I've introduced liminality, now, so maybe it's time to build a bridge of symbolic connections from Pi (tag line "faith in chaos) to the language of liminality, which was what primarily inspired me to study symbolic anthropology, an aspect of the field that made an important contribution to the post structuralist studies (post modernist is another descriptor, since modernism, which led to the liberal thought of the U.S. Founders, was derived from an epistimology with its foundations in Cartesian duality) that followed the Twentieth Century works of such well known figures as Claude Levi Strauss. Strauss is a signature figure in cultural anthropology, who brought to bear on the study of culture the analytical power of the binary opposition, which is perhaps the heart and soul of the structuralist's tool kit. In his well known tome, the Raw and the Cooked, he brought his now famous two by two matrix, a binary opposition technique, to the study of such ethnographically recorded behaviors as exotic people's culinary practices. In doing so, he revealed possibilities of meaning theretofore unimagined by this daily and necessary human function of eating, that led to all sorts of ways of making sense of nearly a century of anthropologist gathered ethnographic data. So while he did go into the field to do ethnographic research of his own early on, for the most part his re-analysis of the research of others was the technique he used to develop his structuralist theories, and how he managed to transform the whole of anthropological thought into a new theoretical paradigm, much as Einstein transformed physics. Then Victor Turner came along and went beyond, into the unknown and the irrational, and did an astounding exploration into the realm of Pi, as I would suggest, and why I began with looking at the movie. When I'm looking at what appear to be meanings from a field of binary oppositions, I'm doing so with my explorations into what Turner coined "anti structure" to go with Van Gennep's liminality in mind, and aided by readings into the exploratory works of Victor Turner:
Turner sought to gaze upon interstices which 'provide homes for anti-structural visions, thoughts and ultimately behaviours' (1974:293). That such times and spaces are regarded as necessary sources of resolution, is the crux of Turner's perspective. Meta-explorations beyond, beneath and between the fixed, the finished and the predictable, his later work consists of an extensive journey into such times and spaces, pregnant margins, the cracks of society, necessary thresholds of dissolution and indeterminacy through which socio-cultural order is said to be (re)constituted. And, through observation of culture unkempt and unclothed, in its drunken, ludic and inchoate moments, one may obtain a clear apprehension of the ordered world.
His project is founded upon a sense that society is in-composition, open-ended, forever becoming, and that its (re)production is dependent upon the periodic appearance, in the history of societies and in the lives of individuals, of organised moments of categorical disarray and intense reflexive potential. This is most powerfully articulated as liminality, a concept which has sparked the imagination of cultural observers attempting to apply meaning to a phalanx of public time-space zones demarcated from routine life, yet harbouring unquantifiable social possibilities. It is in such zones of experience - the 'realm of pure possibility' (Turner 1967a:97) - where the familiar may be stripped of its certitude and conventional economics and politics transcended. They are occasions where people, often strangers to one another, may achieve an ineffable affinity, where sacred truths are imparted and/or social alternatives explored. (From: Alternative Cultural Heterotopia: ConFest as Australia's Marginal Centre - by Dr. Graham St. John)
Turner's "anti structure" is not so much a conceptual opposite to structure -- as for instance raw might be to cooked; for him anti structure was the field, and structure was the map through the field that set up the boundaries that defined people's lives in which the dramas of their lives took place. Hence the title of one of his books: Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society. When I discovered Victor Turner's work upon stumbling upon this book in my anthropological studies in college, it fit into an obsession that began shortly after I returned from 'Nam, around 1970, after my big "Rite of Passage" (a concept which is an important focus in Turner's work) and continues to now. Much of the work in the intellectual work in various fields during the late 70s, 80s and 90s reflects this what I found embedded in Turner's thought -- and I'd argue that it's certainly seeded into post modernism and semiotics -- and it came out most creatively in a number of different fields, including the cognitive sciences. Intellectually