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Introduction: The concept of Liminality
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The International Seminar on Liminality and Text (ISLT)
Major results

The LIMEN page

1. Introduction: the concept of Liminality

Over the last quarter of a century, the hallowed status of canonical literary texts has been repeatedly and intensely questioned; as a result, much has been written on 'marginal' or 'marginalized' literary areas such as Gothic novels, Detective and Western fiction, Science-Fiction, women's writings, writings by ethnic and/or national(ist) groups, children's literature, and so on C fields whose very existence and function are defined in terms of canon criteria. Between 2000 and 2003, the Threshold and Text Research Project undertaken in the Department of English Studies at the UAM sought to question and redefine the status of texts, genres and other literary systems usually labeled "marginal(ized)". One upshot of the project was the adaptation of the concept of "liminality", as employed in anthropology from Van Gennep to Turner, to the needs of literary study. Another, the concomitant opening up of the field of inquiry to other disciplines that deal with text, with language, with meaning. Yet another, a series of working papers (Studies in Liminality and Literature) edited by THE GATEWAY PRESS in Madrid, which is currently publishing the results of the project.

By "marginal(ized)" we understand any text generated in a zone which borders on discourse but is excluded from (and by) it. By "liminal" we understand any text generated between two or more discourses, a transition area between two or more universes and which thereby shares in two or more poetics. In a second, derived sense, we also apply the term "liminal" to texts, genres or representations centered around the notion of the threshold, or whose fundamental theme is the idea of a crossover, an entry or a transgression into the unknown, the Other, the Numinous. The distinction between "marginal(ized)" and "liminal", and the corollaries it generates, shape the basis for this project, and carry a deep reassessment of both our canonical and our marginalized literary systems, as of their teaching. Some of the corollaries are as follows:

a) there exist a multiplicity of literary systems which, if separated by 'margins', relate on 'thresholds'; or, the margin is an unacknowledged threshold;

b) it has long been recognized that every canon presupposes an exclusion, and that therefore

c) the margin is indispensable to the very identity of the canon;

d) to this we may add that, if we accept that the 'margin' is no more than an unacknowledged threshold, then the threshold is in itself a 'territory' or provides entry to one;

e) the combination of (c) and (d) yields the proposition that the very identity of the canon is bound to the concept of the liminal zone and its transliminal area;

f) given such interdependence, there can be no 'pure' literary systems, canonical or otherwise; which leads us to conclude that

g) the threshold, as contact area between any two literary systems, is of vital importance to understanding both; and that, therefore,

h) the study of borders and frontiers must become our central discipline.

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2. The LIMEN Group

This research group took shape organically as a result of efforts by a number of researchers sited at the UAM since 1998. By 2006 it had grown into a loosely knit group of scholars and students over several institutions in Spain and abroad. It was then we applied for recognition as an official research group. In 2007 it was included in the registry of such groups by the UAM. The study of liminality in all its textual forms remains its main goal. It seeks to examine the function of the threshold in and between texts, between literary genres, between cultural periods, between media, as well as to the study of interdisciplinarity between literature and folklore, anthropology, or the visual arts. Current areas of special interest are 18th-century culture, the Gothic genre, visual poetry. Its major activities include:

- The Liminality Seminars, an informal forum for colleagues and students which ran from 1998 through 2006. For a summary of our work, see "The Lure of the Limen" (M.Aguirre), in The TRELLIS Papers # 1, 2006.

- The Threshold and Text project (see Home page)

- The ISLT (International Seminar on Liminality and Text), a biennial event begun in 1999 and now coming to its tenth anniversary.


Manuel Aguirre (Group coordinator)
Filología Inglesa
Fac. Filosofía y Letras, UAM

Eva Ardoy

Nancy Bredendick
Honorary professor
Filología Inglesa, UAM

Mary Farrell

Julia Földenyi
Filología Inglesa y Alemana
Facultad de Filología
Universidad de Valencia

Tareixa García de Polavieja
DEA (=MA) in English Literature

Celia Marqués

Belén Piqueras Cabrerizo

María Platas Gutiérrez

Esteban Pujals Gesalí

Roberta Quance
Queen's University Belfast

Beatriz Sánchez Santos

Robert K. Shepherd
Senior lecturer
Isabel Soto

Philip Sutton

Celia Turrión

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3. The International Seminar on Liminality and Text

This is a biennial event begun in 1999. Five seminars have been held so far:

- A Place that Is Not a Place (1999)

- Betwixt-and-Between (2001)

- Mapping the Threshold (2003)

- The Dynamics of the Threshold (2005)

- Liminal Poetics (2007)

It is becoming increasingly clear that the nature and behaviour of thresholds constitute one of the thorniest and most exciting problems in textual and cultural studies. There is therefore an urgent need to formulate the precise role played by the limen on all levels, ranging from those involving plot, action, setting, character, atmosphere, narrative structure and poetic composition, imagery and symbol, to the levels of inter- and paratextual phenomena, ritual and performance, intergenre and interdisciplinary issues.

