Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Neha Patel, The Function of Train Travel in Books, Book Riot, Jan 14, 2022

Trains are incredible because its passengers either forget about them entirely or have a moment or two immortalized in their memories. But trains themselves are liminal. The term’s Latin roots come from “limen,” which roughly translates to “threshold.” As such, a liminal space is a transition point from what has happened to what will happen next. In literature, this can be tricky to relay, and trains make for a perfect metaphor when authors want to show characters at this transition point. I can’t tell you how many Hollywood (and Bollywood) movies I’ve watched with characters staring forlornly out of a train window after being dumped.

In “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias,” Michel Foucault says, “[A] train is an extraordinary bundle of relations because it is something through which one goes, it is also something by means of which one can go from one point to another, and then it is also something that goes by.” Of all the liminal spaces, a train is unique. The cabin itself is the same, but it is literally the vehicle propelling passengers to destinations old and new, making it the perfect place for contemplation and transition. In an odd way, even though trains are leading its passengers to sometimes unknown places, they themselves are supposed to be safe spaces.

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