Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

"Life?": Modernism and Liminality in Douglas Livingstone's A Littoral Zone/"Life?": Modernisme En Liminaliteit in Douglas Livingstone Se A Littoral Zone

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

"Life?": Modernism and Liminality in Douglas Livingstone's A Littoral Zone/"Life?": Modernisme En Liminaliteit in Douglas Livingstone Se A Littoral Zone

Article excerpt

Abstract

In an attempt to find his place within nature in South Africa and in a global modern context, Douglas Livingstone returns strongly to modernist poetry in his 1991 volume A littoral zone. In contrast to his predecessors like Wallace Stevens in "The glass of water" and T.S. Eliot in The waste land, this volume at critical moments gets stuck in a liminal stage. Images and poems, and eventually the volume as a whole, despite the highlights they present, say that it no longer seems so possible to end up also within the postliminal stage, so as to complete a rite of passage. Yet modernist poems such as Stevens's "The glass of water" have the ability to end up in postliminal affirmation through and beyond the liminal stage of the overall process. Here light becomes a thirsty lion that comes down to drink from the glass, with a resultant transcendence of the dualistic between-ness that characterises the liminal stage in the modernist poetic mode, while this further results in the incorporation of a deeper and refreshing, dynamic unity. Even more remarkable is that this poetic rite is not of a closing nature, but open, especially in the sense that it affirms all that is possible and greater than the individual ego or subject, this, while getting stuck within a liminal stage just short of the postliminal stage can be in the nature of closure, as Livingstone shows, for example, when he says in "Low tide at Station 20" that humanity is trapped in its inability to see the original power of unity with and within nature in order to live within it; and while humanity remains an ugly outgrowth on the gigantic spine of evolution. In previsional conclusion this article finds that it will be better to view Victor Turner's 1979 celebration of what he terms the "liminoid" in the place of a "true liminality" critically. Although it is impossible to return to a collective catharsis in watching a play, one cannot feel too comfortable about getting rid of the cosmological, theological and concrete embeddedness of rites of passage (of which a liminal stage merely forms a part). Van Gennep links these matters, and modernist poets are still able to express these interlinked matters with a powerful, sensitive effect of dynamic unity. Livingstone also does this, but in considerably lesser measure, and from within a considerably more uncertain context. The article ultimately shows that for these reasons and more, Livingstone's volume deserves far more critical reading than it has received to date, and that despite one or two weaknesses--of which the employment of The waste land in the rather flimsy "The waste land at Station 14" is the most serious--the volume continues to make a rich contribution to South African life, or within any country that views poetry as an important form of human communication.

Opsomming

Ten einde sy plek te vind in die natuur, in Suid-Afrika en in 'n globale konteks, keer Douglas Livingstone in sy 1991-bundel A littoral zone onder andero sterk terug na die modernistiese poesie. Anders as sy voorgangers soos Wallace Stevens in "The glass of water" en T.S. Eliot in The waste land--steek die bundel in kritiese oomblikke vas in 'n liminale stadium. Die beelde en gedigte, en uiteindelik die bundel as 'n geheel se ten spyte van die hoogtepunte wat hulle verteenwoordig, dat dit nie meet so moontlik lyk om ook in die postliminale te beland nie. Tog toon modernistiese gedigte soos Stevens se "The glass of water" die vermoe om deur die liminale stadium in postliminale bevestiging te eindig. Lig word hier 'n dots leeu wat aan die glas kom drink, met die gepaardgaande opheffing van die tweeledige tusseninheid wat die liminale stadium kenmerk, en die inkorporering in "n dieper en verfrissende, dinamiese eenheid. Nog merkwaardiger is dat hierdie poetiese rite nie uitsluitend van aard is nie, maar juis oop, veral in die sin dat dit alles bevestig wat moontlik is en groter is as die individuale subjek of ego. …

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