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Stream of Consciousness

  As part of his therapy, Freud encouraged his patients to speak freely and (so far as possible) without conscious control: to verbalize their unconscious thoughts. He published transcriptions of several of their monologues, in whole or in part, with his commentaries on what they revealed of the subjects\' psychological state. These monologues, and the idea of the ‘stream of consciousness’, the extra revelation of personality and behavioural motivation granted by unguarded utterance, had a profound effect on 20th-century drama and literature.

In drama, asides and monologues had always existed, but they usually included a component of collusion between speaker and audience: Shakespeare\'s Edmund (in King Lear) or Richard III, for example, speaking soliloquies directly to the audience, or the comedians making asides in 19th-century French farce, are giving us information and are conscious of themselves doing so. Stream-of-consciousness monologues, by contrast, give us the feeling that we are eavesdropping on a character\'s inner self, hearing things of which the character may well not be aware or may prefer concealed. In 20th-century drama, therefore (for example the plays of Tennessee Williams or Harold Pinter), the technique is an important part of irony.

In literature, passages of overt stream-of-consciousness range from Molly Bloom\'s soliloquy at the end of Joyce\'s Ulysses to the overlapping monologues of Faulkner\'s The Sound and the Fury (one of the most outstanding books to use the technique) and Woolf\'s Mrs Dalloway. The technique, and the ironical detachment it appears to give, are vital to many first-person novels of this century, from Svevo\'s Confessions of Zeno to Heller\'s Something Happened, and underlie writings as varied as Beckett\'s novels, the books of Kerouac and Burroughs, and such works of magic realism as Roa Bastos\' I, the Supreme, Vargas Llosa\'s The Perpetual Orgy (a highly self-conscious pastiche of stream-of-consciousness) and Marquez\'s No One Writes to the Colonel and The General in his Labyrinth. KMcL

See also consciousness; novel.



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