Eric Rundquist. Free Indirect Style in Modernism: Representations of Consciousness.
In An Enquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940), Bertrand Russell notably denied the possibility for human language to provide a representation of the workings of the mind, so far as to claim that there is "no vocabulary for describing what actually takes place in us when we think." The complex relationship between language, consciousness and thought has fascinated generations of philosophers and psychologists, linguists and literary scholars and, not least, novelists. Indeed, Russell's reflection comes after the stylistic experimentation of literary Modernism, as novelists increasingly engaged with new ways of representing mind experiences and conditions. Building on these preliminary assumptions, Eric Rundquist's recent volume proposes a fresh examination of "Free Indirect Style"--or "FIS"--so as to investigate the ways in which modernist writers attempted to represent their characters' consciousness in narrative fiction.
Grounded in twentieth-century narratology and stylistics, Rundquist's study is especially indebted to the most recent debate on Free Indirect Style, from Ann Banfield's and Monika Fludemik's now established research on narrator theory and indirect litre, to Diane Blakemore's and Violeta Sotirova's studies on the fictional representation of consciousness. Within this theoretical framework, Rundquist's perspective draws at once on Brian McHale's and Fludemik's "communication model" in narrative fiction and Banfield's "no narrator theory" to suggest that the narrator in Free Indirect Style "is always relevant and accessible as a personified presence." Mediating between cognitive linguistics, narratology and pragmatics, the author illustrates his argument with a well-developed discussion of three novels that are central to the British modernist canon, D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow (1915), James Joyce's Ulysses (1922) and Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse (1927). Accordingly, Rundquist's volume offers a preliminary historical and theoretical overview of the existing scholarship in the first chapter, which is followed by three separate chapters devoted to the analysis of the three novels and by a concluding section. In so doing, the author's aim is to reverse what he perceives as the main issue with traditional discourse-category approaches, that is, the "shift away from linguistic constructions in the study of fictional consciousness."
Consequently, in his first chapter Rundquist argues for a broader understanding of traditional linguistic categories, which he believes are "vitally important for determining how different types of thought, aspects of consciousness and levels of conscious awareness are conveyed through narrative discourse." The author, in other words, does not conceive Free Indirect Style as a mere discourse presentation technique. Pitting his own argument against existing linguistic and narratological theories, he defines Free Indirect Style as "the unsubordinated expression of a character's subjectivity alongside deictics for tense and person." Because it concerns both discourse and non-linguistic aspects of consciousness, Rundquist ascribes to FIS at once a diegetic and a mimetic function. Moreover, in that the linguistic principles behind this narrative style "can be extended to other aspects of consciousness," the author articulates a direct relationship between the broad category of Free Indirect Style and its hyponyms, namely Free Indirect Thought (FIT), Free Indirect Perception (FIP), and Free-Indirect Psycho-narration (FIPN).
The modernist novel, as Rundquist reminds us, deprioritised both the importance of the plot and the representation of the objective and social world against which the characters act. These elements, which single out the modernist attempt to break with the conventions of the nineteenth-century novel, emphasise the importance of Free Indirect Style and its impact on the construction of the narrator, whose authority may be either enhanced or obfuscated by such stylistic choices. By reading To the Lighthouse through a consciousness-category approach, the second chapter of this study illustrates the role of FIS and its subcategories in presenting the mind of the characters, with a specific focus on Mrs Ramsay. Moving from Woolf's well-known statement on the "myriad of impressions" that act on the mind, and the countless atoms that nourish human perception, the critic argues that FIS enables her to provide "a holistic representation of Mrs Ramsay's stream of consciousness," blending "various levels of mental activity and different types of thought." The hallmark of Woolf's novel, Rundquist argues, lies in her manipulation of different categories for consciousness presentation. Through such experimentation, the writer is able to provide readers with an "impression of various mental operations working together." In order to support his argument, Rundquist especially dwells on the beginning of chapter 11, as Mrs Ramsay is putting away the pictures that little James has cut out from a magazine after her children have gone to bed. After identifying the six consciousness categories--from Free Indirect Style and its hyponyms to Free Direct Thought (FDT), Narrative Report of Thought Act (NRTA), and Dissonant Psycho-narration (DPN)--intertwined in the passage, the author creatively rewrites it using Free Direct Thought in place of Free Indirect Thought. And through this "litmus test," he persuasively demonstrates a distinctive feature of FIT and Psycho-narration, that is, the ability to provide a mimetic representation of the character's thoughts and consciousness, without resorting to an external perspective.