this was a very creative period, a breaking down of the certainties that one finds in the scholarship of structuralism which made up the bulk of the field I found most fascinating at the time -- anthropology --as exploratory thinkers moved into the realms of liminal thought, where that thought is characterized by ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy. This is the stage in a traditional rite of passage where a sense of identity dissolves -- at least to some extent -- bringing about a sense of disorientation. This is a period of transition, maybe even transcendence, where self definitions and their inherent conceptual limits, and related limits on behavior are relaxed, and opens the mind to the possibilities of new perspectives. So, then, another term for liminal that Turner uses in his work is anti structure. If we see that society is made up of codified rules, or norms of behaviors, those are in essence the features we recognize as structures of society. For most within a society, these are considered "common sense" ways to behave. Most of them go unquestioned for the most part, until something "odd" comes to attention. Anti structure would be behavior outside those norms. Some may be defined as "pathological" by a society, like, perhaps, killing another human being. Some may be behaviors that don't have such clearly definable contours, but as a whole, people tend to know what "odd" is when they see it. People who are put in a category like "insane" for instance, may be doing nothing to violate another's socially defined rights, they just may not be acting according to the accepted norms. Here are the lines worth revisiting in regards to what I'm trying to describe, from the above quote from St. John's PhD dissertation:
Meta-explorations beyond, beneath and between the fixed, the finished and the predictable, his (edit: Turner's) later work consists of an extensive journey into such times and spaces, pregnant margins, the cracks of society, necessary thresholds of dissolution and indeterminacy through which socio-cultural order is said to be (re)constituted. And, through observation of culture unkempt and unclothed, in its drunken, ludic and inchoate moments, one may obtain a clear apprehension of the ordered world.As you might see, this intellectual tool quickly lends itself to a task of theoretical analysis of society. That is, it does so once we grasp the notion of relating the abstractions of ideas involved in norms of behavior to structure/antistructure (also the word liminality, or the idea of irrational numbers that refuse to behave strictly according to mathematical code and be neatly defined and contained like a rational number). With this tool we can move thought to another abstract plane, and from there it then becomes attractive for some of us to begin theorizing about the macro possibilities of how any given society could or should work. In order to try to develop this thought a bit more, I'm going to introduce the model of a process I've already mentioned -- the rite of passage. Rites of passage fascinated me when I first encountered it because it provided me with a conceptual form that enabled me to objectively conceptualize one of my most life changing experiences, and thereby put it in a perspective that helped me make sense of a lot of things I found myself deeply troubled about after I'd returned home from being in the military. I mentioned the Dutch anthropologist Arnold van Gennep earlier, he is credited with being the first to formally define the distinctive structure of a rite of passage at the turn of the Twentieth Century. I want to work on putting something together that's not just one of my stream of consciousness hodge podges, but that might offer me a way of opening up and sharing more about what I see in this core thought about binary oppositions, and hopefully to thereby give it some form to help make sense of these notions of structure, and antistructure -- or liminality -- that I've introduced. Other words for the concept of structure, by the way, would be terms like "metaphor" or "symbol" and thus we have the connection to how structuralism is also a powerful intellectual tool used in understanding literature -- and in fact all the arts. Recall that I alluded to that idea earlier with some quotes about the importance of understanding binary oppositions in the analysis of text. Here's a very brief description of Gennep's notion of the rite of passage:
According to van Gennep, rites of passage have three phases: separation, liminality, and incorporation. In the first phase, people withdraw from the group and begin moving from one place or status to another. In the third phase, they reenter society, having completed the rite. The liminal phase is the period between states, during which people have left one place or state but haven't yet entered or joined the next. It is a state of limbo.
