This 12 months marks 80 years for the reason that loss of life of the nice Irish author James Joyce (1882-1941). His most well-known novel, Ulysses (1922), is a type of books, like Moby Dick or Infinite Jest, that extra individuals start than end. The tome is broadly believed to be a stream of consciousness novel and you could possibly actually be forgiven for considering that if, like many, you solely made it 100 pages or so in.
I typically advise towards beginning initially of the novel. Within the case of Ulysses, you might be thrown headfirst into the tough stream of consciousness of Stephen Dedalus, a precocious 22-year-old author. The fourth chapter, as an alternative, is a way more accessible opening. It too presents a stream of consciousness however a better kind belonging to the novel’s different predominant character, Leopold Bloom, a hapless however loveable 38-year-old promoting canvasser. On the day the novel is about, 16 June 1904, Stephen and Bloom strike up an unlikely friendship in Dublin. To learn Bloom’s ideas is to be taken right into a stream of sensations, trivia, and marvel.
Nevertheless, enterprise additional and also you’ll uncover that Ulysses morphs, turning into as an alternative an incredible anti-stream of consciousness novel.
Bergson’s stream of consciousness
For French thinker Henri Bergson (1859-1941), our stream of consciousness is our steady sense of time, through which previous, current and future merge. It’s the fluid life on the coronary heart of our identification. In keeping with Bergson, these streams are on the centre of each object and each particular person.
Library of Congress/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA
Bergson believed we are able to both “analyse” or “intuit” issues or individuals. Once we “analyse” one thing, we stay exterior its stream. We superimpose on its fluid life our personal static symbols, like language. Utilizing phrases means “we don’t see the precise issues themselves” simply “the labels connected to them”.
One other instance is numbers. We impose minutes and hours on fluid life. For example, you’ll be able to “analyse” a day, breaking it into 24 hours. However to “intuit” it, to see it from inside the stream, is to see that point is just not so inflexible or simply quantifiable – it strikes slower once you’re bored or quicker once you’re having enjoyable.
In our workaday lives, “evaluation” is a obligatory shortcut. We’d like phrases and numbers, labels and time, to get issues carried out. Artists, in accordance with Bergson, nonetheless, have the present of instinct.
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For instance, authors’ imaginative use of language makes phrases a gateway to the streams on the coronary heart of life, relatively than distracting labels imposed upon it. Borrowing such concepts, literary critics posited that the stream of consciousness novelist is one who can “intuit” the stream of consciousness of characters and so grow to be them.
Joyce tries for a second, turns into his characters however quickly will get tired of Stephen and Bloom’s streams of consciousness. By the seventh chapter, he begins a protracted firework show of different types. Right here on, Stephen and Bloom’s streams of consciousness are elbowed out of the way in which by newspaper headlines, expressionist drama and even romantic fiction. Or they’re shushed by a scientific handbook or an encyclopedia of English prose types.
Joyce fails to search out the stream
So Ulysses is a a lot much less constant stream of consciousness novel than many. However it’s additionally an anti-stream of consciousness novel as Joyce comically demonstrates his and his characters’ failure to intuit streams.
Joyce enjoys exhibiting us that persons are mechanically absent-minded, actually because language itself is a mechanism which will get in the way in which of our efforts to intuit fluid actuality.
Nationwide Portrait Gallery, London, CC BY-NC
For instance, Stephen, although a artistic author, isn’t in any respect intuitive. All he can see is the labels connected to issues, albeit extremely literary labels. When he sees a canine on the seaside, his love of phrases conjures a horse, a hare, a calf, a bear, a wolf, a leopard, a panther and a stag. He can’t concentrate on the canine.
Bloom’s mechanical behaviour is much less literary (phrases) and extra scientific (numbers). True, he’s higher at intuiting his cat than Stephen is the canine: “Marvel what I seem like to her?” he muses, making an attempt to intuit himself into her stream of consciousness. However quickly his thoughts turns to numbers: “Peak of a tower? No, she will be able to leap me.” Right here he reverts to evaluation as he strains to make sense of their distinction in top utilizing his human scale, not the cat’s.
Simply as Joyce’s characters can’t intuit streams of consciousness, nor can he. He is aware of that static literary phrases can’t account for the fluidity of our interiors. Each time he reaches for a brand new model, in every new chapter, he acknowledges these failures and strikes on with glee to the subsequent.
A stream of consciousness does dominate the final chapter. Right here we tune into Bloom’s spouse Molly’s stream and listen to about her afternoon of intercourse with a colleague. Is that this the stream we now have been ready for? Sure and no.
Molly’s ideas do movement by means of previous, current and future, uninterrupted and unpunctuated. However the Molly we get to know, whereas charismatic, is one thing of a static image herself, the inventory character of the sexually pissed off spouse. As we replicate on 80 years since Joyce’s loss of life, Ulysses reminds us that consciousness will at all times elude the novel however, actually, that’s the place the enjoyable lies.
John Scholar acquired funding from the Arts & Humanities Analysis Council (AHRC).