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Democratic Spaces of Interdependence.

Abstract: The essay adopts an interalogical perspective to explore spaces of democratic interdependence, the betweenness and contingency of interbeing, where political antagonism and even indifference or disconnection would be mitigated by rhetorical acts of escape through discursive walls of separation. Tropes of escape into openings that connect otherwise alienated or dissociated identities exemplify tactical maneuvers for identifying exceptions to polarizing overgeneralizations and for affiliating distinct but potentially synergic social movements. Rhetorical analogs to physical acts of uncovering, unblocking, and expanding openings in dividing walls are illustrated by humanizing metaphors of family, work, and courage, which expose similarities hidden in the criminalizing stereotype of illegal immigration, and by the irony of a supposedly peaceful America endlessly pursuing war, which rhetorically widens a narrow gap for critical reflection. By extension, tactical maneuvers of escape can articulate openings for contingent affiliations between and among otherwise compartmentalized progressive movements.

Keywords: Democracy, space, antagonism, escape, interdependence, contingency, interality

The invitation to address an international and multidisciplinary gathering on interality came at the very moment I was finishing one essay and beginning another. The just-finished essay was a study of democratic dissent from war, coauthored with Oscar Giner (Ivie and Giner, 2017). The just-started essay was an examination of the rhetorical aftershocks of Donald Trump's political ascendency (Ivie, 2017). I had arrived at a transition point, teetering on the cusp of democratic aspiration and demagogic regression.

The question on my mind was whether there is an approach to popular democracy through a discourse of interdependence that could link the heterogeneous concerns of a diverse citizenry into an ensemble of democratic dissent without demonizing outsiders. How might peace advocates, for instance, coordinate their cause with advocates for environmental responsibility, racial justice, women's rights, economic reform, and other movements against structural violence? What makes them interdependent in the sense of being reliant on, and constituted by, one another? This was a version of Ernesto Laclau's (2005) question about the articulation of a people, but focused particularly on the rhetorical nature of interdependence.

The question was made more urgent by Trump's negative example but also more difficult to answer within the framework of a rhetoric of identification and its emphasis on bridge building. Something about that approach now seemed excessively optimistic, overly heroic, or downright impossible. The fissures looked too wide and deep to span and the polarization too absolute to find any common ground. The alienation appeared to be solidified and fixed in place.

In that teetering-on-the-cusp moment, the perspective of interality offered an alternative way of thinking about the problem. It prompted me to consider interdependence in terms of movement through democratic space and the various entailments of that image, including a revised sense of political agency and an inverted perception of rhetorical tropes as vehicles of escape. It is a promising reorientation, one that is still new to me. I offer here a starting point for a journey of escape into space where change occurs as unblocked movement rather than by building solid structures and stationary formations. The journey takes us through democratic space to the heuristics of interalogy and then to the tropes of interdependence and their tactical agency, ending on the prospect of contingent affiliation.

Democratic Space

If democracy is taken to mean the self-rule of a people, we might inquire into the makeup of the people in question. That is to say, the term "a people" is subject to different constructions over time, or even simultaneous constructions at variance with one another. Each formulation is a convention of discourse, not the representation of a natural phenomenon. Articulated identities of the people circumscribe sometimes more and sometimes less inclusive polities, with boundaries more or less porous. Identities themselves are sometimes more and sometimes less dynamic and subject to change. To refer to the American people as a democratic polity is to invoke a range of possible meanings that, in any given moment, accommodate greater or lesser degrees of diversity.

Division, antagonism, and exclusion are the conditions that diminish democratic community and yet make it possible. They are the dark side of diversity and difference and, as such, the exigency for democratic politics. An undemocratic impulse is to eradicate diversity and homogenize the people, which is a negative attitude of withdrawal that promotes separatism and violence. The democratic alternative is to adjust to diversity in a way that invites tolerance and enriches polity. Such an adjustment requires a corrective to division, something to compensate for differences short of attempting to eliminate them but sufficient to rendering antagonism nonviolent.

Kenneth Burke turned to rhetoric to enrich democratic relations. Rhetoric, he argued, operates on "the wavering line between identification and division," in which "identification is compensatory to division" (Burke, 1969, pp. 45, 22). Rhetoric, "rooted in an essential function of language itself" and operating as a counterpart to division, provides "a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols" (Burke, 1969, p. 43; emphasis in the original). The aim of Burke's rhetoric of identification is to contemplate the resources of tolerance (Burke, 1969, p. xv). He saw the "ways of identification that contribute variously to social cohesion" as ongoing, incomplete, adaptive, multifaceted, and never "settled once and for all" (Burke, 1969, pp. 44, 26). Identification is a principle of partial transcendence, which Burke characterized as a form of "courtship" and as "bridging the conditions of estrangement 'natural' to society as we know it" (Burke, 1969, pp. 211-212; see Ivie, 2016).

Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (2001, pp. x-xi, 110-112) also conceived of political relations as grounded in antagonism but subject to mediation in "discursive space," especially at metaphorical nodal points of chains of equivalence where political identities are transformed (Mouffe, 2000, p. 101; Smith, 1998, pp. 89, 98). These are the "internal frontiers" of democratic space in which mediation of social divisions, short of a final reconciliation, is a function of political articulation, a function crucial to developing and sustaining pluralist democratic politics (Laclau and Mouffe, 2001, pp. xxiii, xvii). The possibility of strong democracy, in their assessment, rests on a "logic of contingency" crucial to widening "the field of democratic struggles" and to managing hegemonic relations in a manner that takes into account "the many different voices that a democratic society encompasses" (Laclau and Mouffe, 2001, pp. xvii, 3, 7). They envisioned the construction of a "new political imaginary" in pursuit of democratic ideals of equality and liberty (Laclau and Mouffe, 2001, p. 152).

For Mouffe, meeting the challenge of "agonistic pluralism," which is democracy's "condition of existence" (Mouffe, 1993, p. 4)--a "vibrant clash of political positions and an open conflict of interests" being necessary to a "healthy democratic process" (Mouffe, 1993, p. 6)--involves transforming enemies into adversaries, i.e., creating "friendly enemies" who share a "common symbolic space" but wish to organize it in different ways (Mouffe, 2000, p. 13). Thus, the goal is to construct the "them" in the "us/them discrimination" into a legitimate opponent so that antagonism becomes agonism (Mouffe, 2000, pp. 101-104). An agonistic exchange between political adversaries operates within a parliamentary space "where it ought to be possible to reach agreement on a reasonable solution through argument and persuasion, while being aware that such agreement can never be definitive and that it should always be open to challenge. Hence the importance of re-creating, in politics, the connection with the great tradition of rhetoric," Mouffe suggests (1993, p. 130).

Laclau extends the model of agonistic democracy to populist reason and its rhetorical foundations. Metaphor and the other rhetorical tropes are considered "instruments of an expanded social rationality," and "can be seen as the very logic of constitution of political identities" (Laclau, 2005, pp. 12, 19). Tropes operate on the principle of catachresis, i.e., as variations from conventional usage. Metaphor in particular is a vehicle for articulating similarities among differences, allowing it to function as an empty signifier, which is the unifying center of a chain of equivalences, a chain of heterogeneous elements linked analogically into an ensemble of terms. The metaphorical chain may create an illusion of closure, but its linkages are always partial and flexible, constructing less than full and fixed identities. It constitutes a contingent unity within political space. "Politics is articulation of heterogeneous elements," Laclau wrote, "and such an articulation is essentially topological" (Laclau, 2014, p. 67).

Laclau's notion of emptiness means that "there is a place, within the system of signification, which is constitutively irrepresentable"--a "void within signification"--such that a unifying signifier (a trope such as democracy, freedom, equality, justice, etc.) has no positive referent or conceptual content but is instead a nodal point, a name for an "undifferentiated fullness," a name providing a rhetorically contingent ground for articulating "diffuse themes" into a "meaningful unity" (Laclau, 2005, pp. 96-97. 105, emphasis in original). A rhetorical unity--partial and contingent--cannot transcend all differences: "there is a heteronomous dimension of social life that cannot be eliminated"; "emptiness is at the heart of the structure"; heterogeneous elements "do not belong in the same space of representation"; their artificial linkages are the product of metaphorical naming (Laclau, 2014, pp. 136-137, 161).

We might take from all of this that democratic space is discursive space in which divisive differences are rhetorically assimilated selectively, partially, ambiguously, and provisionally to allow for a degree of tolerance, deliberation, and cooperation. The rhetorical tropes that assimilate differences are polysemous, making it possible for a diverse and conflicted citizenry to coordinate and to form democratic majorities on the political surface because different meanings can be projected onto a shared set of terms (Welsh, 2013, p. 83). This is not to say that every discursive formation is subject to change willy-nilly or that even partial change occurs easily or quickly. The limited transformations that occur within democratic space require clever, adept, and persistent acts of rhetorical invention.

The discursive formations within democratic space are marked off by boundaries that compartmentalize and segregate identities. Boundaries function as barriers that separate insiders from outsiders, Us from Them, friends from enemies, even potential allies from one another. As such, they need to be breached, traversed, or otherwise compromised to reduce political alienation or enable cooperation. If we envision a discursive border as a frontier delineated by a river or gorge, we might focus efforts at rhetorical invention on finding tropes of bridge building to span the divide. If we envision the border as a dividing wall or fence, we might look for openings, gaps, holes, and the like to pass through to the other side. In either case, we would be seeking ways to maneuver around, about, and through democratic space.

