They meet, and Ralph explains that the goal of his research is to provide an objective, "third-person" account of consciousness. Helen offers a quote from The Wings of the Dove (by Henry James, brother of William -- a nice touch!) to demonstrate that this, indeed, is just what novelists do. Ralph replies that what James does is fiction based on "folk psychology", and that novelists merely "pretend" to know about consciousness.
I suppose that Lodge could just as easily have chosen another James novel, What Maisie Knew (1897), told from the perspective of the titular child, as she tries to make sense of her family's complicated arrangements: divorced parents, and step-parents who are engaged in an affair with each other.
Helen, for her part, argues that novels actually constitute "thought experiments" in how to represent consciousness. And that without this representation of consciousness, novels wouldn't be novels, and wouldn't be satisfying for anyone to read. (In fact, her description of what a novel would be like without representations of consciousness closely resembles what some cognitive scientists call the "functionalist" approach to behavior -- descriptions that don't stray from "behaviour and appearances", without saying anything about the characters' inner lives.)
Helen's dissertation project was on point of view in
Henry James. In literary studies, "point of view" refers to the way
the story is told -- that is, whose consciousness is being
described. We can identify three different
points of view, or narrative stance, with some
variants. For a fuller discussion,
see The Rhetoric of Fiction by C. Wayne Booth (1961).
If, as Helen claims, fiction wouldn't be satisfying without some representation of the conscious mental states of the characters, narrative stance is related to intersubjectivity.
Intersubjectivity is higher-order intentionality. And perhaps this is the time to remind ourselves of the two quite different meanings of the word "intentionality".
Robin Dunbar (2000; Kinderman et al., 1998) has calculated that we can keep track of only about five levels of intentionality. This is consistent with what we know about the limited capacity of short-term memory (e.g., George Miller's "Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two") or the capacity of working memory (closer to 4 or 5 items).
through all this because Lisa
Zunshine (2006, 2012), a literature scholar who has
been greatly influenced by
psychology and cognitive science, has argued that
intersubjectivity plays a big role in the English
novel. In fact, she argues that
intersubjectivity in the novel was essentially
invented by Jane Austen, whose novels are full of
narratives in which A believes that B believes
that C believes X.
This is different from the
intentionality in earlier (English)
|For example, there is an
important episode in Persuasion
which Elizabeth and Anne,
encounter Wentworth, to whom
Elizabeth had once been engaged,
but who had been persuaded (hence the title)
to break it off.
Episodes like this proliferate
in Austen's novels
-- much more so than in her 18th-century
predecessors, like Defoe,
Richardson, or Fielding.
Interestingly, an article commemorating the 200th
anniversary of Jane Austen's death discussed a
computational analysis of Austen's works by Franco
Moretti, founder of the Stanford Literary Lab and
a proponent of computational criticism, a
branch of digital humanities (DigHum, in
Stanford parlance) which seeks to bring the
techniques of "Big Data" to bear on the analysis
of works of literature ("The Word Choices that
Explain Why Jane Austen Endures" by Kathleen A.
Flynn & John Katz, New York Times Book
Review, 07/16/2017). For example,
Moretti employed principal components analysis to
plot a number of modern English novels, published
between 1710 and 1920, on a pair of axes.
Austen's work was nearly isolated from the others,
for its reference to time markers and states of
mind and avoidance of "muscular" prose.
Another analysis, essentially a word-count, found
that Austen tended to use "intensifying" words
like very, as well as more words referring
to women. And so it went, with its
word-counts and contingency coefficients, leading
to the conclusion, in the words of Flynn and Katz,
that Austen was preoccupied with "states of mind
and feeling, her characters' unceasing efforts to
understand themselves and other people". OK,
but that's a lot of computational firepower to
pick up what Zunshine noted with her naked
eyes, which was Austen's invention of free
indirect narrative and multiple levels of
intentionality. So much for DigHum!
|Which is not to say that there aren't
predecessors. As Robin Dunbar
(92004) has noted,
Shakespeare's Othello depends precisely on
multiple levels of intersubjectivity.
|And there are similar episodes in
homer's Odyssey, such as when
Odysseus and his men are held captive by the
|And, for that matter, there are similar episodes
in the Hebrew Bible:
Or, for that matter, after Adam and Eve tasted the fruit of the Tree of
Knowledge (Genesis 3,
|But of course, intersubjectivity is
essential to the novel, as Helen Reed argues in Thinks....
