Travel Philosophy Revisited
02.02.2014 27 °F
Seeking Liminality- Another view on Travel
This definition is from Wikipedia. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality )
This article is about the concept of liminality. For the original video animation, see .hack//Liminality.
In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold") is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage ofrituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual's liminal stage, participants "stand at the threshold" between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.
The concept of liminality was first developed in the early 20th century by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep and later taken up by Victor Turner.  More recently, usage of the term has broadened to describe political and cultural change as well as rituals. During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established. The term has also passed into popular usage, where it is applied much more broadly, undermining its significance to some extent.
Sorry for the long introduction, and a quoted one at that. The topic made it necessary. I am always scanning travel blogs, and I discovered Travelerspoint had begun a section on “Travel Philosophy.” Since travel is often on my mind (blogged about in previous post titled “HegeMoney- One thing I learned traveling around the world.” Dated August 18, 2013. ) I decided to revisit the topic. I tried to delve a little deeper into the dynamics of why I craved travel. Travel shows and books about travelers also substitute here. A significant factor in my passion for travel is my experience of liminality through travel. This experience comes to bear from many directions.
First, liminality of path. Every country, town, culture you visit has its own history. It has arrived in the present moment through a serious of conscious choices, accidental events, historical figures, religious and political sensibilities. (To a lesser degree this is true even with cities and states in my own country compared to my own. It isn’t necessary to leave the country.) Coming to a sense of their historical journey gives a “sense of the other side of the threshold.” Depending on your ability to empathize and the distance between your culture and theirs, this can be a very emotional and disorienting experience.
Second, liminality of time. I often find a glimmer of resemblance with pieces of my past or with pieces of human history which still live in other places. This could be something as simple as places where washing is done in the river to something as deep as religious ceremonies and festivals engaged in whole-heartedly. This time liminality stretches my awareness beyond my present time and moment. It doesn’t mean that “their moment” is old fashioned or that we are “better” or “further along.” These time experiences touch me because sometimes they tap into my own deep longing. Not all of these time liminalities are good. Some of them have serious negative effects- for example, sometimes lack of access to the most current technology to fight illness and provide clean water has a serious downside. A downside which can include sickness and even death. Whether positive or negative, this experience of luminal time reminds me of my mortality and of the mysterious flow of time.
Third, liminality of perspective. Prepare yourselves for a shocker- “Not everyone thinks like you do.” I know. Hard to believe. Especially for those of us surrounded by the Hollywood machine and the steady drumbeat of US media. There is a whole world out there- a world where using a thinly veiled “Chinese” enemy may destroy a movie’s chances to be a global hit. It is also a world where 1.5 billion people name Mohamed as their prophet and nearly a billion people identify as Hindus. Their perspective is shaped by the history of their people and their political organization. In traveling, if you let yourself you might be able to get the sense of what it is like to live in a different world not just to walk in their shoes.
Liminality is not just the romantic vision of another culture. It isn’t just voyeurism- you don’t just come to see something. It isn’t “the grass being greener on the other side of the fence” and thinking what they have is better. You can come face to face with the mystery of people, places and culture. There are possibly more things that you won’t understand than how many you will. But not understanding does not prevent you from sharing. If you are the kind of person who seeks it and who is open to it, these liminal experiences can be truly transcendent. They can pull you beyond yourself into a union with the wider world. It can be the first step not just to “loving travel” or “adventure” but experiencing love itself.
Next entry: The Role of Travel as Ritual in seeking Liminality