Robert J. Silverman*


It is commonplace for us to recognize both the vertical and the horizontal as we consider many dynamics, whether it be individual growth and rejuvenation, interorganizational relations, research practices and philosophies, or any number of actions. That is, we realize that progress, whether it be attaining goals, enhancing life, or accomplishing transitions, can be perceived in two directions: as more or less, and as complementary. At the same time, we typically privilege the vertical dimension as we consider many of life’s accomplishments. So, profits, height and weight, career advancement and salaries, fte’s, gnp’s, span of control, the cost of items, stars given by reviewers to new movies and restaurants, downsizing and right sizing, selling off non-central branches of an industry, one’s productivity in grant raising or articles accepted for publication, being cited by others, the accomplishments of athletes and teams, and so on, are usually noted as vertical calculations. More is just about always better, but every once in a while, there is a claim that small is beautiful, though this too operates on a vertical scale.

I suspect that each of us has some favorite tales that suggest the hegemony of the vertical scale. For this writer, it was evident when asking a teenager how he was doing, in the spirit of his well-being, only to be answered by the young man reciting his grade point average. Or a close relation who frequently cites his worth, known financially; and young careerists developing resumes and including every possible engagement as reflecting their abilities. More is better, with the expectation that others will say or feel what appears to be the current highly generalized word: “Wow.”

I am not challenging the belief that a taller basketball player, other things equal, is better than a shorter one, or a heavier lineman is not to be preferred over a lighter one, or to challenge the empirical finding that tall people become CEO’s over short ones, but to note that we do not do very well in casting perceptions on the horizontal plane. It appears that we do not have a rich language for this, and when we do, it is often allied with the vertical, as the second direction, and does not stand alone. So, we have line officers, who live in a hierarchical pattern, and staff who are on the horizontal. Or there are individuals who negotiate between organizations but they are responsible to executives or the leadership of the union, and teams are delegated operational responsibilities but are chartered and report to ‘management.’

How does one cast the lateral plane; what are the ways to understand movement here. Well, one can fuse things, stand on the boundaries and work with persons on other boundaries, locate oneself on the margins of many subfields in attempts to integrate what is differentiated, stand in the silence, rotate back and forth between things on the plane, go back to the beginning, compensate for what is missing, work the middle space by hanging or inhabiting it with action. Some individuals live their life, or try to, on this plane. I have known graduate students who prefer not to graduate out of this role, seeing the horizontal as a setting for limited-responsible nonentityness, but with a stipend.

The conflict and possible juxtaposition of the vertical and the horizontal are not new, even for the human development literature in which Williamson and Pearse (1980) suggest that the vertical suggests growth toward death and the horizontal connotes “rejuvenation,” or a growth toward life. The argument presented in this paper is that for both of these dimensions or planes there is the potential for action in which the more fundamentally human is played out, in an area not perceived by most social scientists Since we live in an age where the language of completion has bled into a vast territory, words like “output,” “deliverables,” ‘mission and vision,” “accountable,’ and “bottom line,” what we explore here should be considered a challenge to this ubiquitous hegemonic mindset.

Let me begin with more personal reflections here.



Some years ago, my son had his leg amputated due to a cancerous growth that did not succumb to radiation and chemotherapy. Weeks after the surgery, driving home from Walter Reed Hospital, we stopped in Morgantown, West Virginia for gas and a snack. This was the first time he had been outside the hospital since the amputation, and rather than a wheelchair, he was using crutches. He experienced what most folks do when they see another person with crutches, especially when they are ungainly, namely, he was offered assistance. So, here was this West Point graduate, who had been physically fine-tuned, experiencing a stranger, in fact, a “good-old boy,” holding open the door to the donut shop. A small event--but traumatic. How would his choice to accept this open door affect his need for independence? But, as well, the storm door was hard to pull, and he knew he could not have opened it, thus reflecting another potential embarrassment. How would he deal with things he could no longer do for himself? I could see flashing in his head, for this most minor of events, choices and a future that if considered earlier, were now being tested in action. It was heartbreaking, as he was in this middle space-- between being ‘unable’-- to being ‘able’ --to function without assistance in the every-day world. A silence here that was full of emotion and definitions of the self. It was not about ‘more or less’ but about choosing, his choosing to be either in the vertical or horizontal plane, that is, challenging himself to do more, given his now ‘less’ state, or being on a different plane. Or being in both locations and trying to figure out how to live in both and to know when and how to do so without becoming schizophrenic.

