Thursday, September 16, 2010

Interior Monologue...Not my own.

So, I totally dig stream of consciousness writing. No, seriously, I do. My number one favorite book, the book that I must have with me should I ever be stranded on a desert island, is Absalom Absalom by William Faulkner. And I’m not ashamed to say that Kerouac’s On the Road squeezes into my top ten favorite books. Most of my close friends know that about me, and it doesn’t bother them. Some of them even go so far as to email me the names of SOC books should they read one that they think I’ll like. I enjoy stream of consciousness writing because it is a writing style that, to me, is most like real day-to-day thought patterns (and, in some cases, speech patterns). I enjoy stream of consciousness literature so much, I chose to read and lecture on a stream of consciousness novel for my EN 500 class last fall. I picked, no surprises, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

Now, just a little bit about the book, in case you didn’t know (some of this is actually from my presentation and paper). The name The Sound and the Fury, taken from the somber Shakespearian play Macbeth, indicates to the reader that the novel is made up of things that clamor, that deafen, that savage, and that ultimately signify nothing. And indeed, from the first section of the book, a section that is narrated by an idiot, readers see that Faulkner’s characters are struggling in vain against each other, against changing societal mores, and against the hand that they have been dealt by God. They make victims and martyrs of themselves as they lash out unsuccessfully against those things and people whom they feel have done them wrong. Faulkner could have had his characters choose different paths, but had he done so, The Sound and the Fury would not be the Southern Gothic masterpiece that it is. In the end, the reader is left uneasy with the realness of the characters and the situations, especially those Southern readers. For who from the South doesn’t have relatives (dead or alive) who resemble one or more of the characters in The Sound and the Fury? Who from the South doesn’t have the same kind of disturbing family stories that, induced by a full belly and a glass of spirits, are told at Thanksgiving gatherings or reunions, long after the youngsters and the polite folk have gone to bed.

Why did the public find The Sound and the Fury a demanding and difficult book? Most likely it was because of Faulkner’s use of the stream of consciousness style, a style of writing first successfully employed by Irish writer James Joyce. Joyce had perfected the use of “interior monologue” in Ulysses by giving his characters long episodes of thought that were sometimes out of sequential order, and sometimes unpunctuated. The purpose of this technique was to allow readers key insight into the frame of mind of the characters. Interior monologue was very appealing to Faulkner for it gave him the freedom to put his character’s deepest and most hidden thoughts out in the open, thereby giving depth beyond the omniscient third-person voice. When Quentin loses control of his thoughts, Faulkner refrains from using punctuation and capitalization in order to emphasize Quentin’s internal monologue. Furthermore, this lack of punctuation and capitalization allows readers to recognize with greater certainty the slipping away of Quentin’s sanity and his rapid spiral towards suicide (Groden 265-266).

now we are getting at it you seem to regard it merely as an experience that will whiten your hair overnight so to speak without altering your appearance at all you wont do it under these conditions it will be a gamble and the strange thing is that man who is conceived by accident and whose every breath is a fresh cast with dice already loaded against him will not face that final main which he knows before hand he has assuredly to face without essaying expedients ranging all the way from violence to petty chicanery that would not deceive a child until someday in very disgust he risks everything on a single blind turn of a card (Faulkner, Sound 177).

The above passage has no commas to indicate pause, no apostrophes to indicate contractions, and no periods to indicate termination of thoughts. It is a fine and obvious example of the use of Joyce’s interior monologue. Throughout the years, Faulkner would repeatedly deny any conscious use of Joyce’s techniques, but he would never distance himself from the comparisons (Groden 264-266).

I’ve just finished another novel that has some lovely stream of consciousness passages, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. It is Anna’s thoughts that are stream of consciousness, especially when she is beginning to come unhinged, as she contemplates suicide. Part 7 or Chapter 28 (page 854 of the 1993 Modern Library Edition) begins with the line, “The weather was bright.” The weather is in direct contrast with Anna’s mood. Anna is distraught. She is a married woman, who has left her husband and son to live with her lover. Her lover, Count Vronsky, with whom she has had a daughter, has recently been exercising his independence of Anna. A trapped and anxious Anna has been turning more and more to the drug morphine as a form of escape. She is certain that Vronsky is seeing other women, and is soon to abandon her for someone else. She exhibits outward signs of defensiveness, but internalizes all of her real fears. She baits and tests her lover, and when he fails, she threatens him with, “You…you will be sorry for this.” Indeed, Vronsky will be sorry, but so will Anna.

On her way to find Vronsky (ah, if only they’d had cell phones then), Anna’s thoughts are racing:
"I entreat him to forgive me. I have given in to him. I have owned myself in fault. What for? Can't I live without him?" And leaving unanswered the question how she was going to live without him, she fell to reading the signs on the shops. "Office and warehouse. Dental surgeon. Yes, I'll tell Dolly all about it. She doesn't like Vronsky. I shall be sick and ashamed, but I'll tell her. She loves me, and I'll follow her advice. I won't give in to him; I won't let him train me as he pleases. Filippov…They say they send their dough to Petersburg. The Moscow water is so good for it. Ah, the springs at Mitishtchen, and the pancakes!" And she remembered how, long, long ago, when she was a girl of seventeen, she had gone with her aunt to Troitsa. "Riding, too. Was that really me, with red hands? How much that seemed to me then splendid and out of reach has become worthless, while what I had then has gone out of my reach forever! Could I ever have believed then that I could come to such humiliation? How conceited and self-satisfied he will be when he gets my note! But I will show him.... How horrid that paint smells! Why is it they're always painting and building? Modes et robes," she read. A man bowed to her. It was Annushka's husband. "Our parasites"; she remembered how Vronsky had said that. "Our? Why our? What's so awful is that one can't tear up the past by its roots. One can't tear it out, but one can hide one's memory of it. And I'll hide it." And then she thought of her past with Alexey Alexandrovitch, of how she had blotted the memory of it out of her life. "Dolly will think I'm leaving my second husband, and so I certainly must be in the wrong. As if I cared to be right! I can't help it!" she said, and she wanted to cry. But at once she fell to wondering what those two girls could be smiling about. "Love, most likely. They don't know how dreary it is, how low.... The boulevard and the children. Three boys running, playing at horses. Seryozha! And I'm losing everything and not getting him back. Yes, I'm losing everything, if he doesn't return. Perhaps he was late for the train and has come back by now. Longing for humiliation again!" she said to herself. "No, I'll go to Dolly, and say straight out to her, I'm unhappy, I deserve this, I'm to blame, but still I'm unhappy, help me. These horses, this carriage--how loathsome I am to myself in this carriage--all his; but I won't see them again."

No, indeed, she won’t see them again…


Eric Wright said...

I'm glad I've got you around figuring out Anna K. I was doing my damnedest to make it through that book but I failed. I will say that the Russians certainly don't bother with one dimensional characters.

I'm sticking with the rationale that the Bros. K wore me slap out.

La_Petit_Rouge said...

Don't give up on Anna K. Lots of good stuff hidden in all those words! I recommend it over Bros. K. anyday!