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Notes Towards Day 13: Streaming Consciousness

Anne Dalke's picture


 Calamity's Notes on Class Discussion

Kathleen Aboud: Stream of Consciousness

(today's weather-appropriate topic!)

I. Coursekeeping

notetaker: Calamity
(relevant Jamesian) stories from break?

report on what's working/what isn't?
what didn't work was to ask for mid-semester feedback:
(Kylee? Marina? Penguins? aseidman? exsoloadsolem? jrlewis? kkazan?)

Calamity: I like the freedom of discussion we have in our circle (though it is hard to remember not to raise my hand!).  I'm getting used to posting to Serendip every week, and our tussles are fewer and fewer as the semester goes on.  I like how creative we get to be with our essays.  So far I've found the books and stories to be more interesting than the articles, but that could change.  I had a hard time keeping up with the fairly brutal reading pace we kept for Portrait of a Lady--I got frustrated easily with the characters, and consequently could only handle them in small doses.  That's all for now, I think.  It's high time for break!

fabelhaft: I'm enjoying this class more than I thought I would. Not to say that I thought I would hate it, but I wasn't optimistic enough to hope that the discussion in this class would be as comfortable as it is. As Calamity once said to me, "It's like gossip hour in a coffee shop." I think that sitting in a close circle is really conducive to the discussion. Plus, our proximity makes it super easy to look awkwardly at one another until someone speaks. It's motivational. The freedom the class has with writing a paper is amazing. I love that I can try to construct an academic paper around a creative topic. It's interesting the see the way each of us connects to the James family. The only concern I have had thus far is the way that the reading for Portrait of a Lady was divided up. Reading a quarter of the book between Monday and Wednesday is much harder to do than reading a quarter from Wednesday to Monday. I realize that this isn't a major concern, and this situation may never arise again in this class, but if there was some way to make the reading proportional to the amount of time between classes, that would be awesome.

MissArcher2: I'll just come right out and say it: I love this class. The only complaints I have are things that I can understand the necessity of, like rushing through such a big book so quickly (I found it hard to keep up with the reading, but I managed!) and essentially losing a member of class discussion each day to note-taking (although when I was working on my most recent paper/project, class notes were immensely helpful and I was grateful for them). I'm really enjoying the material, the class discussion, and the freedom to experiment with different formats for our essays. I have to admit, I almost broke down in tears last night when I was trying to get my images into the text editor for my blog post--but again, with some creativity (aka re-sourcing all of my images with the help of a reverse-image search engine) I made it happen. Serendip is interesting, but ultimately I think I like working with it. 

Anne's concerns:
is note taking useful (for both notetakers & readers?)
also: the commonplace book doesn't seem "common"...
would a class forum be preferable?
other things to fiddle w/....?

responses to my responses to your papers? 
one essay about HJ as a tyrant;
rest all about filling in the gaps ourselves:
an interpolated scene about Ralph as the ghost of Gardencourt,
another one a conversation between Pansy and Warburton;
one set of images, another of poems, about the "spaces inbetween";
two of you looked @ riffs on James, in book covers and JCOates' story;
cf. also to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and contemporary songs about ladies-- 
very rich array!

Reminder: Wai-Chee Dimock arriving on campus tonight;
will speak to my other class on genre 11:30-1 tomorrow
(you're invited)
and give a public talk in the Ely Room,
Tues @ 7:30 on "Literature as Public Humanities" --please come!

II. So, we left off, long ago, w/ the decision that "followed"
from the kiss @ the end of The Portrait of a Lady...

We might also have spent some time imagining Isabel Archer's
"children": what texts (or other cultural products) might be said
to have arisen from this one?

jrlewis' candidate: Siri Hustvedt, The Enchantment of Lily Dahl (1996)

See also Hustvedt, "The Bostonians: Personal
and Impersonal Words," A Plea for Eros (2006):
"I think that James felt that every attempt to reduce life to a system of beliefs--religious, political, or philosophical--must inevitably become a form of lying.

Late in his life, he tried to explain his wariness of systems .... "I have no view of life and literature ... other than that our form of the latter in especial is admirable exactly by its range and variety, its plasticity and liberality, its fairly living on the sincere and shifting experience of the individual practitioner".... an embodiment of James's nonprescriptive idea about what a novel should be ....

There is always a gap between what we feel and what we say. Henry James knew that it was heartbreakingly difficult to capture the flux of experience in words, to articulate the riddle of human feelings and actions, but this was precisely his ambition, and I ... love him for it."