What is important here is not only to look at the vertical and horizontal as alternatives that have other things equal except these planes of action, but to recognize that they both demonstrate significant action by absence. It is related to the power of the natural attitude, to being and not doing, to the agency created by the not-doing, not necessarily in the present but the future doing, to action due to the active non-presentation of some thing. It is not the avoidance of action but the agency allowed or strengthened by a lapse, quietness, a non-echoing environment. It is to learn from what appears to be a deficit and to appreciate an alternative possibility from another’s silence. Clearly these notions appear ridiculous because we are so enamored and socialized into false alternatives, such as suggesting choices which do not reflect the full range, such as focusing on the empowerment of the individual or the community; or selfishness or otherness; or optimism or pessimism. We cannot easily recognize the optimism in the non-doing of something or the power of causation in absence, in the leaving alone. I suggest that the fullness about which I write can be appreciated initially by attention to literature where a fuller range of the human is reflected. This is a range not requiring a theoretical justification but one that allows its formation.



I think it the case that we find in art or literature meanings that allow us to expand our understanding of our world and ourselves. So, in this regard, I initially take material from the novels of Carole Maso and Paul West which reflect the action embedded in inaction or in the silence or in the not doing. What is not accomplished below is the reflections of the texts themselves whose organizing principles complement and support the logic of the words. Each passage contains numerous exemplars of the pregnancy of the in-between.

The first is from the novel, “The Art Lover” (1990) by Carole Maso. This is the opening page.

A girl in a striped bathing suit sits at the water’s edge. She digs deeply in the sand and from the vast beach makes shapes: an arch, a pyramid, two towers. Not child, but not yet adult, she is at that tender age of becoming.

A man further back on the beach, now getting up, calls to her. He calls something out as if it were pure song. “The sun” I think is what he says. She turns. No. “Alison!” He is saying her name. “Alison.” Although there is only a slight physical resemblance, the man can only be her father. You can tell by the way he moves toward her. As she stands up now I can see the intricate jigsaw shapes their bodies make to fit together. They will gnaw off an arm if necessary to properly fit, bleed at a joint, tilt the head, or nod a little too deeply just to maintain the vaguely heart-shaped vacuum that must always exist somehow between them. They move closer for a moment as if to compensate for someone lost or gone away, someone missing. Wordlessly they move to shield each other from things yet to come, as if the body were capable of anything. Not big things necessarily, perhaps just against the sun which shines at times so brutally, or some small disappointment, the denial of a promotion, or a B on a test instead of an A--or protection against the collapsing walls of the sand city. They shift to greet each other. They turn at the last moment to maintain the correct distance.

The next is from Paul West’s novel “Terrestrials” (1997) about two Air Force spy-plane pilots forced down over the desert, dropping from one horizontal silence to another, one of whom has his parachute catch on an overhanging section of mountain, in mid-air, challenging the vultures who attack his cabin waiting for his death, as he tries to make a rope to earth. The other is captured by slaves, persons neither dead nor alive, raking salt from the desert floor, given its previous millennial location under water. One pilot is talking about the sister of his co-pilot and her relation to her brother:

Why, he never knew, but was most willing to explain it in terms of legendary Babe, a premature baby put at once into an incubator unswitched on. So she had fought for breath for two hours and had come out of the experience weakened in heart and lungs, with reduced resistance to infection and recurrent sinus trouble. That she had forged on to become a singer of opera astounded him, as if she were seeking out the very thing denied her. She was resolved to sing, voicing her lack or that of others, not only rising to the occasion but engulfing it in a wave of will and scorn. Pushing her slight physique, she went from distinction to distinction, a vocal Icarus whose buoyant rebukes to her brother about his ignorance of her art pleased him no end. Yet, surely, she was always straining, shoving, gulping. All of which she concealed, but only with pretenatural vim. No one noticed the crescendos of her slight form, the degree of magnification she subjected her delicate voice to; some perhaps wondered at an occasional instant of fatigue when she made an uncalled-for pause, deflecting time from its mindless trawl while she created for herself a window of absence, closed to all others, open to her, until she resumed like one of those Turkish birds in its too small wire cage next to the Egyptian bazaar. It was as if the hearer’s heart had stopped in synchrony with hers.

