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    Towards a Theory of the Interstitial
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The Interstitial DMZ
by Heinz Insu Fenkl
III. The Interstices

An interstice is not an intersection. (That is why a concept like hybridity, by itself, is not adequate to the idea of the Interstitial.) The word "interstice" comes from the Latin roots inter (between) and sistere (to stand). Literally, it means to "stand between" or "stand in the middle." It generally refers to a space between things: a chink in a fence, a gap in the clouds, a DMZ between nations at war, the potentially infinite space between two musical notes, a form of writing that defies genre classification.

An interstitial thing falls between categories, and so one might think of "interstitial" as coterminous with "liminal" (from the Latin limen, meaning threshold, or limes, referring to boundary — the word "limit" comes from the same root). Liminality is a concept made prominent (in Anthropology) by Victor Turner, who used it to refer to that strange "betwixt and between" state initiates go through in rites of passage. Liminality is a suspended state, but there is an underlying idea that it is also transitional.

In the field of Cultural Studies, the figure most identified with the idea of liminality is Homi K. Bhabha, and I refer to his work here because he deals with various boundaries and borders, concepts directly relevant to the issue of "Artists Without Borders."

In his introduction to The Location of Culture, he writes: "It is in the emergence of the interstices — the overlap and displacement of domains of difference — that the intersubjective and collective experiences of nationness, community interest, or cultural value are negotiated"(2). Bhabha is writing about nations, cultures, and marginalized peoples, but what he says is just as applicable to the world of literature. In place of "nationness" we can think "genre" (or, more widely, "marketing category") and the parallels are quite clear. Imagine the "domains of difference" being the vaguely-articulated features that distinguish the category "Fantasy" from "Mainstream Fiction" and the ideas of "community interest" and "cultural value" become apparent. And this is not an inappropriate application of Bhabha's ideas — we are still dealing with domains of discourse and the relationship among centralized power, the margins, and minority groups. In the realm of discourse, the dynamics are remarkably parallel.

Bhabha asks, later in his introduction, "How do strategies of representation or empowerment come to be formulated in the competing claims of communities where, despite shared histories of deprivation and discrimination, the exchange of values, meanings and priorities may not always be collaborative and dialogical, but may be profoundly antagonistic, conflictual and even incommensurable?"(2).  Here one can easily imagine the uneasy relationship between the "Fantasy" and "Science Fiction" genres, both marginalized by the "Mainstream" or "Literary" world, each competing to authenticate itself in relation to the literature of high culture. Here we can also sympathize with the problems that writers like Harlan Ellison and Ursula Le Guin faced when they attempted to reject the label of "Science Fiction" as applied to their works and their identities as writers. At the same time, those sympathetic with the margins of literature can see the unfairness of James Michener's Space or Gore Vidal's Kalki (utterly unremarkable works of Science Fiction and Fantasy) avoiding genrefication altogether because of their association with the mainstream "community."

Bhabha also notes: "The social articulation of difference, from the minority perspective, is a complex, on-going negotiation that seeks to authorize cultural hybridities that emerge in moments of historical transformation"(2). In the world of literary and cultural studies, there are already dozens of specialized journals that deal quite explicitly with the issues raised by Bhabha and a handful of other major theorists. Two such journals — both with international readerships — are even called Limen and Limina.

In the world of genre literature, perhaps because the typical genre reader tends not to read critical journals, there are few venues that seek "to authorize cultural hybridities" except perhaps some recent e-zines and web resources. Science Fiction Eye comes to mind as a forum for genre discourse, but its circulation was small and one could argue that even with its elite readership and contributorship, its general impact was minimal. (Genre Science Fiction will probably remain dominated by militaristic space operas until the next Neuromancer comes along.) And yet we are clearly in one of those "moments of historical transformation."
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