LIMINALITY; SOME DEFINITIONS AND CONNOTATIONS. BY STEVEN BENSON

1.A THRESHOLD, sometimes called transition rites,originally from anthropology, in relation to (often religious/spiritual) rituals: ie the phase at which a participant in the ritual stands on the threshold(the point of liminality/liminal space)between a previous way of establishing, for instance, their time, identity and/or community, and a NEW place, which the suceeding further ritual is yet to establish(from the work of van Gennep, anthropologist, 1963). {Interestingly, a “master of ceremonies” guides the participants through the liminal stage of the rituals; and I have experienced a group which, in effect, had a person who, surreptitiously, perhaps even unbeknownst to himself(or possibly disingenuously), took on this role in a PERFORMATIVELY ritualistic way, using the Deleuzian concept of becoming, ie transition, liminal space}.

2. More broadly, as used in critical theory/thinking and historical/political study, for example.This useage, or you might argue coinage, of “liminal” space would reference a stage where an established social(“Symbolic Order”-according to Lacan)ended and just before a new one superceded it, eg after a revolution but before the re-establishment of some other kind of structure(lose or formal)-cf the Paris Communes after French Revolution; or communes/ housing co-operatives generally which exhibit a pre-figurative liminality of working towards/on the threshold of, eg, anti-capitalistic modes of working and being. Another instance: the end of Brezhnevian command economy, totalitarian communism, as Gorbachev edged into re-structuring of the Soviet state(s); liminality was further manifested in this era/example by the to and fro motion across/around the point of threshold by the paradigm of Andropov’s limited reforms, Chernenko’s brief return to Brezhnevian “stagnation” doctrine; and , again, in the attempted coup by the Chernenkian old Soviet guard, whilst Gorbachev was attempting to move ACROSS the theshold towards the introduction of some liberalising tendencies. Cf Dubchek and the brief “Prague Spring” which Gorbachev has always cited as the inspiration for his re-structuring reforms. Some of these thresholds will come to fruition , others will be interrupted by reactionary forces/events.

3. Even more loosely, but still very valid:a PSYCHOLOGICAL liminal space between fixed, hegemonically determined identities; eg the word queer, in all its manifold senses, was re-claimed and coined, by expanding on the work of Foucault(whereby he showed that the heterosexual-homosexual binary was socially constructed, largely; and that is was possible, anti-hegemonically, to inhabit ANYWHERE along this wide spectrum). Hence queer liminalities, a growing area of academic discourse(I cannot wait for Helen Finch’s book on Sebald, to be published in a few months, which, I hope/trust will explore these threshold/queer areas further!Although some posts on this blog explore them but more from the angle of abjection and marginalisation of Jewish and gay identities{historically}; so I am waiting to be convinced of queer liminalities in Sebald,and am open-minded thereto!). Somewhere on the border of sociology, psychology and anthropology is  Bousiou’s study “The Nomads of Mykonos: Performing liminalities in a queer space”(2008), where he did an analysis of Mykonos as a resort and space whereby the burgeoning gay/queer culture and opportunities were an example of that liminal space of MISRULE, outside hegemonic space/place{cf Halberstam, and my accounts of Gay Mens’ Weeks at Laurieston Hallhttps://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/why-camp-is-queer-by-steven-benson/ Note Section B bullet point 3}; and also obvious links with safer lgbt/queer space, which often occurs in a liminal positionality, that is in a (putatively?)gay-friendly geographical locality, where we are on the border/threshold between hegemonic and queer space(queer in its widest sense):https://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/negotiating-safer-spaces-a-poemof-sorts-by-steven-benson/ andhttps://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/gayqueer-psychogeography-by-steven-benson/

I have seen it argued that straight- queer people(ie,predominantly  straight in sexual orientation but open to same-sex experiences and queer liminalities, gaps between hegemonically constructed modes of being) are best placed to FULLY inhabit this queer liminal positionality, because they are less forced, by hegemonic discourses(enforcing the straight/gay binary) into gay self-identification mode BECAUSE they are primarily straight in orientation; this feels to me to be a circular and possibly heterosexist, even homophobic, argument,as straight people are just as much a product of the binary thinking as gay people!

In fact, I would argue to the contrary:that lgbt people, owing to social/religious/political/legal oppression  are actually repeatedly FORCED to move BETWEEN spaces, in a kind of “nomadic subjectivity”(Braidotti, “Powers of Affirmations, in “the Unexpected Guest”,2012), where they may sometimes, to avoid verbal/physical violence, have to “pass” as heterosexual in a space which is threatening/non lgbt-affirmative. So, liminal again, in that, as lgbt people, whether we want to acknowledge it to ourselves or not, are constantly moving between the “safety” of (at least) being PERCEIVED as straight; and spaces which are gay friendly; or, indeed, “seperatist”( partly pejorative word for space where we NEED to be seperate to build up strength for the normativising, straight/straight-acting world). This geographically constant crisscrossing of thresholds leads to a psychological chameleonicity, which can be dangerous to some lgbt people’s mental health. This “condition” of constantly zigzagging across these boundaries, inhabiting these border territories,is difficult to be positive about; until more people are willing to open their hearts and minds to the concepts of freedom and equality-in-difference enshrined in queer(in its broadest sense) thinking(with the concomitant problematics of the word queer, to some people): see this post https://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/queerin-its-sense-of-not-solely-relating-to-sexual-orientationin-literature-a-creative-explorationclarification-of-what-it-means-to-me-by-steven-benson/

4.Queer theory “normalises” this liminal positionality as part of its thesis of fluidity of identity(sexual and otherwise) across ALL thresholds(of gender, ability/different ability/disability,for example); manifested in genderqueer,{psychological and/or physical} androgyny, cripqueer, for instance.

So, in a nutshell, Queer Theory EMBRACES this fluid, unboundaried, unbordered threshold space which we can call liminality(It has its roots in the Frankfurt Schools’ “negative dialectics”{Adorno} and “interregnum”{Benjamin}, which are liminal spaces where a critique and pause for thought is suggested as we ponder the failures, of , eg, capitalism and command economy communism and Stalinist revisionist communism and the atrocities they have led to; and was continued in Derrida’s “theory” of deconstruction where the binary between one place/space/position and its putatively claimed “opposite” was blown wide apart)…………………..

Sebald and liminality; and thus, ({knowingly} citing Sebald  relentlessly and  repeatedly), Teju Cole and liminality: geographical and psychological wastelands/subtopias/gaps in time, rarely even attaining an Eliot-esque Rose Garden{unless Helen Finch and re-reading of some of Sebald’s oevre convinces me!). Well, there are subjects for many dissertations. Suffice to say for now that Sebald, in the deeply disturbing Dunwhich Heath scene (in “Rings of Saturn”), writes of a liminal state between life and death where he sees a gap in the clouds of time; the whole material terrain, which is already maze-like -and results in psychological de-personalisation and malaise for the sebaldian ubiquitous narrator-:is disrupted/inter-rupted into a kind of METAPHYSICAL LIMINALITY; and, adding to that, what Sebald said himself of Walser’s “spectral insubstantiality”, it reverberates in a vast counterpoint of threads throughout the whole, ultimately(mainly!)unsolveable issue of the identity of these enigmatic self-intertextual protagonists, narrators/”narrators”; and of course Sebald himself.Sebald and his writings and narrators as the ultimate unknowable liminal space. I note a biography is being written but suspect it will stay on the path of Caitling and Hibbets'(ed)’ “Saturns Moons”; that is confine itself, predominantly, to Sebald’s intellectual life. I do not think we shall ever really know who Sebald was; and that is probably the point!

Anyway, I thought a pertinent example on which to finish…or not finish….

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About decayetude

ENTHUSIASMS: CLASSICAL MUSIC, ESPECIALLY OBSCURE ROMANTIC COMPOSERS; BACH/HANDEL LITERATURE, ESPECIALLY THOUGHTFUL, WELL-WRITTEN(STYLISTICALLY)NOVELS W G SEBALD WALTER BENJAMIN THEODOR ADORNO(JUST BEGINNING!) AESTHETIC PHILOSOPHY GAY MEN'S WRITING;QUEER THEORY STIMULATING DISCUSSIONS(EMOTIONALLY AND INTELLECTUALLY) GOOD RICH THICK ESPRESSO MICHAEL PONTI SPRITUALITY/LIFE'S "AURA"(BENJAMIN), WHATEVER TRANSCENDENTAL THING YOU WANT TO CALL THIS MEMORY-the elusiveness thereof. LOST TIME AND AN ATTEMPT AT ITS REDEMPTION(NON THEISTICALLY/RELIGIOUSLY)
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