Terrill L. Gibson. The Liminal and the Luminescent: Jungian Reflections on Ensouled Living Amid a Troubled Era. Eugene: OR, Wipf and Stock, 2021.
Terrill L. Gibson’s The Liminal and the Luminescent puts into play many different elements that have specific relevance for modernity and our lives in late modernity. Gibson works as a clinical Jungian psychologist and attempts, in this work, to bring together his clinical experience, autobiography, and various figures from philosophy and religion to provide an enacted account of the themes of the liminal and the luminescent. The liminal, for Gibson, are figures of transition and change, figured by Victor Turner’s work The Rites of Passage which talks about the notion of liminality in ritual processes.
Many rituals serve to mark a passage from one identity to another, and in the metaxis of these identities, often signifies a kind of middle-point where identity ceases to exist. In this point, there is both a loss of the old identity but a resignification towards the new identity. To this figure of the liminal, Gibson contrasts the luminescent. For Gibson, these moments of luminescence, of clarity and renewed purpose, are part of an interminable dialectic with the liminal. In both life and clinical experience, the subject stands between the liminal and the luminescent, between the struggle between old and new identities, and moments of epiphany, clarity, and renewed drive where certainty and satisfaction are achieved.
The chapters that Gibson recounts also give us various guides to navigating this polarity. In the prelude, he introduces us to the image of the liminal. He states that “we live in a badly divided world” arguing that our divisions, antagonisms, conflicts, and contradictions stem from a struggle with the liminality of this world. We construct identity as a defense against it, but the liminal is the bridge which characterizes our crossing through this world. It is a bridge which connects two events. This world, then, is a passage for Gibson, one we must suffer to become, as Nietzsche would say, “what we are.” Gibson further clarifies that “Jungian psychology is a mystery psychology” one where the analysand attempts to articulate the inner struggle between conflicting forces. Examples of liminal encounters include ones with beauty, trauma, politics, pilgrimage, and many other symbols and figures.
The next chapter entitled “Pilgrimage” shows us one of the ways in which liminality had been externalized by religious thought. For Gibson, the pilgrimage is a time of becoming. It is a time when one attempts to make an encounter; for example, with a sighting of nature or by drawing close to a religious and sacred site. These pilgrimages are an encounter with luminescence of meaning and, when sought with through liminal lens, capable of producing a moment of epiphany and clarity, re-organizing what we think we know.
Gibson then turns to performance and shows us another figure of liminality. Rather than the pilgrim who travels, the performance gives us an image of the one who acts; that is, the one who presents their inner conflict as if being directed on a theater by a stage director or playwright. Examples of performances range from contemporary movies to preserved traditions of diverse communities. In each of these, individuals turn out their inner turmoil into a mask or a character which allows the audience to see their own struggles. In the course of identifying with these masks, both the actor and their audience can achieve a semblance of transformation.
His final chapter, dealing with politics, gives us a final “p,” turning his reflections onto the inherently divided and contradictory field of politics. Here he tries to apply the concepts of the liminal and luminescent to argue for a deeper dialogue between differences and an attempt to preserve our social democracy with an active and engaged dialogue with many voices. It is by conceiving of politics as a “sacred enactment” that he believes we can enter into the pilgrimage of discovering one another’s perspective and perform the dialogue required to discover our common good.
Many of the moves throughout this book are a welcome cause. His attempt to simultaneously bring together experience, tradition, and our common quest for truth together to address the contemporary society is laudable especially in light of our problems of atomization and social disintegration and distrust. One reservation with Gibson’s method, however, is given the breadth of examples he draws from to make his arguments, does one risk cherry-picking from these thinkers and traditions only those elements suitable for a pre-existing standard? What it would mean, then, to enter into the liminal and emerge to the luminescent if the perspectives that engage one another are completely opposed? How would we reconcile not just the diversity of religious and philosophical identities, but cultural and political ones as well? This also has the added effect of seemingly homogenizing them, enlisting their uniqueness to a common, pre-existing cause. One would wonder, then, if Gibson could continue to clarify these thoughts, and to provide an ever-deeper luminescent of how the liminal cuts through history and society?
Despite these minor shortcomings, I believe that Gibson accomplished what he set out to do which was to live in that liminal space and search for another beginning on the quest for greater luminescence. And this is a most-welcome endeavor in the twenty-first century.
Originally appeared on VoegelinViewRead More