Building bridges suggests rhetorical acts of construction, such as making connections or crafting equivalences among otherwise distinct, divided, or antagonistic identities. Seeking openings suggests rhetorical acts of escape, of locating portals, unlocking doors, and uncovering hidden gateways to the other side. Both are courses of rhetorical invention worth pursuing, and they overlap each other. For the purpose of establishing certain kinds of identification and shared symbolic space, the path of escape may be less traveled, yet more relevant than bridge building. Specifically, I have in mind mediating antagonisms and other divisions by locating unseen openings into spaces of interdependence. For such an undertaking, the perspective of interalogy and the language of interality may be invoked for their heuristic value.

The Heuristic of Interality

Interalogy and interality are the neologisms of philosopher Geling Shang. He suggests that interalogy, understood as the study of interality, is a new concept that could become a new branch of philosophy. Rather than a study of being and substance, it focuses on non-substantial aspects of reality, such as nothingness, openness, and processes of change. The nature of change is its basic question, which is a concern with "all that is trimmed off or discarded when we focus on being" (Shang, 2016, p. 384). By interality, Shang (2015, p. 68) means "the emptiness around, within, and between objects, which both constitutes them and connects them with one another." Interalogy's study of interality "dwells in the crevices" because "nothingness, emptiness, and void are fundamental to the existence of any object" (Shang, 2015, p. 69). The vocabulary of interality comprises an "ensemble" of terms such as space, openness, interval, crack, chasm, change, flow, transformation, composition, interconnection, combination, and network, which expresses interalogy's "perspective" on life (Shang, 2015, pp. 71, 72).

As a perspective, perhaps even a paradigm shift to allow space for the wholeness of being (YOU and Zhang, 2015, pp. 104, 106-107), interalogy entails an ideal of throughness that, in a world of becoming, involves a flow toward balance and peace in which opposites and differences connect and transform one another (Shang, 2016, p. 400). Their "relational position" is key to change toward or away from the ideal; they can be related to one another in space-time (in "up/down, high/low, prior/posterior" arrangements), or by principles of "similarity and difference... firm and yielding/soft, superior and inferior, positive and negative, ruler and ruled," and so on (Shang, 2016, pp. 393, 395). This interest in change between opposites to achieve balance and harmony is conceived interalogically as an interweaving of elements to supplement one another and allow for cooperation (Shang, 2016, p. 389).

Peter Zhang's definition of interality as "betweenness" highlights the interalogical theme of relationship within space. He sees this "interzone" of betweeness or "zone of proximity" as the "space of possibilities and transformations and the locus of ethics" (Zhang, 2015, p. 93). It denotes a place and time of play, liminality, hybridity, reciprocity, synergy, symbiosis, and interdependence (Zhang, 2015, p. 93). The "interval" is indispensible to the dynamics of interdependence (Zhang, 2015, p. 98). The smooth, unobstructed, rhizomatic world is a "web of interdependence" (Zhang, 2016, p. 416). Within the orientation of interality, the fluidity of relationality is privileged over fixed identity (interbeing over being) so as not to block the flux and flow of life that "promotes a harmonious social order" (Zhang, 2015, pp. 100, 101). The heuristic of interality largely is about "eliminating blockages, hindrances, impediments, trained incapacities, and the like" (Zhang, 2016, p. 423). Unblocking produces multiplicities out of singularities.

Maurice Charland (2016, pp. 450, 451) observes a dynamic of "unconcealing" in interality's jazz-like realm of interbeing, which can be grasped and configured by perspicacious metaphors that uncover the similar in the dissimilar. This uncovering is a way, drawing from Stephen Rowe (2015, pp. 80, 82), to open space for being together, discovering mutual interests, negotiating, compromising, and getting along with a measure of mutual respect in democratic life. Opening space within the surround of human life, as Kenneth Surin (2016, pp. 405, 409) explains, is an act of unblocking a communicative impasse to allow connections to occur between irreducibly heterogeneous individuals and groups in the web of an "immense, pullulating chaosmos." Betweenness or relationship, observes Tatsuya Higaki (2016, p. 456) is a priority of human existence. To make connections via the art of speech, as Hui Wu and Jan Swearingen (2016, pp. 507, 513, 515) extrapolate from the ancient rhetorical teaching of Guiguzi, involves a relaxing of tensions, shortening of distance, combining of differences through analogies, interplay of silence and talking, and listening and adjustment by speaker to audience.

While the perspective of interalogy encompasses a theme of construction relevant to a discourse of building bridges over the human divide, its focus on uncovering, unblocking, and flowing through the spaces between individuals and groups--the very spaces that connect them to one another--is especially intriguing. Applied to the challenge of mitigating antagonism, the image of escaping through openings in political dividing walls suggests a kind of movement through space that could result in a bond of interdependence to allow for a balancing measure of tolerance.

