Tag Archives: stream of consciousness

Symbolism in “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro

This book was a selection for the book club to which I belong. The friend who suggested the book only said it was about collective memory. Since that is a subject I find interesting, I was eager to read it.

The tale is set in post-Arthurian Britain and depicts a country suffering from a form of mass amnesia, where a strange mist has caused everyone to forget much of their collective past. The story follows the quest of five individuals seeking to restore memory by slaying a dragon responsible for causing the collective forgetting.

What I love the most about this book is the abundance of symbols that Ishiguro uses to explore memory. Hence, I figured I would focus this post on some of the more prominent symbolic representations of memory.

The first memory symbol I would like to explore is a village. The specific village is described as labyrinthine, and reminded me of the city of Siena in Italy, which had strange streets that were confusing to walk.

Axl was puzzled that a village which from a distance looked to be two orderly rings of houses could turn out to be such a chaotic labyrinth now they were walking through its narrow lanes. Admittedly the light was fading, but as he followed Beatrice, he could discern no logic or pattern to the place. Buildings would loom unexpectedly in front of them, blocking their way and forcing them down baffling side alleys. They were obliged, moreover, to walk with even more caution than out on the roads: not only was the ground pitted and full of puddles from the earlier storm, the Saxons seemed to find it acceptable to leave random objects, even pieces of rubble, lying in the middle of the path.

(pp. 49 – 50)

In this passage, the city represents the way memories are stored in the mind and how one struggles in the search for forgotten memories. When trying to remember something that has been forgotten, it feels like you are wandering aimlessly through streets, trying to recognize patterns which will spark and illuminate the fragment of memory which the mind is trying to bring to the surface. As is often the case, the longer we wander the streets of the mind, the more difficult it becomes to find the lost fragment of memory. Other fragments seem to jut out from nowhere, adding to the frustration.

Trees are often used as symbols for memory, and Ishiguro makes use of that symbol also.

For a moment Wistan appeared lost in thought, following with his eyes one of the gnarled roots stretching from the oak’s trunk and past where he stood, before burrowing itself into the earth.

(p. 110)

Here, the oak tree represents the conscious mind, the part of the psyche that is readily accessible. But below the earth lies the subconscious mind, and the collective consciousness. The roots represent the mind’s attempt to reach into the subconscious and tap into the hidden regions of memory.

The tree symbol segues nicely into the next symbol, which is that of tunnels underground.

They all paused to recover their breaths and look around at their new surroundings. After the long walk with the earth brushing their heads, it was a relief to see the ceiling not only so high above them, but composed of more solid material. Once Sir Gawain had lit the candle again, Axl realised they were in some sort of mausoleum, surrounded by walls bearing traces of murals and Roman letters. Before them a pair of substantial pillars formed a gateway into a further chamber of comparable proportions, and falling across the threshold was an intense pool of moonlight. Its source was not so obvious: perhaps somewhere behind the high arch crossing the two pillars there was an opening which at the moment, by sheer chance, was aligned to receive the moon. The light illuminated much of the moss and fungus on the pillars, as well as a section of the next chamber, whose floor appeared to be covered in rubble, but which Axl soon realised was comprised of a vast layer of bones. Only then did it occur to him that under his feet were more broken skeletons, and that this strange floor extended for the entirety of both chambers.

(p. 170)

The tunnels and underground chambers symbolize the portals into the subconscious. Additionally, the bone fragments represent fragments of memory, pieces of ourselves and of those who lived before us that comprise the collective consciousness. I also interpret the moonbeams entering the chamber as an individual’s glimpse into the hidden regions of the psyche.

The last memory symbol I want to mention is the river.

It was bitingly cold on the river. Broken ice drifted here and there in sheets, but their baskets moved past them with ease, sometimes bumping gently one against the other. The baskets were shaped almost like boats, with a low bow and stern, but had a tendency to rotate, so at times Axl found himself gazing back up the river to the boathouse still visible on the bank.