And so to connect this with the forms I was seeing at the beginning of this essay when I constructed those lines I called Gerbil Pi:
(Pi the Textual analysis)
Pi stands as the unbridgeable gap between the purity of the mathematical perfect circle and all physical circles. To know Pi in 100% precision (Which math proved is impossible since there is always a next number to the fraction), is impossible since it will bridge math and reality. But this is impossible since reality is not pure, not black and white but in shades of gray. Everything in reality is a matter of degree…
...Our mathematician is intrigued, he walks to the object and observes it’s a sea shell.. He picks it up and observes it carefully as he turns it with both his hands – He observes the spiral pattern, the same pattern he tries to impose on nature throughout the movie… One scene later he picks up a piece of computer board he crushed into the floor in a moment of crisis. He treats the board as the shell… This is the focal point of the story, it has double meaning. The computer board contains chips, units of integrated circuits that operates with Binary Logic (i.e. 0’s and 1’s). The shell symbolize nature, it was created in a natural process and shows a pattern that our Archimedes tries to break into code. This is the essence of the story right here – Break nature code with binary computation. As we’ll later show, and as we see in the movie – this will end in an inevitable crash. Nature simple does not obey the law of Aristotelian logic. Attempt to reduce nature, life, you name it to a code, a mathematical formula, is doomed to fail. Science must admit this before any significant achievement in AI can happen. Max sees the simplicity of the circle and tries to reduce chaos back to it, but the circle is not simple in the first place, it is fuzzy…
This is really fascinating symbolic mental play land, for me at least, and I want to introduce something that all societies seem to share, and that's formal rituals that flirt with the categories that make for the definitions of normalcy, abnormalcy and pathology. This particular description of this ritual offers a fairly well elucidated description of the structural elements of this rite of passage type of ritual for those not familiar with it, and with that, an interesting formal discussion of it's meaning. Being a graduated Shellback myself, having crossed the equator twice, I've been on both sides of the ritual, so this particular ritual has very real and personal meaning, but, more so, it's also one of the better descriptions I've run across of a kind of rite of passage we do practice in Western societies, for some, a geniune "crossing the line" ritual -- in this the equator -- and a four hundred year old maritime ritual for recognizing that fairly abstract human culturally developed knowledge that would go into knowing that there is an equator to cross. Notice in particular in the article, references to "ritual inversion" practices, where the normally homophobic sailors do ritual transvestitist practices, among other symbolic gestures. Another is "the Pollywogs' Revenge" which takes place the day before crossing the equator. In the literature of symbolic ritual action, this represents the moving into the liminal, the chaotic, the realm of "dangerously undefined" and also the important region of creativity where artists and others (various types of shamanic persons, priests, scientist) draw from. In the literature this is considered something societies recognize as necessary in order to recognize the importance of divesting oneself of one identity (a pollywog in this instance) to become another (a shellback -- shellback is a word for turtle).
The following is from the Introduction in the article: Crossing the line: sex, power, justice, and the U.S. Navy at the equator (military rituals) in the Journal: Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, 22-June-2002:
To summarize: the set of concepts I have been pulling together in this section are an attempt to illustrate the core rational duality cognitive operation of creating a that/not that concept, like a binary opposition, is not so simple a mental movement as some might be led to believe simply because it appears so basic and clear. Perhaps this may seem a little more understandable when we recognize that these little computers we use in our homes are capable of such amazing processes, but all which occurs in what appears to be an inaccessible magic box -- especially to many who are in no way technically literate about such things.
What I wanted to try to bring out was how this is also embedded in the very fabric of our very complex culture, and is observable in aspects of our daily lives, once the tools for looking at how we conceptualize can be recognized. What I hoped to illustrate that by understanding it's fundamental place in Western society, that awareness can lead to, well, pretty much anywhere the rational/irrational thoughts can go, including the complicated process of how we codify and sanctify like the actions of those who can go off to do killing for us. We can see, perhaps, why such nonsensical behaviors as the rituals we put ourselves through also have a form that is intended to transform our thoughts about what we can and can't do. Thus the act of killing is "sanctified" by rituals that also use form "transform" the actors in the rituals of passage that usually begins a training, like a "boot camp," so that they can be "sanctioned" to keep the order we "value" in our socially constructed world, by doing acts none of us are normally legally sanctioned to do. It's part and parcel of any "suggestion" to "look and see what thought is doing" that spiritual thinkers like Jiddu Krishnamurti as anyone interested to do.