This blog was created as a tie in to my graphic novel(la) series Threshold, an ongoing project first initiated in the final year of my BFA. This series, and contextual material surrounding it, is currently forming the bulk of my MA practice. Central to the series is the city of Threshold: a topographically unstable and ever-shifting morass of in-between and tranistory spaces that silts into existence at narrative peripheries.

The intent is to create a space where the city of Threshold, and the conceptual basis behind it, can be fleshed out in greater detail than is possible in the graphic novel format, and to tie in some of the other projects involving the city that are only alluded to elsewhere.

All completed installments of the series can be viewed on this blog, while printed copies are available at http://stores.lulu.com/arcanestudios or through APE Games at http://www.ookoodook.com/.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Approaching the Threshold




Welcome to the city. Stay awhile, if you would. Make yourself at home. It shouldn't be too difficult, for after all, everyone visits this city from time to time. It is the place between places; the place of not-knowing, of uncertainty. The city on the borders of everything, and on the edge of nothing. The place of becoming. Threshold. The city of Threshold is a personification of states of transition. In the mythological and literary archetypal story of the culture hero, it represents the part of the journey wherein the crossing between the everyday world and the world of the unknown takes place.

Threshold is, by its very nature, a place of in-betweens. The physical threshold of a doorway is a place that is neither inside or outside, rather, it is the place wherein the transition from one to the other occurs. One has difficulty determining the exact point at which this happens, but it must be concluded that, insofar as there is both an inside and an outside, there must be a specific point at which one ceases to occupy the first and subsequently occupies the second. Likewise in sensory perception, the threshold level is the specific point at which a sensation is either first perceived, or perceived in a different manner. This level is also subjective, and proves difficult, if not impossible, to locate as a distinct event. The creation of the city of Threshold serves to define and extrapolate this specific location; to take an infinitisimal point and expand it to a fluid and shifting possibility; in essence to set a stage for the analysis of the interactions that transpire at the point at which something becomes something else. In a more specific sense, Threshold serves a place of intersection between two archetypal figures/stories that both deal with the theme of transitions and transformations; the archetype of the culture hero (The Hero), and the archetype of the Star-Crossed Lovers (The Lovers). The city serves as a stage to set up interactions between entities and forces from these two archetypes, in order to observe the results.

The entire journey of the Hero, as detailed at length by Joseph Campbell, can be seen as an elaborate allegory for coming to terms with changes or transitions; a story about the process of growth and transformation. As psychologist Joseph L. Henderson notes, "the essential function of the heroic myth is the development of the individual's ego-consciousness - his awareness of his own strengths and weaknesses - in a manner that will equip him for the arduous tasks with which life confronts him". Just as the development of the ego is not a onetime process, but a progressive journey with a myriad of forms throughout the course of one's life, so too can the archetype manifest in specific forms relevant to the transition or change being contended with; be it the transition from youth to adulthood, the introduction of the responsibilities of parenting, or even the reconciliation with one's own mortality. Relating back to Campbell's analysis, the distillation or essence of the story of the culture hero can therefore be summarized in the phase of the journey that Campbell titles "the crossing of the threshold", the crossing from the world of the known to the world of the unknown; for it is this very state of transition from one state of being to another that the story as a whole serves to represent.

If the city of Threshold is an extrapolation of this archetype's metaphorical transitionary point, then the goal, conscious or not, of every inhabitant of the city is to cross the threshold, to move past the state of limbo and formless potential that the city represents. This is not as easy as it sounds. There is great attraction to remaining in a place from which anything is possible and nothing is committed to. In one sense, the city as an entity is akin to the Freudian fantasy of returning to the womb, a place of safety and security from the harsh realities of the world. The city itself however is far less ideal, insofar in that it is a city, with an ever-shifting population with more than its fair share of darkness and danger. Yet, for the inhabitants of the city, these dangers are more bearable than facing the unknown lurking beyond the city's ever-shifting walls. Campbell points out that the threshold is invariably the domain of the threshold guardian, a metaphorical challenge that must be overcome in order to proceed. Remaining on the threshold, at the cusp of a transition, puts one in continual struggle with this force, this tangible barrier between known and unknown. Rather than a return to the womb, Campbell supports the idea that "the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth", a process of change and transition. To be in Threshold, then, is to exist at the point of acknowledgement and acceptance of a change or transformation. The "threshold guardian" becomes for each individual the sum of his or her own fears and apprehensions about this inevitable change. Every inhabitant of Threshold is to a greater or lesser extent in the process of coming to terms with a transition. Threshold becomes a way-station between the choices of the past and the implications of the future, a place of perpetual Now.

What this extrapolation amounts to, on part of the Hero, is a kind of symbolic emasculation. What was once a single decisive moment now becomes a location, with both the allure of the unknown and the security of the familiar. Imagine Jack, of the English fairy-tale Jack and the Beanstalk, paralyzed forever in mid climb, caught between his farm down below and the giant's castle up above. Each remains, tantalizing and perfect, and forever out of reach. It is the third option, the way out that sacrifices decisive action in favor of passivity. Note that on behalf of the Hero this is not necessarily a bad thing. Every conceivable example lists the fatal flaw of the Hero as hubris; pride; and a symbolic emasculation that removes the ability of assertiveness and heroic (read: decisive) action also has the added effect of forcing the Hero to come to terms with this. It is the threshold guardian. If the city of Threshold is as Campbell states, a womb for a rebirth into a new realm of experience, then it is also a place of reflection, and even purgatory. What is witnessed is not the Hero in a position of strength, but in a position of weakness, uncertainty, and vulnerability.

If Threshold is for the Hero a place of weakness, then it is for The Lovers a place of strength. The in-betweens, the not-places are their domain, for it is in these places, these eternal points of suspension, that they can forestall the inevitable tragic end of their story. The Lovers are of course always aware from the outset of the doomed nature of their relationship, acting as it is in opposition to class/ family/ fate/etc, yet they inevitably proceed on a masochistic course to an often mutual demise regardless. To them the city is a paradise, a place of limitless possibility, for, unlike the Hero, they have left their struggle behind. In a place of perpetual Now, the morning never dawns, the lie is never discovered, and the thread is never followed. In many ways, the archetype of

The Lovers functions within the city as a foil to that of the Hero: masochistic, instead of (ideally) altruistic; tragedy instead of triumph; trapped by fate as opposed to challenging it; and, when placed specifically in the context of Threshold, liberated instead of paralyzed.
Ultimately, a threshold is a point at which things change. It is the crux point, the dividing line between one state and another. Exploding that location into an entire multifaceted city cannot alter the fact that change is inevitable, nor can it provide an endless refuge from struggle and hardship. Rather what it provides is an opportunity to slow down the process of transition, to allow the element of conscious reflection. This does not eliminate adversity; for indeed the threshold guardian is necessarily present throughout the entire process. Threshold itself becomes an entity replete with its own trials and challenges, not the least of which is the paralysis of indecision. Instead, it forces a confrontation with the self that is just as prolonged as the process of transition, resulting in a depth of understanding far more profound than can be gleaned from stepping through a doorway.

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