The first half of the 20th century was an age of extraordinary transformations. A deep cultural crisis had been growing: all the ancient certainties were destroyed, nothing seemed to be right: even science and religion seemed to offer little comfort or security. Scientists and philosophers destroyed the old, predictable universe. It was the “age of anxiety”. We have three important figures:
1. Sigmund Freud: our actions are guided by our subconscious, an irrational force which deeply affects the development of the human psyche. Unconscious is something which is in us but we don’t know it. We own a mechanism of control (our awareness) which hides it, because subconscious is instinctual, dangerous. But we can experience it through dreams. When we sleep the threshold of consciousness is completely low, so the subconscious comes out, through symbols, free associations of ideas.
2. Henri Bergson: questioned the idea of “time”. There is a distinction between historical time (external, linear, measureable) and psychological time. The last one is internal, subjective, measured only by the relative emotional intensity of a moment. It’s a flow from birth to death. Every moment contains past, present and future. Every moment is linked to past, is a continuation of it. They are interconnected to consciousness.
Literature of this period, the “modernism”, gave more importance to subjective consciousness and understood it was impossible to reproduce the complexity of the human mind using traditional techniques, so they created new ways of communication. The interior monologue was adopted: it represents the unspoken activity of the mind. It’s a verbal expression of a psychological phenomenon, is immediate. Is free from introductory expressions (“he thought”, “he said”…). Complete absence of the rules of punctuation and lack of formal logical order.
This kind of literature will soon end, but after this phase, psychology will always remain, only expressed in less complicated ways.
• James Joyce
Born in Dublin, his interest was in a broader European culture, and this led to begin to think of himself as a European rather than an Irishman. He believed that the only way to increase Ireland’s awareness was by offering a realistic portrait of its life from a European, cosmopolitan viewpoint. His achievement was to give a realistic portrait of the life of ordinary people doing ordinary things and living ordinary lives. Joyce was a Modernist writer. The facts he narrates became confused, they are always explored from different points of views simultaneously. The portrait of the character is based on introspection rather than on description. Time is not perceived as objective but as subjective, leading to psychological change. The artist’s task was to explain life objectively in order to give back to the reader a true image of it. He uses free direct speech, epiphany, interior monologue.
Joyce hated Dublin, but everything he wrote takes place here. There is used realism mixed with symbolism. Joyce wanted to tale the reader beyond the usual aspects of life and, in order to obtain this, used the technique of “epiphany”. A “sudden spiritual manifestation”, which leads the character to a sudden self-realisation about him/herself of about the surrounding reality. It throws light over your past, present and future, changes your life completely. Dublin is the centre of paralysis, both physical and moral. It’s psychological stagnation, a fake life. Dubliners are aware of their condition of complete motionless, but they lack the courage to do anything to change this situation. They live as exiles at home, unable to cut the bonds that tie them to their paralyzed world.
-)Ulysses: the narration of one single day of a common person, which could be as difficult as 20 years lived by a mythological hero. In “Molly’s Monologue”, we find described the moment before falling asleep. It’s a flows of thoughts, a free associations of ideas. An interior monologue which connects the reader directly to what is in the character mind. The stream of consciousness is put on the page as it is: a stream, very difficult to understand, also because there is no punctuation. Thoughts are not connected logically to each other.