The heuristic of interality in this regard is its suggestion that space connects, that interdependence happens when barriers are lowered, evaded, eluded, or otherwise thwarted, that the challenge is to locate unseen openings to interdependence. The vocabulary of interality is rich with terms relevant to movement toward interdependence, terms that might function well as topoi or places of rhetorical invention, terms such as openness, throughness, betweenness, networks, relational positions, supplement, wholeness, balance, hybridity, symbiosis, and reciprocity, all taken in a context of escape into spaces where connections are made and relationships flow together.

Escape to Interdependence

Operating within democratic space is an exercise in what Burke (1968, p. viii) calls symbolic action, where the terms of a symbol system are instruments of simultaneously untangling and entangling. Our sense of reality is a construct of our symbol systems. We are "the symbol-using animal" that, ironically, "refuses to realize the full extent of the role played by symbolicity in [our] notions of reality" (Burke, 1966, p. 5). As a symbol-making species, we are "separated from [our] natural condition by instruments of [our] own making" (Burke, 1966, p. 13). The resources of symbolicity are "terministic incentives" that screen, guide, frame, and channel our attention such that what "we take as observations about 'reality' may be but the spinning out of possibilities implicit in our particular choice of terms" (Burke, 1966, pp. 45-46).

Symbolic action in democratic space is discursive movement. Movement, as it applies to the question presently at hand, is through walls of separation (political division, antagonism) toward points of identification (partial and selective identification, not amalgamation). Some terms, not all of a given discourse, move through discursive space to hook up with terms on the other side of the dividing wall. It is a discursive movement of opening, flowing, and connecting, which are three topoi for articulating ways of escaping the unmitigated hostilities of exclusion. Differences remain, but antagonisms are tempered by access to shared symbolic space, allowing for the enrichment of democratic politics as an exercise in agonistic pluralism.

Maneuvering through walls of separation and flowing in discursive space may follow various routes to different points of partial identification. No route is more central, however, than escape to interdependence. Articulating a degree of interdependence is necessary for coordinating the demands of a heterogeneous citizenry without demonizing outsiders. It is key to constituting a democratic people as a force for progressive change when their different demands against an institutional system remain separated from one another. It is equally important for reducing the antagonism between political rivals.

Extrapolating from the perspective of interality, we might assume that there are barriers between groups whose separate claims against the state--what Laclau called their unfulfilled demands--would be strengthened by connecting such groups at points of interdependence. One might anticipate or speculate, for example, that links could be made and alliances forged between and among groups separately focused on issues of gender equality, racial justice, environmental protection, economic wellbeing, and peace advocacy. We might also assume or hypothesize, by extrapolating from the perspective of interality, that there are barriers between antagonists with claims against each other, which could be mitigated by linking up at points of interdependence. (We might even expect that, at some level, the success of corporate business relies on the wellbeing of workers and vice versa.) Interality--the notion of betweenness--prompts us to consider the potential of interdependence unrealized because of obstructions.

The language of interdependence is a commonplace of our times. The theme that everything is connected, writes Kriti Sharma (2015, p. 1), "is in the air, framing our experiences of myriad everyday phenomena." The metaphor of "the network" is ascendant. "Products depend on processes, processes depend on products, wholes depend on parts, parts depend on wholes, and living beings depend on one another for our lives." Even beyond that level of interconnection, Sharma insists (2015, p. 2), the deeper idea of interdependence means "our world is not composed of independent entities at all." Entities do not just interact; they are mutually constituted. They contingently exist as a construct. This "contingentism," according to Sharma (2015, pp. 15, 16), maintains that the conditional existence of one entity depends on other conditionally existing entities, such as observers relative to observed, sameness relative to difference, and even contingent existence relative to inherent existence, which allows us to say, for instance, that "meaningful differences, with consequences that matter for us, can be maintained without some notion of inherent differences" (Sharma, 2015, p. 24). Stability is a function of conditional combinations, of conditional entities keeping each other in place contingently; "the net is all there is" (Sharma 2015, pp. 100, 101, emphasis in original).

Besides the commonplace metaphor of the network to articulate the contingentism of interdependence, we can turn to the vocabulary of interality for suggestive terms such as relational position, supplement, wholeness, balance, hybridity, symbiosis, and reciprocity. I have suggested elsewhere a topos of complementary differences as a pivotal term for managing antagonisms by articulating relations of interdependence, drawing on tropes such as partnership, teamwork, family, ecosystem, and symbiosis to supply each other's lack (Ivie, 2015, p. 54; see also Ivie and Giner, 2017). However interdependence is expressed in a given context, an interalogical perspective implies that it is to be found or will arise from connections made possible by the spaces around, between, and within differences. Thus, the question of finding openings comes into focus.

Framing the question of escape as a matter of finding openings in a dividing wall underscores the immediacy of the challenge at hand. The wall is very much a symbol of Donald Trump's political ascendancy. On the campaign trail he often proclaimed his intention to build a big beautiful wall along the US border with Mexico. He boasted that no one builds a wall better than he, to which his supporters responded by chanting, "Build that wall! Build that wall!" (Andreas, 2017). Trump's wall would be tall, long, and strong to secure the border from undocumented immigrants, criminals, and drugs. Here we have a palpable example of antagonism suffusing the verbal and visual image of a solid wall of separation.

