Loughborough University
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The poetics and politics of liminality: new transcendentalism in contemporary American women's writing

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posted on 2018-06-26, 15:09 authored by Teresa O'Rourke
By setting the writings of Etel Adnan, Annie Dillard, Marilynne Robinson and Rebecca Solnit into dialogue with those of the New England Transcendentalists, this thesis proposes a New Transcendentalism that both reinvigorates and reimagines Transcendentalist thought for our increasingly intersectional and deterritorialized contemporary context. Drawing on key re-readings by Stanley Cavell, George Kateb and Branka Arsić, the project contributes towards the twenty-first-century shift in Transcendentalist scholarship which seeks to challenge the popular image of New England Transcendentalism as uncompromisingly individualist, abstract and ultimately the preserve of white male privilege. Moreover, in its identification and examination of an interrelated poetics and politics of liminality across these old and new Transcendentalist writings, the project also extends the scope of a more recent strain of Transcendentalist scholarship which emphasises the dialogical underpinnings of the nineteenth-century movement. The project comprises three central chapters, each of which situates New Transcendentalism within a series of vertical and lateral dialogues. The trajectory of my chapters follows the logic of Emerson s ever-widening circles , in that each takes a wider critical lens through which to explore the dialogical relationship between my four writers and the New England Transcendentalists. In Chapter 1 the focus is upon anthropological theories of liminality; in Chapter 2 upon feminist interventions within psychoanalysis; and in Chapter 3 upon the revisionary work of Post-West criticism. In keeping with the dialogical analogies that inform this project throughout, the relationship examined within this thesis between Adnan, Dillard, Robinson and Solnit and the nineteenth-century Transcendentalists is understood as itself reciprocal, in that it not only demonstrates how my four contemporary writers may be read productively in the light of their New England forebears, but also how those readings in turn invite us to reconsider our understanding of those earlier thinkers.


Loughborough University, Graduate School.



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • English and Drama


© Teresa O'Rourke

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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