I'm going to discuss these liminal spaces in terms of creating art, particularly narratives. What I mean is, I'm not condoning war or saying it's beautiful. I'm talking about creating narratives that grab at your reader. Narratives that tug on the heartstrings and not only make people think but make people remember. I'm talking about an idea that will cause readers, years and years after reading a successful liminal space narrative, not to remember its plot but to remember the feelings it evoked. I'm talking about bringing the scent of your grandmother's cherry pie to your nostrils on your deathbed. I'm talking about liminal spaces.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term liminal space. Let me attempt to define it for you.
Liminal comes from the Latin word Limen which means threshold. A liminal space can therefore be any of the following:
The quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs between one norm and another, i.e. - the time between a collapsing social hierarchy and a rising one.
The time before a marriage or the birth of a baby. The time after a divorce or at the time at the beginning of an empty nest.
The life led between meeting your mate and settling down with them (reference any Hollywood romantic comedy/romance novel).
While not all liminal spaces are seemingly positive ones (if a liminal space is the time between a collapsing social hierarchy and a rising one, that's usually war, but more on this later) in terms of writing, film, and human memories, liminal spaces are often positive. That's why there are so many romantic comedies. As humans, we love to re-live the liminal space that exists only between meeting your mate and settling with them. (I would say the story of young 'true' love isn't just specific to Hollywood.)
Traditional love stories possess a sense of untapped potential that make them irresistible. They take two people who are in uncertain waters - young people trying to find themselves and each other in a big, scary world - and then give them a partner who will support and love them for the rest of their lives. At the end of the story, the characters have a clean slate with a devoted partner, and the world is their oyster. The credits roll before 'real' life sets in - bills, babies, heartbreak, etc.
Liminal spaces are essentially our best memories. They are the summer days we had as a kid. They are our first kiss. They are the hug he gave you when your life was crumbling. They are your daughter's smile. They are the moments we look back on with happiness and a little (or a lot) of longing.
Longing. That's key in liminal space. That's why war often falls into the category of a liminal space. Strife creates longing. Longing for a time when things are simple and safe. Take the movie Titanic (I'm using this because it's pretty ubiquitous). Titanic was a smash hit not because it was just a love story, but because it was a tragic love story. The love that Cate Blanchett and Leonardo DiCaprio's characters experience exists only in the brief time frame of those few days on the Titanic. It is pure and can never be ruined by falling out of love or debt or wrinkles. It is an ultimate love story because it's too vibrant to last. DiCaprio dies, making it tragic - they can never live happily ever after - but that same limiting factor makes it liminal. It can never again be attained. It was a once in a life time experience. Hence:
Liminal spaces are a fleeting ideals in which most people are unable to remain.
I say most people because there are two types of characters who often get to 'stay' in a liminal space. Those like Leonardo DiCaprio's character (what was his name, Jack?) who die, and then those who aren't your main character.
Those like Jack gets to remain in a liminal space because they died either during the liminal space, or soon after. The whole 'die young' thing just perpetuates our infatuation with liminal spaces. Our last memories of said characters are often emotionally charged (Jack and Blanchett's character had an unsustainable fling. He died to save her. We love him!), and the character is usually young and healthy when s/he dies, making it doubly tragic.
The other characters who get to stay in a liminal space are usually those who your main character is attracted to (often in a romantic way but not always) but don't end up with the main character. Think the unattainable girl. She walks in, turns his life upside down, and disappears into the sunset. She's the one that got away, the unicorn. She exists in a place in his mind where she becomes more than what she was. Her flaws are overlooked, glossed over by his memory making her into more than any human could ever be. The last time he saw her was fifty years ago, but in his mind she's still 23 and full of life. She can't be the main character, she can only exist in the periphery. She is the chink in his armor, the hole that lets in the the idea that his life could have been different - he could have been great. He could have been happy. She isn't real, but for a few days or moments, she was, and that he will never forget.
Liminal spaces - imperative in a narrative. They transport our readers out of their own lives and into a life rife with longing, tragedy, and utter devotion and love. It makes people not only think but feel. Liminal spaces combat malaise.
There's another word for you - malaise. It's french and it means everydayness. In my mind malaise is a sunny Sunday afternoon in a sprawling suburb with a neutral color tone. Every day is the same. It's routine. It's unhealthily safe. It's never getting caught in the rain. It's not wearing lime green when khaki is more appropriate. It's eating plain toast because eggs with Tabasco is a little to spicy. It's Groundhog day without Bill Murray, and it's your life.
We write to combat malaise. We read to combat malaise. Liminal spaces are our out.
There's one final word I'd like to touch on - kefi. It's Greek and it's not something that fits easily into a box. It encompasses joy, frenzy, passion. I don't speak Greek, and I've never talked to a Greek person about kefi, but in my mind, kefi, malaise and liminal spaces are all related. Here's how:
Kefi - extreme joy/passion. It's a moment. That moment when you realize that she loves you back. It overwhelms you. It makes your legs weak. You want to cry, but you're laughing. You can't think beyond the immediacy the fact that your dream is coming true. The world blurs and all you can focus on is her.
Over time, that kefi dims and becomes a liminal space. You remember where you were standing when she told you she loves you. You remember her nails were painted, but you can't recall what you were wearing. The wind was blowing. She smelled like lavender. You remember feeling joy and relief. In your mind, that is the moment where it all started. You can trace your history back to that instant. You can look at that kefi with a more rational head. You can see now what you couldn't then.
What plagues the liminal space? Malaise. One day you wake up, you realize you're twenty pounds too heavy, working a job you hate, your love has her own life and her own issues. You sleep next to her, but you're both always so tired. It isn't to say your life is bad, but one day that liminal space, fueled by the kefi that created it, flashes in your mind, back to a time when the world seemed so much bigger and brighter. You remember the intensity of that moment, and then you look at your beige house in a sea of beige houses, and you wonder what happened?
We write because we have the power to create those liminal spaces. We read to combat the malaise. We remember because the kefi we've been lucky enough to experience stays with us, and we can't forget it.