Zunshine's claim is more interesting:
that higher-order intersubjectivity in the
novel was essentially the invention of Jane
Zunshine goes on to argue that much modern literature, of the 20th and 21st centuries, is full of multiple levels of intersubjectivity. Zunshine has estimated that Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf (1925), involves 6 or 7 levels of intersubjectivity -- far in excess of what Dunbar has estimated most readers can handle.
Moreover, Woolf wrote Mrs. Dalloway in what literary scholars call free indirect discourse. She rarely uses quotation marks to indicate dialogue, so that it is difficult to make a distinction between what people think and what they say.
No wonder we need CliffsNotes!
Zunshine's analysis, while innovative, is not completely unique. Louis Menand, a literature scholar at Harvard reviewing a number of books about Austen in the New Yorker ("For Love or Money", 10.05/2020), notes that:
All of Austen's novels are about misinterpretation, about people reading other people incorrectly. Catherine Morland, in Northanger Abbey, reads General Tilney wrong. Elizabeth Bennet reads Mr. Darcy wrong. Marianne Dashwood, in Sense and Sensibility, gets Willoughby wrong, and Edmond Bertram, in Mansfield Park, gets Mary Crawford wrong. Emma gets everybody wrong.
Perhaps the single most important poem in the English
Romantic tradition, The Prelude is about nothing
less than consciousness -- specifically, Wordsworth's
consciousness. Begun in 1798, and essentially
finished in 1839, the poem went through several different
versions, as befits an autobiographical work, and in fact
received its title by Wordsworth's wife only when it
was published posthumously. As a young man,
Wordsmith had been an enthusiastic supporter of the French
Revolution -- a stance he came to regret during and after
The Terror. In trying to understand how all of this
came to pass, Wordsworth reviews his life in one long epic
poem (14 books!), which was intended to be only a part of
an even longer one, portraying the various episodes in his
life that influenced the shaping and re-shaping of his
In an extensive analysis of The Prelude,
see by Helen Vendler, reviewing a new edition of the
1805 version of the poem (containing 13 of the 14 books of
the final version), calls the poem "a
unique document of modern consciousness in its constant
mobility -- of times, thoughts, feelings, prospect, and
retrospect" and "a reenactment in real time of the
volatile inner life of a human being".
Vendler further notes that "Wordsworth's momentous -- and
surpassingly expressive -- document belongs in any account
of the evolution of modern secular consciousness in all
its frailty, its tenacity, its bitter self-reproach, its
existential doubt, its exaltation, and its stern
accommodation to the vicissitudes of life" ("'I Heard Voices in My Head'", New
York Review of Books, 02/23/2017).
wrote in a style known stream of consciousness
(also known as interior monologue; they're not exactly the same thing, but
this isn't a course in literary techniques!), which was
essentially the invention of James Joyce (yes, Joyce had
his predecessors, but we've really got to give him
credit). The goal in this style is to
replicate the features of William James's stream of
consciousness, with little or no
punctuation and apparent leaps from one thought or
image to another. In Ulysses,
sometimes the characters' attention is focused
outward, on the sights and sounds they experience
while walking through Dublin; other times, their
attention is focused inward, on their thoughts and
The classic example is Joyce's Ulysses (1922), a novel inspired directly by Homer's Odyssey, which traces the thoughts and actions of its main character, Leopold Bloom, as he moves through Dublin in a single day (June 16, 1904, a date still celebrated in literary quarters as "Bloomsday". And within Ulysses, the classic example is Chapter 18 ("Penelope"), which records the thoughts of Bloom's wife, Molly, as she goes to sleep at the end of the day.
