I and Thou

by Martin Buber

Paper Book, 1970

Status

Available

Publication

New York, Charles Scribner's Sons [1970]

Description

Martin Buber's I and Thou has long been acclaimed as a classic. Many prominent writers have acknowledged its influence on their work; students of intellectual history consider it a landmark; and the generation born since World War II considers Buber as one of its prophets. The need for a new English translation has been felt for many years. The old version was marred by many inaccuracies and misunderstandings, and its recurrent use of the archaic "thou" was seriously misleading. Now Professor Walter Kaufmann, a distinguished writer and philosopher in his own right who was close to Buber, has retranslated the work at the request of Buber's family. He has added a wealth of informative footnotes to clarify obscurities and bring the reader closer to the original, and he has written a long "Prologue" that opens up new perspectives on the book and on Buber's thought. This volume should provide a new basis for all future discussions of Buber.… (more)

Media reviews

Saturday Review of Literature
The real reason for the popularity of the Occult Ancient East was pointed out long ago by Kipling: “Ship me somewhere East of Suez . . . where there ain’t no ten commandments . . .” If your religion is just exotic enough, you don’t need to bother about responsibility. You can get away with anything. There is nothing of this in Buber. For him the faith is the faith of his fathers, and the highest expression of that faith is its prayer, and prayer is the highest form of responsibility, the ultimately committed dialogue. This is an aesthetic statement, not a religious one, and in the final analysis all of Buber’s major works are works of art. I and Thou is one of the greatest prose poems, an Isaiah, and a Song of Myself.
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Jeg og Du er et kompakt verk, det er på 110 luftige sider. Man skal ikke la seg lure av den manglende ordrikdom. Tiden den tar å lese er ikke lang, men fordøyelsen av den er desto lenger. På mange måter verket lukket, nesten hermetisk, den presenterer oss ikke for et system i tradisjonell forstand, en oppskrift for erkjennelse, men verket er den hele tanke, og den hele tanke er alltid vanskelig å gripe, for man må inn i en annen verden, man må møte det på dens egne premisser, følge med. Ikke som med den uferdige tanke, den nesten ufrivillige avstikker fra common sense, fragmentarisk, umiddelbart sterk og overbevisende, som sukkertøy for den blafrende tanke, forståelig, men allikevel nesten allerede glemt. Jeg og Du maler i et annet leie, den lar seg ikke reduseres, fragmenteres og obduseres uten videre, jeg vil la det være. Jeg vil heller fantasere over hans bok, trekke dens innhold urimelig langt, bruke den som en rampe for utflukter inn i kjepphestenes og innfallenes rike. I Jeg og Du lever stilene side om side, de kryper over i hverandre, viskes ut, fremheves igjen, forsvinner for å igjen dukke opp. Snart systematisk rissende, for så og dreies over i det prøvende. Det åpenbartes manende språk, hamrende, men her likevel mykt, glir over i det poetiske prøvende, videre utover til gysende bilder som nesten er bokstavelig uforståelige, som formidler den språklig sett umulige oppgave; å gripe livet. åpenbaringen blander seg med filosofien på en måte som for mitt utålmodige og ubevandrede blikk er uvant. For vi lever i en tid hvor dette ikke skal skje, skjer det likevel er det med vilje, som en lek, som et program, ikke av nød som formidlingen stiller en overfor. Genreblandingen som programerklæring blir aldri alvor, blir aldri tangering av det mulige, det bare forblir innenfor den trygge tiden. Den blir aldri nødvendig. For Buber har ikke teologien skilt seg fra filosofien, de lever der, ikke side om side men sammen, for ham har ikke metafysikken blitt et skjellsord, et tilstand reservert for prester og demagoger, han lar tanken blande seg med det uetterettelige. "En sammenligning av den religiøse og den filosofiske antinomi kan tydeliggjøre dette. Kant kan relativisere den filosofiske motsetning mellom nødvendighet og frihet, idet han henviser den ene til fenomenverdenen og den annen til værensverdenen, slik at de to egentlig ikke strider mot hinannen lenger, men forlikes på samme måte som de verdener de er gyldige for. Hvis jeg imidlertid mener nødvendighet og frihet, ikke i tenkte verdener, men i den virkelighet hvor jeg står for Gud, hvis jeg vet: "Jeg er prisgitt," og samtidig vet: "Det kommer an på meg selv", da kan jeg ikke forsøke å slippe unna det paradoks som jeg har å leve, ved å henvise de uforenlige setninger til to adskilte gyldighetsområder. Da kan jeg heller ikke la noe teologisk kunstgrep hjelpe meg til en begrepsmessig forsoning. Jeg må ta det på meg å leve begge i ett, og når de leves, er de ett." Buber forsøker ikke å unnslippe ved å benytte seg av de rubriserende vendinger, han dukker ikke ned i den vestlige drøm, katalogiseringens drøm, drømmen om å oppnå immunitet mot språkets og verdens tvetydighet. Derved skyter han seg selv ut i mørket, ut av den filosofiske katalog, ut av rekkene med klare kategorier, former og svar. Han blir, som det så idiotisk treffsikkert står på omslaget: "Et meditasjonsobjekt for tenkende moderne mennesker."

