Poetry as Politics of Liminality

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International Political Anthropology Summer School 

Poetry in Politics of Liminality

A strong tradition in cultural anthropology – most notably represented by Geertz – concerns the foundational importance of meaning in human cultures. Aesthetic experiences of beauty, artistic forms of play and sacral ritual performances are fundamental to all cultures, and yet these meanings also appear to be irreducibly unique. Yet, while we are in love with Poetry, we also have to be in love with what is beyond it. This is why IPA thinks that we need to attempt to take hold of this beyond by the means of political anthropology.

The 2012 IPA Summer School concerns Poetry in Liminality. In the contemporary academic scene, the meaning of everyday life and even objects has become a valid field. Yet, political anthropology first of all suggests that there is a difference between ordinary and extraordinary meanings to life, and secondly that the meaning derived from poetry is not a neutral reflection of whatever lies beyond it. Poesis can entail the recognition of the beautiful and the attempt to convey it or a desperate effort to express in familiar terms a frighteningly alien vision of the world. Poets are best remembered as proponents of schismatic divisions – and could anything be more solid, dense, or bodily serious as this view.

As liminal figures poets are also famed for their despising of the materialistic and utilitarian values leading societies around of them, where emphasis is again placed on the exclusiveness, on their separation from the surrounding whole. Keats said that ‘A poet must have negative capability, the ability to empty himself and let the thing, or event, or other person come to be and speak through him’. Especially in modernity, poetry is considered at once as the highest form of truth and yet an utterly transparent vision of the world – or else poetry is mere play without seriousness or meaning, mere trickery. This, however is truly an error, as it ignores the radical manner in which Poetry altered our understanding of the nature of reality – substituting as more real a layer or level of reality from which life seems pointless – but which exist beyond both Poetry and our everyday. Political anthropology reminds us that poetry emerges from liminal experiences wherein structures are suspended, certainties are subject to doubt and the poet may touch the void. Furthermore, as Plato recognized, within such performances, any image may appear real. Yet, if poetry has any meaning it must reflect the reality beyond. Reality is absolute, where things are stable and constituted, their existence being independent from our beliefs, faith or hope. Matter does matter, not because we perceive it as such, but because its existence is morally ordered beyond us; its origins is outside us, we are merely its receivers, given to us as a gift. This is reflected in the common etymological root of ‘matter’ and ‘mother’ in Latin mater. If we manage to identify ourselves with this absolute reality, we participate in the abundance its heaps on us; but if we try to exploit it for our own benefit, its turns into a mirage in our very hands, while we become corrupted by the very effort.

Thus, the play, beauty and liminality of meaning must be reconsidered in terms of gift-giving, reciprocity and grace. With this Summer 2012 International Academic journal IPA hopes to continue its highly successful summer school series. Altogether in our first three Summer Schools about three dozen students and 13 academics participated from four continents and 22 nationalities (Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan, the United States, Canada, Japan, Uganda, and Ghana).

We now call upon you to take a share in this our success.


Summer School Series held every summer in Florence, Italy. In 2012 between 24-30 June.

Summer School, Journal International Political Anthropology
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Journal International Political Anthropology