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Article available in:. Vol 16, Issue 3, Written Communication.

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Reacting in literary studies: Crossing the threshold from quality to meaning

Find out more. Tips on citation download. Arnold, M Essays in Criticism. His theory of the psyche embraces a hermetic spiritual orientation, but it also knows an outward aspect focused on the analysis of symbols in dreams and myth.

Thus Jung offers the visual artist the possibility of translating an inner theme of journey into an outwardly identifiable one and vice versa. By documenting the works which would have been available to Varo we will be in a position to answer the question that is implicit in a significant body of criticism, which discusses the theme of quest in psychological or esoteric terms but has so far lacked a way to weave these strands together.

Crossing the Threshold: Essays and Criticism

On the one hand, we wish to look at how the inner journey continues an early surrealist motif in her work and, secondly, we want to propose, in our lead-up to an analysis of the triptych Bordando del manto terrestre , that the inner journey can be read as the story — built up retrospectively — of a hoped-for initiation into esoteric wisdom and all that this promises. To posit such a narrative requires the viewer to gather signs across an array of scenarios and characters; it requires us to read indirectly, both backward and forward, through symbolic imagery and an intrinsically metonymical process of meaning, whereby single scenes point reiteratively to effects and aims rather than accomplishment.

They have departed from society and its structures, and though they are not seen to have arrived at a particular destination or achieved the superior knowledge they seek, almost every painting in her mature work suggests that they are involved in an ongoing search for hidden wisdom.

They are various in kind, semblance, and gender, and as unstable as any character would be who is captured midstream in the process of becoming. If we were asked to classify them we might well say that, like the liminars Turner speaks of 96 , they are unclassifiable: they waver between the sub- and the superhuman. But that like liminars, too, metaphors of birth and death are as crucial to an understanding of what happens to them as they are for neophytes involved in classic rites of initiation Van Gennep 91—3.

The question for critics is to see that this imagery is used chiefly to offer visual analogues for an inward and esoteric rebirth. We think that insofar as they are initiands they may properly be termed liminars : individuals who find themselves in between one state of lower consciousness and another as they strive to become a different, higher self who can hope for union with what is perceived to be sacred.

The challenge for the painter was to find ways to represent such in-betweenness as well as a sacred goal that was not open to external verification, which could only be dimly grasped by those who had not known mystical experience themselves. We think she did so chiefly through the esoteric symbolism in which her work was invested, and the dreamlike other-worldliness of her landscapes, where the logic of the physical world is often contradicted.

But there is another sense too in which we can speak of the liminality of what we see. Her characters are, regardless of the literal hour in which they are depicted, part of what Gilbert Durand termed a nocturnal regime. We agree with Alejandra Zanetta La otra cara that it is a symbolic regime associated with the feminine, inasmuch as all closed containers and space — be it tree trunk, pavilion, or forest — are, by analogy in the Jungian psychology with which Varo was familiar, womb-like spaces Neumann. These spaces are liminal because they augur a rebirth.

They are essentially stages along a path, one which involves a return to the unconscious or to nature, to that which is symbolically not part of the waking world, or the world of reason and social order. This peculiar liminality is what Varo transmits in her painting. She has found no better way to intimate that her characters are on their way to a rebirth than to depict them in places which we can identify as closed and protective. Thus, the critical moment for the heroine of Nacer de nuevo [CAT ] occurs inside a pavilion whose wooden walls have burst open to expose the surrounding night wood.

The magical chalice she is about to grasp a kind of Grail reflects the crescent moon shining above a hole in the roof. Liminality implies narrative, a movement from one state or one place to another or at the very least a crossing. We take this to mean that liminality — which has usually been evoked in terms of space — also carries with it a certain kind of temporality.

This is not, however, as one might expect, linear time, but, on the contrary, a repetition and, more specifically, a cycle or a spiral. Borders are crossed and in theory they can be recrossed, yet in a liminal crossing one never returns to the same place in an unaltered state. A bursting pomegranate whose seeds sprout on the floor hints at a cycle of death and rebirth. Some scholars Kaplan, Lauter, Zanetta would understand rebirth in psychic terms, and this has chimed well with their feminism.

