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Martin Buber's ‘I and Thou’

  • Helen Wodehouse

Extract

Reading and re-reading the difficult and important small book I and Thou, by Professor Martin Buber, which Mr. Ronald Gregor Smith has translated with so much care and skill, and trying to make it clearer to myself in words of my own, I find myself at odds on the threshold with the translator's Introduction. He is explaining the title and the general theme of the book:—

“There is, Buber shows, a radical difference between a man's attitude to other men and his attitude to things. The attitude to other men is a relation between persons, to things it is a connexion with objects. In the personal relation one subject—I—confronts another subject—Thou; in the connexion with things the subject contemplates and experiences an object. These two attitudes represent the basic twofold situation of human life, the former constituting the ‘world of Thou,’ and the latter the ‘world of It’” (p. vi).

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References

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page 17 note 1 Only a small proportion of Buber's work has yet appeared in English. A further selection translated by Dr. Greta Hort is shortly to be published by Melbourne University Press.

page 17 note 2 Pp. xii, 120 38.

page 18 note 1 This example is treated still more fully in his Daniel, published ten years earlier (1913).

page 20 note 1 The last phrase surely is wrong. The a priori of relation cannot be a Thou; it must be an I-Thou.—It is “inborn” neither in the person nor in the thing, but in the whole situation. Cf. Grimm, 's No. I interpretation of eingeboren:im Lande, im Ort geboren, indigena.” (Deutsches Wörterbuch, III (1862), p. 185.) I owe this reference to Dr. Else Jaffé.

page 21 note 1 For a closer study of the process, see Buber, pp. 17, 41, or my p. 19.

page 22 note 1 Cf. a letter by Nettleship, R. L. (05 1889) (Remains, vol. I, p. 94). “I feel more and more the horrible contrast between rare moments and my average level of achievement. I know it is only a man's self that realises this; to the outsider you look much of a piece. …I do believe that the moments are the things that give one what is best, and that they don't really pass, however much one may fall away from them. In the greater part of life it seems as if one must consent to be wrapped round with custom; but the naked touch of reality, when it does come, is like flame through the veins, and each time it comes it leaves the blood running a little quicker.”

In re-reading Nettleship's Letters (op. cit.), I have been surprised by the number of resemblances between his thought and Buber's, different as the tone and temperament are.

page 22 note 2 See Kohn, Hans, Martin Buber, sein Werk und seine Zeit. (1930), p. 89.

page 22 note 3 P. 8 and elsewhere.

page 25 note 1 Karl Heim, to whom Mr. Gregor Smith refers (p. viii), conceives the I-Thou relation very differently, as essentially involving opposition and “atemraubende Enge.” The fellowship of wills does not typify his I-Thou but cancels it. (See God Transcendent, pp. 165–6.)

page 26 note 1 Nicht bewahrt, nur bewährt.

page 26 note 2 Esverhältnis.

page 26 note 3 Beziehung.

page 28 note 1 Cf. Forster, E. M.'s Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, pp. 203–4, where the author speaks of Dickinson's “loyal and affectionate tribute” to J. E. McTag-gart (as the latter's biographer). “He was not well satisfied with it.… The complexity of his own emotions may have confused him. His intense admiration for McTaggart, their war differences (which McTaggart chose to regard as mystically non-existent), and their tacit reunion after the war did not make for literary detachment. McTaggart was a remarkable figure, possibly a great man, certainly a very strange one, and, biographically speaking, such a man needs rather ruthless handling if he is to come alive. Dickinson only brought sensitiveness and piety.”

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