Vanity Fea

Transparent Minds

A summary of Dorrit Cohn’s Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1978).

1. Consciousness in Third-Person Context.

1.1. Psycho-Narration: The narration of the character’s thoughts by a knowledgeable narrator, in the narrator’s own language and concepts. It tends towards summary and abstraction. It draws no border between feelings and perceptions. It is the classical way of presenting consciousness (e.g. in Trollope, Meredith or Proust) and it is the most apt for the analysis of the least conscious strata of psychic life. It is the equivalent of indirect discourse. Often found in authorial narrative.

1.2. Quoted Monologue. The thoughts of the character are quoted by the narrator in a literal way. Usually with quotation marks (but without them in Ulysses ch. I). Monologue, whether autonomous or not, does not portray the Freudian unconscious or the Jamesian stream of consciousness, but endophasy, a phenomenon of consciousness. The unconscious can be reflected only symptomatically by the thoughts of a character. Primitive uses are modelled on speech and rhetorical patterns. In the most mimetic instances, pronominal reference of 1st and 2nd person collapses, the coherence and unity of speech gives way to several conflicting voices or lines of thought, and there is syntactic fragmentation and lexical opaqueness. It is the silent equivalent of direct discourse and is often identified with it up to the early 19th century.

1.3. Narrated Monologue. A rendition of the character’s thoughts with his own words and attitudes, but set in the syntax of a third-person narration (3rd person reference to the character and past narrative tenses). Very often there is an ambiguity as to whether it is actual speech or merely thought which is being depicted: therefore, this mode merges into free indirect discourse, of which it is the equivalent. Due to its form, it also provides a seamless transition into psycho-narration: the difference is that no verbs of mental activity are used in narrated monologue, which therefore has grammatical independence. Narrated monologue refers to thoughts : it is different from narrated perception , although they may combine. It amplifies emotional notes, in the directions of both sympathy and irony. Often found in figural narrative. Galsworthy’s The Man of Property is a good example.

2. Consciousness in First-Person Texts.

2.1. Retrospective techniques. They are the first-person equivalents of these techniques, but with an essential difference: an element of remembrance is introduced.

2.1.1. Self-narration. Equivalent of psycho-narration. Like psycho-narration, it may be dissonant, if there is a great distance (temporal, ideological) between the narrating self and the experiencing self, or consonant , if the two are close. Consonant self-narration has been favoured by modern literature. Dissonant: Great Expectations. Consonant: L’Etranger.

2.1.2. Self-quoted monologue. Equivalent of quoted monologue. From set speeches to flickering thoughts. It is somewhat cumbersome and psychologically implausible. Usually avoided now; frequent in early memoir-novels.

2.1.3. Self-narrated monologue. Equivalent of narrated monologue. In it, "the narrator momentarily identifies with his past self, giving up his temporally distanced vantage point and cognitive privilege for his past-time-bound bewilderments and vacillations" (167). Hamsun’s Hunger.

2.2. From narration to monologue. A range of intermediary, problematic forms. In these there is no realistic motivation for the narrative; there is ambiguity about the status of the narrative and the audience addressed. E.g. Beckett’s novels, or Faulkner’s memory monologues which exclude all but past experience. Other intermediary cases may be in the direction of digressive autobiography, or the diary, when the motivation of the text is abandoned or laid bare. There is a general tendency in contemporary literature to break the rules of formal mimeticism.

2.3. The autonomous monologue. It is similar to quoted monologue, only it is not quoted by a narrator – our first and only contact is with the mind of the character.

2.3.1. Joyce’s "Penelope" monologue in Ulysses as paradigm. Predominance of exclamatory syntax; avoidance of standard narrative and reportive tenses; vague referentiality.

2.3.2. Variations of the form. The portrayal of time is not necessarily even. Sections of the same length without breaks may stand for very different stretches of story time. Or else, time gaps may be introduced in a variety of ways. Various degrees of formality or readability, sometimes motivated by the kind of mind which is portrayed.

2.3.3. The memory monologue. See 2.2. The present moment of locution of the narrator is emptied of experience: "the monologist exists as a disembodied medium, a pure memory without clear location in time and space" (247). Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Claude Simon’s novels.

2.3.4. Epilogue: The relation to drama and lyric. The autonomous monologue is no longuer a narrative technique among others used in a narrative genre. It is a narrative genre of its own, which has gradually suppressed all the originally narrative characteristics and moved in the direction of lyric and drama.

Implied author(s) in film and literature


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