First of all, what is a liminal space?
Liminality refers to in-between situations and conditions that are characterized by the dislocation of established structures.
Liminal spaces give off that strange aura because they are thresholds that exist outside of mundane time.
The best liminal photos are located in modern transition spaces:
Empty gas stations, malls, empty hotel hallways, etc.
Something about them is abnormal & eerie because they occupy this ambiguous zone between point A and point B.
Why do we feel that way?
Freud's "Uncanny" concept explains this feeling.
In an "uncanny" situation, we feel a sense of wrongness—the conviction that something isn’t right; “there is something present where there should be nothing, or is there is nothing present when there should be something.”
In his essay on the Uncanny, Freud speaks of doubles, mechanical entities that appear human, prostheses — as examples of this unnerving feeling.
The uncanny is about the way in which the domestic world does not coincide with itself when the familiar is made strange.
In every space we cross through in life, we are guided by expectations, and rules, that unconsciously influence our behavior.
In a store, for example, you shop as a 'consumer', & objects acquire a particular character based on a consumer's expectations.
To be in a 'liminal state' one must be in a place wherein the old rules don't apply (hence the uncanny's ineffable quality)
One must confront an anomaly—a break in established rules or expectations—to experience it.
Mark Fisher describes his walk through the container port in Suffolk, England, in a way that reminds me of the uncanny.
Going through his hometown, he experiences the ghost of a past locked inside in the capitalist machine
In this decadent stage of post-modernity, we can no longer have faith in progress & innovation.
As a result, our fascination with the past becomes a fascination with the uncanny.
Many zoomers now flock to weird trends like cottage core, surrealist photos, or liminal spaces.
Since the early 2000s, overarching narratives—progress in pop culture—have stopped.
Since there is no innovation left, we trail behind a ghost of a past that never fully came to fruition.
Poems like Locksley Hall speak of a man who, during hard times in the 1840s, dips ‘into the future far as human eye could see’, wherein he ‘Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be."
Despite industry being at a standstill at the time, Alfred Tennyson still had hope in the future.
Then you read a poem like Dover Beach, written at the height of British victorian power and prosperity, and you sense a different future.
Matthew Arnold knew the industrial revolution was the quiet before the storm.
The darkness was coming "with tremulous cadence slow."
William Blake hoped that God would keep "us From Single vision & Newtons sleep".
But 2 decades after Arnold's haunting poem, the storm arrived, and as the industrial revolution gained steam, the death of God was pronounced by Nietzsche.
The shadow of this death would hang over the 20th century.
One can see it in older films like Metropolis.
Kafkaesque lighting depicts a wholly impersonal & mechanized world that turns each and every individual into a cog in a machine.
But now that we live in a society of permissiveness, we no longer fear the closed space of the mental hospital, the barracks, or the compressing shadows of a metropolis.
We fear open spaces like the ones depicted in Valve's games.
We fear the endless backrooms.
We fear space.
No longer does man fear the oppressive shadow of God that rises up to meet him, like the one described in T.S. Elliot's poem, “the Wasteland"
We fear the unending freedom of light, the all-consuming glare of the digital—a fully virtualized world that turns everything solid into thin air.
The ghost of our past sits under fluorescent lights like one's in those haunting office rooms.
They remind us of the office space—that symbol of capitalism, of meaningless 'work'—of an American dream so dead you have to be asleep to believe it.
The past is a digital dream now.
There's this collective sense amongst zoomers that the past is a ghost—a bygone world that always remains out of reach.
All the larping, all the obsession with rebooted franchises, all the racial and gender identities—these are all attempts to recover this ghostly past.
Always looking backward or forward, neither here nor there, this generation is stuck in place, trapped in limbo, caged in a digital present being borne back ceaselessly into the past.
We are experiencing the twenties all over again:
The 'dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief'
Without a home in this godless society, all that is strange becomes familiar, all that is abnormal is 'normalized', and life becomes uncanny in the sense that much of what we don't expect becomes expected.
Time is distorted.
