The Sixth International Seminar on Liminality and Text

The LIMEN Group and the Department of English Studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid are pleased to announce that the next ISLT will be held at the UAM in  the Spring of 2012. The dates proposed are MON 16 through WED 18 April. The venue will be the Faculty of Arts (UAM). This will be the sixth in a highly successful series of seminars devoted to the topic of liminality. The first five were held in March 1999, April 2001, March 2003, March 2005, March 2007, and the articles that resulted from them have appeared as five volumes in the series Studies in Liminality and Literature, edited by THE GATEWAY PRESS.

Participation in the Seminar is by invitation only. English will be the working language. Talks will last up to 50 minutes, though, given the number of participants, we encourage lecturers to respect the 45-minute limit. Ample time will be allocated for discussion. We welcome position papers arguing a specific point, and discourage survey or generalist approaches as well as routine applications of existing theories to ‘yet another text’. The proceedings will be published as a collection of essays in the SLL series.


The Organizing Committee,

Belén Piqueras
Esteban Pujals
Luisa Antón-Pacheco
Manuel Aguirre
For details, contact

Belén Piqueras
Departamento de Filología Inglesa
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM)
Campus de Cantoblanco,  28049 MADRID, Spain
For further information on the Project check



The multidisciplinary study of the Subject has traditionally pointed to the capacity for theoretical abstraction as the most salient feature linked to this concept. The “I” and the actions and discourses it produces have led to theories and to enriching debates along history that have confirmed its problematic nature; from the Cartesian cogito, which portrays the thinking subject both enacting and doubting its own existence, the fragile ontology of the subjectis manifest. Even in periods when it is conceived as the unquestionable centre of the universe and of discourse (the 18th century and most of the 19th century), the Subject appears as the site of a dialogue between antagonistic concepts that place it on a threshold between agency and subordination, self and other, art and experience, body and mind, silence and a plurality of voices. In the 20th Century, when meaning ceases to haveits origin and goal in individual experience and dissolves into structures underlying the visible facts, the Subject can be said to reach the ultimate threshold, one which is at once tragic and essential since it is defined by simultaneous affirmation and negation.

According to this hypothesis, the theory of liminality appears as the ideal discursive tool to study the Subject in a new light, offering as it does a single frame of reference to the large collection of phenomena and problems associated with it. If the Subject is bound to occupy a space necessarily defined in binary or multiple terms, it seems logical to bring a liminal approach to bear upon this figure so as to highlight its ambivalence and complexity. Conversely, for a budding theory of liminality it is no longer simply a questionof defining thresholds and looking at what happens to Subjects when they approach, cross or occupy them. Since current critical theory conceives the Subject itself –wherever it be and whatever it does– as defined in relation to lines of demarcation that can be viewed as ontological thresholds, the Subject would appear to have an essentially liminal nature.

The modern conceptual demolition of the individual initiated by Marxist and Freudian theories is developed in Structuralism, portraying the Subject as a construct and as a consequence of impersonal systems and structures that determine its social existence, mental life and linguistic experience. This tendency –which some have thought anti-humanistic– consolidates with Poststructuralism and Postmodernism, inasmuch as they foster the debate on the nature of those underlying structures, and expose many of the cultural assumptions of the western world, particularly those concerning the Subject.

The following points are an invitation to reflect on the idiosyncrasy of the Subject as a figure “on the threshold”:

  • The subject as agent or victim of the interplay or conflict between cultures, races, genders, or classes. (Said, Bhabha, Gates).
  • The Subject on a social threshold between individuality and subordination to power; the Subject as both cause and effect of ideology (Foucault, Althusser).
  • The Subject on the technological thresholds and interfaces generated by cyberspace and virtual reality; loss, redefinition or liberation from the basic categorization self/other in terms of gender, race, physical attributes, ethics or  a degree of self-consciousness (Adorno, Benjamin).
  • The Subject as defined in terms of the duality possessing-lacking (Lacan, Butler).
  • The author as multiple (Stillinger) and the text as multiform (Mc Gann).
  • The author as the parodic and self-referential “puppet master” (McHale) straddling the line between reality and fiction.
  • The subject on the threshold between being a source and being a product of “language” (Derrida).
  • The reader on the line between passive consumption and active production of the text (Barthes’s “readerly” and “writerly” texts).


Previous seminars in this series have concerned themselves with the existence and importance of the threshold (1st ISLT: A Place That is Not a Place, 1999), its peculiar position at the intersection of (minimally) two domains (2nd ISLT: Betwixt-and-Between, 2001), its paradoxical nature as a no-space which yet invites (or threatens) occupation (3rd ISLT: Mapping the Threshold, 2003), the -again paradoxical- fact that the limen is anything but an inert line or place, it often manifesting itself as a process rather than as a site, temporally rather than spatially (4th ISLT: The Dynamics of the Threshold, 2005), and the poetics of the threshold (5th ISLT: Liminal Poetics, 2007).

Earlier speakers included scholars from the fields of musicology, semiotics, anthropology, folklore, social and cultural studies, Native American and Afro-American studies, comparative literature, medieval and Renaissance studies, popular fiction, film studies – a mixture that has in fact been most enriching. We can only hope we shall be able to maintain this level of diversity in our coming encounters.