About this book
At 11:04 a.m. on January 21st, 2017, Jordan opens the door to his mother’s bedroom. As his eyes adjust to the half-light, he finds her lying in bed, eyes closed and mouth agape. In that instant he cannot tell whether she is asleep or dead. The sight of his mother's body, caught between these two possibilities, causes Jordan to plunge headlong into the uncertain depths of consciousness itself.
From androids to cannibals to sex clubs, an unforgettable personal odyssey emerges, populated by a cast of sublime outsiders in search for the ever-elusive nature of self. Part ontological thriller, part millennial saga, Liminal is a riotous and moving portrait of a young man in volatile times, a generation caught in suspended animation, and a son’s enduring love for his mother.
I am wary of revelations. I find anyone claiming to have them dubious. They’re usually charlatans, the ultra-religious, or insane (not that these three types are mutually exclusive; in fact they rarely are). And I find any description of these revelations some combination of sinister and comical, like John Smith receiving golden plates from the angel Moroni in a secret language only he can translate. Even the words “revelation” and “epiphany” are mired in Christian connotations. The first conjures images of John on the island of Patmos having visions of the Whore of Babylon and the Beast, while the second is the realization by the wise men that Christ is the Son of God, rendered throughout art history as the Adoration of the Magi.
I suppose the synonym that feels the least corrupted by spiritual chicanery is “eureka,” and yet this word feels burdened by the mythos of masculine scientific discovery, from Archimedes fateful bath to Newton’s gravity-weighted apple (why do I always imagine it hitting his head?) Darwin said he could remember the exact moment during a carriage ride in which he was struck by his “hunch” about natural selection. Nikola Tesla, while recuperating from a recent breakdown brought on by his obsession to solve the mystery of alternating current, was on a walk with a friend in Budapest’s Varosliget Park when he was pierced by his moment of insight. Tesla was looking into the setting sun whilst reciting a passage from Goethe’s Faust (naturally) when a vision of a functioning alternating current electric induction motor appeared to him with such clarity that he grabbed a stick and drew a diagram of it then and there in the dirt. One can almost hear the angelic choral accompaniment. Perhaps because of these bearded white men and their long lineage of eurekas the word has acquired a certain sense of finitude: they each had a question and in an instant it was answered. As if, through years of research and inquiry, their minds were already filled with the necessary information and all that was required was that final synaptic connection to illuminate the network of association.
A word that seems part of this revelatory cohort is “vision,” which again has religious undertones, but also the unfortunate limitations of its sensory association. A vision suggests something that is seen, either literally with one’s eyes in a new way, or seen within the mind’s eye. As the ever-favoured child of the senses, we seem inclined to give seeing undo credit as the conduit of discovery. Though as Proust might agree, throughout my life I’ve probably had more ‘visions’ induced by smell than any other sense. For me, a new awareness is rarely an apparition to be seen or viewed; it does not appear to me like Tesla’s motor. It is something that is felt. An awareness that dawns and slowly spreads its light through my body.
What I seek is a word that does not suggest a long-sought for answer but rather a deluge of questions. A word for kind of illumination that recalls a caver holding a torch up in an underground chamber and apprehending a few dashes of rock wall at a time, uncertain of how far the cavern extends into darkness.
Counter-intuitively, I found something approaching this word in the Bible. The first word in the Book of Revelations — and from which it derives its name — is apokalypsis, which in its original Korine Greek means "unveiling" or “revelation.” I find the notion of ‘unveiling’ — of an encounter, smell, sight, sensation that unveils an infinite system of questions and discoveries (which in turn spur more questions) — to be the most vivid evocation of this I can find. I might be even inclined to use the original Greek apokalypsis, as it seems to contain the possibility of discovery in the moment of destruction. Much like the theatre; an art revealed in the moment of its disappearance. And like life itself, theatre can not be rewound or reread; it exists in the temporal present between being and un-being, in what Plato calls the “something inserted between motion and rest (. . .) in no time at all.” An art conjured in the instant of its erasure. And I like the almost preposterous gravity of the world apokalypsis; how it’s cataclysmic and eschatological associations seem to mimic the way in which one world seems to end and another begins in a moment of newfound awareness.
But in this instance, for what I’m about to articulate, “unveiling” is the apt word. It conjures for me the image of a man in white gloves pulling a cloth of a painting; the removal of a covering that concealed that which was there all along — something which has been rendered ever more extraordinary by the very fact of its concealment. Rather than by divine conjuring, “unveiling” suggests a moment of discovery arising from matter-of-fact and mortal circumstances. A new way of experiencing something already in the world.
In this way, the world is constantly unveiling itself; a stand of trees seen from a fresh angle, the laugher of a dog, a nameless colour, new patterns of movement, of light, of behaviour, patterns in fabric, in birds, in traffic, in music . . . In this way “revelation” is not something a bearded white man once an epoch apprehends but rather a state of becoming that imbues all things at all times. Of course to be in a state of perpetual unveiling is exhausting and disorienting; it’s essentially the way we moved through the world as babies, when everything was revealed and nothing was legible. Gradually, to make sense of the chaos, we fixed things in place, we fixed meaning, we fixed potential, we fixed objects and people and places as knowable and predictable entities and attempted to reduce the instances of unveiling because those upset the order by introducing new variables into the mix. Unveiling, by nature, un-fixes.
This is what happened at 11:04 a.m. on Saturday, January 21, 2017 when I walked into your bedroom and saw your body in bed. In a moment something — perhaps everything — became unveiled. And I became unfixed. It was a moment that lasted less than a second. The interval between a hand feeling water and the pain of it’s scalding heat; between sense and sensation.