The digitization of private life during lockdown totally transformed our sense of time, shifting social relations to cyberspace, where tailor-made algorithms fed us what we expected to see.
Every day felt the same.
Phone usage during lockdown changed everything, as @T_Ascended writes in his article:
The 'new normal' is really an inferno of the same—burning all unique experiences up until our anhedonia becomes so bad that the only way to cure it is with more tech usage.
Born too late to explore the universe, and too early to explore the world, we are stuck in-between the departure of a world we never knew, and the arrival of something totally new.
I think Gen Z is such an anxious generation because they are in this ambiguous liminal transition.
Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. We have all this knowledge, all these dead traditions—this 'heap of broken images'—that must be re-arranged to form something fresh & new.
But with more and more information and less and less meaning, this is only getting harder to do.
Freedom is overwhelming.
Instead of trying to create a new future, most zoomers live in a state of conformist anonymity, constantly looking inside for their 'true' self, while they act as mere channels into which the thoughts of others can flow from outside.
But as our senses go outside us, so Big Brother goes inside
The more we integrate with technology & the 'crowd', the more totalizing this digitized world becomes, until our unique selves degenerate into pure data—endless quantities of numbers signifying nothing but profit.
In an age afflicted by the “reign of the quantity”, what is profane becomes sacred, what is cowardly becomes brave, what is lower becomes higher, and what is machine becomes human.
This is the revaluation of all values—the logical endpoint of the Great Reset's 'new normal'.
With artificial intelligence, there is an opening for the uncanny—for the unwholesome—to revive culture, where it had previously stalled.
But as @HeftyHaruspex says though, this algorithmic 'art' opens the door for strange demon-like entities.
With all these re-runs, and repurposed cultural products from the past, the media is laying the foundations for a future when humans are fully integrated with Artificial Intelligence.
They need us to accept the uncanny realm of technology as our 'new home'.
With Zoom, the home-delivery of goods, we don't even need to leave our homes anymore. Technology does everything for us.
But when life becomes frictionless, it is deprived of its narrativity. We no longer dwell, we just move through empty space.
Everything becomes bare.
This 'new normal' doesn't feel right. We feel it in our gut but can't explain it. All these changes occurring at once puts us in a state of 'permanent liminality'.
All we know is that we were promised a simpler, meaningful world—like the one our parents had—one we never got.
TikTok user @yourlocalbreadmanz says: "Liminal images just capture that feeling of being somewhere you've been before in better times, but the beauty of it is that it's personal to everyone."
A common affliction for the Zoomer is the fear of being forgotten.
In the Backrooms, that endless maze of generated office rooms, time ceases to exist.
Why does this reflect our experience IRL?
The modern experience is like being trapped on a tropical island.
You know that beyond the confines of this isolated place, this singular consciousness, the world goes on without you—people continue laughing, making love, arguing about politics, working, etc.
When you disappear, the only remnant of you left will be the memories left behind by the ones you love.
Makes me think of Carl Sagan's pale blue dot, or the first paragraph of "Speak, Memory" by Vladimir Nabokov.
That isolation amidst the vastness of space is similar to the endless backrooms.
The timeless & endless void calls out to you because you can't connect with the outside world.
The endless void outside ourselves mirrors the god-shaped void from within.
After God died, so did our sense of time.
After the heavens came down to earth, we could now be forgotten.
Once we died, no God would no longer be there waiting for us.
Life would go on as usual, and all those moments would be lost, in time, like tears in rain.
In the post-Christian age, all existence precedes essence.
You turn up at the scene, with all previously designed models fading amidst rapid change, and you must make sense of it yourself.
The tragedy of the human condition is that we desire meaning in an indifferent world.
As Ernest Becker writes in the Denial of Death:
"This is the paradox: Man is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it."
Pain, the sensation that connects us to this breath-gasping body, once helped us commune with God. We found solidarity with others based on suffering.
As Hebrew 12:6 states:
"Whom the Lord loveth, He chastiseth: and He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth."
