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Liminal Borderlands in Irish Literature and Culture

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Edited By Irene Gilsenan Nordin and Elin Holmsten

Liminality, if interpreted as a concern with borders and states of in-betweenness, is a widespread theme in Irish literature and culture, which is perhaps not surprising considering the colonial and postcolonial background of Ireland. The liminal, from the Latin word limen, meaning «a threshold», can be broadly defined as a transitional place of becoming. It is a borderland state of ambiguity and indeterminacy, leading those who participate in the process to new perspectives and possibilities.
This collection of essays examines the theme of liminality in Irish literature and culture against the philosophical discourse of modernity and focuses on representations of liminality in contemporary Irish literature, art and film in a variety of contexts. The book is divided into four sections. The first part deals with theoretical aspects of liminal states. Other sections focus on liminal narratives and explore drama as liminal rites of passage, while the last part examines transformative spaces in contemporary Irish women’s poetry.

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1 Limning the Liminal, Thinking the Threshold: Irish Studies’ Approach to Theory Michael G. O’Sullivan 17

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1 Limning the Liminal, Thinking the Threshold: Irish Studies’ Approach to Theory Michael G. O’Sullivan Thomas Duddy writes in the preface to his A History of Irish Thought that “[a]part from Richard Kearney’s ground-breaking anthology The Irish Mind (1985), no attempt has hitherto been made to write a com- prehensive and up-to-date account of Irish thought” (xv). He continues by suggesting that the “Irish contribution to the history of thought has been marginalized, partly because thought has been too narrowly under- stood” (xiv). My argument extends Duddy’s comments to Irish Studies’ recent embrace of the language of critical theory. For a number of years Irish Studies has approached the language of critical theory from an overarching postcolonialist persuasion. Its conference titles1 elicit its willingness to accept the rhetoric of the “linguistic turn” inaugurated by post-structuralism and deconstruction without explicitly interrogating the theories of signification and language that have enabled predominantly French and American theorists to develop such rhetoric. David Lloyd also alludes to the dangers of such historicism in a recent essay “After History: Historicism and Irish Postcolonial Studies” when he writes that “[h]istoricism reduces the cultural forms and practices of past and 1 Recent conference titles in Irish Studies include: “Double Vision: Liminal Irish Identities” (held at University College Dublin, 18–20 March, 2005) and “Liminal Borderlands: Ireland Past, Present, Future” (the title of the Nordic Irish Studies Network Biannual Conference, held at Dalarna University, Sweden, 22–24 April, 2004). Recent papers by established Irish critics also...

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