(p. 226)

The river, or stream, is a common metaphor for consciousness and memory, but what I like about Ishguro’s use here is his inclusion of ice fragments, which conjures similar symbolism from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. These ice fragments are shards of memory that are formed from the collective consciousness, yet also melt back into the collective stream of memory and thought. It is the fluid made solid. The random bumping into the fragments suggest that the memories that move into our conscious mind are also random. We really do not have control over the memories which come to the surface. We move along the stream of consciousness, occasionally coming into contact with the shards of memory that also float along the surface.

There is a wealth of other symbols in this book, all woven together in a beautifully written and engaging story. I don’t want to give too much away. I highly recommend this book. It’s both thought provoking and a pleasurable read.

Cheers!

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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 7: The Stream of the Subconscious

Image Source - USF

Image Source – USF

In my previous post on Don Quixote, I explored the cave as a symbol for the subconscious mind. In this post, we will look at the river as a symbol for the stream of the subconscious.

After recovering from the experience of the cave, Sancho and Don Quixote arrive at the bank of the river Ebro. As they gaze into the water, there is an immediate but gentle shift in consciousness.

By stages as already described or left undescribed, two days after quitting the grove Don Quixote and Sancho reached the river Ebro, and the sight of it was a great delight to Don Quixote as he contemplated and gazed upon the charms of it banks, the clearness of its stream, the gentleness of its current and the abundance of its crystal waters; and the pleasant view revived a thousand tender thoughts in his mind.

(p. 769)

They discover a bark, which is a type of boat, and use it to set forth upon the river. As they embark, they feel a sense of trepidation, which signals that they are about to enter into an uncharted region of the psyche.

“Now they are tied,” said Sancho; “what are we to do next?”

“What?” said Don Quixote, “cross ourselves and weigh anchor; I mean, embark and cut the moorings by which the bark is held;” and the bark began to drift away slowly from the bank. But when Sancho saw himself somewhere about two yards out in the river, he began to tremble and give himself up for lost;

(p. 770)

The stream represents individual consciousness, which flows into the ocean, which is a symbol for the divine consciousness.

Art thou, perchance, tramping barefoot over the Riphaean mountains, instead of being seated on a bench like an archduke on the tranquil stream of this pleasant river, from which in a short space we shall come out upon the broad sea?

(p. 771)

The next passage I want to share is my favorite from this section. It is often believed that one must use mysticism or the occult in order to connect with the subconscious and ultimately the divine consciousness, but that is not the case. This is something that occurs naturally and effortlessly, once you calm the mind and open yourself to the flow of consciousness.

… and shaking his fingers he washed his whole hand in the river along which the boat was quietly gliding in midstream, not moved by any occult intelligence or invisible enchantment, but simply by the current, just there smooth and gentle.

(p. 773)

The genius of this book so far for me is how Cervantes is able to weave in rich mystical and spiritual ideas in a tale that is farcical and at times downright funny. Stay tuned for my next installment.

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 18

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

Statue of Molly Bloom: Wikipedia

This is the final episode and is a long internal soliloquy depicting Molly Bloom’s thoughts as she is in bed after Leopold returns home. The episode is comprised of eight long sentences and is all stream of consciousness. Much of Molly’s thoughts are sexual: memories of past affairs, her current liaison with Blazes Boylan, her suspicions regarding Leopold Bloom’s clandestine sexual encounters, and her early days with Bloom. The language is beautiful and should really be read to be felt. I am not going to attempt to analyze the text from this episode; instead, I will discuss the structure of the episode, its symbolism, and how it ties in to the overall structure and larger theme of the book. I will preface this by saying that these are my interpretations. Feel free to use them, just include me in the citation.

The first thing to note about Episode 18 is that it opens and closes with the same word: “Yes.” I see this as symbolic for a circle, implying that there is an eternal cycle associated with the episode. Considering that Joyce employs the same technique in Finnegan’s Wake, where the book begins mid-sentence and ends with the first half of the sentence, I would argue that he is doing the same here. In fact, I would take this a step further and assert that Episode 18 is a circle within a circle and that the entire book is intended to be viewed as cyclical. Remember back to the beginning with the large S. The letter S is also the last letter in the book. I feel that Joyce structured the book to represent the eternal circle of existence: birth, life, death, rebirth. There are certainly an abundance of references and allusions throughout the text hinting at this, whether it is all the talk about metempsychosis or the circles cast upon the ceiling as Bloom and Molly lay together, or the circles of stars. Images of circles and cycles permeate this book.

Gustave Dore

Gustave Dore

The myth is eternal. The story which Homer put forth in the Odyssey is one that has been repeated throughout history and will continue to be repeated as long as humans exist. It is an archetypal story and Joyce knew that. With that in mind, he made his version a modern interpretation of the myth.

In addition to the cyclical structure of the book, I believe that Joyce also included number mysticism within the structure of the book. Let’s break this down a bit. The book is split into 3 sections and contains 18 chapters. First we will consider the importance of the number 3. Obviously, 3 would represent the trinity. It also represents the three stages of life: birth, life, death. It symbolizes the father (Bloom), mother (Molly), and child (Stephen). In addition, each section begins with a large letter: S, M, and P, respectively. I see here another mystical trilogy: Spirit, Mortal, Psyche (although, some scholars have also associated with the three main characters: Stephen, Molly, and Poldy [nickname for Bloom]). I could go on like this for a long time, but I think you get the idea.

Now let’s think about the number 18. First off, if we were to apply kabbalistic numerology to this (and remember, Bloom is Jewish), we get 1+8 which equals 9, which in turn is 3×3, or a double trinity. At this point you may be thinking that this is a stretch, but stay with me, because it gets deeper. In the Jewish faith, the number 18 has another important aspect. It is the numeric representation of the Hebrew word chai (pronounced “hi”). The English translation for chai is “life.” I believe that Joyce consciously chose to make Ulysses 18 episodes because the book is the perfect representation of life, with all its recurring themes.

I have to say that I feel somewhat sad that I am finished. I feel like I’ve gotten to know Bloom and Stephen personally. I also really got a lot more out of the book reading it a second time. So will I read it a third time? Maybe. I’ll certainly keep my copy. I hope you enjoyed the posts and if you haven’t read along, I encourage you to spend the effort and read it one day. I personally think it is worth it.

Cheers!!


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11

Episode 12

Episode 13

Episode 14

Episode 15

Episode 16

Episode 17

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“Lines to a Beautiful Spring in a Village” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Apollo and the Muses by Jan van Balen

Apollo and the Muses by Jan van Balen

Once more, sweet stream! with slow foot wand’ring near,
I bless thy milky waters cold and clear.
Escaped the flashing of the noontide hours,
With one fresh garland of Pierian flowers
(Ere from thy zephyr-haunted brink I turn)
My languid hand shall wreath thy mossy urn.
For not thro’ pathless grove with murmur rude
Then soothest the sad wood-nymph, solitude:
Nor thine unseen in cavern depths to well,
The hermit-fountain of some dripping cell!

Pride of the vale! thy useful streams supply
The scattered cots and peaceful hamlet nigh.
The elfin tribe around thy friendly banks
With infant uproar and soul-soothing pranks,
Released from school, their little hearts at rest,
Launch paper navies on thy waveless breast.
The rustic here at eve with pensive look
Whistling lorn ditties leans upon his crook,
Or starting pauses with hope-mingled dread
To list the much-loved maid’s accustom’d tread:
She, vainly mindful of her dame’s command,
Loiters, the long-filled pitcher in her hand.

Unboastful stream! thy fount with pebbled falls
The faded form of past delight recalls,
What time the morning sun of hope arose,
And all was joy; save when another’s woes
A transient gloom upon my soul imprest,
Like passing clouds impictured on thy breast.
Life’s current then ran sparkling to the noon,
Or silvery stole beneath the pensive moon:
Ah! now it works rude brakes and thorns among,
Or o’er the rough rock bursts and foams along!