But now that pain has been robbed of its divine purpose, everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that deep down their pain is 'different'.
The words of a person who has been hurt—"You don't understand how I feel"—contains a degree of truth.
Of course, we will never understand each other, but that's not the point.
The pain of not being understood is far less bad than the pain of not understanding your lack of self.
There is no 'real' self in you that is waiting to be revealed to the world.
Victims who agitate about 'lived experience', and about being more 'empathetic', will never understand the pathology of trying to 'be someone'.
Believing there is some hidden you, some deep self that needs to be expressed in the open, like a bit of concealed potential waiting to be activated—if only you could remove society's fetters—makes life a perpetual falling short.
There is no secret 'you' to discover.
Always trying to 'prove' the existence of our inner selves to others only makes "our lives become an elegy to needs unmet and desires sacrificed, to possibilities refused, to roads not taken."
This creates a sense of confinement, of being trapped in a 'role' given by society.
“Adultery”, as Esther Parel writes, “is often the revenge of deserted possibilities.”
In relationships, over time, we tend to reduce our complexity to a shrunken version of ourselves.
Cheating, for some, becomes a quest in exploring an older version of ourselves that was lost.
As we all know, this 'grass-might-be-greener-on-the-other-side' mentality is the root of Gnosticism.
It's why Adam & Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.
Never listen to carnal desire, because the grass is dead on both sides of that fence.
If we have no hope in the hereafter, in providence, our lives become defined by loss. I could've done this, I could've done that. Mourning and complaining about one's pain takes on mythical importance.
Life turns into working, cultivating your appearance, eating—killing time.
I think we are seeing so many films about time travel & multiverses because, deep down, we want to be able to master nature, to control what is uncontrollable.
We want to be able to go back in time and experience what life could've been had we done things differently.
But life can only be understood backwards.
That clarity of mind you are looking for, that assurance that you have lived life correctly, and that everything you've done happened for a reason—that clarity only comes in certain moments. And those moments are fleeting.
Schopenhauer, in his essay called "On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual," points out that when you reach old age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had an ordained plan.
But we will never get that insight if we don't live life looking forward.
Most are too afraid to do this.
They take the path of least resistance.
Avoid these people, because they are trapped in the lure—the black hole—of an unlived life.
Their love is average, seeks average, but there is enough genius in their hatred to kill you.
These pathetic victims of circumstance think they are special for having experienced misfortune.
True pain is silent because the honestly hurt person knows that no matter what he says, he will never be able to be understood by anybody.
He has no option but to turn to God.
A lot of innocent men & women get trapped in childhood, where teachers and parents only provide love and recognition if one does what he/she is told. We confuse service to others with love and live out our lives trying to obey the crowd in our heads.
True love is a mutual recognition that there is an unbridgeable gap between ourselves and the world.
I may never understand you, or even be able to walk in your shoes, but I love you for who you are regardless.
Augustine: “amo volo ut sis.”
A politics of recognition, as Charles Taylor calls it, inevitably leads to discord, because there is an unbridgeable gap between ourselves and the outside world.
To be alive is to be aware of the fact that you are alone, and nobody is out there to save you.
That brute fact is what gives life its uncanny, strange quality.
Reminds me of two quotes, one from Heidegger and the other from A Series of Unfortunate Events:
Writers like Hp Lovecraft, filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick or Tarkovsky or David lynch, all inspire this eerie feeling of not being at home in the world, of being aware of death.
This awareness of death speaks to something deeply human within, something mysteriously primordial.
In ancient cultures, a rite of passage invoked that strange aura we feel now with these images.
Liminal rituals gave off that unique apparition of a distance, depicted beautifully in 2001: A Space Odyssey with the monolith and Ligeti's "Requiem"
As Girard knew, religion originated in the awe and fear at the scapegoat, who dislocated time.
The scapegoat was sacred, and inspired awe, insofar as he restored peace and order, but he/she was also kept at a distance for being the cause of mimetic rivalry within the community.
This is the origins of kings and queens.
