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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Jimmy and Jackie - A Quiet natter on Stream of Consciousness and Spontaneous Prose

It had to happen. Dead Beat being a proud Irishman would sooner or later have to invite his old pal Jimmy Joyce along. And Dead Beat’s invitations being more desirable than Gerty Stein’s, how could he not fail to turn up?

I’d like to sit him in a corner with Mr. Kerouac and let them natter on about stream of consciousness and spontaneous prose. Jimmy being older and wiser would soundly rap his knuckles for a lack of revision. He would surely tell him that his stream of consciousness writing was not chaotic but full of order. Jackie Boy would argue that his spontaneous prose was no less connected.

“The object is set before the mind, either in reality. as in sketching (before a landscape or teacup or old face) or is set in the memory wherein it becomes the sketching from memory of a definite image-object…Not "selectivity' of expression but following free deviation (association) of mind into limitless blow-on-subject seas of thought, swimming in sea of English with no discipline other than rhythms of rhetorical exhalation and expostulated statement, like a fist coming down on a table with each complete utterance, bang! (the space dash)-Blow as deep as you want-write as deeply, fish as far down as you want, satisfy yourself first, then reader cannot fail to receive telepathic shock and meaning-excitement by same laws operating in his own human mind.”

Jimmy to reply:” 'Why all this fuss and bother about the mystery of the unconscious? . . . What about the mystery of the conscious?'

Anyway, we need to recognise that Joyce and Kerouac were each striving to create a form which could accurately reflect the shifts in the world around them, just as the Dadaists were seeking a form to reflect the apparent chaos after the war. Ulysses and On The Road on close reading are not as unconventional as is often represented. On The Road was written in the spring of 1951, in a three-week burst of writing on a scroll of paper three inches thick made up of one single-spaced, unbroken 120 feet long paragraph. But let the myth die here, it underwent many revisions before publication. These are pivotal works by extraordinary writers. Most importantly they recognised As Ms. Eliott put it such a long time before them, that the form of a book was organic and grew from its intent.

This is the thing. Even Kerouac wrote an article on the ‘Essentials of Spontaneous Prose’. How spontaneous can that be! Underlying the apparent formal randomness is a very well developed ordered form. There is no getting away from it. And why would you want to?

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