As the Mind Wanders: Examining Stream of Consciousness Literature
While writing is often used to convey an idea or a thought, it doesn’t often try to mimic the haphazard connections our mind makes. But one literary technique, stream of consciousness, attempts to do just that. Nate Lanman ‘15, a creative writing major, is working with Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Benjamin Widiss on his Emerson research project, “The Thought of Thought: Contemporary Inheritances of the Modernist Stream of Consciousness Narrative.”
Although he was always intrigued by modernist literature, it was not until last fall, when Lanman took Widiss’ “Modernism” course, that he confirmed this literary movement resonates most deeply with him. While studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland during the spring semester, he took another course on the subject and determined that this collection of authors is the one he finds most exciting; leading him to pursue an independent research grant from the Emerson fund.
Lanman is exploring a series of twentieth century authors; though he is focusing on modernist literature, he is also reading selections from post-modernist and contemporary writers. The style of stream of consciousness does not have a definite beginning, although James Joyce is widely thought to have ‘perfected the form,’ as his contemporary, Édouard Dujardin, believed. Lanman has been reading about a book per week; besides Joyce and Dujardin, he has read pieces by the likes of William Faulkner, Virginia Wolff and Samuel Beckett.
Through reading these works, Lanman hopes to “get a feel for how the style has changed over time, and why, then hypothesize about where it might go in the future.” Although he is used to writing pieces of poetry, after finishing his research, Lanman plans to write a fiction piece that uses the form. He expressed mild hesitation about the subject: “it’s hard not imitating what I’ve read, I want to use the form but not imitate or meld the authors’ voices.”
Lanman has been having difficulty finding an overall pattern through the works, noting that, “every writer uses [stream of consciousness] so differently, and to accomplish different effects.” He has noted, however, that as the literary movement switched from modernist to postmodernist, there is an increasing amount of self-consciousness: the narrator is explicitly aware of their role, and the work makes reference to its medium.
“People generally think of modernism as a pretentious literary movement,” Lanman reluctantly admitted. His eyes lit up and he added, “but there’s so much to gain from closely examining these texts.” Lanman has not yet decided what to do after graduation; he is currently considering a career in teaching, advertising, or publishing.
Nate Lanman is a graduate of White Plains Senior High School, N.Y.