In Search of Lost Time, Down the Stream of Consciousness, in Your Own Canoe

“Nothing is less useful than an adventure without meaning, an encounter without notes… a great ethnographic work is both scientific and literary… translating patterns… far from providing a smooth road… makes the journey appropriately rough… the resulting picture is multidimensional, a kind of holograph that can be glimpsed with tantalizing clarity from certain angles, but that from others dissolves into hazy depths owing to the complex convergence of forces that create the image.”

And so crashed over me that amazing wave of a quote, onto the shores of my first year studying anthropology at university. It was taken from the little book, “The Anthropological Lens: Harsh Light, Soft Focus”, by Peacock. Then, about nine years after I’d done and dusted with my undergraduate degree, I was compelled to dig this quote up again to share it with a new friend who was blowing my mind with other new stuff.

Marcel Proust’s, ‘In Search of Lost Time’. It was recommended to me by that friend, who said it could change your life. I am not sure about that but I do think it encourages you to reflect on your past, your memories and your childhood, and also to pay attention to detail and the like instead of racing through life. It’s also true that since I was introduced to it, it has kept rearing its head. Again, and again. So maybe it did change my life. An enhanced awareness of the world around me maybe.

My friend had said:

“Marcel Proust is a life changing read; “In Search of Lost Time”. The best section is “Swann’s Way”. It’s considered by some to be the best literature of the century. It’s not about the story (which is quite bland) it’s about the writing with its attention to detail and his incredible ability to capture in words human characteristics. I particularly love a famous bit where he’s eating a bun and the flavour stirs up some distant memory which he tries to latch onto, but nearly loses, but then captures it in all its glory. When Swann experiences pangs of jealousy I didn’t believe until I read it that it was possible to capture such emotions in writing. Also, Proust never uses anyone else’s clichés; all his examples and similes and illustrations are brand new and delicious. The first line of the novel has got to be unique, “For a long time I used to go to bed early,” then as he dozes and awakens the walls and furniture seem to slide into new positions as if he’s awoken in his aunt’s house twenty years earlier as a child. Awesome!! Anyways below is a link to what I think is the simplest way of seeing in all its glory the conclusion of quantum mechanics. This to me highlights the idealistic and not the mechanistic view of existence.  I’m sure you understand what I mean. By the way the wonder is in the last few seconds:

We’d chatted briefly about quantum mechanics in a passing interlude on a sunny lawn the previous week.

So my friend had said Proust would change my life… still not sure about that, but he had unlocked part of my old one. He also talked about the ‘Stream of Consciousness’ to me. He said:

“I love “Stream of Consciousness” writing.  My hero is James Joyce, also Virginia wolf. I think James Joyce actually wrote the longest word ever when he wrote about going down a slide and he wrote something like “weeeeeeeeeooooooaaaaaaaaaeeeee” (he did it a lot better). But you actually had to read the whole word –  Hold on a mo – kettles just boiled……….. Hi I’m back with a hot cup of tea, white with two sugars, sip, ahhhh lovely. Now then where was I – Oh yes James Joyce. I think you get the point (stream of consciousness) lol. Anyway, I’ve been watching your retro YouTube clips – excellent. Now I know you like music I’ll send you a few favourite clips of mine, but don’t worry, I don’t expect you to like any. Can you remember in “The Glass bead Game” Joseph Nacht associated the smell of an acorn with Spring and a Schubert sonata, and explained that his appreciation and connection of those 3 things was completely subjective and that while he could explain his appreciation and connection of them to others he couldn’t transmit his appreciation to others – each person must make their own way.  The reason that comes to mind is because it never ceases to amaze me how subjective appreciation of music is. Any way I came across this YouTube video and quite liked it – it’s quite unique – I like the rapper,  lol:

Yes, that video was totally unique, to me anyway. Very much reminded me of a kind of tea-time come early evening dance session at a bar in Soho, London, I went to once with a very funky friend from my halls of residence. I wasn’t cool enough by far but it was quite an atmosphere to soak up and just enjoy being in and witnessing. People were dressed a bit like they were in that YouTube video, although everyone different, not at all similar to each other. It was somewhere in between jazz and funk and blues and retro all at once. How people were dressed did it for me. Love the swing scene (music that is) for all that glamour too. Anyway, that video, my friend guessed me right, I didn’t exactly like it, but not that I didn’t like it altogether, it just didn’t grab me because I didn’t know how to place it. I’d probably need it in a genre or something. I’m obviously not sophisticated enough. It was very arty though and yeah, definitely quirky and funky. Appealing in an aesthetic way. All that retro stuff I like just used to leave me on a silly high and smiling and quite often singing along with a Bic biro.

So anyway, I loved the stream of consciousness idea. If you are a person who has a problem concentrating it can help to kind of give yourself a kick and bring you back to the here and now. And it also helps you stop externalizing and focusing on others in a way that could be destructive in the vein of, “he/she is this or that”. So how about trying to centre yourself, and asking yourself, what am I thinking now? What am I seeing now? What am I feeling now? What am I doing now? Now! It’s like paying attention to yourself in a way that drowns out external noise, so you can get back in the stream you want to be in, in your own canoe. Yes, you read that right: in your own canoe! I Love that metaphor, and it’s gone down well in the pub before now as well :-)) Are you in your own canoe? Well, are you?