They have great power, but because a king is "far above" everybody else they're vulnerable. They can take credit for what goes right, inspiring awe, but they can also be blamed for what goes wrong, creating fear.
The origin of 'inequality' didn't come from the invention of private property, per Rousseau.
'Economic surplus' can be traced back to the founding murder, when for the first time man sacrificed something for the divine economy, for the future.
The communist paradise of the 'noble savage' was actually a community held together by sacrifice.
This sacrifice was ritualized in the act of giving/receiving gifts that were meant to keep the "stream of life flowing".
Reciprocity hid the violence inherent to life.
But it wasn't the sacrifice itself that inspired the religious awe/fear for the first time in human history.
As Roger Scruton observed, it is death, the moment of death, that fills us with a sense of the uncanny.
If you've ever seen a loved one die, you know this feeling.
As he writes, when we see a dead body, "we see it as in some way not properly a part of our world, as though it has departed from us into another sphere where it cannot be reached.”
Religious rituals consecrate the body—bringing it back down to earth while keeping it separate.
Scruton: "In dealing with the dead body, we are in some way standing at the horizon of our world, in direct but ineffable contact with that which does not belong to it."
Our ancestors always lived within this horizon, caught between the invisible/visible worlds.
Primitive life was openly immersed in debt, in obligation to the invisible powers, the ancestors—dead souls.
Every gift in the divine economy could be traced back to that initial sacrifice when we began to realize that reality was structured as if it could be bargained with.
As Peterson writes:
"We learned that by behaving properly now, in the present—regulating our impulses, considering the plight of others—could bring rewards in the future.'"
The discovery of time went hand-in-hand with the sacrifice of a victim—someone to blame.
So many myths utilize this metaphysical blame.
Every origin story starts in an Eden, until one evil person/thing enters eternity, and divides the world in half—creating history as we know it.
As Toynbee writes in A Study of History:
"Faust is perfect in knowledge; Job is perfect in goodness and prosperity; Adam and Eve are perfect in innocence and ease", until the Serpent comes along in Genesis, or Satan in the Book of Job, Mephistopheles in Faust, or Loki.
The origin of Desire, Time, religion, and technology all stem from this moment when the first symbol was discovered amidst the blood of sacrifice.
In 2001, this is depicted cinematically when moon watcher discovers a tool can be used to kill.
These liminal spaces/rituals evoke a sense of child-like dread—a blend of melancholic longing and fear—because to be a child is to be vulnerable, and receptive to the doors of perception, or to the "portals" as BAP calls them.
As we get older, we lose touch with those portals.
Liminal Spaces are often associated with dreams because dreams exist between consciousness and unconsciousness, that liminal zone between life and death.
I'm sure you can recall a time whereafter waking up from a dream, you felt a deep melancholy.
Ludwig Klages recognized this:
Anyone who works closing shifts in retail will tell you when everyone goes home, and you are alone in that silence—under the fluorescent lights—there is a presence there, precisely because there is none.
Lonely silence is the echo—the reverberation—of lost voices.
It’s the same type of silence I imagine one experiences when visiting Chernobyl, seeing all the empty classrooms once occupied by laughing children.
I feel the same lonely silence when I see homeless people on the sidewalk, the lifeless faces of people driving late at night, or the quietly despairing retail workers just trying to make ends meet.
There is this collective sense that nobody has a future to look forward to.
I always feel the ghost of a past under the gaze of that red light when driving back from work at night.
It's like those moments as a kid when you heard the rustling of branches, felt the breeze of a half-open window, or the slight movement of a curtain—something was there.
But that mysterious presence doesn't reveal itself to us anymore. We ignore it daily, in our small talk, in our music, in our daily routines.
But God is always there whispering to us, even in this technological age:
As Larkin once said: "All streets in time are visited. That lies just under all we do, And for a second get it whole, So permanent and blank and true."
Death lies around every corner.
That chthonic force is present at the waiting, ready to make strange what was once familiar.
