Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

“Stream of consciousness”

We did Modernist short stories in class this week. I didn’t really dig the stories (Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf). I decided to have some fun with “stream of consciousness” as a literary technique. I wanted to simultaneously suggest the possibility for language to represent something approximating ‘real’ thought processes and illustrate the impossibility of this.

I took in a bag of apples and instructed my students to eat or not eat the apple. We sat in silence while the apple experience proceeded. A few people giggled but all but one person ate an apple. Only two people took up my challenge to ‘core’ the apple, i.e. eat all of it, leaving nothing. I felt happy watching my students eat apples.

After we had finished I instructed them to write an account of their apple experience as quickly as possible. This representation could take whatever form they desired. I secretly wanted someone to write “apple apple apple apple apple apple apple apple apple” &c but no-one did. Everyone wrote something interesting. They were generally funny and affirming of the validity of the apple experience as an exercise in fostering understanding and communication. I am still unsure of its benefit as a literary exercise but I do not regret doing it.

Here are the apple monologues I created to make it ‘fair’ for my students:

1.
The clunk of the neglected, abandoned core. Failure. The pea-sized remnant on the desk. Not-quite-as-disappointing failure. Backwards. The apple presents her preferred position to the eater, finger and thumb. We are sizing her up. The star-like holes where once pits nested — the configuration is a primitive stick-drawing of a man. She contains him. To consume her completely forces us to reconsider our position. We encounter her stickiness, become tainted, blessed with it. We are she. The apple and I. I am the own apple of my own eye. I consume myself. The apple is a green fruit. I am envious of my own consumption.
2.
This is my second apple of the day. This is not an unusual amount of apples to eat, I think. Three would be an unusual amount of apples to eat, I think. The males in the room finish their apples before the females. Is this victory, or petty competition? To finish the apple and discard the core is an admission of defeat. This seems not a cowardly but brave act. “I cannot conquer this apple and I am OK with that.” This admission spreads in a crescent along the right-hand side of the room. E breaks this process by discarding out of turn. This displeases my love of patterns but I admire her decision nonetheless. S’s sudden realisation that she is the only one left is endearing. O’s apple remains intact, taunting our attempted genocide with this stern reminder: there will always be more apples.

These seem strange and fun to look back upon. The rest of the class consisted of me attempting to inculcate a suspicion of literary methods into them. We are on a loose trajectory of realism > modernism > postmodernism. I feel one of the biggest problems with undergraduates is to spark their awareness of the constructedness of everything. It is not that we want them all to be poststructuralists but that we feel an awareness of this will benefit them in terms of thinking critically about the possibilities of text. This is also an issue with my second-years; I will write about those concerns later.
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