My friend said: “I’m glad you like “Stream of Consciousness”. You’re right; it can be a bit of a life changing experience.  It frees you up to be able to write more honestly, which can be less formal and more creative.  That’s what I think anyway.” My friend also said a lot more… cranked up a fair mental whirlwind. Sometimes you meet people who do this to you – these are the inspirational teachers of life. When you are ready, they really do appear.

But stream of consciousness for me was so, so much more than just freeing you up for writing. I’d say it was more like a tool for freeing you up for LIVING! The stuff on resurfacing the consciousness… at minimum it reminds you of things you might have read or absorbed and been influenced by so you can re-examine if you want that in your life or not… but whoooooooooooaaaaaaaaaa, at the deeper level it is the deepest psychological tool known to man, in my humble opinion, for scraping the insides of the darkest depths of your existence. All those people who have been traumatized by goodness knows who or what… it’s a tool to just wipe it all away… the absolute key to authenticity… you can’t live deliberately unless you can sift through every recess of your mind to know what has influenced you in what way (which probably means no one truly can 100 %). Imagine being able to go backwards through time to unpick all that and choose whether you want to keep it or not… (like battered wives or abused children or war veterans with PTSD, etc, etc, never mind just being able to choose to delete the influence a book or a film or a painting might have had on you) because, that is the key to being how we are now and what else will happen in our lives.

Another topic: ‘My town does not exist” – it’s ok, I thought as much all along, I said. Constructs: my town does not exist apart from a social, political and geographical etc construct, a meme, linguistically constructed and reified through people’s conversations with each other, existing because of and through memory. Seen that film, ‘Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind’, by the way? Just as an aside.

A big theoretical guru hero of mine during my PhD that I haven’t mentioned yet… Ralph Stacey…  He proposes the theory of Complex Responsive Processes of Relating (CRPR). He used to be all in tune with CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems Theory) but he decided that while that was ok for non human systems such as ants, birds, bees and computer simulations, humans needed something that included free will and Kantian dualism, paradox, with the use of a temporal, not a spatial, metaphor to apply analogically. Basically it all boils down to everything in life being seen as a conversation; interaction between – the space between being important (remember that phrase from the New Age fiction, The Celestine prophesy?) because it is from there that novelty, spontaneity and creativity emerge; conversation and interaction being a catalyst for creation. Cognitivists hate Stacey’s stuff, because they think it negates reality of things, and reduces everything to some kind of mythological, ontological fairy-tale.

Anyway, the point being, that if in conversation we both agree something exists, then our inter-subjective interaction has just made it real. End of story. So having talked about it, yes, your town does exist, and therefore, because we have created it, we can decide how it is and how it is going to be. We can embellish it and develop it through our conversation, misunderstandings, agreements, and disagreements, all we want, it’s our decision, confusion, and chaotic mess to play out. Only by changing the conversation ourselves or by letting someone else do that can our town be changed. That’s how many consultants in business earn thousands each week, by helping employers change the conversation going on inside a firm. It’s what psychotherapists do with groups and individuals. If someone is depressed they will listen to the conversation the client is dialoguing, accept it to a certain extent as a similar version of the conversation the client is having in their head, change the verbal conversation and try to validate and change the person’s own mental conversation they are having with themselves. Also, ever heard the phrase ‘primary knowing’? That’s an interesting thing. What about ‘shadow themes’? Some stuff for you to look up if you are unfamiliar with them. Do you have an initial mental tornado brewing up nicely now?  I did after all this. Marvellous :-))

Below is a stream of consciousness exercise I developed to run in a workshop after all this. Have a go!

Poetry Night: Stream of Consciousness Exercise

Put on your poet’s cap to write a poem … Title: “The River of Me…”

Unleash your creative and imaginative potential. Get more focus in your life. Learn how to listen to your own voice. Be more grounded. Find flow.

1)       Read my previous blog entry on Jack Kerouac and find some YouTube videos where he recites his work
2)       Think deeply about beat poetry and free writing and stream of consciousness
3)       Do the following stream of consciousness exercise:

Stream of consciousness exercise

Frame 1: words and thoughts of recollections up to ten years old

Frame 2: words and thoughts of recollections up to 20 years old
Frame 3: words and thoughts of recollections up to 30 years old
Frame 4: words and thoughts of recollections up to 40 years old
Frame 5: words and thoughts of how you feel about life now
Frame 6: words and thoughts of things that you want to change
Frame 7: words and thoughts of things that you really, really want to change
Frame 8: words and thoughts of how things are going to be!
Frame 9: words and thoughts of how change feels
Frame 10: words and thoughts of how in tune with life you are – and where life is taking you

You might include words and thoughts about sights, smells and colour, taste and touch, objects, people, speed and light, dark and depth, shocks and horrors, highs and lows, delights and joys, emotions and ideas… or your own ideas 😉

Are you having fun yet? :-))

4 thoughts on “In Search of Lost Time, Down the Stream of Consciousness, in Your Own Canoe

  1. Love that stream of consciousness poetry structure! Will use it with my Y10s next week… will have to tweak it for 15yo's 🙂 Great post. Can definitely relate to smeĺls being associated with old memories.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s