Paul West has also written about his deaf daughter in “Words for a Deaf Daughter,” (1993 ed.) about his would-be cosmonaut who’s never allowed out alone; I’m presuming you’re a mystic rather than an non-starter, a simple soul rather than a cipher. Your privacy, I hope, is full, not empty. (86) You very often smile in between people, directing the smile exactly to where no one is and maliciously enjoying their bafflement as, after excluding themselves from this favor, they turn round to confront no one at all; nothing; and when they turn front again, there you are smiling ironically right at both of them in tease, so that they dismiss what they originally thought they saw. (128) There is a void everywhere just beyond the edge of what you find familiar, and essentially you are living in a dark through which others shepherd you...(Y)ou are, although inventive and energetic and quick on the uptake, one of the most dependent people I know. Which makes you one of the most trusting creatures in Creation. (147-48).

Attentiveness for its own sake could well be what the mentally handicapped person has as his own special gift. Intent not on reporting what he perceives but on perceiving itself, he comes closer perhaps than so-called competent people to seeing infinity in a grain of said.... He might even see the finiteness of a grain of sand, thus heeding its excellence within its limitations. (161-2)...The mind that would keep company with you must be big enough to make itself limp a little; in so doing, it might notice things it might otherwise have missed. (164).

The only sincerity is in silence, the only ecstasy is that which remains unstated. (181)


The canvases are broad in these exemplars, struggling with the definitions of self and others so attached, and redefining these others as the principals live because of or in what is perceived to be deficit, or emptiness, and not straight-on attention. This is “real” agency, and willfulness because it begins ‘lower down’ and between nothing and something, and creates opportunities for the discovery of the self and the other. These novelists and autobiographer allow us to experience ourselves differently, to reframe ourselves to be not only on the vertical or horizontal planes but to be in spaces that allow for dimensions of humanness--the in between-- which may be our only way to preserve what is human in an increasingly tightly webbed and managed life world, a just-in-time world in which capitalism, nationalism, and formal religions have ascended as never before in defining options and in creating our language of action and expectation.



What one observes in Maso’s and West’s work, as exemplars, is the use of a rhetoric significantly different from what we are used to experiencing. As suggested more than once by feminist scholars, unless we have words available to express the meanings that we want to denote, we will not be able to do so. We cannot communicate different thoughts unless we have expressions available to express such meanings. Here we are not referring to new words but to words ready at hand used to have us experience action differently. What I note below, from these two authors, are words and phrases, taken at random from the three books indicated above and additionally from Carol Maso’s “Aureole.” (1996)

From West: (and these are all quotes) ...he sifted what went inside his head to stay, because what stayed took root and therefore had to be something he could live with...the leftovers having been dumped, well, not quite outside, but into a sort of septic tank within the mind....courage consisted in staring cowardice down, ending it by outfacing it...; the trick, he said, was to invent your own confidence and, when things seemed to be going against you, create the hypothesis of your own supremacy and live it out...; Clegg had learned long ago to tune in to something behind the face, its thermostat or its metronome, knowing that there, under the surface, lay the clues to deportment, strategy, guile...; blinking, dazed, puzzled by men whose main skill was hypocrisy. That was it; they played pretend....Extensive indifference. The two things go together. So: they’ll both over attend to us and ignore us as well.

And words such as “vacuum, burrowing into, dislocated, saving for later, daydreamed, drifted, casual, prompted to, the shock of reconnection, getting into pickles, battling the contraries of life, mind had turned a minor corner, a clogged ovation, a fortunate fall, half blinded, surrendering to migraine, a hint of prank, abominable whining, sideway levitation, on the brink, trying to unsee or go backward, be neuter, take a stand on senselessness, bits of myth to live by, waiting, grapple with the lack of intention, doomed to trough on vacancy, crackling noncommunication.

