Stream of Consciousness
The following is the commentary extracted from the concluding section of Episode 3 in Ulysses Uncovered.
It discusses the technique of stream of consciousness as applied by James Joyce.
The text in Ulysses is full of many references, most of them oblique and hidden.
There are references to Socrates, Aristotle, Eve (as noted), and to many
philosophers and poets. Likewise there are references to many languages, e.g.,
French, Italian, Latin, German, Hebrew, Greek and Irish. In L224 we get the
Gaelic word ‘sláinte’— this word is often used as a toast when people engage in
celebratory drinking and implies ‘To your good health’.
Several scriptural and theological issues are hinted at. Literary allusions abound.
And all of this is presented to the reader as the stream of consciousness in Stephen’s mind.
The technique of stream of consciousness, -adopted from psychology- became a new literary technique
at the end of the nineteenth century. At that time it was felt that the development of literature
had slowed and that no new ways of reflecting thoughts and ideas were emerging. Along comes James Joyce
and he produces a blockbuster full of new writing styles and techniques.
His use of the stream of consciousness technique allowed for the free untrammelled expression
of thoughts, ideas and emotions. Not that he was the first but he brought the technique to new heights.
What helped him of course was that he was well acquainted with the latest developments
in science and medicine, psychology and psychoanalysis.
Stream of consciousness can be explained as a multi-layered flow of
thoughts and impressions;
emotions and sensations;
reflections and observations,
even sights and sounds.
This literary technique presents an active mind consciously immersed in the world of self.
And because of this the subjectivity of the character can be more significantly
revealed to the reader. The multi-layered nature of Stephen’s thinking can be seen in
the opening paragraph of this third episode. The phrase: ‘Signatures of all
things I am here to read seaspawn and seawrack’ indicates that Stephen wishes to
see, besides the reality of the physical world, deeper if not spiritual
realities (signatures) as well. Two of the deeper realities could be the beginning of life (seaspawn)
and the ending of life (seawrack).
He wants to recognise, as George Berkeley had argued in his
An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision (Dublin, 1709)
that colour is the real, and thus the true reality, of sight:
‘Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured’, L4. Stephen free-flows
into a factual musing about Aristotle who in fact was the first to state that colour is the real object of vision:
‘Bald he was and a millionaire’, L6. But soon, with his eyes shut, he focuses on the sounds of
the ‘crackling wrack and shells’, L10, and admits to himself that the act of hearing
is reality itself: ‘Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible’, L13.
Immediately we see that an understanding of Stephen’s thought
processes is not a simple matter. Because Stephen is a well-educated and a
well-read person there are many deep and complex variations emerging in his
internal monologues. The initial approach, however, to this episode, has to be
the extraction of the narrative. This will reveal to us the extent of Stephen’s
isolation and suffering. From this we will get to know him as a more real person
in the situation that he is in, a situation from which he is trying to
Please acknowledge Author and source if used
© Copyright Patrick Moloney Ulysses Uncovered