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The In-Between of the In-Between: Liminality

By: Charm Chandler

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Post Date: 2024-01-25

The existential dislocation that we experience as finite beings results from an interior struggle with acknowledging the temporal self in atemporal liminality. When our preconceived notions of stability have been ruptured, often in the form of encountering endless possibilities that overwhelm the senses, we become exposed to the grandeur of everything, and this, we can call, an encounter with, infinity. This can result in a series of contradictory emotions—existential dread, wonder, calm, and so forth, that serves to distance us from the immediate now. It then becomes impossible to use language to describe where we could be., with only alexithymia (lack of words to describe an emotion; emotional blindness) serving as a good enough utterance that might mean the chance of being grounded once more.


The difficulties of defining liminality come from its connotations that could apply to many domains, such as psychology, philosophy, and even religion. I would like to limit the conversation, however, to modern-day usage; I will attempt to isolate the definition of liminality through Gen X/Millennial/Gen Z expectations. From what I have observed as a common starting definition from these three generations, the definition of liminality appears to be the physical and mental transition from one state of being to another, but never quite reaching the end of that state of being, which leads to a state of displacement that attempts to reorient itself to the comfortable feeling of the prior state. 


For example, consider the following scenario. You’re in the process of moving and have finished packing all your relevant things. What’s left is the drive between your original house and your new one. There’s the initial excitement that can be found in the daydream of what could happen in the new house that’s juxtaposed with the memories of the old house. Physically, you will finish the drive from your old residence, arriving to the new residence. Mentally, there’s more than likely a sense of loss arising from leaving behind the old for the new. That longing usually takes some time to dissipate, but for some, it never leaves. This experience can also indicate a simultaneous sense of comfort and discomfort, where loss intermingles with familiarity through extended encounters with the uncanny (i.e., the familiar unfamiliar). The spacetime that liminality inhabits, through the aesthetics of minimalistic and sometimes unsettling design, gives rise to an angst of uneasiness that can unanchor our sense of self.


Key motifs in liminality often depict an object that symbolizes passage in the literal or metaphorical context, such as a door or window. These images intermingle with transitionary spaces such as hallways, roads, or gas stations, these places that seem in between without a beginning, end, or final destination. Liminality only provides a series of transitionary sequences embodied by space, time, and interior feeling. These transitions guide the combination of a mismatched emotion to the next location, which turns into another threshold ad infinitum. Depending on the appearance of these destinations, they can give the person a sense of either existential anxiety or calm.


It is as if your hands were reaching toward each other but could never actually touch.


Liminality often embodies itself in places that serve as temporary residences, such as train stations, airports, and hotels. Each generation’s relationship with these transitory spaces, and by extension, these spaces feeling of liminality, give rise to complicated feelings from the expectations of an idealized past and future, where the present serves as the immediate results of current events reflecting the falloff from idealization. Often, the falloff leads into a lingering state of uncertainty. But simultaneously, this is also the perfect time to self-reflect.


Modern-day generations have yet to perfect the balance between being grounded and lingering in both past and future sentiments that, although, inevitably, arising from the state of being and feeling liminal limits the individual’s present self from progressing forward. While uncertain feelings from liminality may become automatic given the current state of affairs in the modern world, remembering how to return to yourself allows you a wider breadth of reflection. 


Begin by tracing the points in your past that allow you to return to yourself in the present moment. Acknowledge that your body is an infinitesimal being perpetually transitioning to different states of becoming. From this awareness will arise either the despair or courage to dive into the thoughtful speculation of yourself facing two options: reorientation to your immediate surroundings or an even greater unanchoring. The choice will not be easy, and for some, not making a choice is the choice. But resistance against liminality will not be the same as acceptance, and often the latter leads to an embracing that might just allow you to finally and briefly let your hands touch together.




"liminality." Oxford Reference. . . Date of access 19 Jan. 2024, <>     

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