Rereading some Martin Buber today, in celebration and gratitude.
I shall concern myself anew about the boundary
Between the love-deed-Yes and the power-deed-No
And pressing forward honor reality.
We cannot avoid
Cannot escape the compulsion
To afflict the world,
So let us, cautious in diction
And mighty in contradiction,
~ Martin Buber, “Power and Love” (1926)
Excerpt from Martin Buber, “I and Thou”
(trans. by Walter Kaufmann, 1970)
The world is twofold for man in accordance with his twofold attitude.
The attitude of man is twofold in accordance with the two basic words he can speak.
The basic words are not single words but word pairs.
One basic word is the word pair I-You.
The other basic word is the word pair I-It; but this basic word is not changed when He or She takes the place of It.
Thus the I of man is also twofold.
For the I of the basic word I-You is different from that of the basic word I-It.
Basic words do not state something that might exist outside them; by being spoken they establish a mode of existence.
Basic words are spoken with one’s being.
When one says You, the I of the word pair I-You is said, too.
When one says It, the I of the word pair I-It is said, too.
The basic word I-You can only be spoken with one’s whole being.
The basic word I-It can never be spoken with one’s whole being.
There is no I as such but only the I of the basic word I-You and the I of the basic word I-It.
When a man says I, he means one or the other. The I he means is present when he says I. And when he says You or It, the I of one or the other basic word is also present.
Being I and saying I are the same. Saying I and saying one of the two basic words are the same.
Whoever speaks one of the basic words enters into the word and stands in it.
The life of a human being does not exist merely in the sphere of goal-directed verbs. It does not consist merely of activities that have something for their object.
I perceive something. I feel something. I imagine something. I want something. I sense something. I think something. The life of a human being does not consist merely of all this and its like.
All this and its like is the basis of the realm of It.
But the realm of You has another basis.
Whoever says You does not have something for his object. For wherever there is something there is also another something; every It borders on other Its; It is only by virtue of bordering on others. But where You is said there is no something. You has no borders.
Whoever says You does not have something; he has nothing. But he stands in relation.
We are told that man experiences his world. What does this mean?
Man goes over the surfaces of things and experiences them. He brings back from them some knowledge of their condition — an experience. He experiences what there is to things.
But it is not experiences alone that bring the world to man.
For what they bring to him is only a world that consists of It and It and It, of He and He and She and She and It. . . .
The world as experience belongs to the basic word I-It.
The basic word I-You establishes the world of relation.
When I confront a human being as my You and speak the basic word I-You to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things.
He is no longer He or She, limited by other Hes and Shes, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition that can be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighborless and seamless, he is You and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light. . . .
I require a You to become; becoming I, I say You.
All actual life is encounter.
This, however, is the sublime melancholy of our lot that every You must become an It in our world. However exclusively present it may have been in the direct relationship — as soon as the relationship has run its course or is permeated by means, the You becomes an object among objects, possibly the noblest one and yet one of them, assigned its measure and boundary. The actualization of the work involves a loss of actuality. Genuine contemplation never lasts long; the natural being that has only now revealed itself in the mystery of reciprocity has again become describable, analyzable, classifiable — the point at which manifold systems of laws intersect. And even love cannot persist in direct relations; it endures, but only in the alternation of actuality and latency. The human being who but now was unique and devoid of qualities, not at hand but only present, not experienceable, only touchable, has again become a He or She, an aggregate of qualities, a quantum with a shape. Now I can again abstract from him the color of his hair, of his speech, of his graciousness; but as long as I can do that he is my You no longer and not yet again.
Every You in the world is doomed by its nature to become a thing or at least to enter into thinghood again and again. In the language of objects: every thing in the world can — either before or after it becomes a thing — appear to some I and its You. But the language of objects catches only one corner of actual life.
The It is the chrysalis, the You the butterfly. Only it is not always as if these states took turns so neatly; often it is an intricately entangled series that is tortuously dual.
The It-world hangs together in space and time.
The You-world does not hang together in space and time.
The individual You must become an It when the event of relation has run its course.
The individual It can become a You by entering into the event of relation.
These are the two basic privileges of the It-world. They induce man to consider the It-world as the world in which one has to live and also can live comfortably — and that even offers us all sorts of stimulations and excitements, activities and knowledge. In this firm and wholesome chronicle the You-moments appear as queer lyric-dramatic episodes. Their spell may be seductive, but they pull us dangerously to extremes, loosening the well-tried structure, leaving behind more doubt than satisfaction, shaking up our security — altogether uncanny, altogether indispensable. Since one must after all return into “the world,” why not stay in it in the first place? Why not call to order that which confronts us and send it home into objectivity? And when one cannot get around saying You, perhaps to one’s father, wife, companion — why not say You and mean It? After all, producing the sound “You” with one’s vocal cords does not by any means entail speaking the uncanny basic word. Even whispering an amorous You with one’s soul is hardly dangerous as long as in all seriousness one means nothing but experiencing and using.
One cannot live in the pure present: it would consume us if care were not taken that it is overcome quickly and thoroughly. But in pure past one can live; in fact, only there can a life be arranged. One only has to fill every moment with experiencing and using, and it ceases to burn.
And in all the seriousness of truth, listen: without It a human being cannot live. But whoever lives only with that is not human.