In The Use of Personal Pronouns in The Novel (nlr 34) Michel Butor raises the problem of the author’s relation to the characters in his novel and to the novel itself. As he demonstrates, this question has arisen through the introduction of a narrator—an ‘I’—which introduces the problem of time and of relationship: who is the ‘I’ in relation to the author, to the story he is relating, to himself within the time span of the novel itself. In an attempt to catch reality ‘live’, ‘piping hot’, this timespan has been continually collapsed until, in the interior monologue, the author presents an ‘I’ describing an experience as it happens, an ‘I’ who assumes no distance from the experience he is living.

But, as Butor says, we are not told how this interior monologue achieves the written state or how it is known, and this omission camouflages not only the question of the gaining of consciousness but a far more serious problem—‘the problem of speech itself’. In his concern with these questions Butor is clearly preoccupied that the novel should, in its structure, be what it is: the mediation in the relationship between writer and reader. He is not content to abide by the argument ‘it’s a novel’—i.e. a convention recognized by author and reader alike which demands the latter’s suspension of disbelief and an acceptance, if necessary, of the author’s refusal to say how this came to be written. The reader is part of the novel and as such this relationship must be made explicit; he must be able to know how the events which are being described came to be known. It is in this sense that the interior monologue obscures more than it describes.

It is hardly necessary to add that it is as much a convention to suppose that the interior monologue exists in lived reality any more than in the novel, if by the use of the term we mean a monologue at a continuously articulated level. Rather there is first a sub-stratum of non-verbalized awareness which, at a pre-reflective level, makes possible the gaining of consciousness at the reflective level of language.

It is this gaining of consciousness which Butor seeks to describe in Second Thoughtsfootnote1 without falling into the trap of the interior monologue. But in order to describe this awakening consciousness it is first necessary to consider from what it awakens.

At the pre-reflective level, as Butor recognizes, to see a chair remains as a non-verbalized awareness of chair that can be expressed only as, ‘there is a chair’. In this fringe hum of awareness, so to speak, there is no space, no awareness of ‘I’; it is an organizing field of sensory impressions without an apparent subject and in which no language arises, or is necessary, to express what appears within its focus. Out of this flickering awareness surges, from time to time, an awareness of being the organizer of this field, of intentionality, which is represented grammatically as, ‘I see that chair’. At this level language has already arisen, spaces and relationships are verbally assumed. The ‘I’ appears there in all its apparent distinctiveness, assuming an identity which seems sufficient identification both for itself and for others.