Upon first reading of this poem, it appears to be a pastoral work extolling the beauty of a stream as it flows through a small village. Having visited the Lake District of England several times, I can envision the scene that Coleridge is describing. But there are several metaphors in here that lead me to believe that the stream in this poem is really a symbol for poetic inspiration, a flowing stream of consciousness that feeds his psyche with images and emotion from which his poetry springs.

The first clue appears in the second line, where he describes the stream’s water as both milky and clear. We have an oxymoron here. I suspect that he uses the image of milkiness to symbolize the nurturing effect that the stream is having upon him. As a young child being fed milk from his mother’s breast, Coleridge is being fed by his muse and nurturing milk is what causes him to develop as a poet. It also brings clarity of vision, especially his inner vision, hence the stream is also described as clear. Just like in “Kubla Khan,” the poet has drunk the milk of Paradise and received divine inspiration.

The next clue to the poem’s symbolism is the reference to Pierian flowers. This is a mythological reference to the Pierian spring which was in Macedonia and was considered sacred to the Muses. The waters from the Pierian spring were believed to provide poetic inspiration (source: English Romantic Writers – David Perkins). Here, Coleridge is establishing a connection between the stream he sees running through the village and the mythological spring which was associated with the Muses.

The rest of the poem is easy enough to interpret. The stream evokes memories of his past, both joyful and painful. He experiences an array of emotions, all of which are inspiration for his poems.

Personally, I really enjoyed this poem, enough to read it twice before drafting this post. Coleridge was truly an inspired individual and a master of crafting words. Cheers!

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Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 3

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

This episode is a little more challenging than the first two. Stephen Dedalus is walking along the beach and everything that happens is stream of consciousness thoughts in his mind stirred by recent events and by the things he observes. There is only one single line of spoken dialog which occurs outside Stephen’s mind, and that is when a person on the beach calls to his dog.

This episode corresponds to Proteus in the Homeric epic.

According to Homer (Odyssey iv:412), the sandy island of Pharos situated off the coast of the Nile Delta was the home of Proteus, the oracular Old Man of the Sea and herdsman of the sea-beasts. In the Odyssey, Menelaus relates to Telemachus that he had been becalmed here on his journey home from the Trojan War. He learned from Proteus’ daughter, Eidothea (“the very image of the Goddess”), that if he could capture her father he could force him to reveal which of the gods he had offended, and how he could propitiate them and return home. Proteus emerged from the sea to sleep among his colony of seals, but Menelaus was successful in holding him, though Proteus took the forms of a lion, a serpent, a leopard, a pig, even of water or a tree. Proteus then answered truthfully, further informing Menelaus that his brother Agamemnon had been murdered on his return home, that Ajax the Lesser had been shipwrecked and killed, and that Odysseus was stranded on Calypso’s Isle Ogygia.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Proteus is the perfect symbol for Stephen’s subconscious mind, which is the source of his fluid, streaming thoughts. The unconscious mind, like the sea, is fluid and constantly moving and changing, with thoughts rising, falling, and swirling like waves and ripples upon the surface.

In modern times, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung defined the mythological figure of Proteus as a personification of the unconscious, who, because of his gift of prophecy and shape-changing, has much in common with the central but elusive figure of alchemy, Mercurius.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Early in the episode, Stephen closes his eyes as he walks along the shoreline. The shore symbolizes the threshold between his waking conscious state represented by the land and the fluid unconscious represented by the sea. Once his eyes are closed, the sounds and rhythms of the sea begin to affect his mind as he starts to shift into a state dominated by his unconscious. Joyce employs onomatopoeia to mimic the crackling sounds which Stephen hears as he slips deeper into his unconscious.

Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush cracking wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space. Five, six: the nacheinander. Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible. Open your eyes. No. Jesus! If I fell over a cliff that beetles o’er his base, fell through the nebeneinander ineluctably. I am getting on nicely in the dark. My ash sword hangs at my side. Tap with it: nebeneinander. Sounds solid: made by the mallet of Los Demiurgos. Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand? Crush, crack, crick, crick. Wild sea money. Dominie Deasy kens them a’.

Won’t you come to Sandymount,
Madeline the mare?

(p. 37)

At one point deep in Stephen’s reverie, his thoughts drift to the Martello tower and he vows not to sleep there that evening. As this happens, he experiences a moment of connection with his soul. I interpreted this in several ways. First, it is an expression of the conscious mind becoming aware of the unconscious mind, as he teeters on the shore between states of consciousness. Next, it is a reference to the Platonic concept of the form, which is the archetype from which all subsequent incarnations are emanated. It’s worth noting here that on page 38, Joyce incorporates a reference to Adam Kadmon, which in Jewish kabbalistic thought is the form from which man is created. Finally, the mention of Elsinore in this passage implies a connection between Stephen and Hamlet, Hamlet being the literary expression of Stephen’s inner-self. Since the soul is ineffable, it is only through art that one can come close to expressing the hidden part of ourselves, hence the connection to Hamlet.

Turning, he scanned the shore south, his feet sinking again slowly in new sockets. The cold domed room of the tower waits. Through the barbicans the shafts of light are moving ever, slowly ever as my feet are sinking, creeping duskward over the dial floor. Blue dusk, nightfall, deep blue night. In the darkness of the dome they wait, their pushedback chairs, my obelisk valise, around a board of abandoned platters. Who to clear it? He has the key. I will not sleep there when this night comes. A shut door of a silent tower entombing their blind bodies, the pathersahib and his pointer. Call: no answer. He lifted his feet up from the suck and turned back by the mole of boulders. Take all, keep all. My sould walks with me, form of forms. So in the moon’s midwatches I pace the path above the rocks, in sable silvered, hearing Elsinore’s tempting flood.

(p.44)

During his walk on the beach, Stephen encounters the carcass of a dead dog: “A bloated carcass of a dog lay lolled on bladderwrack” (p. 44). I had to look up bladderwrack and learned it is a type of seaweed that was originally used to make iodine. Anyway, although Joyce makes a connection in the text to “Gautier’s prose,” I personally could not help envisioning Baudelaire’s “A Carcass.” The rotting carcass as a symbol of decay, both physically and spiritually, seems to tie in with Stephen’s current state of mind.

Near the end of the episode, the imagery of water as a symbol for the unconscious becomes prominent. In addition, seaweed is used as a symbol for fragments of thought, which are swirled about in the currents of the subconscious, strands which move about making what seem to be random connections, almost like the synapses from the brain’s neurons.

Under the upswelling tide he saw the writhing weeds lift languidly and sway reluctant arms, hising up their petticoats, in whispering water swaying and upturning coy silver fronds.

(p. 49)

Next week I’ll cover Episode 4, which ends on page 70 in my book with the phrase “Poor Dignam!” See you then.


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:


 

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proteus

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section3.rhtml

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“The Clod and the Pebble” by William Blake

ClodAndPebble

Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair.

So sung a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle’s feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heavens despite.

I found this poem to be pretty dark and depressing. For a short poem, there is a lot packed in here and it does not paint a nice picture of human nature and society.

The poem is broken into three stanzas. The first stanza expresses the views of the clod and the third the views of the pebble. The second is an outside observation tying the two together. I will go into more detail on each of these perspectives and the associated symbolism.

The first thing to consider is what the clod and the pebble represent. I see several interpretations for these metaphors. On a basic level, the clod is a poor, underprivileged person, one of the masses, and conversely, the pebble is a ruler or someone of the upper class. The poor person is trodden down by the masses of society while the rich person remains firmly planted as life swirls about.