We submit that one of the concepts which can be said best to unify the problems raised by the threshold on these different levels is the concept of poetics. If we need a description of the principles which govern the production of meaning on and by the limen, we need a poetics of the threshold.

By text we mean not static, passive or 'dead' constructs but dynamic, open, 'unfinished' constructions. Not just literature but also film, comic book, videogame, performance, and others constitute texts in this sense. Ritual itself, as Clifford Geertz pointed out, may be seen to fall within the category of text. Text in its broadest sense designates any sign system and is therefore the province of history and anthropology as much as of literature, linguistics, music or art studies. The limen, too, is textual or relates to text in ways to be determined by research. Ultimately, perhaps, texts themselves will be found to be conditioned by the nature of the thresholds they verge upon, harbour, or deny.

If the threshold is textualized, then the study of its principles may be the proper object of a poetics. By poetics we mean the conditions that generate textual sense, the system of principles which explain the construction of meaning in texts. A fortiori, we are concerned with the way meanings, values and ideologies are projected onto liminal sites, as with the way these may seem to give rise to aesthetic, ideological or moral positions. We have no axes to grind in the matter, and are merely interested in exploring the possibilities and limitations of the concept of poetics as it may be applied to thresholds in or around texts.

Previous seminars in this series have concerned themselves with the existence and importance of the threshold (ISLT 1: A Place That is Not a Place, 1999), its peculiar position at the intersection of (minimally) two domains (ISLT 2: Betwixt-and-Between, 2001), its paradoxical nature as a no-space which yet invites (or threatens) occupation (ISLT 3: Mapping the Threshold, 2003), or the-again paradoxical-fact that the limen is anything but an inert line or place, it often manifesting itself as a process rather than as a site, temporally rather than spatially (ISLT 4: The Dynamics of the Threshold, 2005).

Earlier speakers included scholars from the fields of musicology, semiotics, anthropology, folklore, social and cultural studies, Native American and Afro-American studies, comparative literature, medieval and Renaissance studies, popular fiction, film studies - a mixture that has in fact been most enriching. We can only hope we shall be able to maintain this level of diversity in our coming encounters.

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Manuel Aguirre, Roberta Quance, Philip Sutton, joint authors, 2000 Margins and Thresholds: An Enquiry into the Concept of Liminality in Text Studies. Madrid: The Gateway Press (Studies in Liminality and Literature 1). ISBN 84-607-0901-9

Isabel Soto (ed.), 2000 A Place That Is Not a Place: Essays in Liminality and Text. Madrid: The Gateway Press (Studies in Liminality and Literature 2). ISBN 84-931843-0-6. Contains the following:

Philip Sutton (ed.) 2002 Betwixt-and-Between: Essays in Liminal Geography. Madrid: The Gateway Press (Studies in Liminality and Literature 3). ISBN 84-931843-1-4. Contains the following:

Manuel Aguirre "The Phasing of Form: A Liminalist Strategy in Fairytales", 13-28

Esteban Pujals "Neoclassical Avant-Garde: Thomas Gray'=s Poems and Letters, 87-99

Isabel Soto "Diasporic Strategies: The Short Stories of Maxine Clair and James Alan McPherson, 113-125

Mar Gallego 2002 (U. de Huelva) "On Which Side of the Colored Line? Multiple Liminality in 'Tragic Mulatto' and 'Passing' Novels", pp. 29-47

Thomas Healy 2002 (Birkbeck College, U. of London) "Savagery and Civility in Early Modern England", pp. 49-62

Peter Messent 2002 (U. of Nottingham) "Good Taste? Liminality and the Gothic in Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter Novels", pp. 63-85

Roberta Quance 2002 (Queen's U. of Belfast) "Don Juan's Last Supper", pp. 101-112

Nancy Bredendick (ed.) Mapping the Threshold. Madrid: The Gateway Press 2004 (Studies in Liminality and Literature 4) ISBN 84-931843-2-2. Contains the following:

Manuel Aguirre "Austin's Cat and Other Observations Towards a General Theory of Thresholds", pp. 9-32

Esteban Pujals "John Ashbery's Convex Mirror", pp. 91-98

Nancy Bredendick "The Dynamics of Decadence in Death in the Afternoon", pp. 99-114

Richard Ellis (U. of Nottingham) "The Limen, Liminality and Spatiality: Some Unanswered Questions", pp. 33-55

Susan Broadhurst (Brunel University, Londres) "Liminal Spaces", pp. 57-73

Cyril Edwards (Oxford University) "The Elf, the Witch and the Devil: Conceptual and Lexical Shape-Shifting in Medieval and Early Modern Europe", pp. 115-34

Jesús Benito (UCLM) "American Multiculturalism and the Spaces In Between", pp. 75-89

