Stream of Consciousness Centenary Conference 2018


Stream of Consciousness Centenary Conference

Sheffield Hallam University

26th-28th July 2018


April 2018 marks a hundred years since May Sinclair’s now-famed review of Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage appeared in the modernist periodical The Egoist. In the century following its initial publication, the review has attracted broad critical attention for likening Richardson’s prose-style to a ‘stream of consciousness going on and on’. It was the first acknowledged use of a literary term which was to become a defining aesthetic of modernist literary representations of the daily fluxes, nuances, thoughts and perceptions of the inner life.  As a literary term, however, ‘stream of consciousness’ was controversial from its first inception. Richardson herself wrote vehemently against the label as a ‘more than lamentably ill-chosen metaphor’ which was ‘still, in literary criticism, pursuing its foolish way’ (1990: 433). Although Sinclair had also earlier acknowledged that the term was problematic – she wrote in her philosophical work A Defence of Idealism that ‘the unity of consciousness can certainly not be accounted for or explained on the simple theory of consciousness as a stream’ (1917: 80) – Richardson’s observation was to prove as enduring as it was accurate. The label has not only persisted in critical accounts of modernism; it has remained synonymous with modernist literature.

This centenary conference seeks to draw out discussion of the complexities inherent within the term ‘stream of consciousness’, its intersections with psychological and philosophical discourses of the period, its influences on later literature, the cultural and intellectual debates it inspires, and its centrality – justifiably or otherwise – as a defining aesthetic of literary modernism. How meaningful is this phrase as a modernist term of reference? What are the complexities in definition? What distinguishes it from other modes of subjective representation – often used interchangeably with stream of consciousness – such as interior monologue, dramatic monologue or free indirect discourse? How useful is it as a point of interdisciplinary reference? What are its implications within the broadening scope of recent modernist scholarship, and for the continuing critical re-evaluation and expansion of modernism itself?

Keynote Speakers: Professor Scott McCracken (QMUL) and Professor Max Saunders (KCL)

Topics might include, but are not restricted to:

  • The history of the phrase ‘stream of consciousness’ and the different uses to which it has been put
  • Tensions between unity and fragmentation
  • Spatiality and temporality
  • Being and becoming
  • Psychological prose
  • Lived consciousness as ‘reality’
  • Literary Impressionism
  • Literary terms as metaphor-constructions
  • Affective modernism and consciousness
  • Interiority and gender
  • Prelinguistic thought and modernist language
  • The ‘stream of consciousness’ in poetry
  • The psychological novel’s forebears
  • Late modernist style and consciousness
  • Middlebrow engagements with consciousness
  • Transatlantic modernisms and experimental style

Individual papers should be 20 minutes in length. Please send 300-word abstracts to the conference organisers as well as a brief biography of no more than 200 words.

Panel presentations should be forty-five minutes in length. Please send 800-word abstracts together with biographies of 200 words per person.

Hosted by the May Sinclair Society.

Conference organisers:

Dr Claire Drewery, Sheffield Hallam University

Dr Rebecca Bowler, Keele University


Submission deadline: 30 April 2018.