different example is found in Joyce's last work, Finnegans
Wake (1939) which, famously begins and ends in the middle of a sentence, and
is littered throughout with puns and
logical leaps. That includes
the title, which lacks the usual apostrophe to
indicate possession: it could refer to "Finnegan's
wake", or funeral; or it could be a pun on "Finn is
again awake". Actually, the traditional
interpretation of this book is that it is an attempt to
represent dream-consciousness -- and, in fact, not just the dreams of a
single dreamer, but rather the dreams of a fairly
large number of dreamers, all intermingled. And
somewhat like a Mobius strip, the first
line picks up where the last line left off, so that the
"dream-process" (if that's what it is) starts up
all over again.
As for Woolf herself, Michael Cunningham
(whose novel, The Hours, later turned into an
excellent film by , is based on Mrs. Dalloway
wrote an appreciation in the New York Times Book
Review ("Michel Cunningham on Virginia Woolf's
Literary Revolution", 12/27/2020):
In “Mrs. Dalloway” we follow Clarissa, a society hostess, well-heeled and gracious, a little false, no longer young, as she walks through London on a balmy day in June....
In “Mrs. Dalloway”’s London, consciousness passes from one character to another in more or less the way a baton is passed among members of a relay race. If, for instance, a young Scottish woman, newly arrived in London, wanders lost and disconsolate through Regent’s Park, we briefly enter her mind, feel her unhappiness (“the stone basins, the prim flowers … all seemed, after Edinburgh, so queer. … She had left her people; they had warned her what would happen”) until she is noticed by an older woman, at which moment we switch to the consciousness of the old woman, who, envying the first woman’s youth, mourns the loss of her own (“it’s been a hard life. … What hadn’t she given to it? Roses; figure; her feet too.”) until we are snapped back to Clarissa, as she returns home to learn she has not been invited to an exclusive, politically inspired luncheon.
Maybe the book’s most singular innovation, however, is the alternating stories of Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith, who do not know of each other’s existence until the very end, when Septimus arrives at Clarissa’s party as a true ghost, not only disembodied but nameless, nothing left of him but his suffering and his violent end. At the very last moment, their lives converge, but only across the divide of mortality itself.
While Septimus is still alive, though, we move back and forth between the utter veracity of Clarissa’s domain, which can run to the banal, and the tumultuous delusions of Septimus’s, where a little banality might be a welcome relief.
On this side of the
Atlantic, William Faulkner employed
the stream-of-consciousnes technique in
The Sound and the Fury (1929).
Tracing the decline of a Mississippi family, the Compsons,the story is told mostly
through the voice of Benjy, the
youngest son, who is either brain-damaged
or mentally retarded, and whose
perceptions and memories come out in a disorganized flow
-- to which other family members also contribute, so that we get constantly shifting perspectives and locations in
space and time. In a letter to Malcolm Cowley,
Faulkner wrote that "I'm trying to say it all in one
sentence, between one Cap and one period. I'm
still trying to put it all, if possible, on one
Of course, neither
Joyce nor Faulkner invented the interior
in which a character speaks his thoughts out loud, go back at least as far as
Shakespeare's Hamlet ("To
be or not to be, that is the question...")
and Macbeth ("Tomorrow,
and to-morrow, and to-morrow/Creeps
in this petty pace from day to day,/To the
last syllable of recorded time...).
Soliloquies are different
from monologues, in which the actor is
really speaking to another
character, or to the audience. In
the soliloquy, the character
is speaking to him- or herself.
In the 20th century, the
developed further by Eugene O'Neil's Strange
Interlude (1923; also a 1932 movie starring Normal
Shearer and Clark Gable, and a 1988 television
adaptation starring Glenda Jackson and David
Dukes). In this play, the actors will occasionally
step out of the action and speak
their thoughts out loud to the
audience -- thoughts that may be quite different
from those conveyed by the
dialogue or action. In the film version, the soliloquies were
done as voiceovers. As of 2016, Strange
Interlude had not been
released on video, but you can watch
it on YouTube.