Ana Manzanas y Jesús Benito (eds.) The Dynamics of the Threshold. Madrid: The Gateway Press 2006 (Studies in Liminality and Literature 5), ISBN 84-931843-3-0. Contains the following:

Jesús Benito & Ana Manzanas "Of Walls and Words: An Introduction", pp. 1-11

Manuel Aguirre "Liminal Terror: The Poetics of Gothic Space", pp. 13-38

Ineke Bockting "Haunted Borderlands: Gothic Liminality in Texts of the American South", pp. 39-54

Hein Viljoen "(Re)Figuring the Lminal in Breytenbach's Prison Poetry", pp. 55-75

David Murray "Liminality, Hybridity, and Identity in Native American Texts", pp. 77-88

Ana Mª Manzanas "At the Gate: J.M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello and Thomas King's Truth and Bright Water", pp. 89-104

Alan Rice "Sea Shore/Sea-borne Texts: The Racial Politics of Liminality in Black Atlantic Discourses from Sambo's Grave (1736) to Dorothea Smartt's Lancaster Keys (2003), and Lubaina Himid's Cotton.Com (2002) and Naming the Money (2004)", pp. 105-21

Isabel Soto "Strategies of Doubling in African American Narrative", pp. 123-35

Philip Sutton "Beyond the Looking-Glass: Liminality and Screen", pp. 137-47

Robert Samuels "Music as Narrative's Limit and Supplement", pp. 149-63

Miriam Mandel "Afterword", 165-67

Manuel Aguirre, 2007 The Thresholds of the Tale:Liminality and the Structure of Fairytales. Madrid: The Gateway Press (Studies in Liminality and Literature 6), ISBN 84-931843-4-9

Valerie Henitiuk, 2007 Embodied Boundaries: Images of Liminality in a Selection of Women-Authored Courtship Narratives. Madrid: The Gateway Press (Studies in Liminality and Literature 7). ISBN 84-931843-5-7

Belén Piqueras (ed.), 2008 Liminal Poetics. Madrid: The Gateway Press (Studies in Liminality and Literature 8). ISBN 84-931843-6-5 (to appear)

Major articles

Manuel Aguirre 2002 "Phasing Beowulf: Narrative Structure in Folktale and Epic", in Studia Anglica Posnaniensia 37, pp. 359-86

Isabel Soto 2002 "Liminality and Transgression in Langston Hughes' Mulatto", in Cuadernos de Investigación Filológica 26, pp. 263-71

Manuel Aguirre 2002 "Narrrative Composition in The Saga of the Völsungs", in Saga-Book of the Viking Society 27, pp. 5-37

Isabel Soto 2002 "The Border Paradigm in Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing", in Literature and Ethnicity in the Cultural Borderlands (ed. Jesús Benito & Ana M0 Manzanas). Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp.51-61

Nancy Bredendick 2003 "Un Madrid barojiano en los poemas de Winter in Castile de John Dos Passos", in De Fortunata a la M-40: Un siglo de literatura y cultura madrileñas (ed. M.Compitello y E.Baker). Madrid: Alianza Editorial, pp. 115-41

Isabel Soto 2003 "The Poetry of Langston Hughes", en Tendencias actuales en los estudios filológicos ingleses. Castelló: Publicaciones de la Universitat Jaume I, pp. 109-25

Nancy Bredendick 2004 ")Qué tal, hombre, qué tal?: How Paratexts Narrow the Gap Between Reader and Text in Death in the Afternoon", in A Companion to Ernest Hemingway's 'Death in the Afternoon' (ed. Miriam Mandel). Rochester, New York: Camden House, pp. 205-34

Manuel Aguirre 2006 "The Lure of the Limen: An Introduction to the Concept, Uses and Problems of Liminality", in The TRELLIS Papers 1

Manuel Aguirre 2006 "Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire and the Question of Liminality", in In-Roads of Language: Essays in English Studies (eds. Ignasi Navarro & Nieves Alberola). Castelló de la Plana: Publicacions de la Universitat Jaume I, pp. 123-37

Manuel Aguirre 2006 "Narrative Structure, Liminality, Self-Similarity: the Case of Gothic Fiction", in Gothic Horror: A Guide for Students and Readers, second edition (ed. Clive Bloom). London: Palgrave, Macmillan (ISBN 978-0-230-00178-7), pp. 226-47

Manuel Aguirre 2008 "The Grieving City: Lucan's Aged Rome and the Morphology of Sovereignty", forthcoming in Neohelicon 35:1, pp. 31-60

PhD theses

Constructing Dahl: A Reappraisal of Roald Dahl's Children's Books
Laura Viñas Valle
UAM (Depto. de Filología Inglesa)
Thesis director: Manuel Aguirre
Degree obtained in 2004

Estudio de la referencia metafórica dentro del marco metaficcional de la narrativa de William H. Gass
Belén Piqueras Cabrerizo
UAM (Depto. de Filología Inglesa)
Thesis director: María Lozano
Degree obtained in 2004

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