Margins and Thresholds (Aguirre, Quance, Sutton & Soto: 2000) has been of significant importance to my engagement with the study of silence in human interaction. Such a rich area of study has profited by allowing me to focus on multiple themes using the concept of liminaltiy.
The working definition I use is taken from Chapter 2 of the above volume:
In its weak sense, liminality is the property of the middle, intermediate, in-between event or state or object. In a strong sense, it characterizes areas of active mediation: i.e., areas which actively function of conveyors of features (values, structures, techniques and so on) between cultural systems. (30)
Since I have been concentrating on the place and time where silence occurs in human activities, I have adopted and adapted both the weak and the strong senses to come to an understanding of the gap in which apparently nothing is happening.
Using the lens of liminality I often find myself reflecting, thinking about and pondering on the idea of the interim. One of the strengths of this concept is that of providing a framework for my study.
Basically, my interest lies in the gaps such as those that exist between (1) implicature and inference where communication often goes awry, (2) between expectations and their realization, (3) between anticipation and finality, and (4) unsuspected cultural clashes due to lack of awareness of Bourdieu’s distinctions between habitus and field.
For each of the following areas of reflections there are several examples to explore. The format is rather Whitmanesque as it is made up of lists.
To begin comes the liminal area of doubt: the primed white canvas, the blank sheet of paper, the imagined project. It lies between I-can and I-won’t-be-able to. Perhaps procrastination is a frightful zone of impotence. Then, the ever-frequent gap between remembering and forgetting can be a disturbing in-between place. There are also gap sounds, empty of meaning, an attempt to hold on to an idea or to cover up silence: umm, oooh, my, hum, etc.
The list continues with the gap between implicature and inference, expectations and fulillment
Conversation: zones of multiple misunderstandings (1) such as political discourse on the media in forms of empty debate and talk shows, (2) families as in American Beauty, Sam Mendes (2000), (3) Art a play by Yasmina Reza (1994), in which three friends argue over the non-content of White on White by Malevich (1998).
Painting: Edward Hopper’s Sun in an Empty Room (1963) teases viewers to beg for a narrative, which is absent, an example of horror vacui.
Literature: (1)Emily Dickinson “This is my Letter to the World) #441, experiencing the emptiness of not publishing. Painful waiting. (2) Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1921), silence to ensnare. (3) Need for silence and solitude for creativity, Doris Lessing’s “Room 19” (1978).
Film: The adventures of Jeramiah Johnson, Sydney Pollack (1972) a chance group of three caught between habitus and field in silence. Eine Stadt sucht einem Mörder, (M, the Vampire of Düsseldorf) Fritz Lang (1931) brilliant filmic portrait of the absence of the missing girl
Series: Police procedurals of all sorts in which the police use silence to intimidate, and the accused, to unnerve the police.
Dance: Merce Cunningham’s choreographies with no music. An unidentified YouTube composition Three Dancers: the Silence of Dance (April 11, 2011) has just pure movement with no music or sounds.
Music: John Cage’s 4”33’ (1952) thwarted the first audience’s expectations for meaningful sound.
Education: Nicole Prescott, a Miami tribal member, in her article “… Native Cultural Identity” (2009) says that “Native Americans who were removed from their tribes became liminal beings—outcasts,” (336) neither fitting into the White world nor their traditional tribal world.
Places: (1) Prisons, Anthony Ray Hinton spent 28 years on death row until reprieve came. (The Guardian, October 16, 2016). (2) Concentration camps: If this is a man (Se questo è un uomo) Primo Levi, (1947). (3) Orphanages where children wait silently for someone to adopt and love them. Asha Miró Daughter of the Ganges, a memoir (2003), (4) Upper-class English and Austrian Boarding Schools: Roald Dahl in Boy, tales of childhood (1984) tells how his real feelings were suppressed in the mandatory format of the letter home. Der junge Törless (1966) film by Volker Schlöndorff based on Robert Musil’s book The Confusions of Young Törless, (Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törless (1906) Törless is humiliated into silence. (5) Residences for the Elderly where people looking silently into the distance waiting for death. Own observations. (6) Insane asylums. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest a Milos Forman film (1975) based on Ken Kesey’s book (1962). The Chippawa Indian remains purposely silent until offered candy or gum at the very end of the film.
Society: (1) In-between people: the deaf, the autistic, the paralysed among others frequently live in liminal gaps of the misunderstanding so-called normal people. (2) Internal Fantasy zones of becoming other: Cinderella, Pretty Woman film Gary Marshall (1990), Pygmalion G.B.Shaw (1913), My Fair Lady Alan J. Lerner ((1964), Superman comic written by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster (1938) during hard years of economic disaster time to drown reality in dreams. (3) Ceremonies: Turner’s rites of passage from childhood to maturity such as (a) the Hebrew BarMitzvah and BatMitzvah for children turning thirteen to mark their age of adult responsibility. (b) Fraternities and military initiation rites, often sadistic and humiliating. (c) Religious periods for becoming a full member of the group. Monks and nuns spend years from the postulant phase through the novitiate stage to the final vows. Much of this time is spent in silence. (4) Classes as in the series Downton Abbey (2010-2015) by Julian Fellowes, distance between the superior and the lower. (5) Castes film The Exotic Hotel Marigold (2011)
John Hadden. An English woman says “Good morning” to lower-caste cleaner, who in turn is amazed, for her role had always been invisibility and silence. (6) Ranks in the police and the military can be used to keep whistle-blowers silent. Naval silencing includes the story of the Spanish Armada, as well as being a commonplace in the hierarchy portrayed in Detective Novels and Army films. (7) Racial Passing: secrecy and silence are the key elements in maintaining their cover. White like her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing (2017) by Gail Lukasik, and One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life: A Story of Race and Family Secrets by Bliss Broyard (2007).
Of course, there are many more gaps and interims where silence is a key element. There could be examples in my interest of silences in Science, Medicine, Sports and so on. For the moment I offer my closing reflection.
A good working theory such as that embodied in the concept of liminality has honed my abilities to gain an understanding of how the many hidden silences function in human interaction. For thresholds and margins we have the sea and the shore which overlap always leaving an undetermined liminal area.