The play won the Pulitzer Prize
for Drama in 1928, the year it
was first produced.
Going Joyce and Faulkner one better, in 2019 Lucy Ellman published Duck, Newburyport, a novel consisting, mostly, of a single sentence of more than 426,000 words spread out over more than 1000 pages. Parul Seghal, reviewing the book in the New York Times ("A Thousand-Page Novel -- Made Up of Mostly One Sentence -- Captures How We Think Now", 09/04/2019), noted that the form of the book "mimics the way our minds move now: toggling between tabs, between the needs of small children and aging parents, between news of ecological collapse and school shootings while somehow remembering to pay taxes and fold the laundry". "In just a few lines, the narrator [an Ohio mother of four] can hurtle from toilet training her son to Howard Hughes, her weak ankles to white supremacy." Seghal concludes that "The capaciousness of the book allows Ellmann to stretch and tell the story of one family on a canvas that stretches back to the bloody days of Western expansion, but its real value feels deeper -- it demands the very attentiveness, the care, that it enshrines.
Another literary exploration of consciousness is to found throughout Marcel Proust's massive, seven-volume, 1925 novel, Remembrance of Things Past (that's the title of the original English translation, and still my preference; the new translation is entitled In Search of Lost Time). The series is an extended meditation on involuntary memory, when some object or event unexpectedly stirs up a memory. The classic example, from Swann's Way, the first volume, is the "madeleine episode", in which the first taste of a cookie dipped in tea brings back a rush of memory of the protagonist's childhood.
Jonah Lehrer, a prominent popular-science writer, wrote a book titled Proust was a Neuroscientist (2007), in which he argued that many modern scientific discoveries about the mind and brain were anticipated by Proust and other literary, musical, and artistic figures. But Proust wasn't any kind of neuroscientist, or even a psychologist. That's Lodge's point in Thinks...: that you don't have to be any kind of scientist to have interesting, valid things to say about consciousness.
Edward Rothstein, reviewing
Proust and Swann's Way: 100th
Anniversary" an exhibit at the Morgan
Library in New York City, comments
on Proust's depiction of conscious
for Those with a
Memory", New York Times,
"Perhaps I am as thick as two short planks," reads one [prepublication review], "but I cannot understand how a man can take 30 pages to describe how he turns round in his bed before he finally falls asleep."
But anyone who reads that first volume of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, translated as Remembrance of Things Past, has no problem understanding how 30 pages might be required to capture the turnings of self-consciousness and their cascades of recollection.
ironically, Rothstein notes that the
exhibit makes clear that the "Madeleine Episode" didn't
start out thta way. In a draft
from 1909, the narrator dips toast
in his tea; in a 1910 version, he dips biscottes.
So much for the reliability of
Realism and Memory in Proust's Madeleine Episode" by Emily
Troscianko, Memory Studies,
The structure of Thinks... reflects some of these literary trends. First, the book alternates among three different points of view: Ralph (speaking into his tape-recorder), Helen (writing in her diary), and an omniscient narrator. It strikes me that Ralph's exterior monologues (exterior because they're spoken into a recorder) are something of a parody of Molly Bloom's soliloquy in Ulysses.
There are some breaks in this plan.
Stoppard, the English playwright famous for exploring philosophical and social commentary
topics in his work: Every Good Boy
Deserves Favour (1977)
was inspired by the Gulag archipelago, while Arcadia (1993) dealt with
chaos theory, among other things (including landscape
architecture). The Hard Problem (2015) takes its title from David Chalmers's analysis of the mind-body-problem: Why do we have subjective
experience, and how does subjective experience
happen? I saw
its West Coast Premiere at
the American Conservatory Theatre, in San
Francisco, in 2016, where the stage set
reminded me a little of the architecture of
the Salk Institute in La Jolla, a famous
center for the study of the mind-body
problem (if that was intentional, then
someone was doing their homework).
the play also deals with the Prisoner's
Dilemma (in fact, it begins with a scene in
which two main characters, Spike and Hillary,
try to solve the problem), altruism vs.