II. Today, we turn our attention to Harry's big brother,

[William James, c. 1895--
first in a series of "aging" portraits!]

who first theorized the "flux of experience" in
"The Stream of Thought," Chapter 9 of his 1890 textbook 
Principles of Psychology 
(1890); see also Eugene Taylor's
1995 explication of its importance in the field of psychology

For Wednesday, please read "Habit" (pp. 9-21, C.E.)
from Psychology:The Briefer Course (1892) and
my contemporary meditation(s).

III. stepping off from kkazan's observations about the inadequacy of words:  "One may admit that a good third of our psychic life consists in these rapid premonitory perspective views of schemes of thoughts no yet articulate ...." (pg.44) .... James ... expresses the shortcomings of the language he writes in almost as often as he expresses a new idea .... Language has not quite caught up to where James' mind is leading from ... expressing something which has never been expressed before in the terms of the old ....

The stream of consciousness has been
imaged  by many contemporary artists:

Stream of consciousness from Fragments, Reloaded: Photography

Let's "warm up" today by creating some images ourselves.

Remember the first week of class, prodded by Alice's musings,
when we explored the "metaphors of our mind"?
Let's reflect for a bit about whether James's idea works for us/
is applicable to/resembles the ways our minds work.

Draw the stream of consciousness:
image the "relation" of your ideas to one another;
image their "separation" from the ideas of others....

An interactive poetic garden

III. What Taylor highlights:

geniuses whose mind is in constant ferment so they can see analogies that others miss, original thinkers whose associations are unfettered, all represent consciousness as a field of awareness that contains the largest number of ideas to choose from. Rationality and the empirical dictates of the sensory world then select out what is adaptive and what is not.....

At the height of his professional career, in 1890, James produced perhaps the most important text still available in the discipline, his two volume Principles of Psychology. In it, he began from a preoccupation with the object at the center of attention .... His most enduring metaphor became the stream of thought. But ideas never exist in isolation; what colors thoughts and gives continuity to the pulsating stream is the thought's feeling-tone. Here was his doctrine of relations. Just as objects can be experienced, so too can the relations between them. Thus, he said, any legitimate scientific psychology must account for both the stream of thought and feeling ....

His main thrust was that experience contains more than just waking awareness and some murky realm called the unconscious. Rather, personality was an ultimate plurality of states. Waking consciousness was but one state out of many .... Other realms of human experience at different levels of the person also existed simultaneously .... Consciousness, in fact, was a field with a focus and a margin. While the object at the center of attention may remain the same, the very ground of perception may become radically altered through fatigue, traumatic shock, or intrapsychic conflict in ways that the standard scientific explanations of perception had not accounted for.

Stream of Consciousness I

Stream of Consciousness II

IV. What Robertson says In The Maelstrom of American Modernism:
James is quick to vary the description--and the image--lest he find himself substituting a new verbal formula for an old one, or a new static abstraction in place of a previous one ....

Defending what he understands as as a "stream of sentiency," James sets out his position squarely against "the Platonizing schools" and their concept of a supersensible Reason." He lobbies in the direction of greater complexity .... asserts that our feelings of relation are in reality "numberless, and no existing language is capable of doing justice to all their shades...."

"Language almost refuses to lend itself to any other use [than that of]..."a feeling of if." Our common use of language imposes a mythological, nonlegitimate uniformity on shifting fields and running streams of impressions ....

This ... is James's fight not only with the Platonists and transcendentalists but with the Cartesians who wish to concentrate mainly on "clear and distinct" ideas. His challenge is to say that, on empirical grounds, our mental life is not clear and distinct at all; it is elusive and disorderly. William James reports the wavering and uncertain moves of consciousness with a skill and tenacity Henry will show in his late novels (pp. 234-5).

The Principles of Psychology ... lacks a formal organization, seeming to be more a collection of monographs ... on subjects that happened to interest James ... equipped with diagrams and algebraic notation .... The book is a partly unweeded garden, but it is a garden, and James's style is evrywhere at work. He writes concretely, with attention to physical detail .... He had a gift for phrases that stick in the mind...: "stream of consciousness," "one great blooming, buzzing confusion".... And there are many places where, standing on the arid plain of experimental data, James turns to face the reader, reaching outward through his own experience to us, in prose that can stand comparison to anyone's (pp. 305-306).

Stream of Consciousness: Fish Egg Philosophy Cartoon @ Mad Hatters Review

V. What all this looks-and-sounds like in [Wm James's own] words:

We now begin our study of the mind from within.

