Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0026059, Thu, 5 Mar 2015 00:34:24 -0300

[Idle thoughts] Lecture on Joyce and "stream of consciousness"I

I made a collection of sentences extracted from V.Nabokov's Ulysses lecture,
circling around the theme of a "stream-of-consciousness." I must confess
that I cannot follow most of the lecturer's arguments. Sometimes he seems to
distinguish "mental stream" from "stream-of-consciousness" and
"stream-of-thought" , once he refers to them as "the so-called stream of
consciousness" but also, at different moments, when he writes about "stream
of thought" he indicates their correspondence to Molly's "soliloquy" or to
the impossibility of Bloom's engagement in an incessant talk to himself.

What had puzzled me at first (the reference to "stepping stones") only
serves to indicate to me that nowhere V.Nabokov is considering the
psychological ideas designated as "stream of consciousness," but mainly
their interest as a narrative mode, as he himself acknowledged it when
describing it as a "stylistic convention," one that imitates a character's
flow of "inner thought" while it may also reveal a little about the author's
own acknowledged and unacknowledged projects revealed by his "expressed

When V.Nabokov expounds on "the stepping stones of consciousness" he breaks
away from the original metaphor he is using. The recurrent word "stream"
suggests a river**, a body of water flowing continuously along a material
bed, whereas rocks are not free-floating but lodge on this same bed and have
nothing to do with the "stream' itself. At another point he mentions how
thoughts and thoughtlets must run around "rocks of thought" and then things
get even bumpier.

(William James, who studied the "stream of thought" as a psychologist,
mentions these "resting places" as a bird in flight's "perches", by
coincidence also a favorite word of VN, but James's analogy with such
"substantive" perches remains an analogy only, the "stops" are made of the
same stuff as that what is experienced during "flight").

The curious thing here is that V.Nabokov lavishes six pages on Molly Bloom's
flow of thoughts and sensations while he, in this process, fully recognizes
how these random thoughts are interconnected, either between themselves or
with the shadows of daily life registers of experience, rendering them now,
and more pertinently, as a part of the stream, instead of petrified in
isolated rocks.He is delighted with Joyce's clues and images. Although I
think that sometimes I can grasp V.Nabokov's criticism of James Joyce's
excess of "verbal body to his thoughts" I also wonder if, when he created
his logogryphs and played with wordgames and puns, he wasn't indulging in
the same practice?

(I think that he cultivated the same wonder during his lecture on Tolstoy's
Anna Karenin, but I haven't yet returned to that lecture to check it.)


.in fact, his [Bloom's] mental stream flows now and then very close to
Stephen's mental stream, as I will explain later.288[ ]as we shall see in
the last part of her [Molly's] extraordinary soliloquy on which the book
ends 287*

.stream-of-consciousness gurgle 289

Joyce writes in three main styles: [ ]Incomplete, rapid, broken wording
rendering the so-called stream of consciousness, or better say the stepping
stones of consciousness [ ] but we can comment here that he exaggerates
the verbal side of thought. Man thinks not always in words but also in
images, whereas the stream of consciousness presupposes a flow of words that
can be notated: it is difficult, however, to believe that Bloom was
continuously talking to himself. 289

.soon we find a more enigmatic interruption of the tale by Stephen's stream
of thought.295 Now comes the stream of Stephen's thought: "Cranly's arm.
His arm." [ ]a second reading we will know who Cranly is.a false friend of
Stephen's boyhood who used to take Stephen to the races."296

Another good example of Stephen's stream in this easy first chapter occurs
when Stephen, Mulligan and Haines are finishing their breakfast. Mulligan
turned to Stephen and said: " -Seriously, Dedalus. I'm stony. Hurry out.[ ]
Stephen's thought runs as follows: he is speaking to me the Englishman.
Englishmen tub and scrub because of their bad conscience in regard to the
countries they oppress, and he remembers Lady Macbeth and her bad
conscience- yet there's a spot of blood which she cannot wash off. Agenbite
inwit I Middle English for the French remords de conscience, the bite of
conscience, remorse [ ] The technique of this stream of thought has, of
course, the advantage of brevity. It is a series of brief messages jotted
down by the brain [ ] Inner thoughts rising to the surface and prompted to
do so by an outside impression lead to significant word connections, verbal
links, in the mind of the thinker. For instance, look at the way the notion
of the sea leads to the most hidden thoughts within Stephen's tortured
soul.This is Joyce at his best.297 All through the chapter the events at
school are interrupted, or better say annotated, by Stephen's stream of
inner thought. 298

Stephen's stream of thought is at first colored by his guilt 328 [and more].

Readers are unduly impressed by the stream-of-thought device. I want to
submit the following considerations. First, the device is not more
'realistic' or more "scientific" than any other. In fact if some of Molly's
thoughts were described instead of all of them being recorded, their
expression would strike one to be more "realistic", more natural. The point
is that the stream of consciousness is a stylistic convention because
obviously we do not think continuously in words - we think also in images;
but the switch from words to images can be recorded in direct words only if
description is eliminated as it is here. Another thing: some of our
reflections come and go, others stay; they stop as it were, amorphous and
sluggish, and it takes some time for the flowing thoughts and thoughtlets to
run around those rocks of thought. The drawback of simulating a recording of
thought is the blurring of the time element and too great a reliance on
typography ["typographical broth"] . We must not see in the stream of
consciousness as rendered by Joyce a natural event. It is a reality only
insofar as it reflects Joyce's cerebration, the mind of the book. This book
is a new world invented by Joyce. In that world people think by means of
words, sentences. Their mental associations are mainly dictated by the
structural needs of the book, by the author's artistic purposes and plans. I
should also add that if punctuation marks be inserted by an editor into the
text, Molly's musings would not really become less amusing or less musical.

In the course of her soliloquy, Molly's thought shuttles between the images
of various people.364/370.


*Joyce has intertwined the Stephen and Bloom patterns much more closely than
is generally thought.as in Anna Karenin there is in Ulysses a significant
double dream; that is, the same dream seen by two people at the same time

Did Bloom discover common factors of similarity between their respective
like and unlike reactions to experience? 357

** As in the French "discours fleuve" or "roman fleuve"?

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