Walls are material attitudes. They divide people from one another. They are built to protect us from perceived threats--threats perhaps to our economic wellbeing, our cultural identity, or our national security. They operate on the premise of safety by separation: insiders separated from outsiders, Us versus Them, civilization threatened by barbarians, archetypal Athens fortified by long walls. In a word, walls are barriers. They seal borders. They close openings. They rigidify and exaggerate differences. They restrain and delegitimize border crossings, both literal and figurative. An outsized wall is the hostile attitude of a constricted perspective. It blocks the flow of humanity.

Words matter, especially when they raise walls that signify and solidify the human divide. Once the wall is mentally and emotionally built, the fate of the nation is sealed within a narrow disposition of intolerance. Escape to a shared sense of humanity and interdependence through rhetorical portals, where they can be found, is vital to the prospect of democracy. "Because," allowed Joseph Lintz, a suspected war criminal in Ian Rankin's (1998, p. 102) novel, The Hanging Garden, "sometimes all it takes to turn us into devils is the fear of being an outsider." The rhetorical vocation of democratic tricksters, where myth remakes a broken world (Hyde, 1998), is to discover hidden openings in the dividing walls that bedevil us.

Escaping the totality of a discursive divide requires rhetorical ingenuity. One approach is to look for rhetorical analogs to physical acts of uncovering, unblocking, slipping through, expanding, and/or making openings. One such analog is identifying exceptions to overgeneralizations about differences, which renders opposites partial rather than absolute. Uncovering similarities among differences brings into play the trope of metaphor. Where differences are emphasized to the point of differentiating completely one group from another, metaphors can compensate for divisive stereotypes by finding points of comparison, hidden similarities. They can even fuse different elements into a new entity by speaking of one thing in terms of another to make an implicit rather than overtly logical connection, a connection that can serve as the foundation of an alternative premise leading to a revised train of thought.

For instance, reducing undocumented immigrants to the category of illegals or illegal aliens and, by association, to the status of criminals who rob, rape, and murder is an act of stereotyping, of negative over-generalizing, which constructs a hard attitude of separation envisioned physically as building an impenetrable wall. Symbolically speaking, illegal equals criminal equals robbing, raping, and murdering, all of which amounts to a dead metaphor--a metaphor that has been literalized and reified over time into a conventional logic in the discourse of the ruling political party and much of the citizenry (Chomsky, 2017).

A literalized metaphor that rules the stereotypical logic of the day is itself subject to metaphorical flight by figurative vehicles that link some of the otherwise dissociated parts of a common humanity. To escape from the totality of the divisive stereotype, we might reframe the category of undocumented immigrants with more humanizing figures, such as the image of temporary workers, most of whom are seeking jobs that citizens and documented immigrants do not want but that pay better than any employment these migrant workers might be able to find in their home countries. The job openings they fill in the US not only benefit them but also society at large, jobs such as landscaping, housekeeping, harvesting crops, and hotel and restaurant custodial work.

Other humanizing reasons for migrating include reuniting with family members or escaping from repression, lawlessness, violence, and war in the home country. It takes courage to confront the many hazards of unauthorized migration across the frontier, such as the risk of human trafficking, of being tricked into slave labor or forced into prostitution. Humanizing the image of undocumented immigrants reveals shared values, such as familial relations, bravery, and hard work, which reinforce the ethos of the host country and, thus, undermine the attitude behind the logic of building an impermeable wall. Moreover, the sheer expense of deporting an estimated 1.1 million undocumented immigrants at an estimated outlay of between $12,500 and $23,480 per person--including the cost of legal proceedings, apprehension, detention, and transportation--(Gassson, 2012) would amount to somewhere between $138 billion and $260 billion.

Metaphors such as these that reveal exceptions to the divisive stereotype of criminality--metaphors that show humanizing similarities among dehumanizing differences--provide a rhetorical means of escape through a discursive wall of separation. And, in the present example of immigration, the exceptions they convey to escape the tyranny of overgeneralization also suggest a degree of interdependence, each party supplying the other's lack by sustaining the economy, bolstering social capital, and avoiding massive deportation costs. If not these metaphors (or, perhaps, in addition to them), other metaphors might be found to render troublesome generalizations limited rather than absolute.

Another means of escaping from divisive generalizations via exceptions is to identify differences within sameness. Irony is the inverse of metaphor. Instead of identifying similarities among differences, it articulates differences, disjunctions, and contradictions within an established category, deviations that bedevil abstractions. Irony looks to where entities that should go together do not conform to expectations, such as a peace-loving country starting wars. It is the rhetorical analog to widening cracks in a physical wall of separation.