Consciousness, from our natal day, is of a teeming multiplicity of objects and relations, and what we call simple sensations are results of discriminative attention.

Five Characters in Thought
1) Every thought tends to be part of a personal consciousness.

2) Within each personal consciousness thought is always changing.

3) Within each personal consciousness thought is sensibly continuous.

4. It always appears to deal with objects independent of itself.

5) It ... chooses among them ... all the while.

In this room ... Each mind keeps its own thoughts to itself .... No thought even comes into direct sight of a thought in another personal consciousness than its own. Absolute insulation, irreducible pluralism, is the law .... as if the elementary psychic fact were ... every thought being owned.

... past feelings ... must be admitted to receive the greeting of the present mental state ... and accepted as belonging ... with it in a common self. This community of self is what the time-gap cannot break in twain .... consciousness ... does not appear to itself chopped up in bits ... it flows .... A "river" or a 'stream' are the metaphors  by which it is most naturally described .... let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness....

As we take ... a general view of the wonderful stream of our consciousness, what strikes us first is this different pace of its parts. Like a bird's life, it seems to be made of an alternation of flights and perchings ....Let us call the resting-places the 'substantive parts,' and the places of flight the 'transitive parts,' of the stream of thought.

We believe the brain to be an organ whose internal equilibrium is always in a state of change .... As in a kaleidoscope revolving ... consciousness corresponds to the fact of rearrangement ....

feeling of an absence ... this inarticulate feeling of ... familiarity ... verbal skeletons of logical relation ... large tracts of human speech are nothing but signs of direction in thought .... a good third of our psychic life consists in these rapid premonitory perspective views of schemes of thought not yet articulate ....

Now what I contend for ... is that 'tendencies' are ...among the object of the stream .... It is ... the re-instatement of the vague to its proper place in our mental life which I am so anxious to press on the attention.

...the definite images of traditional psychology form but the very smallest part of our minds as they actually live. The traditional psychology talks like one who should say a river consists of nothing but pailsful, spoonsful, quartpotsful, barrelsful, and other moulded forms of water ... this free water of consciousness ... psychologists resolutely overlook.

...the echo of the whence ... the sense of the whither .... the important thing about a train of thought is its conclusion. That is the meaning ... of the thought.

... any collocation of words may make sense -- even the wildest words in a dream -- if one only does not doubt their belonging together.

words are the handiest mental elements we have .... very rapidly revivable ... as actual sensations ... the older men are and the more effective as thinkers, the more ... they have lost their visualizing power and depend on words ... whether thought is possible without language ....

It would probably astound each [thinker] beyond measure to be let into his neighbor's mind and to find how different the scenery there was from that in his own.

...words and images are 'fringed,' and not as discrete as ... they seem.

A mind which has become conscious of its own cognitive functions, plays ... the 'psychologist' upon itself. It not only knows the things that appear before it; it knows that it knows them. This stage of reflective condition is ... our habitual adult state of mind.

Accentuation and Emphasis are present in every perception .... Out of what is in itself an undistinguishable, swarming continuum, devoid of distinction or emphasis, our senses make for us, by attending to this motion and ignoring that, a world full of contrasts .... The mind chooses to suit itself.

Reasoning is but another form of the selective activity of the mind.

... the mind is at every stage a theater of simultaneous possibilities. Consciousness consists in the comparison ... the selection ....The mind ... works on the data it receives very much as a sculptor works on his block of stone .... Just so the world of each of us ... all lay embedded in the primordial chaos of sensations .... But all the while the world we feel and live in will be that ... we, by slowly cumulative strokes of choice, have extricated out of this ... by simply rejecting certain portions of the given stuff .... Other sculptors, other statues from the same stone!... How different must be the world in the consciousness of ant, cuttle-fish, or crab!

But ... the human race as a whole largely agrees as to what it shall notice and name .... There is, however, one entirely extraordinary case in which no two men ever are known to choose alike .... One great splitting of the whole universe into two halves is made by each of us ... 'me' and 'not-me' ...The altogether unique kind of interest which each human mind feels in those parts of creation which it can call me ... is a fundamental psychological fact .... Even the trodden worm ... contrasts his own suffering self with the whole remaining universe .... Each of us dichotomizes the Kosmos in a different place.

Stream of consciousness, @
To be or not to be: Ideas, observations, and thinking in abandon. All for passion

 Calamity's Notes on Class Discussion