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Keri Hulme’s 1984 Booker Prize winning novel, the bone people, tells the story of the formation of a biologically unrelated nuclear family in the cultural context of New Zealand with its mixture of Maori heritage, English settlers and recent immigrants. The story is presented through the juxtaposition of dialogues and inner monologues of the main characters, demonstrating how the self negotiates its progress towards integration. On the individual level, the characters are battling their own pasts on their way towards growing into responsible persons. Taken together, they also represent the process of integrative development of a national self for New Zealand. In even more abstract terms, the novel presents the narrative development of a Self that will be able to contain, recognize and coordinate its animus, its shadow and its inner child, along with its conscious part. An interpretation relying on these Jungian concepts is justifiable not only because the novel, reportedly, originated in a dream, but also because it applies diverse mythical elements and strategies. The article aims to add another psychological dimension to the discussion of a novel that has continued to impress with the flexibility of its language, ranging from the poetic to the profane, and with its polyphonic exploration of the many voices in which the self addresses itself.

In: Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction

The main character of The Medusa Frequency by Russell Hoban, fighting his writer’s block with the help of a mind-altering machine, experiences what can be interpreted as a hallucination or an encounter with the supernatural. I argue that four supernatural beings he meets – the head of Orpheus, Eurydice, the Kraken, and Medusa – correspond to the artist, inspiration, the set of unrealized possibilities from which inspiration is derived, and the artist’s consciousness. The allegorical meaning of the supernatural characters adds to the metafictional layer of the novel, serving as a core of its philosophical message and explaining the references to Plato and Kant reappearing throughout the text. The ambiguity between hallucination and the miraculous, in connection with the allegorical element of the novel, allows for interpreting The Medusa Frequency as presenting a philosophical position on the nature of art and, indirectly, religion: artistic creation is made possible by the cognition of the reality behind the natural world, conveyed by the artist’s experience. At the same time, the novel approves of art’s escapist function, presenting it as answering an important existential need and cooperating with the mimetic function in depicting reality.

In: Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction

Novels about autism have become popular in middlebrow fiction in the early 21st century. With the rise of autism diagnoses and the end of the Decade of the Brain, a once unknown condition has gripped the minds of novelists as well. In this chapter, I analyse several “autism novels,” which explore what it is like to live with an atypically developing brain and mind. I argue that autism is a fundamental part of these works, and the depiction of mental functioning on the spectrum constitutes a unique experiment in the literary display of mind-reading, an essential skill of social cognition.

With the examination of Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark, Claire Morrall’s The Language of Others and Jodi Picoult’s House Rules, I outline how the complexity of consciousness representation creates the illusion of a disabled mind for the reader. I focus on the social interactions between characters to show that autism is constructed in the text as a cross-neurotype biosemiotic underreporting and misreporting of mental dispositions and content. I examine the meticulously and irrelevantly detailed descriptions that issue from the autistic narrators to claim that these demonstrate a different grade of cognitive granularity from those of typically developing minds. I conclude that these techniques represent a less person-oriented mindset that aligns well with Ian Bogost’s concept of “alien phenomenology,” but affirm the inalienable humanity of the autistic community.

In: Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction

For an event that is omnipresent to this day, it is difficult to understand how the notion of consciousness in relation to the 9/11 attacks is so elusive. Constructing this consciousness is a delicate task, and within the field of contemporary literature, no novel comes closer to accomplishing that construction than Jess novel The Zero. Centered on Brian Remy, a police officer who narrowly survives the attacks and is roped into a strange tributary of the ensuing investigation, the novel offers an ultra-black comedy, turning its scorn on misguided patriotism, the problematic scope of the criminal dragnets of the usa PATRIOT Act, and anything else that crosses Remy’s path. As the novel begins, Remy has just attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head; thereafter, his consciousness is altered, and the world around him comes in and out of focus, events passing without notice and large sections of time being claimed by blackouts. Remy is involved in a doubled reconstruction: as he attempts to reassemble the shards of his psyche, so too is he tasked with assembling endless sheaves of office paper into a trail leading to suspects with foreknowledge of the attacks. Through his reconstructive efforts, Remy strives to regain his own consciousness, both in the form of a literal day-to-day lucidity, as well as in the form of a reality squared with the changed nature of the world in the wake of 9/11, and is led to question the very foundations of mainstream post-9/11 identity (patriotism and an unflinching quest for justice), arriving at a conscience of sorts in the process.

In: Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction
In: Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction
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Peter hard science fiction novel Blindsight explores the process of cognition with reference to self, other and alien, addressing the question of boundary, dealing with the crises of interpersonal and interspecies encounters, which result in the significant changes in self- and other-perception, a re-evaluation of one’s epistemological capacities and, eventually, a re-shaping of the self.

With consciousness defined in the novel as a parasite and a mistake in the evolutionary process, we are encouraged to separate cognition from consciousness and concentrate on the processes presented in the text rather than on character construction.

