Between Two Worlds: The Functions of Liminal Space in Twentieth-Century Literature Public Deposited

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  • August 12, 2022
  • Engel, Adam
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • "Between Two Worlds" examines strategies used by Joseph Conrad, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Thom Gunn, and David Lynch to craft spaces in which characters can articulate seemingly ineffable experiences. To give meaningful accounts of isolation at sea, World War I's impact on a family structure, the dissolution of an AIDS-riddled body, the spiritual dissonance produced by colonization, and the danger of ignoring materiality in favor of ideological nostalgia, these authors establish spaces in which characters can challenge their bodies' boundaries. The "liminal" or middle phase of the rite of passage, treated as a real or imagined setting, enables this by temporarily dissolving conventional social hierarchies. The author hopes to draw attention to the potentially therapeutic practice of communicating liminal experience through writing, especially as it manifests during crises unique to the twentieth-century. This study intervenes in both anthropology and ontology by revealing artists' use of liminal spaces to challenge hierarchies, reimagine connections between individuals, and return voices to people who have lost them. Two central questions emerge: Why do in-between spaces enable extraordinary communication? What sort of self exists in a space that is, by definition, between identities? In a departure from contemporary modernists such as T. S. Eliot, Conrad, Woolf, and Forster face the unsettling possibility of the self's dissolving without a new form or afterlife to follow. Gunn and Lynch never expect such a world. Rather, they learn to embrace the transient world they inhabit. To cross the threshold into liminal space is to confront all of these possibilities, and to emerge— if at all—with shifted bodily boundaries.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Lensing, George S.
  • Legassie, Shayne
  • Cooper, Pamela
  • McGowan, John
  • Salvaggio, Ruth
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2017

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