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Thread: The trouble with stream of consciousness...

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    Spring Goddess Easter's Avatar
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    The trouble with stream of consciousness...

    I recently picked up Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer upon the recommendation of my boyfriend and began reading it without realizing it's written in a stream of consciousness (henceforward to be shortened to SoC) style.

    I have to admit, I was a little taken aback by it. I'm not a huge fan of the SoC style of writing. It tends to bother me when the narrative (well, what little narrative structure there is) jumps around. It also bothers me when I find myself unable to understand something because of the vague SoC style... Despite this, I really love the lyrical quality of the prose. It can be quite beautiful. Maybe I just need to relax about not literally understanding everything that's going on.

    So what say you? Yay or Nay to the SoC style? Are there different books with varying degrees of SoC, some that you can stand to read and some that you can't? I'm still trying to make my way through Tropic... We'll see how it goes...
    "But she expressed herself in many different ways, until she lost control again..."

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    Watching You RicMisc's Avatar
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    I have not read many books in this style but during lit class we've covered this style of writing.

    It's not something that has my preference but I can appreciate the style since I imagine it's not that easy to write.

    Besides that I have always been interested in people's psychology and thoughts so these books do give me some insight in that matter.

    These stories aren't very easy to read, due to the SoC style, but I like a challenge.

    My final conclusion would be that I don't mind reading a book in SoC style but I wouldn't really seek it out.
    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past - The Great Gatsby

    Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice - Polonius (Hamlet)

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    Spring Goddess Easter's Avatar
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    Oh I can definitely imagine how difficult it is to write in SoC style... to write seemingly random SoC thoughts and yet have them all actually be working together to create characters, scenes, to evoke feelings and atmospheres... it's a very interesting (if somewhat inaccessible) style..

    And yes, it is really fascinating to read the odd progression of thoughts that somehow coagulate into an entire book, but I still find it so difficult to read, sometimes! Still, I am trying to challenge myself to carry on reading it.

    When I expressed my misgivings to my boyfriend he said "Well, just imagine what was going through Miller's mind as he wrote it!" to which I said "I don't have to! He wrote it all down!"
    "But she expressed herself in many different ways, until she lost control again..."

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    Watching You RicMisc's Avatar
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    Good of you to push yourselve to read on, that's something I am usually not too good at myself. I hope that after you finish it'll leave a feeling of accomplishment and not a feeling of wasted time and maybe even some enjoyment .

    Oh wow, a new word to be added to my vocabulary: I had never before seen the word 'coagulate'.

    Quote Originally Posted by Easter View Post
    When I expressed my misgivings to my boyfriend he said "Well, just imagine what was going through Miller's mind as he wrote it!" to which I said "I don't have to! He wrote it all down!"
    Hahahahaha..
    So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past - The Great Gatsby

    Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice - Polonius (Hamlet)

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    I think in stream of consciousness, but that is nothing like what gets written as SoC. Even fairly well-done SoC is much more direct; and it does not repeat nearly enough to be like the real thing. I think that writers should work on a good narrative style and forget about even trying SoC.

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    Spring Goddess Easter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RicMisc View Post

    Oh wow, a new word to be added to my vocabulary: I had never before seen the word 'coagulate'.
    Glad I could add to your vocabulary!

    I'm glad I'm trying to push on, despite my misgivings... but the more I read, the more I wonder how long I should press myself before I decide whether reading in SoC is for me or not... hmmm...
    "But she expressed herself in many different ways, until she lost control again..."

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    Registered User Desolation's Avatar
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    SoC has proven time and time again to be my absolute favorite writing style. There's something very pure and very honest about it.

    In the case of Miller, there's a tendency to ramble on a lot, and I think part of that comes down to the fact that he was starving and delirious when he wrote Tropic of Cancer. But I love his rambling. I can see why it wouldn't be for everyone, though.

    In one of his later books, Sexus, he discusses his aesthetic criteria a little bit. I don't have a copy on hand, so I'll have to paraphrase quite a bit. He said that all art is only a shadow of a feeling that the artist has inside of them. He mentions Beethoven (or Mozart, I can't remember) and says that the music they produced would be worthless if we were able to hear the music that they had in their head and were trying to capture. So, his goal was to get as close as possible to pure consciousness in his writing; to really capture that light and ecstasy and sorrow that he felt in the back of his mind.

    I do have one big misgiving with SoC, though - I find that because it varies so widely from book to book and writer to writer, it usually takes me about the first 1/3 of the book before I really get used to the style enough to enjoy it. That means that I lose 1/3 of the book, essentially.
    Last edited by Desolation; 04-25-2012 at 02:20 PM.

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    Spring Goddess Easter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Desolation View Post

    In one of his later books, Sexus, he discusses his aesthetic criteria a little bit. I don't have a copy on hand, so I'll have to paraphrase quite a bit. He said that all art is only a shadow of a feeling that the artist has inside of them. He mentions Beethoven (or Mozart, I can't remember) and says that the music they produced would be worthless if we were able to hear the music that they had in their head and were trying to capture. So, his goal was to get as close as possible to pure consciousness in his writing; to really capture that light and ecstasy and sorrow that he felt in the back of his mind.

