Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Wiggins, Osborne P.

Author's Keywords

Poetry; Photography; Phenomenology; Anthropology


Photography--Psychological aspects; Mourning customs in art; Mourning customs in literature; Phenomenology and art


The creation of liminal spaces has been used for centuries cross-culturally to create sacred or taboo meanings in rituals, people, places, or objects. Liminality is constructed by the overlapping of cultural categories and "ruptures" an object or event's connotations, imbuing it with new and often transcendent or spiritually charged meaning. The photograph is an example of liminal space, since it freezes even the living in a state of corpse-like stasis. With the invention of this new medium, as well as its application to memorializing the dead, previous forms of commemorating death such as the eulogy and the poetic elegy were supplanted. Though the poetic elegy form has continued, it has done so with significant departures from its traditional tropes. Combined with a cultural loss of connection with the pastoral, an alteration of the cultural conceptions of "the Good Death," and a progressive, phenomenological extension of the horizon of meaning of death, the elegy form has undergone a transformation. Instead of relying on traditional, narrative poetic forms, the contemporary attempts to replicate the photographic images' liminal, sacred space in literary form. Through this shift to an attempted replication of the visual form, elegiac poetry has incorporated elements of surrealism, magical realism, and other "transgressive" literary forms. This allows the poems to capture a more authentic and contemporary experience of modern and postmodern cultural understandings of death, grief, and the corpse. In the first section, this work traces this movement by looking at the development of theories of liminality in the field of anthropology, and then follows the genesis of this "state between states" in six other disciplines: corpse theory (which is, in itself, an interdisciplinary field), phenomenology, history, painting, photography, and finally poetry itself. This dissertation also explores the shift in cultural interpretations and meanings of death and the marked changes in understandings and experiences of the Sacred in relation to death, the corpse, and the practice of mourning. The second section of the dissertation contains an application of this approach to liminality in the elegy in individual poetic works from Loose Horses, a collection of poetry in progress.