About the Author
JORDAN TANNAHILL is an award-winning playwright, director, and author. In 2016 he was described by the Toronto Star as being “widely celebrated as one of Canada’s most accomplished young playwrights, filmmakers, and all-round multidisciplinary artists.” His plays have been translated into multiple languages and honoured with prizes including the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama and several Dora Mavor Moore Awards. Jordan’s films and multimedia performances have been presented at festivals and galleries such as the Toronto International Film Festival, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Tribeca Film Festival. From 2012 to 2016, Jordan and William Ellis ran the influential underground art space Videofag out of their home in Toronto’s Kensington Market. The Videofag Book, their chronicle of the four years running the space, was nominated for a Toronto Book Award. In 2017, his play Late Company transferred to London’s West End while his virtual reality performance Draw Me Close, a co-production between the National Theatre (U.K.) and the National Film Board of Canada, premiered at the Venice Biennale. In 2018, Jordan will premiere his play Declarations at Canadian Stage, and Xenos, a collaboration with dancer-choreographer Akram Khan, at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens. Born in 1988 in Ottawa, he currently resides in London, U.K.
Awards and Praise
PRAISE FOR JORDAN TANNAHILL AND LIMINAL:
A 49th Shelf Book of the Year
“Liminal is generous, bold, unabashedly emotional, and really smart — an ultra-engaging portrait of the artist, and portal to the art.” — Ann-Marie Macdonald, author of The Way the Crow Flies
“Authors such as Ben Lerner, Rachel Cusk, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, among others, are showing their exhaustion with plot, opting to be candid, probing, philosophical, and discursive at a micro-level on the page. Toronto playwright Jordan Tannahill’s lushly intelligent debut novel, Liminal, is an exciting addition to this school . . . Liminal captures something illuminating and undefinable about the present moment . . . A real jaw-dropping intellectual feat . . . A rich and unusual story.” — Globe and Mail
“Liminal moves at a breakneck pace, combining science, philosophy, spirituality, and pop culture . . . Readers may never think about living or dying the same way again.” — This Magazine
“Tannahill is a good writer, a natural storyteller with a strong sense of narrative rhythm as well as the ability to launch into almost mystical flights of poetic vision.” — Toronto Star
“A raw love letter to a mother, and a blazing meditation on love, death, and dying, Jordan Tannahill’s Liminal is a full-fledged unleashing from a major literary talent.” — Anosh Irani, author of The Parcel
“This book has everything: a road trip, coming of age, philosophy, mythology, meditation on the nature of self, and the tender love of a son for his mother — all infused with uncommon emotional intelligence.” — Teva Harrison, author of In-Between Days
PRAISE FOR JORDAN TANNAHILL AND THE VIDEOFAG BOOK:
Nominated, Toronto Book Awards
PRAISE FOR JORDAN TANNAHILL:
“He’s a rare human type described by Marshall McLuhan: a zeitgeist savant who can read his era, internalize his moment’s changes in technology and ideological mood, and adapt in real time.” — Daniel Karasik, Globe and Mail
“The poster child of a new generation for whom ‘interdisciplinary’ is not a buzzword but a way of life.” — Kelly Nestruck, Globe and Mail
“The future of Canadian theatre.” — NOW Magazine
“The hottest name in Canadian theatre.” — Montreal Gazette
“Jordan Tannahill is blowing up the Canadian stage . . . An enfant terrible.” — Walrus Magazine
“No question Tannahill is a Renaissance man who will be amazing audiences for years to come.” — NOW Magazine
PRAISE FOR CONCORD FLORAL:
Winner, 2015 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play
Winner, 2015 Carol Bolt Award
Finalist, 2016 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama
“[A]rtfully structured, yet full of suspense, with dialogue that shifts smoothly between the poetic and observational.” — Globe and Mail
“More than its thematic and mystery elements, it’s the keen attunement of Tannahill’s ear to contemporary speech, the directness and emotional availability of the young people’s performances, the spare beauty of Brubacher and Spooner’s staging — and how all these work together — that linger richly, several days after seeing the show.” — Toronto Star
“Concord Floral will leave you not just pleasurably discomfited but wondering if your own youth was even more unsettled than you recall.” — Ottawa Citizen
PRAISE FOR AGE OF MINORITY:
Winner, Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama
“[R]efreshing in its honesty. Tannahill outdoes himself in these pieces, and brings not only the characters to life but the issues each of them face. This collection of plays definitely falls into the category of ‘must-read.’” — Morris House Reading Series Backstage
“A collection of plays worth exploring.” — CM Magazine
PRAISE FOR THEATRE OF THE UNIMPRESSED:
“Theatre-maker and writer Jordan Tannahill is one of those magnetic humans . . . The youngest-ever winner of the Governor-General’s Award for Drama and an arts community leader with contacts nationally and abroad, Tannahill is well positioned to offer a survey of contemporary theatre trends . . . Tannahill’s prose is lively and he’s got a great nose for the telling anecdote . . . He’s a rare human type described by Marshall McLuhan: a zeitgeist savant who can read his era, internalize his moment’s changes in technology and ideological mood, and adapt in real time . . . It’s the complexity, specificity, and relevance of Tannahill’s case-by-case analyses that make Theatre of the Unimpressed essential reading for anybody interested in the state of contemporary theatre and performance.” — Globe and Mail
“Lively and passionate jeremiad against mundanity in contemporary English-language theatre.” — Toronto Star