Friday, July 26, 2013


Denis Lavant dances, in:

Mauvais Sang by Leos Carax:

Beau Travail by Claire Denis:

‘Do you know the only time I feel completely at home in my body?’ I ask.

‘When you come?’

‘Besides that. I meant when I dance.’

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Stream of Consciousness

Stream-of-consciousness is closely associated with literary modernism. Eliot, Joyce, Woolf, et al experimented with this technique under the influence of contemporary philosophical attempts to define the nature of consciousness – it was William James who first referred to it as a ‘stream’ - for example, in the fields of phenomenology and psychoanalysis.

I rediscovered stream-of-consciousness recently in the work of Jean Rhys, whose short novels of the 20s and 30s are all marked by their profound exploration of the narrator’s sensibility via this technique. Here is a sample from Good Morning, Midnight (1939):

Now the room springs out at me, laughing, triumphant. .... Here we are. Nothing to stop us. Four walls, a roof, a bed, a bidet, a spotlight that goes on first over the bidet and then over the bed – nothing to stop us. Anything you like; anything you like. ... No past to make us sentimental, no future to embarrass us. ... A difficult moment when you are out of practice – a moment that makes you go cold, cold and wary. 

Stream-of-consciousness has fallen out of favour recently, like many of the literary techniques associated with high modernism. It has largely been replaced by ‘limited third person narration’: that is, writing nominally from a third-person perspective, but in fact following the experiences and consciousness of a protagonist fairly closely. This technique allows writers the intimacy of a first-person perspective, while eliminating the dangerous idiosyncracies that come with direct immersion in the narrator's thoughts. Direct stream-of-consciousness is now used only to represent altered or damaged states of consciousness: that is, intoxication or madness. (Rhys’ protagonists are often on the verge of either intoxication or madness, or both.)

I am writing a novel about modernism and consciousness, but I never use stream-of-consciousness. It didn’t even occur to me until after I read Rhys. Why? Because Reciprocity Failure is more concerned with intersubjectivity, and so its key passages are either dramatic monologues (that is, written as if spoken aloud, as quasi-soliloquies) or dialogue exchanges: direct attempts at communication. In this context, stream-of-consciousness, as traditionally practiced, is a failure to communicate, a form of solipsism.