    I do have one big misgiving with SoC, though - I find that because it varies so widely from book to book and writer to writer, it usually takes me about the first 1/3 of the book before I really get used to the style enough to enjoy it. That means that I lose 1/3 of the book, essentially.
    I completely understand your (and Miller's) point about art being a shadow of what is inside the artist. I've heard that same sort of sentiment from many authors (and felt it myself, of course). In that respect, I can understand the appeal of stream of consciousness. But I guess what I'm struggling with now is the inaccessibility of SoC...

    I guess in some ways having a regular narrative structure is akin to translating something foreign (ie, the author's own thoughts) into something the reader can understand... so jumping into something that is SoC, and therefore "untranslated" is difficult for me...

    I'll keep on reading it for now, though.. there are bits and pieces I'm enjoying enough to make it worthwhile..
    "But she expressed herself in many different ways, until she lost control again..."

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    The Poetic Warrior Dark Muse's Avatar
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    I do think that SoC is certainly quite interesting but I myself find I often have trouble with books written in this format. It can prove difficult to follow. One of the biggest problems I find I have with it, is that it seems that SoC writing, because it does have a certain rambling to it at times, often has the effect of making my own thoughts start to wander. It is as if reading it puts me in a sort of trance like state, and than I end up half-way down the page without a clue as to what I had just read and so I have to go back and do a lot of rereading. It is hard to get my mind to stay focused when reading SoC writing because I find there can something almost hypnotic about it.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. ~ Edgar Allan Poe

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dark Muse View Post
    One of the biggest problems I find I have with it, is that it seems that SoC writing, because it does have a certain rambling to it at times, often has the effect of making my own thoughts start to wander. It is as if reading it puts me in a sort of trance like state, and than I end up half-way down the page without a clue as to what I had just read and so I have to go back and do a lot of rereading.
    Despite my love of SoC, I have to agree with you - well maybe not "have to." It depends if you think having to re-read sections of books is a bad thing or not. Episode 3 of Ulysses is my favourite, but it certainly took me three reads to fully grasp it.

    Virginia Woolf's SoC seems to be a little more stable and easy to handle, but just as lyrical.

    Like poetry, I think the trick with SoC is to read aloud, forcing yourself to slow down and absorb the thoughts instead of your eye glossing over them.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    Spring Goddess Easter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post

    Like poetry, I think the trick with SoC is to read aloud, forcing yourself to slow down and absorb the thoughts instead of your eye glossing over them.
    I would try this... but usually I'm reading on my breaks at work... so.. yeah... I don't think that will work very well...
    "But she expressed herself in many different ways, until she lost control again..."

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    I've liked all the SoC I've encountered so far - Ulysses, Mrs Dalloway, Absalom, Absalom and the Sound and the Fury. Dickens' stream of conciousness talkers like Mrs Nickleby and Flora are hilarious.

    However, am I right in thinking it works only in short doses? Imagine if the whole of Ulysses was in SoC. What a bore it would have been!
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

  13. #13
    This soc stuff is embarrassing to me though I often find it soul searching delving deeper and deeper into something one cannot comprehend or cannot rationalize it into his mental frame. Our thoughts are unrestrained but what we speak or write are censored, sieved and reorganized into socially, ethically and culturally set orderly ways. Suppose you dream of having sex with some one and in the dream there is no bowdlerization and you enjoy the act but once awake you rationalize it and feel guilty since it was incest.

    But those who use soc take the liberty of writing the way they feel and Ulysses was framed in that style and the writer did not choose to contain it in the generally accepted conformist frame and he broke the frame. They are like psychoanalysts and go deeper and deeper into the psyche of the sick and hit upon the rambling mental state, inchoately though it surfaces it spews out what is locked in through generations.

    I like the soc stuff in literature though I too find them rather cumbersome. I could not stick with Ulysses and had to give after going through a few pages but the poetry of the prose in the book impressed me beyond words

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    Spring Goddess Easter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mona amon View Post
    I've liked all the SoC I've encountered so far - Ulysses, Mrs Dalloway, Absalom, Absalom and the Sound and the Fury. Dickens' stream of conciousness talkers like Mrs Nickleby and Flora are hilarious.

    However, am I right in thinking it works only in short doses? Imagine if the whole of Ulysses was in SoC. What a bore it would have been!
    Yes... looking at this 300-odd page book of mostly SoC with some more "lucid" passages is what has me a bit daunted.

    I also really like to read at night before bed, but I like the experience to be relaxing... not to feel confused... so I find myself NOT wanting to read before bed now... hmm... difficult, indeed!
    "But she expressed herself in many different ways, until she lost control again..."

  15. #15
    Hi friends and readers, I tend to find as will you if you open up any of my books, that my works (three done so far with one on the way), are largely written from a SoC standpoint and perspective. I consider myself an honest kind of guy, and I also thinks that this honesty translates well into literature. My third book Fighting Madness, conveys some of this honesty, with stories from the past, and thoughts from the past also, to find quite a nice mix and mash up of people and tales. There is also a sprinkling of Biblical realisations here, and other creative ficticious stuff as well to make it what it is. Which is at times, but nevertheless rewarding read for those of you who have bothered to sit down and actually work your way through. And that's more than just one btw (feedback i have had)! Cheers, John R.http://mir.cr/EZD1AMGW

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