The inland sea: liminality, metamorphic experience and the short story form

Orr, K. (2015) The inland sea: liminality, metamorphic experience and the short story form. Doctoral theses, University of Southampton; University of Chichester.

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This thesis is comprised of two parts. The primary component is a work of original fiction: the short story collection, The Inland Sea. The stories are accompanied by the critical essay, ‘Liminality, Metamorphic Experience and the Short Story Form’. Both components explore the form that rites of passage and liminality take in the contemporary world. The critical essay projects a related ‘threshold poetics’ of the short story.

The Inland Sea explores lives in transitional states, from Argentina to Siberia, from Papua New Guinea to London and New York. The characters populating these stories are adrift in a contemporary world that is fluid and uncertain, where both boundaries and human relationships are shifting. An astronaut struggles to adapt to life back on earth. A young man discovers he is going blind in a foreign city. An aging lothario clings to new routine in a Tokyo hotel. All share in the struggle to maintain a sense of connection and order in the face of disorientating change.

The origins of the word metaphor lie in the Greek, ‘metapherein’, to ‘transfer’ (SOED), and embrace doubleness, change and flux. Drawing on Victor Turner’s description of metaphor as ‘liminal monster’, alongside Paul Ricoeur’s study of metaphorical process, ‘Liminality, Metamorphic Experience and the Short Story Form’ proposes that the short story is innately metaphorical, fashioning contradictions characteristic of the liminal or threshold state and deriving power from an accommodation of the ambiguous. The formal charge of the short story, while distinct from poetry and the novel, draws on the narrative and poetic capacities of both: it is an agile, hybrid form combining metaphorical charge with textual strategies such as ellipsis, omission, negation, repetition, and ‘phasing’, as coined by Manuel Aguirre. The short story’s compression, combined with such strategies, makes it adept at challenging the structured or paradigmatic progression of traditional tripartite narrative. As a form it has an ability to promote ongoing metamorphoses, or metamorphic flux. These dynamics of the short form are examined through study of threshold states in the contemporary short story with close textual reference to the less studied, later work of Alice Munro and to the work of Nam Le and David Means which, though widely praised, has had little critical attention. Drawing in particular on the body as a context for liminal states and as a conduit to the psychological and emotional realms, the essay explores the ways threshold tensions shape viscerally charged metamorphic experience as much for the reader as for the protagonists involved. This study aims to offer a counterpoint to unity theories of the short form, and to establish the rich potential for further research into a ‘threshold poetics’ of the short story.

Publication Type: Theses (Doctoral)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN3311 Prose
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Academic Areas > Institute of Arts and Humanities > English and Creative Writing
Student Research > Doctoral
Depositing User: Debbie Bogard
Date Deposited: 29 May 2020 14:54
Last Modified: 01 Jun 2020 00:10

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