Whitehead and Liminality

Stenner, Paul (2018). Whitehead and Liminality. In: Stenner, Paul and Weber, Michel eds. Orpheus’ Glance. Selected papers on process psychology: The Fontarèches meetings, 2002–2017. Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgique: Les Editions Chromatika, pp. 213–228.

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Although he did not use the term, A.N. Whitehead’s philosophy of organism provides a way of thinking liminality in an ontological way. In making the case for ontological liminality, the chapter begins by considering Whitehead’s claim that human beings ‘became artists in ritual’ and from there proceeds to unfold the sense in which the philosophy of organism is a philosophy of limitation. For Whitehead, finitude, in its most general sense, is a species of limitation. From its partial perspective, each finite actual occasion of experience implicates the whole of reality within itself such that ‘each event signifies the whole structure’ (Whitehead, 1922, p.26). This means that no event is inherently isolated. The ontological liminality at play in this philosophy of limitation helps to make broader sense of the anthropological account of liminality advanced by Arnold van Gennep, Victor Turner and others within the social sciences, where the word 'liminal' refers to the middle, 'transitional' phase of a rite of passage. The aim is to lodge their peculiar type of processual social psychology within a broader process ontology. From this perspective, rites of passage and other rituals show up as
particular ways of ‘occasioning’ liminal experiences of becoming.

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