For example, the notion of civilizational war, reiterated by President Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, trades on stereotypes to insinuate a total opposition between West and East, Christendom and Islam, democracy and tyranny, the US and terrorism (Reilly and Heath, 2017). It constitutes a prison house of war culture, which sustains endless warfare. The totalizing categories rest on an absence of memory. Recovered memory brings disjunctions into view.

In Rebecca Gordon's narrative of remembrance, for instance, perpetual US warfare did not begin with 9/11. It can be traced back to the first Iraq war of 1990-1991, the US invasion of Noriega's Panama in 1989 and tiny Granada in 1983, the long Vietnam War, or the incessant Cold War, which began soon after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and flamed up in the Korean proxy war. "Maybe it all began," Gordon (2017) allows, "when Congress first abdicated its constitutional right and authority to declare war and allowed the executive branch to usurp that power," with no remaining constraint from "a deliberative body elected by the people." Probably it began well before that. The irony of an undemocratic, militaristic US aggressor complicates the simplistic opposition to radical Islamic terrorists.

Tactical Agency

Metaphor and irony represent two modalities of rhetorical ingenuity relevant to a discourse of escape, a discourse for moderating antagonism by overcoming barriers to interdependence. Their use as tropes of escape into democratic space illustrates a shift of emphasis and critical perspective, not to abandon notions of building bridges over the human divide but to place a focus on circumventing barriers that polarize differences and to highlight an existing, often untapped resource for enriching democratic polity. The heuristic of interality underlies the idea of movement through dividing walls insofar as it brings into focus the spaces that connect and constitute entities. The basic idea of interdependence is that entities mutually and contingently constitute one another. Openings allow differences to connect and symbiosis to occur. This tactical maneuver within discursive space compensates for division to facilitate a more productive pluralism.

My intent has been to illustrate rather than exhaust the tropes of escape into the democratic space of interdependent differences. One advantage of thinking in these terms is a certain conservation of energy that comes with finding an opening and flowing into the space of betweenness where terms can conditionally constitute one another. Clearing an obstruction or widening an opening to reestablish familiar ties can be less difficult and might meet with less resistance than undertaking new constructions. The metaphorical language of family, work, and courage, for example, is already resonant within the political culture before it opens space for complementary linkages between US citizens and undocumented immigrants to mitigate tensions. The remembered irony of a peace-loving America endlessly engaged in warfare widens the opening for reflecting critically on the civilizational divide.

A second advantage is that thinking in interalogical terms of escape provides a certain degree of agency within the confines of tyrannizing stereotypes, or what Michel de Certeau (1997, pp. 11, 14) called "the capture of speech" and the project of freeing "imprisoned speech," speech that has "escaped [marginally] from preexisting structures and frameworks." Change or movement can only take place by making use of "terms belonging to an established order," that is, by poaching, displacing, and transposing them, thus folding innovation into an old language, which "allows it to go unnoticed" (Certeau, 1997, pp. 20-21). Still, this is tricky business. One can be trapped inside the logic of the terms borrowed from the ruling order (Certeau, 1997, p. 24). What escapes can be retaken. What is liberated can be recaptured, until eventually a new cultural and political order forms out of the dynamic (Certeau, 1997, p. 32). Escape is an operation of tactical maneuver in a space strategically circumscribed by the privileged order, "an art of being in between," of the weak subverting the strong "from within" (Certeau, 1984, pp. ix-xx, 30, 32, 34, 37-40).

The agency of escape is limited but real. Its potential for mitigating raw antagonism and transforming a tyrannizing discourse of stereotypes into a more democratic dynamic lies in tactical rhetorical maneuver through discursive space rather than strategic control of solidified and static entities. The perspective of interalogy and language of interality promote this way of thinking about democratic space where interdependent contact might be made between estranged adversaries or otherwise dissociated advocates of change.

Contingent Affiliation

Conceived interalogically, the interdependence of heterogeneous identities, when expressed as a practice of affiliation by contingency, suggests encounters in discursive space between and among mutually enabling formations. These formations (identities, bodies, entities, beings, groups, movements, or other terms of interest), when unblocked and convergent, can become contingent on one another in the dual sense of possibility and conditionality. They encounter one another by choice or chance, rather than by necessity or sheer causality, and condition one another in circumstances not completely foreseen but in ways that can be beneficial and allow for change. Agency, from this perspective, is a function of symbolic action, rhetorical maneuver, and discursive flow, which allows an already articulated construct of one kind to connect and align with one or more already articulated constructs of different kinds.

In more tangible terms, we might think of political identities as somewhat porous formations floating in discursive space. The kinds of identities I have in mind include worker, environmentalist, feminist, peace advocate, and others seeking social justice and resisting discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, gender, age, or religion. Clearly, any individual or group can intermix two or more of these identity formations or constructs. One might be black, feminist, and environmentalist, for instance. The mingling of such constructs forms a different identity with a perspective that is potentially expanded and nuanced. The democratic self is more, rather than less, inclusive. In Walt Whitman's famous phrase, "I am large, I contain multitudes" (Whitman, 2004, p. 250). Constructs of political identity modify one another as they intermingle. The more added to the mix, the greater the potential becomes for coordinating and strengthening their separate causes.

