border between us and canada

Pig Iron on the Edge: Liminal Deities

Will Quinn is among the first year UArts/Pig Iron MFA students that traveled to the northern border of the United States, spending time in both Madawaska, Maine and Edmundston, New Brunswick. Below, he discusses the role of borders in our mythic, collective memory. 

In our oldest stories and myths, borders are associated with opportunity, exploration and discovery. In Joseph Campbell’s interpretation of the hero’s journey, for example, the hero must venture beyond the limits of their own community, leaving behind what they already know, in order to find the bounty - often either divine knowledge or a magical gift - which will save that very same community. In his reading, the border represents the beginning of the quest and the possibility of reward. Liminal deities, too, who were worshipped for their power over thresholds, doorways, and gates, were often also the gods of rebirth and renewal. Hermes, the greek god of boundaries, was also the god of trade and commerce. The list goes on.

I think of these stories as we cross the border from Edmundston, Canada into Madawaska, Maine, where our reception by border patrol is less than thrilled. Though I can understand why a large group returning to the US after only a day of travel in a foreign country with an excess of luggage might be suspicious, I can’t help but notice the contrast between border security in Canada and border security in the US, which is decidedly more aggressive. From the beginning, the entire process seems designed to intimidate and sedate. The station is outfitted like a small military base and the beige colored walls are plastered with instructions to essentially sit down and do nothing. In our conversations, the patrol guards are confrontational, but bored. It is both blandly aggressive and aggressively bland.

To be sure, there are very real, pressing reasons to ensure the border is secure - talking with locals, the legacy of 9/11 still looms large in the area’s cultural memory and the borders in our myths were not without their hazards either - but what is it that we lose in the process? What potential opportunities or connections are we closing ourselves off from? And what message do we send to our neighbors about international exchange? The point of the old stories, it seems to me, is that we need new experiences for new ideas and solutions - if you keep putting in the same input, you’ll always get the same output - and a closed society is a society which can’t adapt. Isn’t there a balance that can be struck?

I don’t yet know the answers to these questions and I’m not even remotely sure how to go about turning our highly divisive borders into opportunities for connection and collaboration. To be honest, I don’t know if there even is a solution. I’m hoping, though, that by coming here, getting outside of our own limits and leaving behind what we already know, we’ll be one step closer to making that discovery.