Crossing limits: liminality and transgression in contemporary Scottish fiction
Hammer, Julia Maria
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In my thesis, I aim to show that a focus on liminality in contemporary Scottish fictional texts illustrates underlying developments of relevant social phenomena with regard to class issues, gender and sexual identity. The anthropological concept of liminality looks at a situation of “being between”. The liminar faces a situation of having to renegotiate their values and perceptions in order to proceed. Liminality always involves the existence of limits which have to be transgressed and against which the individual negotiates a personal situation. I further hypothesise that the transgression of limits can be seen as an instrument to create order. I take an anthropological approach to my thesis. Arnold van Gennep’s early studies on rites of passage and Victor Turner’s study of liminality originate in the observation of tribe-internal, social structures of personal development. Van Gennep assumes a tripartite structure among which liminality is the middle stage, the phase in which the initiand has to perform tasks to re-enter and become part of the community. Turner isolates the middle stage and transfers this concept to western societies. This theory is taken up and developed further by several literary critics and anthropologists. While the transgression of limits is often regarded as a violation of those norms which regulate societies, the transgression of limits in a rite of passage and connected with liminality is a vital aspect and socially necessary. Several concepts are related to this theory, which will play a major role in my thesis: Turner’s permanent liminality, Mikhail Bakhtin’s carnivalesque as well as Foucault’s transgression. In the first chapter, I contrast two of Alasdair Gray’s novels, stating that the most powerful message of social and capitalist criticism is not just visible on the surface of the hyperbolic texts, but particularly prominent in liminal passages. The theories of Bakhtin and Turner plays the most important role in this chapter. In the second chapter, A. L. Kennedy’s novels are contrasted. In So I am Glad a difficult psycho-social issue is solved by a liminal trigger-figure, Paradise is an example of the destructive and restrictive effects of permanent liminality. In chapter three, I deal with the issue of passing and an individual redefinition of gender identity. The performativity of masculinity reveals ambiguous definitions of gender and morale. The Wasp Factory portrays a form of masculinity which has destructive effects on the individual and its environment. It is the tension in the liminal situation of a gender myth, a brutally performed masculinity and the character’s biological sex which expresses a harsh criticism of society’s definition of masculinity. In Trumpet, the binary model of gender is questioned. The text suggests a different definition of identity as fluid, passing between the two ‘extremes’, formulating the possibility of a state of being ‘something in-between’. It is the confrontation with this ‘otherness’ which provokes a wave of rejection and protest in the environment of the individual passing as a member of the ‘other sex’. In this case, it is not the obvious liminal individual, but his son who undergoes a process of change and thus a process of renegotiating his strict value system. The final chapter deals with liminal spaces and how these reflect and support the internal development which the protagonists undergo. The choice of Orkney as a mystical place and the fictional setting in a war game show that liminal spaces – both real and fictitious – trigger a personal development and reconnect present day life in Scotland with historical events which have had a shaping role for Scottish and European life.