Can there ever be a true written stream of consciousness?

Posted on May 26, 2014


Mid-April. I am in Tai Chung, along the centre of the west coast of Taiwan. I’m here to visit family.

I check my emails (as you do on holidays) not expecting to read anything of interest, and I receive this poem from my Dad.

A Flower Given to My Daughter

Frail the white rose and frail are
Her hands that gave
Whose soul is sere and paler
Than time’s wan wave.

Rosefrail and fair — yet frailest
A wonder wild
In gentle eyes thou veilest,
My blueveined child.

It is by James Joyce. Irish author, renowned for Ulysees. My Dad writes that it reminds him of Katie’s (my sister’s) funeral.

On the contrary, I was reminded of my Year 12 Literature teacher. She was an eccentic woman and at times would say the most unexpected things. She had striking white hair and spoke very softly. One day in class, she gives the class a stern look and says,

‘You haven’t read anything until you’ve read your Ulysees,’ 

‘My father’s words’ she later added.

In the coming years during my time at university, Ulysees was continually referenced (I was later given the novel as a gift –  but I have been too intimidated to start it).

The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole Life to reading my works. – James Joyce, Harper’s Magazine.

I first heard about the stream consciousness during first year of university in a creative writing class. We were asked to write our own. But the task threw me.

A written stream of consciousness is supposed to depict your interior monologue and be representative of the mixed, scattered and fleeting thoughts that pass through your mind. I sit there pretending to write to the equivalent of my thought processes but I find the process itself frustrating.

Instead of writing a ‘stream’ as such, it reads more like an bumpy road – I am so focussed on a a series of thoughts that it disrupts and fragments the writing process more. I’m constantly thinking about who is going to read this, and try to cater for them.

I like the idea of the stream of consciousness though because it removes the idea of the narrator. It is meant to only reflect the writer’s consciousness.

Can there ever be a true written stream of consciousness?

Some argued that there can’t be a true written stream of consciousness but is really more like an organised presentation of a character’s rational thoughts.

Nonetheless, literature fanatics and Joyce scholars praise this literary masterpiece. Especially on 16 June – Bloomsday (a few weeks off from now…).

Bloomsday celebrates Joyce’s Ulysees – in all its wonders and complexities. The novel has been praised for its humor and ability to challenge classic literature conventions.

The half of me which is not Chinese is half Irish by descent, so I should have some affinity with Joyce.

While I may not be taking part in any direct celebration of Bloomsday, I will think of Joyce on this day and still feel guilty for not having read my Ulysees.

Until then, I will keep re-reading A Flower Given to My Daughter.

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