Liminality and Beyond: Conceptions of In-betweenness in American Culture and Literature
Recent theories explain that any cultural encounter engenders the particular and, more often than not, peculiar condition of in-betweenness. Even in the past, when the immigrants faced the assimilative pressures within the American society, their identity could hardly be discussed in essentializing terms. The condition of in-betweenness affected political, cultural, emotional, familial, professional, and many other spheres of life. A number of social critics and cultural theoreticians have coined variegated terms regarding the condition of in-betweenness experienced by the representatives of certain cultural groups in attempt to redefine their identities in American society.
In The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. DuBois referred to double consciousness as a peculiar sense of the need to perceive oneself through the prisms of others. The self-esteem of Black Americans, in other words, was likely to depend on the way they were perceived by the mainstream, i.e. white, dominant society. DuBois’s employment of the concepts of “two souls, two thoughts, two reconciling strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body” implied, at first glance, the sense of inner conflict or even schizophrenic state of mind. The assimilative pressures that black people underwent destabilized the original self. On the other hand, double consciousness, bearing in mind recent definitions of cultural identities, can be considered more constructively, underlying the awareness of one’s complex and at the same time rich identity that one develops in the process of creative fusion of different cultural heritages.
In the late 1930s, Irvin Child researched the responses of second-generation of Italian Americans in New Haven, Connecticut, to the assimilative pressures that involved the redefinition of Italian ethnic identity. He defined the “rebel reaction,” as denial of unique Italian ethnicity upon the inculcation of the mainstream American conviction of Italian inferiority. On the contrary, the “in-group reaction” stood for strong affirmation of Italian identity. The “apathetic reaction,” in turn, was an equivalent of the sense of in-betweenness as it entailed neither detachment from nor particular connectedness with Italian culture.
What we experience nowadays is a globalized “migrant” culture, in which the surplus of connectivities dismantles the sense of a coherent, bounded identity. Theories of Homi K. Bhabha addressing mainly the colonial and postcolonial background can be easily applied to transnational culture of migrants and people displaced for various reasons. In The Location of Culture Bhabha tries to explore the question of new identities formation and introduces a notion of an international culture “not based on exoticism or multi-culturalism of the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of the culture’s hybridity”, which he calls the “Third Space”. A theorist of globalization, Arjun Appadurai prefers to speak of a global culture without discernible center and periphery, characterizing it as a culture of flows and fluid identities, which enables frequent cultural encounters and leads to homogenization of culture around the world.
Considering this global migrant culture, it would be appropriate to underscore that the condition of the migrant is the condition of in-betweenness; which emphasizes the constant process of becoming. This collection is therefore interested in responding to such questions as: what are the configurations of in-betweenness in American literature? What new forms are created, and which ones are lost in this culture of contact? In what ways and to what effect does American literature dramatize the concept of the “melting pot?” Contributors are therefore invited to critically reflect on the following sub-themes, noting, however, that the list is not exhaustive:
- The contact zone in American literature
- Borders, borderlands (frontera), border culture
- Liminality or the liminal space
- Perceptions and conceptions of hybridity in American literature
- Unstable identities, identity in flux
- Cultural schizophrenia/disorientation
- Cultural ambiguity and indeterminacy
- Double consciousness
30 September 2019 – submission of abstracts (400-500 words)
31 March 2020 – submission of full articles (4500-6000 words)
30 September 2020 – submission of corrected articles
Winter 2020 – publication of the volume
Agnieszka Łobodziec is Senior Lecturer and the head of the Section of Literature of the English Speaking World, Institute of Modern Languages, University of Zielona Gora, Poland. In January 2015 she was elected a member of the Toni Morrison Society’s International Programs Committee. She is the author of Black Theological Intra-racial Conflicts in the Novels of Toni Morrison (2012) and From Oppressive Patriarchy to Alternative Masculinity: Black Men and Violence in African-American Womanist Novels (2016). Currently, she researches Black American religion, American cultural identities, Italian-American experience and its cultural representations, theater and self-development.
Blossom N. Fondo is Associate Professor of postcolonial and gender studies at the University of Maroua, Cameroon. Her research focus ranges from postcolonial studies, American literature, feminist discourse, ecocriticism, aging and gender studies. She teaches courses related to these in sveral national universities in Cameroon and has published extensively in these fields. she is a member of the European Network of Ageing Studies (ENAS).
Iwona Filipczak is an Assistant Professor in the Institute of Modern Languages at the University of Zielona Góra, where she teaches courses on American literature, language skills and diploma seminars. Her research interests are focused on the questions of globalization, diasporic experience, identity, and cross-cultural encounters in South Asian American fiction, particularly Indian-American. She is a member of Polish Association for American Studies and European Association for American Studies.