Stream of consciousness: what does it mean to you?
Posted by Paul Samael on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 Under: Random thoughts
Fear not: this blog entry is not intended to be a free-flowing word association experiment chronicling all thoughts and feelings passing through my head right now. That may come as a relief to you, although possibly not to my employers, for whom I should really be doing some work (the trouble is, I work from home on Wednesdays and it’s easy to get distracted when you start thinking about interesting concepts like “stream of consciousness”). It’s also easy to get distracted by gazing out of the window, especially when it’s a nice day (I can even see some blue sky – haven’t seen that for ages), but I really must return to the point I started with, which is this:
What does “stream of consciousness” mean to you? Does it immediately make you think of authors like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and books that tend to be “challenging” (if we’re looking for a positive adjective) or “bloody hard going” (if we’re not)? Well, I must admit that this is what I tend to think of when I hear the term used in relation to fiction – and so when a recent review of my novel by the excellent blogger and fellow indie author Lisa Thatcher described it as “stream of consciousness”, I must confess to experiencing a brief moment of alarm.
Had there been some kind of appalling IT glitch, resulting in the book downloading from Smashwords with no punctuation, capital letters or paragraphs (and maybe even no spaces), so that poor Lisa had to spend hours poring over the text attempting to discern the sentence structure? Fortunately not. She was just calling a spade a spade – because the novel quite clearly IS “stream of consciousness” in the sense that it is told entirely from the perspective of a first person narrator, whose thought processes you follow (most of the time he is telling a story, but there are also parts where he is just reflecting on things). It just isn’t “stream of consciousness” in the more extreme, stylistic sense of the term referred to above (something which is noted in Lisa's review).
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against writing where “stream of consciousness” is taken to a stylistic extreme. For example, as a student, I remember being quite an enthusiast for the French “nouveau roman.” It’s just that, looking back on it now, I feel that books like that are often more rewarding to study than they are simply to read for pleasure. But the main point of all this is that it made me realise how very narrow my own conception of “stream of consciousness” was; as Lisa points out, the phrase has different meanings in other contexts (e.g. linguistics, behavioural science), which are just as important.
And now I’d better get on with some proper work. You, on the other hand, would seem to have time on your hands (or you probably would’ve stopped reading at the bit where I got distracted and started gazing out of the window). So I recommend that you now head over to Lisa’s excellent site, where you will find absolutely loads of extremely distracting reviews of books, films, music and more, together with her short story collection “Stack” (which you can download for free).
In : Random thoughts
Tags: "stream of consciousness" "lisa thatcher"
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