But in the indefinite distinction between the spiritual and the psychic, which feminist criticism highlights, we can see the relevance of Jung to Remedios Varo, for in his eyes this particular distinction was an idle one. Jung regarded all religious or spiritual sentiment as fundamentally psychic Fordham 70 and thus he bracketed the question of whether there was a deity underpinning representations of God or the sacred.

For this reason Jung might well have been a boon to artists who, like Varo and many surrealists, had left the Church but still felt drawn intuitively to the sacred. Because he has often been evoked in connection with Varo but rarely discussed, we propose in the following section of this essay to provide background about what works by Jung the painter might have known and why his psychology would have exerted such a strong pull on her. In doing so we hope to provide a bridge between the surrealism of the old world and the hermetic turn it took after the Second World War Sawin.

Varo , yet almost nothing has been said about what she might have read, when — or even if — this reading becomes evident, or why. Nonetheless, there is a strong case to be made on the grounds of what we see in her paintings that she had become acquainted with Jung — if not in the thirties, when he was introduced in Spain, then almost certainly by the fifties, when his works became widely available in translation in Mexico and Buenos Aires. This is a period that saw the artist regain emotional and professional stability after a long spell of insecurity as a recent exile from the Second World War.

First, the facts about Jung in translation. Our argument has Varo reckoning with Jung later in life, when as an exile from fascism she was living her own sort of crisis, and when Jung had — according to some scholars, as pointed out above — gained ascendancy over Freud among the surrealists. At least three key works were available to her in Latin America.


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This book consists of three lectures that Jung had delivered in Yale in , in which he was at pains to show that religion was a function of the psyche. Anticipating the objection that religion was an illusion, Jung boldly dismissed the question of whether there was any God behind it.

Religious sentiment, he said, was a very real illusion that could not be reduced to a symptom We imagine that a stand of this sort would have been of deep interest to Remedios Varo, who had been drawn like many avant-garde artists to the teachings of sacred Eastern texts or Gurdjieffian practice B. Dating back to , it presented a comparative analysis of the myth of the hero.


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According to Jung, a hero was born only when he was reborn , after a monumental struggle to return to the maternal image and to conquer his longing to go backwards in time. Although she continued to work with a number of surrealist motifs in the thirties and forties, Remedios had not yet found her signature style or her major theme. In fact, by she had produced almost nothing that would secure her fame. One surmises that if she came across Jung in the late forties or early fifties, his writing would have made a strong impression on her, for Jung was an apostle of personal growth.

It is in the early fifties that Remedios Varo began systematically to exploit a gendered, feminine symbolism.

“Threshold‐crossing”: A Useful Way to Establish the Counterfactual in Clinical Trials?

Varo tends to feminise the cosmos by referring it to female symbols of origin. In the painting Tejido espacio-tiempo , CAT , for example, we contemplate a medieval lady and her suitor through the normally invisible warp and woof of a magically woven cosmic egg. This is a clear allusion to mythology and mythography that links mother goddesses to the weaving of the world, as Quance has pointed out Varo Yet, as we shall see in our discussion of Bordando el manto terrestre , it is far from clear that Varo identifies with Mother Goddesses as she would have known them; her references to a Great Mother can be ironic.

Suffice it to say that the esoteric traditions in which she read highlight feminine symbolism. Drawing on all such sources and on the feminist impulse of her own formative years under the Second Spanish Republic, which had brought the vote and equal rights for women, Remedios Varo eventually found the courage to imagine women not as muses but as heroines who could embark on quests like the Grail. Jung did not conceive of such a thing. And yet, we would argue, he would have given her a framework for understanding that her spiritual hunger could be satisfied through a different concept of the unconscious than Freud had hitherto offered.

Nos va en ello nuestro ser o no-ser espiritual. Jung Arquetipos These words, as we shall see, might well serve as a gloss for Trasmundo , CAT Quoting Paracelsus as a supreme alchemist, for example, Jung maintains in Arquetipos that every human being contained a divine spark which potentially united him or her to the outer source of light that is deity. This involves a dialectic of immanence and transcendence movement between inner and outer worlds which has been used to explain the relation between self and deity in mysticism Underhill —4.