Permanent Liminality and Modernity: Analysing the Sacrificial Carnival through Novels, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Permanent Liminality and Modernity

Analysing the Sacrificial Carnival through Novels, 1st Edition

By Arpad Szakolczai


272 pages

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This book offers a comprehensive sociological study of the nature and dynamics of the modern world, through the use of a series of anthropological concepts, including the trickster, schismogenesis, imitation and liminality. Developing the view that with the theatre playing a central role, the modern world is conditioned as much by cultural processes as it is by economic, technological or scientific ones, the author contends the world is, to a considerable extent, theatrical - a phenomenon experienced as inauthenticity or a loss of direction and meaning. As such the novel is revealed as a means for studying our theatricalised reality, not simply because novels can be understood to be likening the world to theatre, but because they effectively capture and present the reality of a world that has been thoroughly ’theatricalised’ - and they do so more effectively than the main instruments usually employed to analyse reality: philosophy and sociology. With analyses of some of the most important novelists and novels of modern culture, including Rilke, Hofmannsthal, Kafka, Mann, Blixen, Broch and Bulgakov, and focusing on fin-de-siècle Vienna as a crucial ’threshold’ chronotope of modernity, Permanent Liminality and Modernity demonstrates that all seek to investigate and unmask the theatricalisation of modern life, with its progressive loss of meaning and our deteriorating capacity to distinguish between what is meaningful and what is artificial. Drawing on the work of Nietzsche, Bakhtin and Girard to examine the ways in which novels explore the reduction of human existence to a state of permanent liminality, in the form of a sacrificial carnival, this book will appeal to scholars of social, anthropological and literary theory.


'In an age that despite glib talk of ‘interdisciplinarity’, is increasingly dominated by the careerist compartimentalization of the human sciences, reading Szakolczai’s book is like opening a study window in a gale. The carefully filed and indexed notes of works of scholarship and fiction swirl around dramatically, and when reassembled have created illuminating juxtapositions that offer a persuasive new narrative of modernity. The link it audaciously explores between the permanent liminality of modernity and the theatrical displays of sacrificial violence that characterize modern history stems itself from the fecund liminal sphere between scholarship and fiction, empiricism and vision. The interpretive force this remarkable book unleashes may belong more to the world of the novel or the cinema than the conference hall, which will surely destine it to be condemned as much as it is praised. Yet for this reader it revealed the cursed lineage between the spectacular executions of the French Revolution and of contemporary IS, and should be read by all those trying to make sense of the horrors of the modern world beyond the clichés of journalists and politicians.' - Roger Griffin, Professor in Modern History, Oxford Brookes University, UK

'Arpad Szakolczai has been a pioneer in introducing and applying the notion of liminality, of sacrifice, and the carnivalesque into social theory, as well as using literary sources as evidence. By these notions he has come to an original analysis of the essentially theatrical character of modernity, and therefore of the liminality, of the state between the real and the theatrical, as a permanent condition. This is a tour de force in the integration of literary analysis and social theory.' - Stephen Turner, Distinguished University Professor, University of South Florida, USA

‘a brilliant summation of an astonishingly ambitious intellectual project that attempts nothing less than a fundamental reassessment of the nature of modernity itself.’- Peter McMylor, British Journal of Sociology

Table of Contents



Part I. Before WWI: Waiting for the Storm

1. Empires and their Collapse: Fin-de-siècle Vienna in Context

2. Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Promises and Realities

3. Novel Origins: Rilke’s Notebooks of Malteand Hofmannsthal’s Andreas

Part II. Suspended in the In-Between: Franz Kafka

4. Kafka’s Sources and Insights: Theatre and Other Modes of DistortedCommunication

5. Kafka’s Novels: In Between Theatre, Theology and Prophecy

6. The Zürau Notebooks: The Indestructible and the Way

Part III. After WWI: Hypermodernity as Sacrificial Carnival

7. Thomas Mann: Death in Venice and Magic Mountain

8. Karen Blixen: Carnival and Angelic Avengers

9. Hermann Broch: Sleepwalkers

10. Mikhail Bulgakov: Master and Margarita

11. Heimito von Doderer: Demons

12. Béla Hamvas: Carnival




About the Author

Arpad Szakolczai is Professor of Sociology at University College Cork, Ireland. He is the author of Max Weber and Michel Foucault: Parallel Life-Works, Reflexive Historical Sociology, The Genesis of Modernity, Sociology, Religion and Grace: A Quest for the Renaissance, and Comedy and the Public Sphere: The Re-birth of Theatre as Comedy and the Genealogy of the Modern Public Arena, and co-author of The Dissolution of Communist Power: The Case of Hungary.

About the Series

Contemporary Liminality

Contemporary Liminality

This series constitutes a forum for works that make use of concepts such as ‘imitation’, ‘trickster’ or ‘schismogenesis’, but which chiefly deploy the notion of ‘liminality’, as the basis of a new, anthropologically-focused paradigm in social theory. With its versatility and range of possible uses rivalling and even going beyond mainstream concepts such as ‘system’ ‘structure’ or ‘institution’, liminality is increasingly considered a new master concept that promises to spark a renewal in social thought.

In spite of the fact that charges of Eurocentrism or even ‘moderno-centrism’ are widely discussed in sociology and anthropology, it remains the case that most theoretical tools in the social sciences continue to rely on taken-for-granted approaches developed from within the modern Western intellectual tradition, whilst concepts developed on the basis of extensive anthropological evidence and which challenged commonplaces of modernist thinking, have been either marginalised and ignored, or trivialised. By challenging the assumed neo-Kantian and neo-Hegelian foundations of modern social theory, and by helping to shed new light on the fundamental ideas of major figures in social theory, such as Nietzsche, Dilthey, Weber, Elias, Voegelin, Foucault and Koselleck, whilst also establishing connections between the perspectives gained through modern social and cultural anthropology and the central concerns of classical philosophical anthropology Contemporary Liminality offers a new direction in social thought.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General