egotism, and -- wait for it -- the Financial
Crisis of 2007-2009. Hillary is an
English university student seeking a
post-graduate fellowship at the Krohl Insitute
for Brain Science. While waiting for her
appointment, she learns from Amal, another applicant,
that the head of the Institute is mostly
interested in "The Hard Problem"; Hillary,
at first, doesn't even know what that is. Once
she finds out, she discusses the
problem with Spike, a die-hard
materialist, insisting (alluding to
Morton Prince and others) that there
is a difference between mind and
body, and there must be some "mind
stuff that doesn't show up in a
scan" (as I say, Stoppard does his
homework). But like most
everyone else, Hillary finds The
Hard Problem unsolvable: "Every
theory proposed for the problem of
consciousness has the same degree of
demonstrability as divine
Amal, for his part, proposes to study Libet's "unconscious readiness potential" while people are solving the PD. Amal eventually abandons brain science for high finance, and gets caught up in the Financial Crisis. I won't tell you what happens to Hillary (or Spike) -- except to say that I found the ending to be a completely unconvincing and unnecessary coincidence.
I will tell you, though, that Stoppard
doesn't stick with The Hard Problem
The play, while entertaining, is sort of a
mishmash: it's telling that, in the ACT playbook,
Stoppard tells us that he
originally intended to write a play about
the Financial Crisis. The Guardian,
reviewing the English production
criticized Stoppard for seeming to promise, but
not delivering, a serious exposition of and
commentary on The Hard Problem. Vinson Cunningham made a similar complaint,
reviewing the New York revival of The Hard Problem
in the New Yorker (12/10/2018). Reviewing the ACT
production, the San Francisco
Chronicle called the play "a string of
nonevents". Somehow, consciousness
slipped in, but the play is really more
about morality and altruism -- which is probably why it begins with
the PD. But maybe that's
Stoppard's point: for all the attention to
the mind-body problem, maybe the real
hard problem is how to behave morally in a materialist universe.
For my money, Lodge did a much better job of dealing with these issues, and with putting them into literature.
Representations of conscious mental states may lie at the heart of the novel (and other forms of fiction), but other art forms have also gotten in on the game.
obvious of these is Impressionism, which got its
start in France in the mid-19th century. Prior to
this time, at least from the Renaissance onward, up
through the Realism of Daumier, Courbet, David, and
others, paintings were supposed to be
realistic representations of people or scenes from
history, the Bible, or mythology
-- as the viewer were looking
through a window out onto a scene.
some respects this trend
continued with a movement known as post-impressionism.
The post-impressionists maintained the
impressionists' emphasis on momentary
perception, but they attempted to give their
art a more deliberate, finished look.
An excellent example is "A Sunday
afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte",
by Georges Seuat (1886),
the jewel in the crown of the collection at
the Art Institute of Chicago
(if you ever get to Chicago, don't miss
it!). Seurat himself was greatly influenced by the
psychological theory of color
at the time, proposed by Thomas Young and
Hermann von Helmholtz, who
showed that any
color could be produced by an
appropriate mixture of just three "primary" colors -- red, green,
and blue; this suggested that
we have receptors in the eye
tuned to short,
long, and medium wavelengths
of light (we now
know that this theory isn't
quite right, but that makes
no difference to the story).
making his painting (and many others
afterwards), Seurat applied pure color in
tiny drops (a technique known as pointillism)
-- and just to make it clear what he was
doing, he painted a frame around the
picture consisting solely of those same
dots of paint. Previous painters
mixed their paints before applying them to
the canvas. But Seurat understood
that, to paraphrase, color is mixed in
the eye, not on the palette.
The Expressionists were influenced by Benedetto
Croce, an Italian philosopher of aesthetics who argued
that art reflected an intuitive synthesis of image and
feeling. Artists are not representing reality:
they are representing emotion. They were also
influenced by the emerging theories of Sigmond Freud,
whose treatise on The Interpretation of Dreams,
published in 1899, became an international
best-seller. To make a long story short, argued
that dream imagery, was the product of unconscious
affects and drives.
