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 thoughts.”


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. 363


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 326

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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