A quite different use of Free Indirect Style and the stream of consciousness technique can be found in what is commonly regarded as Lawrence's first modernist novel. In The Rainbow, psychological realism is deployed alongside the presence of an authorial voice that inscribes a dual subjectivity within the textual fabric of the novel. As a result, Rundquist claims, FIS makes it possible for "two subjectivities" to be "simultaneously evoked by the discourse." The critic places his argument within the much-debated "no-narrator theory" in order to illustrate the ways in which The Rainbow allows for multiple narratorial intrusions in Lawrence's experimentation with Free Indirect Style. Rundquist thus calls for a specific "Lawrentian brand of FIS" which is substantiated by the novelist's purposeful use of linguistic and rhetorical devices, from prolepsis and metaphors to passages that overtly refuse prototypical features of Free Indirect Style and spoken discourse. Such stylistic choices contribute to drawing the readers' attention to a presence other than that of the characters, an agent whose discourse produces the subjectivity of the protagonists, such as Ursula's when she first kisses Skrebensky. In addition, Rundquist suggests that Lawrence's linguistic choices may be accounted for by bearing in mind his interest in the unconscious, arguing for a Lacanian reading of his authorial narrator. Though other scholars have read Lawrence's work from a psychanalytical perspective--with Earl Ingersoll's 2001 D.H. Lawrence, Desire, and Narrative offering a comprehensive Lacanian interpretation of his novels --Rundquist's analysis brings forth quite interesting conclusions in combining language theory, psychoanalysis, and Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of ventriloquism.
The dual subjectivity resulting from the simultaneous presence of a fictional character and an authorial narrator within the "very porous border of FIS" is also central to Ulysses. Unlike Lawrence's and Woolf's novels, however, Rundquist sees in Joyce's style several elements that prefigure Postmodernism and open up to metafictional readings of the text. In his view, this is especially the case in "Scylla and Charybdis," which stands out for its "uncertainty of attribution of narrative subjectivity." From a narratological perspective, the episode alternates Direct Speech, Free Direct Thought (or interior monologue) and third-person narration. Joyce particularly resorts to this last narrative mode to create "a ludic discourse style" that relies primarily on linguistic deviation and word-play. In addition to discussing the linguistic and semantic peculiarities of this style, Rundquist illustrates its mimetic function, and the several ways in which it evokes subjectivity within the text. As the author argues, the very stylistic deviations that abound in the ninth episode of Ulysses may be read as instances of Free Indirect Speech, an element which--notwithstanding some deliberate ambiguity--eventually enables the reader to access Stephen's mind states as well as his perceptions.
Rundquist's analysis is accurate and very well developed. His mastery of the existing scholarship, which is well documented by his ample and relevant bibliography, clearly shows the original and interesting aspects of his study. Throughout his work, the author appears quite at ease with linguistics and narratology, although some sections may at times be demanding for readers who are less familiar with cognitive approaches to literature and linguistic theories on the construction of the narrator in Modernist fiction. Yet the pertinence of Rundquist's claims nicely emerges as he applies his theoretical argument to textual analysis, which highlights the various strategies that modernist writers such as Lawrence, Joyce, and Woolf adopted in their search for new ways of representing consciousness and expressing subjectivity. And in so doing, he restates the importance of a critical and hermeneutical approach hinged at once on language and fictional consciousness.
Universitd degli Studi di Milano
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|Publication:||D.H. Lawrence Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2017|
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