“Liminal to Liminoid, in Play, Flow and Ritual”
July 21, 2011 § 17 Comments
In Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play, Victor Turner considers the relationship between, you guessed it, ritual behavior and theatrical (re)production. His first chapter, “Liminal to Limanoid,” focuses on what he calls “comparative symbology,” non-verbal cultural symbols (and/or activities) which cohere within a particular cultural context and which mark a particular rite of passage (20) — passage being the operative term, as Turner is interested in liminality. “Lemonality?” you ask. “The fuck is that?” Oh man good question! Liminality is the ritual/ized movement from some previous state (position, rank, status, etc) into another. The liminal is fundamentally in-between, neither here nor there, neither this nor that, neither yes nor no, and follows the following trajectory: one is either metaphorically or literally separated from who/what one was before the ritual process. One is then thrust into near-chaos, in which the former rules no longer apply. Social relations, mores, expectations etc. all get smashed to bits and recombined —ludiclly recombined– in ways that would never fly under normal circumstances (27). Which is an important point — Turner notes that liminality, and conversely ritual, only takes place within highly structured societies. #duh on account of “structure” is the logical precondition for “anti-structure” (29).
Having articulated the wheres and whats of liminality, Turner then turns to the liminoid. As opposed to liminal rites of passage, which are compulsory (per a particular cultural context), liminoid behaviors or events are purely elective and are undertaken simply because they are “fun” — are therefore predicated on the existence of leisure (as opposed to “work,” which itself presupposes the existence of some form of exchange value; as Turner explains, “One works at the liminal, one plays at the liminoid” (55)). If one enters into this space with others, communitas –a strong feeling of communal connection– develops, the result of spontaneous, ideological or normative communion (48). Though the communal social or individual psychological impact of whatever experience varies greatly (depending on the experience, group, purpose, etc), something happens; one enters a hippie-dippy state of “flow” (think life-affirming contact-high) and emerges with a new sense of meaning or purpose.
Communitas is also associated with liminal experience; as Turner explains, the distinction between liminal and liminoid is all kinds of hazy. That said, consider the difference between, say, fraternity hazing rituals and attending a scary movie with friends. Although one chooses to join a fraternity, with good reason because they’re AWESOME, one does not choose the initiation process—in fact, the entire experience might be downright unpleasant. Once complete, however, a pledge will emerge a full-blown brother, granting him privilege that beforehand was denied. Conversely, when a group of friends watches a scary movie, they are doing so purely because they want to (or because they don’t want to, heightening feelings of transgression and therefore enjoyment). No profound transformation takes place, but the group will feel a sense of shared experience, i.e. communitas—they will yelp together and laugh together and, more than likely, leave the theatre feeling closer, at least for a hot minute.
Let’s see, what else can we say about Turner. I suppose one could draw a connection to Douglas, since like rituals of purity, the liminal space/experience (perhaps opposed to liminoid spaces and experiences, though I’ll have to get back to you on that) functions to bring individuals into some preexisting fold. In fact, now that I think about it, ritual as described by Turner could be explained as a preemptive strike against “dirt” (in the loosest, “matter out of place” sense). Sort of like, the liminal transforms a potential threat to the natural order (well what’s perceived as “natural”) into that which is safe/culturally-sanctioned. I mean in a good way, if you’re into that sort of thing.