User reviews

LibraryThing member adamtarn
As the translator's preface says in this edition, this needs to be read like you would a poem because indeed it is a poem. Hence it must be read more than once. In fact, you could probably read it multiple times over the course of your life and never truly master it. And rightfully so. It is not a text to be mastered by one you enter into relation with. In true Buberian fashion and must have an I-Thou encounter with the text itself. Likewise, words cannot do justice to the contents, message, and spirit of this book. Language is not adequate to express its effects. All I have to say - which isn't saying much - and yet which is saying everything - this book has the potential to change your life.

Buber is one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the 20th century and this work was almost an instant classic. I can see why every major theologian cites "I and Thou" in their work. Whether you agree with all his ideas or not - doesn't matter - read it, and have an encounter.
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LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
“Every real relation with a being or life in the world is exclusive. Its Thou is freed, steps forth, is single, and confronts you. It fills the heavens. This does not mean that nothing else exists; but all else lives in its light. As long as the presence of the relation continues, this its cosmic range is inviolable. But as soon as a Thou becomes It, the cosmic range of the relation appears as an offence to the world, its exclusiveness as an exclusion of the universe.”

Martin Buber's I and Thou is not so much a formal approach to theology as it is a simple answer to "How should I be in the world?" Ethical living is found not in the realm of interiority and constancy, but within dynamic relation to the world. We must respect the humanity and complexity of every person sui generis, not only their function in our lives at any particular moment.

This is a very nice introductory ethos. But Buber pushes the extent of the I-Thou relationship further: to the cosmos and to God. And from that position, he also argues that God is in dynamic relation with creation. The model of an omni-max God, almost a force rather than a being, hinders divine relation and makes creation trite. If God is everything already, then the world was created as a bauble and God can only understand us as an It. For creation to be meaningful, God has to grow in relation to it: to be surprised and delighted by our decisions as "created co-creators" (not Buber's term, but I think he would've liked it). We must treat the world and one another in a way that affirms God's presence and presentness, for "the world is not divine sport, it is divine destiny. There is divine meaning in the life of the world, of man, of human persons, of you and of me."

The orthodox alternative, that God is omni-max and unchanging and 'faith' is about what set of beliefs you keep, ends up looking like idolatry in contrast to Buber's theology of compassionate relation. We therefore end up at an empowered existentialism: God didn't create the world teleologically, but instead the meaning of life is dynamic, as the creation uniting God with the world is worked out in mutual and loving relationship.
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LibraryThing member davidandrew52
Inspiring thoughtful book
LibraryThing member AniArnott
I first read I and Thou when I was 13 and trying to find my pack; his central idea formed me for life, and if I had not read any other book, I would still have become a better person from this one.
LibraryThing member jpsnow
90% of what I gained from this book occurred in the first few pages. The rest does expound on the concept, but neither mesmerized me the way it did other reviewers nor led me to deem this a core philosophical work. Most people pass through life in terms of I-it. They are the I and everything else, including ideas, is an object to which they relate on that limited basis. When we begin to relate to others, including people, things, and God, as Thou, we fully realize and live in the true relationship. Buber goes on and on, with a lot of deep, invented concepts. I can appreciate the spiritual and the novel, but, oh, give me Bacon or Locke.… (more)
LibraryThing member MistahKurtz
It's hard to say whether I liked it or not. Question is really: did I understand it? This is possibly once of Buber's most accessible books, and yet...I spent three hours trying to get through the first ten pages of his work (not the introduction, whihc takes up almost a third of this slim volume).

It's dense. There's no other word for it. I can sense its meaning; I know he was on to something very big in terms of understanding the relationship between one human being and the next - the other. It's just all very opaque for those not trained in philosophy. For instance:

"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."

When you read this a few times, think about it real heard, and go back to it once more you actually start grasping something of the immensity of Buber's thinking. It gets easier as you move along, especially the second part. I read this mostly because I was interested in Buber's take on mysticism, but there are easier books, perhaps the ones which explain Buber's thinking rather than repeat his words.
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LibraryThing member richard_carpenter
Is it just me? Where I understand this book it makes a lot of sense, and I believe the fundamental argument is both true and profound. But it is extraordinarily difficult to read, to the point where I simply cannot describe it as "inspiring". I don't really buy the "read it like a poem" approach, it doesn't engage the imagination or the senses in that way. I also think the translation is curious - according to the blurb it is the author's preferred English version, but it is full of awkward phrases and expressions, like "over against". Can anyone tell me what that means?… (more)

Language

Original language

German

Barcode

10909
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