Words get in the way of conversation?

Three things Buber says in my reading today. All three are in the same section, mostly on the same page (I and Thou, 39), so he sees a relation among them. Yet they are startling: “Spirit is the word.” “Spirit is not in the I, but between the I and Thou.” “Every response binds up the Thou in the world of It.” And another: “Only silence before the Thou…leaves the Thou free, and permits man to take his stand with it in the reserve where the spirit is not manifest, but is.” [All italics Buber’s.]

OK, so man is in spirit, not spirit in man. Got you. But every response turns the Thou to an It? And “response” not speech or wording? Only silence is easier to understand–many things are not capable of being captured in words–things as in persons and meetings. We swim in spirit, we breathe in spirit, it is the atmosphere in which we live and move. It is pure being, perhaps, essence, something else maybe. It is between I and Thou. So when we respond, we are trying to grasp, to hold, to name, to control. And yet our response can be to just be, to witness, to stand. So does his “response” mean words? We live in words, not words in us, “man takes his stand in speech and talks from there; so with every word and every spirit.” So response seems to mean speech, utterance, trying to put into words, whereas word is what they are made of.

We are then, when we try to put something into words, making it smaller than it is.

It is thus limited, not free. We are making it words not word, not spirit, not presence. It no longer burns, but is black markings on a white page in a dusty volume on a forgotten shelf.

The question, what does he mean every response? seems to be answered in this: we are making small, hemming in, when we use words for they limit the presence, the word of Spirit. The paradox is that converstion, dialogue, is necessary for us to meet in that spirit, that word, that place in between. Thus we need a healthy dose of silence.

And so some time for silence this evening, as well.

I am seeing in Buber something I had seen before with my head, but now with my heart, my cor, my essence: humankind must live in both worlds: I-It as well as I-Thou. The lyric, uncanny, strange punctuates the life of It, where work gets done; yet this is a higher work. In some way that is incapable of living in words. It is the word. It is on the tip of our tongue, when we notice.

:- Doug.

Published in: Conversations | on September 11th, 2005 | No Comments »

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