Cartographers used to fill in the gaps of what they did not know with monsters and serpents. Later, Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville began to leave white space on maps, a symbol of rigorous standards. A blank on a map of details says, We don’t know about what’s here, but one day we will.
Taking this idea of blank spaces further. On the edges of what we know we find real spaces but unfamiliar places, of which we have no knowledge. Cultural anthropologist Victor Turner proffered the term liminality for these, from the Latin limen (threshold). They are thresholds because they lie between the past and future. They are not only unfamiliar but can be disorientating. Every good action movie we’ve watched contains liminality. The protagonist is forced out of their usual world into a world they want to escape from. They want to in order to go back to the life they had, but they cannot – only being able to move forward into something different and new. Liminality makes it possible for them to see themselves in a new light and they will grow or else perish – liminality involves transition and transformation.
Communities can form in liminality when people find one another. Turner preferred the Latin communitas, distinguishing the quality of community forming here from the kind of community we find elsewhere. Band of Brothers and The Fellowship of the Ring offer themselves as examples, the former being a fascinating true-life portrayal of liminality and communitas in a time of war, which begins to break down when the conflict is over.
We’ll come across liminal people, ideas, places, and activities in our slow journeys. We can either try to avoid these or use them as the opportunities they are so we might develop who we are and what we must do.
SOMETHING TO DO: Identify the things that have been strange, new, surprising, or disorientating so far in this slow journey. Then note what has changed in or for you as a result.