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4 Dec 2009

Liminal surge – It’s been a busy day, and I will be heading out again shortly, but I’m going to be gone for the weekend, so I wanted to get something quick in before I left.

“On average, I’ll get maybe one or two emails a month related to liminality, but in the past three weeks that rate has skyrocketed.”

Ever since I launched this site (well over six years ago... where has the time gone?), I have been receiving emails from people asking for clarification on the concept of liminality. I dutifully answered each and every email that came my way. Perhaps I shouldn't say “dutifully,” because that makes it sound like a chore. It is far from a chore—every email I have received has given me an opportunity to look at liminality from a different point of view, and another opportunity to organize and develop my thoughts on the subject.

After a couple of years, though, I realized that there was also a lot of repetition in my emails as I explained the very basics of the concept. I didn’t mind discussing the concept and answering questions, but the basic explanation part was starting to feel a little mechanical. I needed to tackle the issue in depth for my dissertation anyway, so I decided to write up an essay in English that would eventually be called “What is Liminality?” It would be composed of two parts of roughly equal length: the first part discusses the origins of the term with Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner’s expansion on the idea over a half century later, and the second part outlines my own personal thoughts on Turner’s ideas and liminality in general, as well as its relation to the trickster figure.

I wrote and posted this essay in the fall of 2005, over four years ago now. At a little over five thousand words, it was the longest thing I had ever posted here, and remained so for some time. I hoped it would at least answer the basic questions about liminality, or at least my ideas concerning those basic questions, and it seems to have done so. It also seems to have increased the number of people coming here in search of answers, which I suppose is to be expected. Apparently there still aren’t all that many treatments of liminality available out there on the internet, because if you type “what is liminality?” into Google, that essay is the first thing that pops up (and now, because I’ve included the phrase here, it’s possible that this entry might start popping up as well).

But I don’t mind the questions—now that I have the essay to get the basic issues out of the way, I find that I can talk about in-depth issues. To tell the truth, I am a little uncomfortable with the idea that I might be coming across as some expert in liminality, but I always make this clear in my correspondences, that I am just another seeker of truth and ideas. I have had many fruitful and enlightening discussions, and for that I am grateful.

Why bring this up now, though? Well, mainly because, as of this moment, I have seven unanswered emails sitting in my inbox from the past three weeks, all of which are from people who have read my essay and have commented on it and/or would like to discuss it with me. I feel terrible about making some of these people wait for so long, but lately things have been so hectic that I haven’t had the time (or focus—mainly focus, I guess) to sit down and hammer out thoughtful responses. I can dash off a quick reply to someone just dropping by and commenting on my site in general, but the people who write to me about liminality need more than that, and I feel I owe them more than that. Or maybe I feel I owe it to myself, I’m not sure.

At any rate, I have these emails sitting there, waiting for replies, and here I am, scheduled to leave the house in about fifteen minutes and return Sunday evening. It’s a bit unusual to have this many emails waiting for my attention, though, and that’s the main reason why I decided to write this entry today. On average, I’ll get maybe one or two emails a month related to liminality, but in the past three weeks that rate has skyrocketed. This happens on rare occasion, and it always makes me wonder: why now, all of a sudden? It’s not as if liminality is in the news or anything. And I had always been under the (perhaps mistaken) impression that the concept was something of a relic of the last century—you don’t hear it used quite as often in papers these days as you did in the 80s and 90s.

But, for whatever reason, every now and then I get these surges of interest. I suppose it could be completely coincidental—if I had actually attended the statistics class I took as an undergrad, I could probably whip up some equations to show that the frequency of emails is still well within the statistically probable range (or something like that). It still makes me wonder, though.

Gord (yes, that Gord, the celebrated science-fiction author, master brewer, and notable eccentric) suggested that I put up a liminality FAQ in addition to the essay. At first I balked at the idea, as I thought it might imply some measure of expertise. But then I realized that, yes, I do get asked a lot of questions very frequently, so it wouldn’t be that preposterous an idea. When I thought about it some more, though, I realized that I rarely get asked the same question twice. I think that’s what makes this so much fun—everyone coming here has their own unique take on liminality for their own unique purposes. Yes, there are the usual social science majors taking more traditional approaches, but I’ve also communicated with students of architecture, dance and choreography, and human resources. Every email I get challenges me in a different way, and I can honestly say I enjoy that.

At the moment, though, I am very behind in rising to those challenges. My apologies to those waiting for replies, if you should find your way here to this entry, and I request your indulgence for a few days more. Next week I plan to get all my ducks in a row and my cats herded (preferably not in the same location), and I will begin composing those emails, starting with those who have been waiting the longest. And once that’s done, I hope to be getting back to some real posting here.

Well, departure time is now five minutes hence. Time to wrap this up, do a very quick once over, and get this posted. (To my proofreaders: as always, comments are welcome, just be aware that no changes will be made until after the weekend.)

(Oh, wow—I just noticed that this is my two hundredth entry! I guess it’s kind of appropriate that I should be talking about liminality, even if indirectly. Hooray me! Here’s to another two hundred entries!)

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