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Discourse is All There Is

I took the early-morning shift with my infant daughter this morning, and stumbled across a very interesting article by Anthea Butler titled “Space is All There Is.”

It is not an optimistic article, at first glance. “I am disgusted with who we are,” Ms. Butler writes. “Is racism, gun violence, and greed all there is to America? I am sick of America’s racist history. I am sick of America’s racist present. And I am disgusted with my inability to stop any of it.”

“If this is all there is to America,” Ms. Butler writes, “then I have to figure out how to live here without losing my mind. I refuse to believe that it is.”

I know these feelings and I know these questions, and I suspect that many who read this introduction know these feelings and questions as well. There is a great deal to lament about America’s past and present, and good reason to fear for its future. To Ms. Butler’s great credit, she does not absolve herself of any of it. Humility acknowledges complicity, even when that complicity is relatively miniscule. Ms. Butler presents an indictment of “we,” not “they,” and she implies (with a measure of exasperation) that even if she had no hope for America’s future, she would stay to experience it.

But she has hope. She looks inward and finds hope in the Afrofuturist science fiction of her youth, “a future where I could be who I wanted, love who I wanted, be nappy in space, and happy in place.”  Ms. Butler has hope, and she calls it Space. For Ms. Butler, Space is hope because Space is the blank slate, built on a new and just consensus and belief in common humanity – a chance to start over and try again.

I have a similar hope in trying again and again, and I call it Discourse. Discourse is beautiful: it is fundamentally premised on equality, anchors us in the present, makes us look inward and question ourselves. It is radical: it seeks to deconstruct and level power, and gives everyone a seat at the table. It is procedural, not substantive, and thus presents the potential to represent all voices simultaneously. It is apolitical, in a world where so little is apolitical.

I will spend a lot of time talking about Discourse on these pages, trying to vivify its contours and figure out how it works in practice. I will spend a lot of time talking about a lot of things: civil rights, civil society, law, critical legal studies, deconstructionism, communitarianism, pragmatism, writing, and books – lots of books, hopefully. If nothing else, I hope this project motivates each of the contributors to read more, write about what they’re reading, and place the books and authors they’re reading in dialogue with one another. If we can pull that off, and begin to find common threads running through the decentralized inquiries of so many different minds, we will have accomplished something special.

I acknowledge that it is likely a function of great privilege to find my hope so much closer to home than Butler finds hers. I accept my share of responsibility for a country and a world that Butler and others like her must look beyond, in some sense, to find their hope. Maybe, if we are successful beyond the limits of our foresight, this project can play some small part in righting that wrong.

Ultimately, Discourse is a search for reconciliation, and I believe, as a matter of faith, that those who seek shall find. We are limited only by the boundaries of our courage and tenacity. And so, without further ado, “I grasp the hands of those next to me, and take my place in the ring to suffer and to work, taught by an instinct, that so shall the dumb abyss be vocal with speech.”

Liminal Space and Liminal Discourse

Close the Gap