West reveals the operation of mind before action; the complexity of action by the combination of words that have opposite connotations, such as ‘clogged’ and ‘ovation;’ being on boundaries; and having control over meaninglessness.


From Carole Maso: categorizing helps, putting things in columns helps, some things thought to be gone have only moved, night descends...I open the shutters slightly, there were many things I wanted to tell you, nothing pressing. Let’s play a game...’what do you think the light looks were always my best was a way to try to learn to see.

I think of this disease (AIDS) flowering in his bloodstream like a dark tulip... Its attached to an elaborate IV system that pumps massive doses of medicine into his body....All I keep saying over and over to myself is, “It’s making me better; it’s making me better...” ...On the street my feet assume the rhythm of medicine and blood pumping as I go.... One foot forward, then the other...It’s making me better. I bring the message into the world.

Fugitive states, guises, trance of language, blur of desire, passion pressing these pieces into shape, stutterings, disorientation, hieroglyphs of hope.

Maso takes account in different ways by adjusting the light, crossing borders...and both together, physically mimicking and seeing the relevance of different kinds of systems joining energy.

These artists, presented here by happenstance, though talented certainly, do as writers do: they see differently and express their meanings in a rhetoric that reflects such meaning. But what they present has relevance for the way individuals live their lives outside of the novels and poems reflected here. In this case, they suggest not the complexity of action, but that it has meaningful parameters however we draw the line, vertically or horizontally. Human beings are living in fullness and not in single or interacting variables, not in concepts, but in their fullness as human beings. These writers’ works make evident the fullness of the in-between, the richness of silence; the alliance of physical and mental states and our ability to craft tentativeness as a permanent and valued location. These authors give new meaning to the notion of reflexiveness as related to how we live our lives mentally and not the review of life having been already lived. It is a life of movement and mutuality. Each of us is multiple, and unstable, or to use West’s words, composed of “appetizing fragments,” and each of us creates multiplicity which we may try to “stabilize,” almost all of which is not observable, measurable, or able to be articulated. Is there a way to reflect this complexity such that it will allow for additional complexity and meaning?



Maso and West focus on the space between nothing and something, the space in which we live most of our lives, but are not adept at articulating. What I will try to do in this section is to develop a framework around the two axes, the vertical and the horizontal, to reflect “in-betweeness” in early, mid, and late development, as reflected in texts with which I am familiar. Clearly, this is a heuristic exercise in which I try to locate at this beginning stage of the framework, meanings associated with our ubiquitous but unattended human space.

Emergence from emptiness. Anne Michaels, the novelist and poet, writes in her poem “Memoriam:” “the dead leave us starving with mouths full of love.” And the concluding line in her masterpiece novel, “Fugitive Pieces,” reads, “I see that I must give what I need most.” The power of these thoughts, more so in their original and complex contexts, derives from the energy of deeply recognized, experienced, and felt emotion that is the highway we travel with those we love, including ourselves. They reflect an in-betweenness: in these cases, between others and ourselves and within ourselves, experienced as a need for wholeness and a challenge, possibly for growth, and a recognition of the incompleteness of considering the person as an isolate or even as an agent, or a person with willfulness or voice.

This emergentness as inbetween-ness takes different forms on the vertical and lateral planes. In addition to the axes, one can consider whether these others are individuals or larger systems, such as social institutions.

Much of the material quoted earlier by the two authors, Maso and West, reflect the emergent condition in terms of lateral relatedness with another person, though the parental attachment can be considered on both axes. Parents, I think, are in both trajectories. Maso’s notion of protecting one’s child in the future nicely combines both, given the assumptions of unquestioned support, availability, ability to protect and interest in so doing, as well as the vision of a fitting together, as puzzle parts, juxtaposing successfully in only one way that will work. Can it be argued that parent-child relationships that do not successfully combine the two are destined for failure: that is, parent as critic and taskmaster or parent as friend and colleague, and that the challenge and achievement of such complementariness is a sought-for goal?

There are many treatments of inbetweeness as a venue and the emergent voice here. These are often available as stories, though some are crafted in methodologies that have academic focus and goals. Jonathan Boyarin, in “Thinking in Jewish,” (1996) writes about the cause of his affiliation with a small shul in New York, not for its convenient location but because of a relation between the rabbi and his grandfather “in the old country” when the rabbi was a child. Interestingly, this made what could be perceived to be a vertical relationship run along the other axis as well. To continue this theme one could turn to Rubin-Dorsky and Fishkin’s edited volume, “People of the Book:Thirty Jewish Scholars Reflect on their Jewish Identities.” (1996) How is it that a feminist scholar can locate meaning in this patriarchal religion? How a postmodernist? These discuss the foundations of relationships with a culture, embedded with family, with memories--some always at hand and others considered for the writing occasion. Here the focus is on all three “systems:” individuals, college organizations, and the social institution of religion.

Rooted not in the past but in a complex construction, Bentz(1995) discusses her emergent relationship with a student whose factually false but emotionally true autobiography reveals himself deeply and in revealing “origins,” as Bentz notes, which reflects the essays above. She then discusses the meaning of the experience for herself as a continuingly developing phenomenologist. All is emergence here, with the two axes once again folding together for each person separately and together and relating to their relationship, the college, and the Army. All of these stories evoke dilemmas of identity as individuals attempt to create meaning out of lived complexity, challenge, difference, ideas and ways of knowing.

Last, let me note Michel Serres, in The Troubadour of Knowledge,(1997) seeing himself as reflecting his multiple journeys and associations, a complex coalescence, as in a continuing emergent state, as what Assad (1999) writes as a symphony, as “manifold and bifurcating,” (133), living “in the middle of differences, without differentiation” (133), the “instructed

middle.” The treatise’s title in French is “Le Tiers-Instruit.” Serres is constantly becoming and patterning, a “lateral hermaphrodite (Serres, p. 13).

The most difficult art is that of infinite melody, which launches itself and risks itself;

wandering on the path that it itself invents and that never returns to itself, whose leap is

sustained only by its restlessness, exposed, exploring unceasingly another fragment of

the earth, flapping like the edge of a flag in the wind, going forward without profit or help,

always at the stage of being born, cheerful, in turmoil, tormented, twisted, torturing,

strange to hear, emanating from the body’s roots like birds taking flight all around

the leaves of a tree, burgeoning, divergent, an open exodus that those trouveres, finders

who go nimbly from novelties to finds, suffer and chant. (Pp. 100-101)


While such a presence may reflect the full identity for some, for others origins are a prelude to fuller attachments, and we turn here next.



Attachment as “emergent-inbetween” sounds as if it were an oxymoron. For Anne Michaels’ protagonist it is evident in a vision of his childhood kitchen, in a house nearly buried in snow, reflecting a blue aura in which he sees his father, a holocaust survivor, sitting at the kitchen table, eating and crying, while his mother stands behind him with her hands in his hair. Nourishment takes many forms here in memory as its constant companion, as does the exchange of energy. There are a number of becomings attached to these inbetweens here, not least being the vision that this provides the protagonist in rethinking his feelings for his father and his way of living his life. His willfulness is strengthened though this memory of theirs and their attachment with each other. The life-changing consequence for the protagonist is an interpreted memory, maybe even a dream and is not the result of more accessible possibilities which are reflected in the action of the story.

There is no deliberateness in the inbetween above. But there often is. One can take it beyond, to the next step as when one identifies the power of a constitutive moment and subsequently develops it into a regulative one. Some years ago, Culbert and McDonough (1980), wrote about the invisible war among organizational participants and suggested that if each of us knew the motivations for the various stances colleagues took, and they knew we knew-- since we would tell each other--, we would be able to appreciate how individuals’ actions related to their interests. We could then work more effectively with each other such that we would not fill in the middle, so to speak, with our attributions of their interests. Culbert’s more recent book (1996) presents a fuller intervention model, with a greater effort at changing mindsets as compared to just knowing them. He now centers a good deal of attention around “breakthrough learning,’ that is, the process by which a person is induced to change his or her orienting assumptions. Among the strategies employed here are breaking the set, that is, the other persons’ orientation, moving through transitions, and then anchoring a new set of assumptions. While the larger model is fairly complex, the action takes place when one sees discrepancies between what one wants to do and what one is accomplishing (p.238). It focuses then not as many interventionists do, on a single technology, such as appreciative learning, or a specific action outcome, for example, the attribution of the lack of trust as the cause of the failure of teamwork, but in the middle between where our assumptions lead us and those assumptions that will allow for greater effectiveness. But this scholar’s middle has changed as well, as it was formerly between no idea of what others’ motivating ideas were and suggested approaches to revealing them, to now working to change them. The difference between “appreciating” and “changing” reflects all the difference in the world. We have moved the middle from the horizontal to the vertical.

While the deliberative move from a more constitutive/horizontal to a more regulative/vertical strategy for attachments in organizations changes the inbetween from more phenomenal to more instrumental, there is a third position here, the individual and institutional, and it is reflected in Gilbert and Mulkay’s work. Namely their research was devoted towards the discovery of what assumptions were inbetween, as cohorts of scientists working different strategies to the same problem had to have a way of supporting both their work and the legitimacy of others going about it differently. This is a different sort of emptiness, a tacit one, informing the actions of parties who work in a social institution. Gilbert and Mulkay (1984) discovered the operation of the TWOD, the “the truth will out device.” This implicitly or tacitly informed the construction of a specialty’s various competing scientific cohorts. Much of the work of sociologists of science is devoted to understanding the contexts of discovery--the inbetweens-- as non-science connected motives, which are at the heart of the “science wars.” These are reflections by those who take different positions regarding the motives and factors influencing science work.

How protagonists relate to their attachments defines what it means to be human. Bruno Latour (1993) argues in much of his work that we are hybrids, we mediate the natural/technical and social/human. In such a way are we inbetween, not as intermediaries, but as mediators of both at the same time--as a mixture. Whether in projects, as Latour interprets in his study of the attempt to develop an innovative transportation system outside Paris (1996), or even in our everyday understanding of the current and rapidly developing implantation of mechanicals and computer devices within us, to repair or extend life, what it is to be human is increasingly a relationship with technology and science. We are “inbetweens,” composites.

Interestingly, Michel Serres, Latour’s mentor, argues in the volume previously noted (1997) that he is a hybrid, a hermaphrodite, who carries with him all that he has experienced. In driving language, we see him as shedding multiple colorful garments to reveal a tattooed body, a person who is connected but who shuns associations through which he can be defined. As a scholar he relates to many fields of study but will be neither an apprentice nor master from within a discipline, a political field for the exercise of internal and external power.

After attentive examination, adopt no idea that would contain, on the face of it, any trace of vengeance. Hatred, sometimes, takes the place of thought but always makes it smaller; Never throw yourself into a polemic; Always avoid all membership: flee not only all pressure groups but also all defined disciplines of knowledge, whether a local and learned campus in the global and societal battle or a sectorial entrenchment in scientific debate. Neither master, then, nor above all disciple. (p.136)

What does one call thinking then? Compensating what is not by means of reason, bringing the rational tare between existence and nothingness or the possible, as if reason constituted the relation of being to nonbeing, or as if it justified what is based on what is not. Thus it touches on quasi-divine creation and supposes a mortal familiarity with nothingness or the possible. This rational thinking, this weight or compensatory proportion, fulfills the ontological lack exactly. Reason avenges nothingness. (P.138)

Such a way of reasoning gives equity to existence.



Giving equity to existence. A prayer. One approach for creating a future with hope is to allow what intervenes between the individual and organizations or the larger social system to emerge by giving it appropriate room to grow. Living as we do in a complex and turbulent world, individuals often are perceived as actors functioning under or within sets of parameters outside themselves. We relate to the missions, visions, and goals of the organizations with which we are affiliated, and we cope with their consequences, their impacts--which often we do not see either in our best interests or as celebratory of our values and beliefs.

Michael Keeley (1988), who presents alternative ways for individuals to contract with their employment organizations, and to reflect their goals in such relationships, as opposed to incorporating the organizations’, defines the concept of “organizational effectiveness” not as the achievement of goals but the minimization of harm to the individual.

Almost everyone seeks to avoid what is painful, life threatening, disabling, damaging to

one’s property, prospects, or name. Associated harms generated by organizations could

include industrial injuries, diseases from use of products or exposure to byproducts,

fraud, employment discrimination, and defamation....(pp.216-217)

That is, the middle opens up between the individual and the organization for a contractual rather than one-sided relationship. He puts the inbetween back--for everyone.

Reflecting a positive as the lack of something or the failure to do something and thereby opening space, Margalit (1996) as well sees value in what is not done. For him, creating a “decent society,” one that fosters self-respect, can occur when social institutions do not humiliate people, rather than by fostering certain values or goals.

Why is self-respect the most basic primary good? Because without self-respect there is

no point in doing anything whatsoever. Without self-respect one has no sense of value

or any sense that life has meaning. (P.273)

For the purposes of this paper, self-respect is the inbetween between the individual and the quality of life lived for her or himself and others, and it is flowers when institutional humiliation is absent. Margalit’s treatment is not only philosophical but reflects sensibility, a mood or feeling, and is an association he notes between sense and sensitivity. (P.290). As a remarkable idea reflecting the others noted here, this sensibility, this feeling, is evoked as well by Mary Ann Caws (1989) as she discusses the notion of “collective integrity.”

This reconstruction of us all--of these bodies dismembered, violated, and undone on the

one hand, of these bodies harmonious and celebrated and supplemented by nature, art,

and even the machine on the other--cannot take place until they very speaking core of

our interpretive community takes its truest pleasure and deepest joy in the exchange of

our ideas taken up and understood together, in our essential difference and in our

common comprehension, in our joint understanding and speech and work, in short in our

equivalent of the philosophical conversation. (P. 124)

Therein lies the hope, the required center, what is between us and the inbetween that we can establish as the foundation, by giving gifts to each other, founded on a respect that enhances self-respect. In such a way our reflectiveness is within a broader appreciation.



This paper is about the power of the space between nothing and something, the inbetween, which often is silent and powerful because of it, and which sends and is the space for important messages and potentialities. It is a space that writers have addressed more than have social scientists. Accessing it requires affective sensibilities, an ability to hear, and to use concepts, metaphors, and language that describes evokingly, that provides energy for renewal, and the recognition that while one’s path may be unique, the journey is reflected by others in their ways, and where failure to so live resembles death.

I recall during the 70’s when many were attempting to deal with the alienating aspects of a war-divided society, it was not unusual for someone to quote Apollonaire and his poem that ends with the push off the mountain allowing us to fly. Voice and alienation were the issues in the issue-torn society and culture. More in the spirit of the argument here, regarding the need to grow both laterally and horizontally, and to work that space differently, with a focus on the inbetween, is Philippe Petit’s description of the high-wire walker, inhabiting the spaces just alluded to, and carrying the appropriate meaning.

Alone on the Wire

Up above, about to begin a long acquaintance with his new territory, the high- wire walker feels himself alone. His body will remain motionless for a long time.

Grasping the platform with both hands behind him, he stands before the cable,

as if he did not dare set foot on it.

It looks as though he is idly basking in the setting sun

Not at all. He is buying time.

He measures space, feels out the void, weighs distances, watches

over the state of things, takes in the position of each object around him.

Trembling, he savors his solitude. He know that if he makes it across, he will

be a high-wire walker.

He wants to line up his doubts and fears with his thoughts--in order

to hoist up the courage he has left.

But that takes too much time.

The cable grows longer, the sky becomes dark, the other platform

is now a hundred meters away. The ground is no longer in the same place; it

has moved even lower. Cries come from the woods. The end of the day is near.

At the deepest moment of his despair, feeling he must now give up, the high-wire walker grabs his balancing pole and moves forward. Step by step, he

crosses over.

This is his first accomplishment.

He stands there trying to absorb it, his eyes blankly staring at this new

platform, while darkness skims over the ground.

With the tops of trees he shares the day’s last light, a light softer

than air.

Alone on his wire, he wraps himself more deeply in a wild and scathing happiness, crossing helter-skelter into the dampness of the evening. He attaches

his balancing pole to the platform before settling down at the top of the mast.

There, in a corner of dark and chilly space, he waits calmly for the night to come.

(Auster, 1997, pp.379-380)




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* Robert J. Silverman (e-mail:

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