I and Thou by Martin Buber. Translated, with an Introduction by Walter Kaufmann. Touchstone Books. ISBN: 9780684717258. 192 pp. $14 (look for used copies at Powell's). Buy it here and support The Devil's Accountant.
So instead I want to offer a couple of extended quotes from Martin Buber's groundbreaking teleological estimation of relationship. Nothing says love like groundbreaking teleological estimations of relationship, right? You know it! Ich und Du (most often translated as I and Thou) is a work of profound sincerity. Martin Buber was as much an enthusiast with an eye for the improvement of his fellow man as he was a rigorous scholar.
He famously remarked about his human first notion of experience and study with the following quote. It provides us a picture of a charming and deeply intelligent person.
I do, indeed, close my door at times and surrender myself to a book, but only because I can open the door again and see a human face looking at me.
His writing is obscure only in its dedication to faith and though not a breezy read in any sense, I and Thou is yet very accessible to most everyone. You may have to work for it but I assure you, it is worth the effort.
The essential view of relations espoused by Buber is one that can be boiled down to two statements, or as he describes them - Words: One of a finite subjective possessiveness (I and It) and one of subjective freedom (I and Thou). To Buber, the I-Thou relationship is one stripped of all terms. The Thou in the relationship has no properties other than the fact of its existence. An observation of a single property, let's say black hair, instantly degrades the Thou to a state of being It. The Thou represents "black hair" and thus it has an impure or possessive relation to the I.
Buber was a Hasidic revivalist. This is a monotheistic philosophy he is describing, one in which faith (in this case a complete removal of desire) is the only way to engage in true love of God. I am agnostic and yet I find this beautiful. In many ways there is a dream here of small special moments in human interaction that could ascend to such pure relationship.
So I give you a secular interpretation, or adjustment rather.
A Thou must be beheld in its totality with respect to no finite individual traits. It must simply be a totality in which the I is in awe of.
This of course is something very difficult for humankind to achieve. We are a species of desires and preferences. I can honestly say that with a rare individual this is all possible to a degree, if only for a fleeting moment. Think of the sense of someone being there, in relationship to you, and yet you feel no particular aspect of their personality. They simply bring you joy by knowing they are there. For a moment they are experienced in totality.
The most important aspect of this is the lack of reciprocity. They cause you joy and yet you did not think to ask for it.
So, now that I've rambled on for far too long allow me two quotes and an image or two. Something inspirational and all that. Who's laughing now, Marquis?
Sleeping Snakes, Amarasi textile patter.
If I face a human being as my Thou, and say the primary word I-Thou to him, he is not a thing among things, and does not consist of things.
Thus human being is not He or She, bounded from every other He and She, a specific point in space and time within the net of the world; nor is he a nature able to be experienced and described as a loose bundle of named qualities. But with no neighbor, and whole in himself, he is Thou and fills the heavens. This does not mean that nothing exists except himself. But all else lives in his light.
Just as the melody is not made up of notes nor the verse of words nor the statue of lines, but they must be tugged and dragged till their unity has been scattered into these many pieces, so with the man to whom I say Thou. I can take out from him the color of his hair, or his speech, or of his goodness. I must continually do this. But each time I do it he ceases to be Thou.
And just as prayer is not in time but time in prayer, sacrifice not in space but space in sacrifice, and to reverse the relation is to abolish the reality, so with the man to whom I say Thou. I do not meet with him at some time and place or other. I can set him in a particular time and place; I must continually do it: but I set only a He or a She, that is an It, no longer my Thou.
So long as the heaven of Thou is spread out over me the winds of causality cower at my heels, and the whirlpool of fate stays its course.
I do not experience the man to whom I say Thou. But I take my stand in relation to him, in the sanctity of the primary word. Only when I step out of it do I experience him once more. In the act of experience Thou is far away.
Even if the man to whom I say Thou is not aware of it in the midst of his experience, yet relation may exist. For Thou is more that It realizes. No deception penetrates here; here is the cradle of Real Life.
It is a paen to God, Buber is describing. Yet in it we find many things that we might share with the inhabitants of this very real world.
Purity is not easy however. In fact, it is impossible.
The It is the eternal chrysalis, the Thou the eternal butterfly - except that situations do not always follow one another in clear succession, but there is a happening profoundly twofold, confusedly entangled.
I think most of us would take confusedly entangled any day of the week.
The Green Lion, wrestling to grasp and devour the Golden Sun. Alchemical artwork. One of the steps to forming the Philosopher's Stone.