My emphasis in representing a position of interdependence as a matter of contingent affiliation is twofold: adapting to existing formations and coordinating differences. Together, adapting and coordinating focuses attention on the contingencies of maneuvering within a given flow to benefit from the momentum of the presumption carried by already circulating configurations. One looks from this vantage point for openings to connect moving parts to one another--to bring about a partial convergence among divergent figures--rather than attempt to build a seamless edifice from the ground up. There may be less to overcome by negotiating in this way an otherwise daunting state of political division and antagonism.

Moreover, the tactic of contingent affiliation is less inclined to polarize the body politic or to scapegoat adversaries. The aim is to coordinate differences, not to subsume them or systematically integrate them under one totalizing interest. The linkages are multifaceted, circumstantial, provisional, and partial. Contingency mitigates the principle of perfection to which Kenneth Burke attributes the victimage ritual: the "symbol-using animal" that is "goaded by the spirit of hierarchy" to the point of becoming "rotten with perfection" requires the "political scapegoat" onto which to project and thereby negate any troublesome traits or imperfections (Burke, 1966, pp. 16, 18-19); order leads to guilt which seeks redemption by designating and dispatching a scapegoat on whom all troubles can be blamed with recurring regularity to sustain the illusive quest for perfection (Burke, 1970, pp. 4-5).

Veterans for Peace convey a sense of contingent affiliation in their dissent from the war system. For them, an epidemic of violence is the mother of all issues that connects the problem of militarism and war to other social issues. They believe that their fight to abolish war cannot succeed without linking up with a wider range of struggles against racism, poverty, climate change, and other forms of socio-economic injustice. They recognize as well that they cannot take the lead on any of the other issues but must be actively supportive of those causes in the same way they need advocates of other causes to support their cause actively (Ivie and Giner, 2016, pp. 205-206; Ivie and Giner, 2017).

The sentiment expressed by Veterans for Peace seems right, even obvious, but contingent affiliations between war dissenters and other advocacy groups--such as workers displaced by globalization, black citizens victimized by the judicial system, or environmentalists concerned with regulating planet-warming greenhouse gases--are more the exception than the rule. New social movements (Larana, Johnston, and Gusfield, 1997) of the post-industrial era--such as the women's movement, the ecology movement, the LGBT movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Occupy movement, and the peace movement--appear to be compartmentalized and partitioned from one another. They are conceived as social and cultural initiatives secondarily engaged in the political arena and primarily concerned with identity issues, social change, and lifestyle. They are loosely organized and typically focused on a single issue or set of issues within a broad theme such as the environment or peace. Notably, they are set apart from working class materialism and the labor movement's goal of economic wellbeing. Dividing walls exist between different groups with demands against the system, making it difficult for them to flow toward one another and ultimately to meet and coordinate with each other.

A noteworthy example of barriers between advocacy groups with potential affinities is the tension democratic socialist Bernie Sanders encountered with Black Lives Matter during his presidential nomination campaign. His campaign stop in Seattle was disrupted by two Black Lives Matter activists claiming white progressives like Sanders are "useless," even "outright harmful," to their cause because white progressives do not support "Black grassroots movements or take any measure of risk and responsibility for ending the tyranny of white supremacy" (Tesfaye, 2015). Sanders hired a young African-American woman to serve as his new national press secretary. He added a racial justice platform to his list of campaign issues, a platform that featured the physical, political, legal, economic, and environmental violence waged against black and brown Americans. Hate crimes by white racists, violence perpetrated by police, privatized prisons, overincarceration of African Americans and Latinos, discriminatory voter suppression, income inequality, and environmental health hazards for people of color were among the problems specified in Sanders' new platform (Sanders, 2015).

Sanders addressed these injustices of racism in ways that acknowledged the primary concerns of Black Lives Matter but also linked them to his campaign's primary concern with income and wealth inequality for the working and middle class (Sanders, 2016). Specific to the concerns of Black Lives Matter, he called for demilitarizing the police and investing in positive community policing, diversifying police forces, more training and new rules to deescalate police confrontations with minorities, cracking down on the illegal activities of hate groups, Congressional action to restore minority voting rights, re-enfranchising the millions of blacks who have served their sentences for felony convictions, abandoning the failed "war on drugs," addressing inadequate cleanup of hazardous waste sites in communities of color, and more.