The premise of radical constructivism that knowledge cannot be judged on how it represents ontological reality becomes an assumption crucial for exploring the depictions of consciousness in the novel as a text concerned with the creations of the post-human minds, their representational inadequacy and ambiguous relationships with their creators.

In: Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction
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This paper argues that the autistic condition necessitates a reimagining of consciousness. Consciousness has been understood to be dependent on language. In so far as autism involves deficits in verbal communication, the individual with autism could, according to the classical model of consciousness put forward by the cognitive sciences, be understood to be impaired in or even lack consciousness. Far from showing any deficiency in their authors’ consciousness, autistic life writing – from case studies by Oliver Sacks to Robert Hughes’s caregiver narrative Running with Walker to the personal narratives of Amanda Baggs, Temple Grandin, and Daniel Tammet – provides a very different idea about consciousness, an idea only recently taken up in the study of consciousness. What autism emphasizes, this paper proposes, is the important and necessary role of the body in the formation, production, and maintenance of conscious experience. Beginning with a consideration of the absence of the body in cognitive scientific thought, this chapter then shows how autistic life writing represents not a lack of consciousness, as found in cognitive scientific thought, but rather the embodiment of consciousness, with the different sensory experiences resulting from autistic forms of embodiment allowing for a more comprehensive mode of relating to the material and social world.

In: Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction

Contemporary Scottish author Janice Galloway’s début novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing (1989) presents the first-person narrative of Joy Stone, a 27-year-old Glaswegian schoolteacher, who suffers from trauma-induced mental breakdown and eating disorders. Feminist critics have associated the novel with Hélène Cixous’s concept of écriture feminine, claiming that through postmodernist techniques like fragmentation and pastiche, it visualises the disintegration of Joy’s anorexic body. In the present paper, based on the narrative nature of human perception and thinking investigated by narrative psychology, I argue that the novel may also be read as an embodiment of the narrator’s mind. I explore the specific visual tools and narrative techniques applied by Galloway to depict her protagonist’s disintegrating sense of self and the workings of her consciousness. Namely, the narrative consists of Joy’s mental processes – sensory experiences and self-reflection – while fragmentation, ellipsis, and snapshotic presentation illustrate the peculiarities of human thinking and remembering. Personal pronouns and focalisation evoke a sense of displacement echoing Joy’s alienation from herself. Moreover, experimental typography and layout are employed to depict various mental states: dreams and passages of remembering are italicised, semi-verbalised thoughts in the margins float off the page, while empty spaces and missing page numbers indicate critical states. Thus, I show that Galloway’s novel may serve as a model for the narrative representation of consciousness and mental disorder.

In: Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction
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The article explores the notion of open consciousness in Patrick Ness’s acclaimed ya trilogy Chaos Walking (2008–2010) by juxtaposing two opposing modes of telepathic communication – the Noise and the Voice – as instances of dystopian and utopian consciousness respectively. Set in the extra-terrestrial reality of New World, the narrative examines the influence of the Noise, a male-only condition of exposed consciousness, which severely incapacitates the social relations amongst the human population. The dystopian impact of the Noise is made evident by its far-reaching implications engendered by the unrestrained access to one’s thoughts which renders one susceptible to external infiltration and manipulation.

In contrast to the Noise, the Voice, the telepathic language of the indigenous population of New World, functions in Ness’s trilogy as eupsychia sensu Frank E. Manuel, a utopian pan-consciousness that fosters communality and openness amongst its participants. Thus, by foregrounding shared purpose and cooperation, the Voice enables the warring inhabitants of New World – both the colonists and autochthones – to develop alternative ways of negotiating communal and individual relations in what ultimately becomes the realisation of hope for the better future.

In: Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction
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Steven Pinker describes “a digital mind in an analog world” in Words and Rules by referring to virtuality as a “category of regular forms” – “forms that would be created” based on a particular logic, but which remain uncreated mental abstractions until irregularity instantiates unexpected conjugations. A latent virtual consciousness thus harbors formalisms that reflect categorical ways of thinking, and 21st-century novels explore such virtual consciousness at two discrete but compatible levels that effectively render the phrase “consciousness in the contemporary novel” a double entendre. At the first level, novels represent contemporary cultural conditions of the information age. At the second level is a narratological synthesis in which self-aware texts assume systemic authority over a novel’s narration through reflexive techniques that transgress boundaries and complicate attributions of consciousness. At the crossroads of these explorations lies Then We Came to the End, the debut novel by Joshua Ferris that makes a rich case study out of narratologies and critical theories, latent formalisms and the contemporary categories that drive them – which is to say, out of the mind of the novel and the novels of our minds. Through the contemporary fiction of Ferris, we are given further insight into what it means when novels think virtual consciousness and what it therefore means to have digital minds in an analog world.

In: Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction