Liminality (1884, a rare word from L. lïmen, meaning “a threshold”) is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective state, conscious or unconscious, of being on the “threshold” of or between two different existential planes. It is the space between, the state of being neither-this-nor-that, betwixt and between, neither me nor not me.
It is “transitionality”, “becomingness”, “borderland”.
It is not yet recognized by the OED. Of interest are several related words:
Preliminary (1650s, from Fr. préliminaire or M.L. praeliminaris, from L. prae- “before”, see pre- + limen [gen. liminis]) “threshold.” A word that arose in reference to negotiations to end the Thirty Years’ War.
Subliminal (1886, “below the threshold” - of consciousness, formed from sub “below” + L. limen [gen. liminis]) &lduo;threshold.” The scare over subliminal advertising came in 1957.
Eliminate (1560s, from L. eliminatus, pp. of eliminare) “thrust out of doors, expel,” from ex limine “off the threshold,”
Limit (n., late 14c., “boundary, frontier,” from O.Fr. limite “a boundary,” from L. limitem [nom. limes]) “a boundary, embankment between fields, border,” related to limen “threshold.” Colloquial sense of “the very extreme, the greatest degree imaginable” is from 1904.
The term liminality was originally developed by van Gennep (and later Turner) to “refer to in-between situations and conditions that are characterized by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies, and uncertainty regarding the continuity of tradition and future outcomes.” In his 1909 Rites de Passage, van Gennep distinguished between those that result in a change of status for an individual or social group, and those that signify transitions in the passage of time (rites of passage). He claimed “such rituals marking, helping, or celebrating individual or collective passages through the cycle of life or of nature exist in every culture, and share a specific three-fold sequential structure”.
This begins to address the concept of liminality but is far from exhaustive. The links below provide a fuller picture but again – limited. It is a living, breathing concept brought to life most fully, only by our individual personal experience with it. It is merely cognitive until we make it more.
Terri Witek View Statement
For the website, I thought I’d send on the first page of my new book, Exit Island, due out in January. Ariadne is a liminal character in a liminal space—she’s a myth stranded on an island alone with the poetry of Fernando Pessoa. What kind of place is this condition? “Pessoa” means person in his half-understood language. Should she wake up and become one?~
I wake on an island. The ship has dropped me here–I can still feel it tugging at the edges of sleep, gray and grainy with rain.
Here is what I was told on the ship:
1. Do your arguing on deck.
2. Thefts are rare.
3.Find out how a windlass works: some day you’ll have to get that anchor up or down.
But now I am disembarked. The word shudders over the one who has lost her ship with its strange wooden skin. Or the word could be “desemboca,” Portuguese ordering river down into the sea. But I am sleeping, not a native speaker, and things are changed by island ears. I hear “disse sem boca”—speak without a mouth, or maybe “alem da boca”: beyond the mouth. The book on my chest, turned down on my chest, still rises and falls. “Basta-me que me basta”—enough is enough.
Brian Torff View Statement
I will be speaking about liminality as it relates to musical style, people, and geography. The two original musical selections I will be performing will be examples in sound of the ‘in between’ spaces that exist in music.
Jo Yarrington View Statement
I’ve always been interested in liminal places, areas of the mind or reality that blur definition, that exist somewhere in between. When first reading Swann’s Way, I instantly identified with Proust’s ruminations on the space between sleeping and waking. Suspended in that glide from consciousness to unconsciousness, he seemed to find a threshold to unfettered freedom and clarity. In Brontë’s Villette, when faced with the harsh realities and social restrictions of Victorian England, Lucy Snow could slip into her shadowland, an interior place of refuge and boundless possibilities. And, in Atonement, McEwan spoke to the fertile pause between stillness and motion when he wrote “the mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between moving and nonmoving, when her intention took effect.” It is these elusive, shifting planes, these fluctuations in our psychic core and physical being, these changeable and charged arenas that I explore in my visual art.
Advising artists support and help guide the growth and outreach of the Evolve the Conversation experience. Guest artists are present at our salons. Both are invited to provide statements on the topic.
Joe Sequenzia View Statement
The space between… between today and tomorrow. Between two walls, between breaths, the kerning that communicates the true message between or a part of the lines. To open up. To find that space between.
I think a lot about the space (in)between. -The freedom that is offered by it. On a flight between NY and LA time really stops. -You have all that time that you can really do anything.
I have always loved a quote from Jack Benny about: it’s not the joke. -It is the space between that makes something humorous. Or Steven Tyler who said that it is not the notes, but the space in between that makes a song great.
Then as more a strategy, from Steve Jobs for the innovative thinkers that worked at Apple: "-My job is to create a space, to clear out the rest of the organization -and keep it at bay." –
To be open to new thought.
And of course Dave Matthews:
"The space between what's wrong and right
Is where you'll find me hiding, waiting for you
The space between your heart and mine
Is the space we'll fill with time."
Kelly Coveny View Statement
Liminal space, subliminal longing,
Molecules. Metaphor. Dusk.
Between frozen ground and crocuses,
Orgasms and sleep,
Between fear and possibility,
I wait. I breathe.
I wait for the seasons to pass.
The sadness to lift. The hope to last.
I wait for the time to come
For my endless revisions, to finally be done.
I wait inside these waiting tombs,
Tunnel through their cavernous wombs.
The ten-second journeys inside my brain,
Across map-less memory, rough terrain,
Miles and miles with nothing to name
Miles and miles from where I came.
Liminal space, subliminal longing,
Molecules. Metaphor. Dusk.
Marlon Saunders View Statement
“...a place where we can play like a never ending symphony whose movements are swift and flowing like the fruits of the earth used to be..” excerpt from the song “Keep Doin’ What Ya Do” from my recording Enter My Mind
There are moments that occur that are just transitory. I believe that our sense of self has no choice but to align with something greater. I often find a space in singing where I begin and know that I am in the creative process of singing but I feel higher than myself. I lose all sense of what is happening...a participation of creative flow. When I am completely free to allow Spirit to dance I have no memory of what has happened. I worry not about a result or a particular outcome. Most of the time it is days or even longer until I can began to understand what has happened and often time it is just a knowing.
Anne Wells View Statement
“The space in between...” At first this concept flooded me with fear and apprehension... In between what? But then, after relaxing into it, it jazzed me... Yes, of course... All of those spaces in between... in between thoughts, words, decision, actions, and even jobs, homes, relationships, destinations. All those spaces where anything and everything is still possible... where I can still change course, alter direction, jibe into the winds as they shift and change. That idea suits me. If I am nowhere definitive, maybe I can be somewhere of consequence. Who decides?
Truth is most of my life has been lived “in between.” Those precious moments of completion, arrival, birth, clarity, and even peace all too quickly become memories, and I’m back to the space of dreaming, waiting, toiling, craving, yearning. Yet all that’s changing now. After some careful consideration, I’ve made the executive decision to embrace “liminality” for all its precious uncertainty and pure, boundary-free possibility is worth! Thank you ETC.
Rachel Basch View Statement
I first heard the word liminality as a freshman in college, in a lecture on Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane. “The threshold that separates the two spaces also indicates the distance between two modes of being, the profane and the religous. The threshold is the limit, the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes two worlds – and at the same time the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible.” (Eliade)
The lack of classification inherent in liminality is especially compelling for me. On the threshold between one state and another, one stage and another is a space of limitless freedom. My son, in a state of liminality, himself, having graduated college two days ago, said it was like standing in one spot and seeing two horizons at the same time. The freeing aspect of it he said is that no one else can define you, claim you, categorize you when you’re in a liminal sate. There is an extra ordinary quality to the liminal. Eliade describes it as the space where “worlds communicate.” Above all it strikes me as a space of unbounded possibility.
Chris Bean View Statement
Liminality exists in an infinite number of forms within the creative process. The shooting process in filmmaking could be considered a liminal space, as production is the busy threshold between the written scrip and the final edited, broadcasted piece. Liminality is also the quiet gestation period all artists endure, where muse and dreams form the vision of their unexpressed designs. The concept of liminality relates to my process of working, living, and knowing as I try to remember to just simply be.
To honor the space in between my thoughts and relinquish my identity in order to join and be guided by the collective unconscious. This is an ancient meditation and healing practice that welcomes and energizes a liminal state to balance our individual souls by seeking alignment with all things. I recognize the potential for authenticity and truth within the inevitability of flux or change and have been trained to adapt and improvise, however, this “living in the moment” remains a humbling challenge. Our common fear of “the unknown” is reversed and crisis no longer has a negative connotation if our intuition and intention is to find the latent creative force in liminality.
Christopher Bean, the human on earth...
Kim Bridgford View Statement
I have recently been focused on bringing together a range of poetic communities, so the term liminality has been much on my mind. I also believe in crossing genres, disciplines, and cultural discourses. If we are truly an inclusive, global community, it is in the liminal spaces that we start.
Robert Redmond View Statement
When I first encountered the word liminality I found myself thinking heavily about existence and life. Losing myself in thought:
I pondered the space between death and life anew – as in when I cease to exist, what is the space between my existence and another’s beginning? The energy that was me, where does it go? Is it still me, when does it cease to be a part of me and begin to be something else? What is the transition like for it?
I then began to think about life itself. The state of being between un-being. I am me — and yet I am billions of individual cells and molecules and interconnected internal communities of smaller instances of existence.
There is something deeply personal and intoxicating about this communion of self. I'm sharing this existence with so many smaller instances of existence — yet one in the same.
Debbie Casey View Statement
When I first heard the word liminality — I was overwhelmed by so many different thoughts — purgatory, indecisiveness, dreams, endings and beginnings all at once.
I think we all have times in our life when we are feeling like we are living in liminality—stuck between here and there. When I was going through my divorce, I now realize I was in a state of liminality—not sure where my life would take me next but there were so many possibilities and so many outcomes based on the decisions that I made.
Sometimes we are in liminality because we are scared to make decisions that bring the unknown. But, then, if we don”t take risks and attempt new experiences and mix life up a little, we wouldn’t find true fulfillment and learn how to grow ourselves emotionally or spiritually. And, other times, there is peace in just being.
Joe Carvalko View Statement
My Liminal Neverland
I live on the plane of a Rubix Cube, where every twist, every turn assembles a new future, where coded in the radiance of its colored combinations I find the secrets that joins “what is” and “what is possible,” the sharp edge that cuts through life’s mysteries, opening the way for meeting beauty, understanding and love, where every twist, every turn of sensibility and intuition, of emotion and thought, keeps my dreams from fading into triviality, lets my heart know when it’s time to twist again and move-on.
Glenn Schloss View Statement
On the threshold of fatherhood for a second time in my life. (Any day now!)
The journey of bringing this baby into the world has been amazing. So much self discovery and awareness between myself and my wife and all the good people in my life. I am more prepared the second time around, and yet so many intangibles and challenges lie in front of me.
Each passing day brings new perspective.
Will Elena be OK? What kind of birth can we really expect? Will it be long or incredibly quick? How much pain and joy will my baby experience?
On the edge, dangling – and holding on for dear life.
I like this place. I am comfortable here.
Exploring – searching – grasping – discovering – Trying to clarify myself in the middle of the unknown vortex. Perhaps this Is my moment of clarity.
Before I turn the handle and open the door — Stop and take a deep breathe. Think about all the possibilities. (It's exciting.) I feel real. Honest and present. Consumed with mad crazy love for all my family and friends. A big giant juicy tidal wave of love.
There is brand new life — brand new focus — brand new beginnings.
Erik Blicker View Statement
The condition of being on the threshold or the space in between.
Often the space in between is the place where we find ourselves at our core.
Most alone with our thoughts and face to face with our being if we so choose.
As in music the space between the notes are as important, if not more important then the actual notes.
This reality translates to our daily lives as the space between transitions or standing on the threshold of transition are in most instances more critical to outcome then the actual transition itself.
How we arrive to is often dictated by our experience with Liminality
Gerald Wenner View Statement
Liminality of Movies
I propose that the experiencing a cinema in a darkened movie theater is a great example of liminality.
The movie theater is a place where people from all walks of life come together to experience a world that walks the line between between reality and illusion.
Persistence of vision bridges darkness with light. At 24 still frames per second, there are also 24 frames of “in between” black. This relationship provides an infinite number of possible outcomes and events.
In its most extreme articulation, cinema is lightness and darkness.
Kim Kupperman View Statement
Forest / field. Water / shore. Outside / inside. Dark / light. Beginning / end. Borders. Boundaries. Transgression. Crossings. So many edges, many of them invisible or unnoticed; so many edges, too little time. Edges to edges, dusk to dusk.
Consider Artemesia Gentileschi and how she limned drama from the canvas, using that cousin of chiaroscuro, tenebrism—the violent contrasts of light and dark—to suggest movement on a flat surface. Because of that triangle of liminality between her legs, she lived on edges as a female painter, consigned to obscurity until three centuries after she died, when feminist art historians shone the light on her work. A contemporary of Caravaggio, Artemesia was raped by her father’s friend, her own teacher, another painter. Not one to be stopped, the young woman painted her rage and pain using the allegory of Judith beheading Holofernes (a story that occurs on the edge between a Jewish settlement and a non-Jewish world). She painted other women living on the margins: Susanna judged by the elders, Bathsheba, Esther, St. Catherine, Lot’s daughters.
We learn on uncomfortable edges. Think about children learning to read, how they must sound out words—which are made of abstract symbols and determined/provided by adults, who wield power—often in front of an audience (at home, in the classroom), and you will be transported to that threshold, the one you crossed in order to decipher the glyphs in this paragraph.
Once, I lived at Sipayik, which means "along the edge." I was a guest, a Jewish American woman on a Native American reservation. I learned about other kinds of edges then, margins, what it feels like to be an outsider invited inside, in spite of all the pain inflicted by people—who looked a lot like me—on the outside. The liminal zone can be a place of great sorrow. Why, for example, do we say inner city when ghettos are located on the fringe of the metropolis? Why do we say reservation, as if such a place had been reserved with care, as if indigenous people were never uprooted and sent to the edges of their world?
bell hooks urges us to choose "the margins as a space of radical openness" and to consider teaching as an artful act of transgression.
Amy Coveny View Statement
Liminality for me is the transitionary time in life when our faith, resolve and determination are tested. I am speaking of the grander in between moments in life that van Gennep so beautifully describes in his 1909 Rite de Passage as the "...in-between situations and conditions that are characterized by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies, and uncertainty regarding the continuity of tradition and future outcomes." Shaking off past beliefs for future endeavors, letting go of what holds us down to embrace the possibility of something better. The in-between state is where we build our faith, strength, resolve and connect with the magic that seems to cross that borderland. We experience this both individually and collectively. We sometimes have to deconstruct it and break it apart to rebuild something better. Liminality therefore is the prelude to "such rituals marking, helping, or celebrating individual or collective passages through the cycle of life or of nature exist in every culture, and share a specific three-fold sequential structure".