The link to the economic heart of Sanders' campaign came in his proposed actions to address economic injustices suffered by minorities, injustices that potentially identified people of color with other members of the working and middle class: all children, "regardless of their race or income," deserve "a fair shot" at attending a public university; we must create a million jobs for disadvantaged young Americans with funds that come from ending tax loopholes for the super wealthy; the minimum wage must be increased to a livable wage, which would benefit half of African Americans and nearly 60% of Latinos; we must rebuild the nation's crumbling cities and infrastructure, insure equal pay for women, prevent employers from discriminating against applicants with a criminal history, provide working families with access to affordable child care, rewrite bad trade deals, and reopen closed factories (Sanders, 2015).

Still, Sanders was a 73-year-old white male Senator from the 95-percent white state of Vermont. In July 2015, only 25% of nonwhite potential voters in the Democratic primary viewed him favorably. These were voters from whom he would need support in order to win in the south and in other states with large numbers of minorities. Black Lives Matter demanded that he prove himself, Daniel Strauss (2015) observed, by taking on more directly the problems of "institutional racism in housing, education, and criminal justice." As one Black Lives Matter leader put the matter, no presidential candidate, Sanders included, had made racial injustice and police brutality "a centerpiece of the campaign" (Strauss, 2015).

Sanders' centerpiece was income inequality and economic justice. That was the link to and barrier between him and Black Lives Matter. The problem was largely a question of emphasis or foregrounding. As one sympathetic black analyst (Thrasher, 2016) saw it in May 2016, Sanders' shortcoming was that his regular talking points did not mention black and Hispanic voters. It was true that the lives of people of color would be improved by reining in Wall Street, but "any democratic socialist should know that the economic violence of capitalism is specifically gendered and racialized." Sanders' platform on racial justice got it right, and he talked well about race when forced to, but he did not regularly drive home and foreground the point that no economic corrective can be colorblind. The "Sanders insurgency," Issac Bailey (2016) insisted, was too much of a "white revolution."

In a word, the unacknowledged barrier was silence, or degrees thereof. Silence implicitly rendered race invisible. It implied that speaking up about racism, per se, was politically taboo, that foregrounding and challenging racial discrimination and dehumanizing stereotypes would detract from, rather than reinforce, Sanders' central message of economic justice for the working and middle class. Silence diminished black agency by tacitly relegating blacks to the status of victimhood and dependency--the victims of economic violence who would become the indirect beneficiaries of income and wealth equality. An insistent and humanizing discourse of racial regard, respect, and dignity was the missing link to Black Lives Matter. To escape from the dividing wall of silence, Sanders would have to speak of economic violence in tropes that turn it toward racism rather than away, that do not attempt to gloss over the racial divide or obscure a difference that matters. He would have to emphasize the point that racism against people of color enables economic violence against an increasingly marginalized working and middle class, including whites.


This condition of separation by silence brings us back to the tactics of escape into democratic space, into the interality of interdependence, of contingent affiliations among different movements. We might frame the question as follows: What tactics of rhetorical maneuver can articulate openings through which movements (or other formations) might flow toward one another? The question of escape would seem to be a matter of marginalized actors exercising the minimal political agency available to gain access to, and draw strength from, the discursive momentum of potential allies or at least to quell antagonism between enemies. In either case, escape is symbolic action to achieve a counterbalancing degree of tolerance or cooperation through contingent affiliation.

In the case of cooperation, finding answers to the question of relevant and available rhetorical tactics for maneuvering through barriers between potentially linked social movements will require close studies of specific examples and circumstances. Such studies are themselves grounded acts of rhetorical invention in which the scholar-rhetor seeks openings through walls of separation. Working from the example of Veterans for Peace, one might explore the dividing wall between the peace movement and the labor movement. Beyond that, itself a deeply engaging exercise in rhetorical invention, scholar-rhetors interested in challenging militarism might undertake sustained investigations of barriers separating the peace movement from each of the other potentially synergic movements concerned primarily with global warming, gender discrimination, racism, globalization, or other forms of social injustice.

My immediate purpose in the present discussion of political heuristics from an interalogical standpoint is to indicate the kind of critical work interality might entail when seeking an answer to the question of democratic interdependence under circumstances of radical division and limited agency. Imagining a way to proceed is a necessary initial step for the productive work that would follow. The scale of the critical work ahead is large. Yet, I think it is ultimately manageable within, and in response to, the constraints and exigencies of antagonism. Antagonism, from an interalogical perspective, is a condition always subject to change. That, I suggest, is the political promise and democratic hope of interalogy. As a paradigm of spaces and openings, it points us toward the possibilities of change in a world of stubbornly divided beings.

Robert L. Ivie

Indiana University, USA

Correspondence to:

Robert L. Ivie

Department of English Ballantine Hall 442 1020 E. Kirkwood Avenue Indiana University Bloomington, IN 47405-7103 Email:


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Robert L. Ivie

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[Robert L. Ivie. Democratic Spaces of Interdependence. China Media Research 2017; 13(4): 17-27]. 3
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Date:Oct 1, 2017
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