The clod and the pebble also represent basic personality traits, the optimist and the pessimist, respectively. The clod has a positive outlook, is guided by unconditional love, and seeks to make the world a better place by easing the hell associated with human suffering. The pebble has a negative view of love and humanity. The pessimistic outlook casts a shroud of negativity over everything it comes in contact with. Despite being in a heavenly state, the pessimist always sees the negative and by expressing that negativity, “builds a Hell in Heaven.”

Finally, I see a psychological interpretation here that is worth exploring. I could not help seeing the clod as the compassionate aspect of our psyche, while the pebble is like the ego. The clod, like the passionate nature of our mind, is pliant and can be molded by our experiences. That is not the case with the ego-pebble. The pebble is hard and self-contained. The stream of consciousness swirls about the pebble, but the pebble is unmoved and basically oblivious to anything outside itself.

I know that some of my interpretation stems from ideas that came after Blake wrote this, but I like to think that Blake was someone who was able to tap into something greater than himself and to draw inspiration from a divine source. He was clearly centuries ahead of his time.

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“Dr. Sax” by Jack Kerouac

DrSaxI suspect that this post will probably piss off some hipsters out there, but I have to be honest—I thought this book sucked. In fact, in my mind I jokingly renamed it Dr. Sucks. And the truth is, I like Kerouac, but this book is a flop. I couldn’t finish it, and believe me; I hate not finishing a book. But this book was so dreadful and life is too short that I could not justify wasting any more time reading it.

I found it in a local used book store that was going out of business. All books were severely marked down, so I grabbed a stack. This was one of the ones I bought. I’d never heard of this book before, but hey, it’s Kerouac and for $2, how could I go wrong?

The book is basically Kerouac’s attempt at stream-of-consciousness writing. He weaves together memory and dream fragments in rambling sentences to try to capture how his mind works. I envisioned Jack sitting at a typewriter, wired on amphetamines, and frantically typing out every jagged thought that sped through his brain.

Here is a random paragraph from the book:

I could hear it rise from the rocks in a groaning wush ululating with the water, sprawlsh, sprawlsh, oom, oom, zoooo, all night long the river says zooo, zooo, the stars are fixed on rooftops like ink. Merrimac, dark name, sported dark valleys: my Lowell had the great trees of antiquity in the rocky north waving over lost arrowheads and Indian scalps, the pebbles on the slatecliff beach are full of hidden beads and were stepped on barefoot by Indians. Merrimac comes swooping from a north of eternities, falls pissing over locks, cracks and froths on rocks, bloth, and rolls frawing to the kale, calmed in dewpile stone holes slaty sharp (we dove off, cut our feet, summer afternoon stinky hookies), rocks full of ugly old suckers not fit to eat, and crap from sewage, and dyes, and you swallowed mouthfuls of the chokeful water— By moonlight night I see the Mighty Merrimac foaming in a thousand white horses upon the tragic plains below. Dream: —wooden sidewalk planks of Moody Street Bridge fall out, I hover on beams over rages of white horses in the roaring low, —moaning onward, armies and cavalries of charging Euplantus Eudronicus King Grays loop’d & curly like artists’ work, and with clay souls’ snow curlicue rooster togas in the fore front.

Now, I confess, I understand what Kerouac was trying to do here, and I can appreciate it. Expressing the workings of the subconscious mind is not an easy thing to do. And the truth is, I enjoy stream-of-consciousness writing, if it’s done well, and therein is the issue; it really wasn’t done well. This book in no way compares with the works of James Joyce or Thomas Wolfe. In addition, it seems that the entire book is nothing but the rambling stream-of-consciousness. That’s right—no plot, no narrative, basically, no story. After reading almost 100 pages of streaming memory fragments, I just couldn’t take any more.

As much as I hate to part with books, I will probably put this out the next time I have a yard sale. I’m sure there are hipster-wannabes out there willing to pay $2 for this book and who will pretend to find it deep and inspiring.

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