Before I start, the jumbling in the title is a line from a song by System of a Down called Chop Suey. Whenever I think of stream of consciousness, I feel the way this line was sung perfectly describes its tone. That’s why I thought it to be cool to include this little reference.
A stream of what?
Stream of consciousness is a term originating from psychology. First coined by William James in 1890, it is the flow of thoughts in the consciousness mind. Imagine you are in Metro, and your mobile phone’s battery is discharged (woe betide!), so you can’t escape into it. As you look around restlessly, you might find something which will trigger your flow of thoughts. It can be a poster of a film which might lead you to memories of a movie you watched with your parents 8 years ago. It can be an advertisement for cars, triggering thoughts of your own fast-paced life. Even a simple sneeze from a passenger can trigger a steady flow of thoughts leading to unexpected places.
Buddhist school of thought also contains the concept of this stream of consciousness. The Yogachara school of Mahayana Buddhism preaches a method of paying attention to the inner and external experiences. By doing this, one can tap into their stream of consciousness and understand oneself better.
Stream of consciousness is a turbulent flow, where a conscious effort of understanding it can be nothing but a man carried mercilessly away by a raging river. It can be seen however, and with some practice, it can even be read and used in literature.
Usage in literature
Although Dorothy Richardson is credited with using this stream for the first time in a literary work, there have been foreshadowings. Laurence Sterne, Edgar Allen Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Edouard Dujardin, Anton Chekhov, Knut Hamson, all these have used this technique as early as 1757 long before its formal introduction in literature in 1918. James Joyce’s Ulysses is a prime example of the use of stream of consciousness. Here’s the passage which demonstrates its use:
a quarter after what an unearthly hour I suppose theyre just getting up in China now combing out their pigtails for the day well soon have the nuns ringing the angelus theyve nobody coming in to spoil their sleep except an odd priest or two for his night office the alarmlock next door at cockshout clattering the brains out of itself let me see if I can doze off 1 2 3 4 5 what kind of flowers are those they invented like the stars the wallpaper in Lombard street was much nicer the apron he gave me was like that something only I only wore it twice better lower this lamp and try again so that I can get up early
Note the lack of punctuations and a general harmony of thoughts in this passage. The passage is about the lack of sleep in a character and the thoughts emanating during this sleeplessness. Many of us have had similar kind of experiences, where random thoughts dart around in our mind. By actually writing it, the character becomes infinitely more real and allows a deeper probe inside his psyche.
Point to be noted: An actual stream of consciousness is not this neat. Yes, compared to what goes on in our mind, this is much more organized. The real version is, metaphorically speaking, a creature with a very small body and a strong odour trailing its body. We can only see the body for an instant, but its odour lingers on for long. Our stream of consciousness is the same; only one keyword defines the thought’s body, and the rest of the thought just trails behind. We give meaning to this stream by constructing a meaningful sentence around that single word with the help of those lingering thoughts.
Bonus Round: My stream of consciousness
That’s right folks. I’ll demonstrate what was going on inside my mind as I was typing through all this crap. I hope you can get at least a little idea behind this article after reading what follows:
The Ballade sure is nice I wonder when I can ever play like Zimmerman I wish he could play the last part a bit slower though I must now practice a little myself I suck at this stream thing whenever the hell I’ll ever be able to completely figure out the innermost workings of my own stupid head ah this talk of Buddhism is relevant to brother must talk to him about this topic some day I’ve done too much editing and I’m showing too much reluctance in writing whatever I have on my mind I’m sleepy Today was so much fun surprisingly I really should hang out with people more often maybe I should tell Mishra about how I’m not suicidal despite all the negativity surrounding me Pappilons I must listen to Pappilons how Schumann created such beautiful music when he suffered from chronic depression I envy him now I should stop I’m still so damn sleepy
To tell the truth, it was a bit hard at first, with my thoughts unfocused and my eyes heavy. Also, I edited too much. Okay they were minor edits and I don’t think I omitted any of my thoughts. Still, if you go back and edit anything, it sort of defeats the purpose.
With the hopes that this article makes any sense, I’m going to sign off.
It struck me just now, but thank God I wasn’t in a foul mood right now. My stream of consciousness would’ve turned into an orgy of f-words.