The uncanny is the profane melting into mundane time. An experience where circumstances appear related, without any causal connection, is the sacred melting into mundane time. It is the coincidence of opposites, or what Carl Jung would call "synchronicity."
I've experienced this before, during those liminal moments in the day when I am moving from point A to point B, and serendipitously make eye contact with a stranger. I know I'll never see them again, we will both go our own ways, but at that moment we see something in each other.
Plato illustrates this perfectly in the Timaeus, “when he writes that a smooth, dense stream of gentle light from the purest fire within us merges with the light from what it sees, so that ‘one body’ is formed between ourselves and the object of our vision, conveying the ‘motions’ of what is seen into every part of our own body and soul.
In these coincidental moments of connection, I realize that two individuals are actually a single subject—two parts of a greater whole that we experience 'subjectively'.
Pink Floyd: "I am you and you are me."
Right now our society is experiencing a Legitimation Crisis.
The gains of the 20th century have given us too much security, too much assurance.
Now that hard times are setting in, there is this underlying anxiety in the air. We are in a liminal zone, a transition phase.
Images like these depicting simple houses on a hill evoke that creepy aura because we can all hear the music beneath the noise.
We all know that a quiet requiem for the American dream is playing in the background of life.
America, our home, collapsing
"Without the distraction of living subjects in the photos, the sometimes absurd spaciousness helps us realize that even in the comfort of our own home, neighborhood, or city…we are in nothing more than an artificial desert, one made to distract us from the reality and spontaneity of our natural world.”
It is tempting to want to escape this world, to grasp for certainty amidst the rapid changes that are accelerating us into darkness, into the mechanized assault against life that Hieronymus Bosch foresaw hundreds of years ago. But just think back to the origin, to when our ancestors saw death for the first time on that fateful, mysterious day.
They were only able to raise the heavens—to create God—by bringing a dead loved one back down to earth.
Without this event, we would not have civilization.
But once desire was unleashed after the founding murder, pandora's box was opened. Only the dead bodies of scapegoats could keep the violence of mimetic desire at bay for the rest of history.
Until Christ, the innocent One, arrived.
When Christ revealed what was hidden since the foundation of the world, he knew that his sacrifice wouldn't end violence.
The Passion freed violence at the same time that it freed holiness because his innocence showed that we can't find spiritual solace in scapegoats anymore.
Girard: "The modern form of the sacred is thus not a return to some archaic form. It is a sacred that has been satanized by the awareness we have of it, and it indicates, through its excesses, the imminence of the Second Coming."
The new Right senses that the status quo is a lie.
We know there is a hidden violence, a "madness behind things", as BAP calls it.
We've all passed through the flames of modernity, we've all been heartbroken, and we know there is that chthonic presence that everybody ignores.
That hidden madness is like the river of chaos that leads to Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness.
It is the river of strife that Heraclitus speaks of—a river you can never step in twice as the same man.
The endpoint of this river is the founding sacrifice, the murdered scapegoat.
Some might look into this abyss, see all the adultery, murder, despair—and think the world is devoid of meaning.
Some might think they have no intrinsic value.
Afraid of the light, of their own kindness, some might use others as a means to an end.
I feel blessed that we are in this liminal stage, hovering over an abyss, where we are capable of the greatest crimes against humanity, and the most profound redemption.
We still have the freedom to heed the call from every object that cries out: "You must change your life!"
Some might say God doesn't exist because we created him.
"Some, perhaps, will desire to bow still to a mask, out of fear of nature. But if there is no divinity in nature, the nature that God created, how should there be the idea of god, which the nature of man created?"
In this moment of perfect free fall, of loneliness amidst a dying nation, where you simply want to lead a normal life with a wife and kids, keep your head up at the skies, at the heavens.
This is the only thing that can keep you going because it's the hardest thing to do.
The same star that made Dostoevsky's 'ridiculous' man want to kill himself, renewed his sense of love & life after one night's dream.
Instead of running away from despair, so you can hold onto that spark of humanity.
The world depends on it.