War of Words: Liminality, revelation and representation in apocalyptic literature
Beckham, Rosemary Elizabeth
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Liminality, revelation and representation in apocalyptic literature
The focus of this study is revelation at the limits of communication. It considers the way in which (biblical) apocalyptic literature prominently figures the interconnection between liminality, revelation, and representation. The methodology asserts an indissoluble association between theology, philosophy and literature. As such it is interdisciplinary. A preliminary theory (and theology) of liminality interweaves the theological and philosophical contributions of, amongst others, Karl Barth, Graham Ward, Jürgen Moltmann and Jacques Derrida, thereby initiating a revised perspective on the constitution of literary apocalyptic text production and interpretation. Theorising the limen begins to describe the Trinitarian economy at work in Christian apocalyptic processing of scripture. I begin with the idea that revelation (apokalypsis) is the experience of the limen itself (in a coincidence of opposites). Thus the limen (as an actively divine space) incorporates that which stands on both sides, in vertical and horizontal, linear and cyclical, spatial and temporal movements. I then propose that apocalyptic literature re-presents this complex economy in which the end is rehearsed simultaneously as limit, threshold, and rupture. Theologically, this complicates inter-relational notions of ‘apocalyptic’ and eschatology, and stimulates a debate on a metaphysics of violence in communication (between God, man and Creation). I conclude that, at the extreme limit of human understanding (where words fail), those with faith in God’s love are opened out to revelation in the apocalyptic textual performance of the liminal economy, and thus to hope and forgiveness. Stressing the importance of reading apocalyptically, I begin to demonstrate the relationship between Christian-canonical narratives and the broader western literary canon, the critical process having invited an exploration of those literary characteristics (of tone, mode and genre) shared by (biblical, modern and postmodern) texts. An important principle in the literary analyses is the association between apocalyptic text production and hermeneutics. Christopher Rowland’s description of a ‘visionary mode’ explains how this process works. Thus the preliminary theory leads into a close reading of recent Russian and American works by Mikhail Bulgakov and Thomas Pynchon. These are compared to, and worked through, Mark’s and John’s gospels and the Book of Revelation. The interpretative approach widens the often self-limiting study of apocalyptic literature, and broadens theological debate on revelation. Thus it begins to show how the rhetoric of apocalyptic makes belief compelling.
Working between theology, biblical literature and the broader literary canon, this thesis presents a reading of apocalyptic literature and a doctrine of liminality.
Gorringe, Timothy Jervis
PhD in Theology