Monday, 25 February 2013

Perception in narrative ~ Stream of Consciousness

If the narrative of a book is formed to reflect the protagonist's perception of the world, then we can see how the introduction of stream of consciousness into literature reflects the writer's aim to return to the very basic roots of the way we experience. Loosely defined as being the written equivalent of the character's thought processes, the stream of consciousness narrative style comes to mimic the way humans think and verbally respond to external stimuli. It toys with the idea that humans do not think in a linear manner as previously suggested by the straightforward narrative development of previous novels, but that instead we are subject to the endless repetitions, developments, retractions and hesitations which occur in our minds. 

I first came across this when reading Virginia Woolf, whose novels play with the blurry boundary between past and present, the pain and pleasure of nostalgia. Yet we see how, essentially, her subject matter is language itself, and the way in which we strive to find a narrative in our lives in order to impose a certain comprehensible order upon it.
As she writes in 'The Waves':

“Let us again pretend that life is a solid substance, shaped like a globe, which we turn about in our fingers. Let us pretend that we can make out a plain and logical story, so that when one matter is despatched—love for instance—we go on, in an orderly manner, to the next. ” 

For life to be something that we can take hold of and control, we must be able to examine it and thus order it into a 'plain and logical story'. Stories become symbolic of order, as it is through telling stories that we have the ability to neatly arrange complex matters ('love for instance') in a way that lets us understand it. Yet it proves increasingly difficult to do so, as the aim to find the one 'true story' becomes increasingly obscure. With a vocabulary that hints at its religious undertones (considering how many live a life which follows the 'one story' found in a religious text), Woolf writes:

“I have made up thousands of stories; I have filled innumerable notebooks with phrases to be used when I have found the true story, the one story to which all these phrases refer. But I have never yet found the story. And I begin to ask, Are there stories?” 

Instead, we see how everything is subject to external perception:

“I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.” 

for each individual has the ability to 'draw' different meanings from what they experience.

~ M. D.

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