Friday, April 5, 2024

The nature of places that apparently aren’t places

 Our son recently began talking about liminal spaces, a topic that I really didn’t see coming. However, looking into it, I discovered that the definition of liminal spaces has changed. Or, to be more fair, it’s taken on an additional meaning.

The ‘classic’ definition of a liminal space is that it is a transitional space. Arthur Dent’s house is a liminal space compared to the two ends of the bypass that it had to be demolished to make. It’s a very broad category.

The newer definition, which some sources describe as an Internet aesthetic, is more like a place that isn’t really a place. A place that has stopped being a place. Abandoned malls  or hospitals seem to be popular examples.

Let’s be fair. First of all, the classic definition is so broad and vague that there is plenty of overlap between the two. And language changes. And unless you’re a dead language (love ya, Latin!) that nobody actually uses any anymore, languages are living and changing beasts.

Liminal Spaces as an aesthetic appear in art and movies and video games and cartoons and literature. I am going to argue that the House in Piranesi by Susana Clarke is an example of a liminal space. House of Leaves definitely is.

The idea of a place that is not a place is definitely not an idea that the gestalt that we call the Internet came up with. A. A. Milne described it perfectly in 1924 in his poem ‘Halfway Down’ Heck, the Netherworld in the Epic of Gilgamesh fits the new definition of liminal space just fine.

The thing about these places that aren’t places is that they are real. Obviously the media uses liminal spaces are using fictional examples. However, there really are places that feel like they aren’t places or stopped being places.

And not just places like abandoned malls or failed amusement parks. Any place out of context can take on a liminal space feel. I remember waiting in an empty parking lot and having a sense that time had stopped and the world was no longer entirely real. It was actually quite soothing, which is why it’s stayed in my memory.

But the power of this new version of liminal spacer clearly has power because it is so relatable. We have all been there, the nowhere that is. It is a form of the unknown we all know.

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