Indirect Communication

Imagine two men sitting beside one another in any kind of solitude of the world. They do not speak with one another, they do not look at one another, not once have they turned to one another. They are not in one another’s confidence, the one knows nothing of the other’s career, early that morning they got to know one another in the course of their travels. In this moment neither is thinking of the other; we do not need to know what their thoughts are. The one is sitting on the common seat obviously after his usual manner, calm, hospitably disposed to everything that may come. His being seems to say it is too little to be ready, one must also be really there. The other, whose attitude does not betray him, is a man who holds himself in reserve, withholds himself. But if we know about him we know that a childhood’s spell is laid on him, that his withholding of himself is something other than an attitude, behind all attitude is entrenched the impenetrable inability to communicate himself.

Martin Buber portrait.jpgAnd now — let us imagine that this is one of the hours which succeed in bursting asunder the seven iron bands about our heart — imperceptibly the spell is lifted. But even now the man does not speak a word, does not stir a finger. Yet he does something. The lifting of the spell has happened to him — no matter from where — without his doing. But this is what he does now: he releases in himself a reserve over which only he himself has power. Unreservedly communication streams from him, and the silence bears it to his neighbour. Indeed it was intended for him, and he receives it unreservedly as he receives all genuine destiny that meets him. He will be able to tell no one, not even himself, what he has experienced. What does he now “know” of the other? No more knowing is needed. For where unreserve has ruled, even wordlessly, between men, the word of dialogue has happened sacramentally. (3-4)

Faith stands in the stream of “happening but once” which is spanned by knowledge. All the emergency structures of analogy and typology are indispensable for the work of the human spirit, but to step on them when the question of the questioner steps up to you, to me, would be running away. Lived life is tested and fulfilled in the stream alone. The true name of concrete reality is the creation which is entrusted to me and to every man. (12-13)

There is a tale that a man inspired by God once went out from the creaturely realms into the vast waste. There he wandered till he came to the gates of the mystery. He knocked. From within came the cry: ‘’What do you want here?” He said, ‘I have proclaimed your praise in the ears of mortals, but they were deaf to me. So I come to you that you yourself may hear me and reply.” “Turn back,” came the cry from within. “Here is no ear for you. I have sunk my hearing in the deafness of mortals.” (15)

Responsibility which does not respond to a word is a metaphor of morality. Factually, responsibility only exists when the court is there to which I am responsible, and “self- responsibility” has reality only when the “self” to which I am responsible becomes transparent into the absolute. But he who practices real responsibility in the life of dialogue does not need to name the speaker of the word to which he is responding— he knows him in the word’s substance which presses on and in, assuming the cadence of an inwardness, and stirs him in his heart of hearts. A man can ward off with all his strength the belief that “God” is there, and he tastes him in the strict sacrament of dialogue. (17)

The category of the Single One, too, means not the subject or “man”, but concrete singularity; yet not the individual who is detecting his existence, but rather the person who is finding himself. But the finding himself, however primally remote from Stirner’s “utilize thyself”, is not akin either to that “know thyself” which apparently troubled Kierkegaard very much. For it means a becoming, and moreover in a weight of seriousness that only became possible, at least for the West, through Christianity. It is therefore a becoming which (though Kierkegaard says that his category was used by Socrates “for the dissolution of heathendom”) is decisively different from that effected by the Socratic “delivery”.

“No-one is excluded from being a Single One except him who excludes himself by wishing to be ‘crowd’.” Here not only is “Single One” opposed to “crowd”, but also becoming is opposed to a particular mode of being which evades becoming. That may still be in tune with Socratic thought. But what does it mean, to become a Single One? (42)

A man in the crowd is a stick stuck in a bundle moving through the water, abandoned to the current or being pushed by a pole from the bank in this or that direction. Even if it seems to the stick at times that it is moving by its own motion it has in fact none of its own; and the bundle, too, in which it drifts has only an illusion of self-propulsion.

I remind you of Kierkegaard’s warning: “That men are in a crowd either excuses a man of repentance and responsibility or at all events weakens the Single One’s responsibility, because the crowd lets the man have only a fragment of responsibility.” But I must put it differently. In practice, in the moment of action, it is only the semblance of a fragment, but afterwards, when in your waking dream after midnight you are dragged before the throne and attacked by the spurned calling to be a Single One, it is complete responsibility.  (64)

Martin Buber,  Between Man And Man, 1947  Translated By Ronald Gregor Smith  Kegan Paul London 1965 p. 3-4, 15, 64


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