Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Between Past and Future: Temporal Thresholds in Narrative Texts

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Between Past and Future: Temporal Thresholds in Narrative Texts

Article excerpt


This article is concerned with time and temporality in human experience as well as in narrative representation. The focus is directed at the representation of thresholds, threshold experiences, borders and boundaries in narrative texts, but where these concepts are more often than not analysed from a spatial perspective, the temporality of these forms of liminality is foregrounded here. Using Ricoeur's views on time, temporality, historicality and the representation of time as points of departure and referring to Jesse Matz's discussion of the postmodern time crisis, the so-called "era of the nanosecond", the representation of time-related themes and the aesthetic rendering of threshold experiences in Anne Michaels's novel Fugitive Pieces are explored.


Hierdie artikel is gerig op tyd en temporaliteit in menslike ervaring sowel as in die representasie van narratiewe. Daar word gefokus op die representasie van drumpels, grenservarings, grense en limiete in verhalende tekste, maar terwyl hierdie konsepte meestal vanuit 'n ruimtelike perspektief ontleed word, word die temporele aspekte van hierdie vorme van liminaliteit in hierdie betoog vooropgestel. Deur gebruik te maak van Paul Ricoeur se sienings oor tyd, temporaliteit, historisiteit en die representasie van tyd as vertrekpunt en deur te verwys na Jesse Matz se uiteensetting van die postmoderne tydskrisis, die sogenaamde "era van die nanosekonde" word die representasie van die tydsproblematiek en die estetiese representasie van drumpel-ervarings in Anne Michaels se roman Fugitive Pieces ontleed en bespreek.

Introduction: Threshold and Time

In this article I explore the temporal dimensions of the way in which the concept of the threshold is employed thematically and representationally in narrative fiction. The threshold is described by Manuel Aguirre (2006: 15) as that which separates as well as connects two spaces, whether this is a border, a link, an interstice or an interstitial place or space. The threshold is therefore "betwixt and between" two spaces, touching both and forming part of both but belonging to neither - a liminal space and place. In a description such as this, the emphasis falls on the spatial nature or the physical and abstract topological aspects of the manifestations and representations of thresholds, but in the light of the inseparability of time and space in human experience and understanding as well as in narrative representations, (1) this article focuses on exploring the temporal dimensions of the concept of the threshold.

My argument here is concerned with the thematic aspects of thresholds as I well as their transformational configurations in representations in narrative I texts. The threshold, as a human experience, as a metaphor and as a representational technique, figures prominently in narrative texts. This is I actually self-evident as most decisive events in narrative involve the crossing of a border or refer to some kind of change or transgression that I implies a movement from one space to another. (2) Eventfulness as such is regarded as one of the basic characteristics of narrative, therefore narratives always imply change. (3) Change can be analysed as the crossing of a threshold in a referential or thematic sense, and the way in which such a threshold is represented to endow it with specific meaning within a specific text is rather fascinating.

In the first part of the article, the aspects of the threshold which are relevant to my argument will be isolated, followed by a discussion of time in its experiential and represented forms. The theoretical exposition will be followed by an analysis of the temporal aspects of the threshold as a central metaphor and as a representational device in Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. The article will be concluded by a discussion of the result of the analyses.

The Threshold

In the work of the Limen Group of Madrid, (4) the term "liminal" is inter alia applied to "texts, genres or representations centered around the notion of the threshold, or whose fundamental theme is the idea of a crossover, an entry or a transgression into the unknown, the Other, the Numinous" (see also Soto 2000: 7-16). …

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