Freud, and especially his dream theory, was an even
greater influence on another artistic movement, known
as surrealism. The surrealists, led by
Salvatore Dali and Henri Magritte, rejected the notion
of art as any kind of representation of the external
world (that it was just such a representation was an
assumption shared by both the Impressionists and the
Realists). Instead, they asserted that art
should represent the internal world, the world
of the mind, and especially that of the unconscious
mind. (The surrealists were also influenced by
C.G. Jung's theory of the collective unconscious.)
A variant on surrealism was surrealist automatism
-- an artistic technique inspired by automatic
writing, the Ouija Board, and other "mediumistic"
methods -- and, of course, William James's own
description of the stream of consciousness.
In automatic drawing, the artist allowed his
or hand to move, apparently randomly,
around the canvas or paper, so
that the resulting image reflected
the operation of unconscious processes.
A CARAFE, THAT IS A BLIND GLASS.
A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.
Nickel, what is nickel, it is originally rid of a cover.
The change in that is that red weakens an hour. The change has come. There is no search. But there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and sometime, surely any is unwelcome, sometime there is breath and there will be a sinecure and charming very charming is that clean and cleansing. Certainly glittering is handsome and convincing.
There is no gratitude in mercy and in medicine. There can be breakages in Japanese. That is no programme. That is no color chosen. It was chosen yesterday, that showed spitting and perhaps washing and polishing. It certainly showed no obligation and perhaps if borrowing is not natural there is some use in giving.
A SUBSTANCE IN A CUSHION.
The change of color is likely and a difference a very little difference is prepared. Sugar is not a vegetable.
Callous is something that hardening leaves behind what will be soft if there is a genuine interest in there being present as many girls as men. Does this change. It shows that dirt is clean when there is a volume.
A cushion has that cover. Supposing you do not like to change, supposing it is very clean that there is no change in appearance, supposing that there is regularity and a costume is that any the worse than an oyster and an exchange. Come to season that is there any extreme use in feather and cotton. Is there not much more joy in a table and more chairs and very likely roundness and a place to put them.
A circle of fine card board and a chance to see a tassel.
What is the use of a violent kind of delightfulness if there is no pleasure in not getting tired of it. The question does not come before there is a quotation. In any kind of place there is a top to covering and it is a pleasure at any rate there is some venturing in refusing to believe nonsense. It shows what use there is in a whole piece if one uses it and it is extreme and very likely the little things could be dearer but in any case there is a bargain and if there is the best thing to do is to take it away and wear it and then be reckless be reckless and resolved on returning gratitude.
Light blue and the same red with purple makes a change. It shows that there is no mistake. Any pink shows that and very likely it is reasonable. Very likely there should not be a finer fancy present. Some increase means a calamity and this is the best preparation for three and more being together. A little calm is so ordinary and in any case there is sweetness and some of that.
A seal and matches and a swan and ivy and a suit.
A closet, a closet does not connect under the bed. The band if it is white and black, the band has a green string. A sight a whole sight and a little groan grinding makes a trimming such a sweet singing trimming and a red thing not a round thing but a white thing, a red thing and a white thing.
The disgrace is not in carelessness nor even in sewing it comes out out of the way.
What is the sash like. The sash is not like anything mustard it is not like a same thing that has stripes, it is not even more hurt than that, it has a little top.
Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again.
A PIECE OF COFFEE.
More of double.
A place in no new table.
For a survey of the role of dreams in 20th-century art, see Dreams 1900-2000: Science, Art, and the Unconscious Mind, edited by Lynn Gamwell. The "science" is mostly psychoanalysis, so you have to take it with a grain of salt. But even if the science is bogus, there's no question that the psychoanalytic theory of dreams was a great influence on 20th-century art. The book includes "The Psychology and Physiology of Dreaming: A New Synthesis"an essay by Ernest Hartmann, a psychoanalyst who was also a leading dream researcher.
This page last revised 12/28/2020.