Liminality

The phenomenon of liminality appears in the earliest children’s texts, but the term itself is a coinage from Scottish anthropologist Victor Turner (1969), who drew on liminaire, a term used by Arnold Van Gennep in his ethnographical writings on preindustrial societies to designate the middle, transitional stage of a three-stage paradigmatic rite of passage: “rites which accompany every change of place, state, social position and age” (quoted in Turner 1969, 94). Joseph Campbell adapted this construct as a basis for The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), an example of Turner’s long shadow on literary studies.

Liminality describes the quality of being socially segregated, set apart, and divested of status and relates to characteristics and qualities associated with this condition: indeterminacy, ambiguity, selflessness, and becomingness among them. Though Turner gives the Latin limen as its root, liminality’s origins precede the early Bronze Age in the Egyptian word for …

This essay may be found on page 116 of the printed volume.

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