which she is hosting that night. When she moves around London shopping centers, her mind rushes back and forth in time, dwelling on her young days at Burton, her present position, her doubts, her finer points, her desires, her regrets, her one time suitor Peter Walsh and why she did not marry him and chose Richard Dalloway instead. Her uncensored mental journey reveals brilliant sparks of complex human emotions. The reader relates to her turmoil as she takes you along, while traversing the secret furrows of her mind. You never lose sympathy for her and admire her childlike misgivings. You love her because her concerns are our concerns and like us she is not perfect. Her psychological musings during her walk open up the corridors to what she thinks her life is all about, as she indulges in harsh self analysis.
Only a great writer can create a master piece through a style which is born out of randomness. To keep under control various strings of story line, while sustaining the curiosity of the reader is a feat of writing artistry.
This unique method of story telling gives an edge to the writer in as much as it gifts a license to do away with most of punctuation necessities. It certainly lubricates and exercises the gray cells.
Dear friends, just imagine if one of us (provided we can communicate) manage to figure out our mental gallop of a few hours in readable prose! It can be an amusing frame if painted diligently.Or someone with a penchant for story telling can knit a psychological thriller using this approach.
For example while chopping vegetables I was in fact thinking of Chetan Bhagat’s novel “Revolution 2020” and praising the dramatic turn he gives to the story through a sudden transformation of the protagonist at the end. Interspersed with this, thoughts of going to the bank; visit to the tailor and how to write this piece which I had been postponing and scores of jumbled thoughts intruded simultaneously.
The originality of this style of narration however keeps our curiosity intact as the reader is all the time on his mental toes to comprehend the enigmatic hums and haws, subtle pauses and shifts of the internal commentary of the characters.