In looking for web resources on Buber to blog about, I've come across an interesting phenomenon: there are very few and they are mostly introductory. Every time we do a podcast, I cast the Google net to see if there are interesting, useful or funny things out there on the net I can share with our audience about the subject of the episode. When I did this for I and Thou, the vast majority of the top hits are expository whether in video or text.
This tells me two things: first, lots of people are looking for help understanding the text so there are a lot of people out there doing basic summary/intro work on it. Second, after reading it folks typically don't engage/re-engage with it as part of the tradition. There are, for example, few if any easily accessible online talks or papers on the relationship between Buber and Kierkegaard, Heidegger or Husserl. There is more work on Buber treated as a theologian both from the Jewish and Christian perspective. For the most part, however, this kind of engagement work is limited to scholarly articles.
Given that I-Thou was written for wider consumption, it is also the case that most of the Buber scholarship that attempts to put him into a tradition or in conversation with other thinkers involves his other works. He was exceptionally prolific, writing original philosophy and theology, political and Zionist philosophy, translations and more. He also worked in collaboration with, among others, Franz Rosenzweig.
It was Buber's collaborative nature that brought me to his correspondence. If the scholarly literature is less interested in putting him in dialogue with others, maybe it would be interesting to look at those with whom Buber actually corresponded in life. The Letters of Martin Buber: A Life of Dialogue (Martin Buber Library) is a selection from his three-volume collection of correspondence. In it are exchanges with Albert Einstein, Herman Hesse, Albert Schweitzer, Franz Kafka, Theodor Herzl, Albert Camus, Chaim Weizmann, Stefan Zweig and Dag Hammarskjold. Now that's an eclectic group of acquaintances and doesn't begin to touch on the broad range of people with whom he interacted in his lifetime.
This points to the difficulty in both placing Buber in a tradition and engaging with him. During the podcast we struggled with whether the text was a work of philosophy or religion, whether it was meant to be argumentative, persuasive or simply prophetic, whether he was responding to or expounding upon previous philosophical work. Looking at the way Buber engaged with brilliant individuals in philosophy, religion, politics, literature, the sciences and other humanist figures we may surmise that I and Thou was meant to be all of these things and probably that Buber didn't care that or if he fit nicely into any tradition.
Because our educational structure and general society require that we identify with and work within "verticals", it is very difficult to engage with ideas, products, concepts or technologies that cross categories or genres. In academia you are in Philosophy, Literature, Economics, Sociology, Computer Science or whatever. In business you are in Manufacturing, Finance, Insurance, Energy, Technology or whatever. In your job you are an Engineer, Technician, Program manager, Product manager, People manager, Marketing director or whatever. I remember thinking when the internet boom was on and people at startups (like Google) had cool and creative titles that maybe traditional concepts of hierarchy, responsibility and limitations were beginning to break down. The machine of corporatism crushed those notions. Herman Hesse indeed...
I think that like Dewey (esp.in his book on faith) he was struggling to make sense of the best thinking of his time in the midst of the tradition/commitments that he was raised in, and of course it helps that he was never on a modern tenure track, That said I do think that there are ways in which the various disciplines (especially but not exclusively the hard sciences) draw some limits around what can be offered as a reasonable/likely possibility in synthetic efforts. Would be worth looking at the early development of the New School/University in Exile to see how the influx of these sorts of cosmopolitan refugees shaped much of our modern thinking here in the US.
Wayne Schroeder says
Don’t we all have a similar acquaintance list: Albert Einstein, Herman Hesse, Albert Schweitzer, Franz Kafka, Theodor Herzl, Albert Camus, Chaim Weizmann, Stefan Zweig and Dag Hammarskjold?
As I understand the difficulty you all discovered was a man with a life-changing, God-experience, trying to write phenomenologically about this experience which seems philosophical, but without belief in the value of rational philosophizing. He was a sort of religious Merleau-Ponty without interest in other aspects of philosophy/phenomenology.
His phenomenal field (MP) is the I-Thou, and unless the God-experience shows up in your clearing/field, you get no revelation and stay hidden in the I-It.
I haven’t checked it out deeply, but I would suspect there might be more in-depth online material on Buber in Hebrew.
Seth Paskin says
On some subjects I’m sure but probably not re: his engagement with the history of philosophy.
Nate Johnson says
I really enjoyed the Buber episode, as I’m very interested in existentialism. I consider myself a naturalist, but even still, I find the thought of Kierkegaard, Buber, and other non-naturalist existentialists just as interesting as those of Heidegger, Sartre, and others.
I wonder if the same issues arise with looking for web resources with other thinkers like Berdyaev and Marcel. I wonder if there is any analysis linking the thought of Buber with those contemporaries? Obviously any analysis like that would probably be very scholarly.
Also, I’m curious to the extent that Buber has any influence on philosophy today?
Nate Johnson says
Also, in the episode, Daniel mentions Schleiermacher, kind of offhand. I don’t know anything about him, the name sounds familiar and makes me think he’s been mentioned in other episodes.
update: Ha. There’s a whole episode on him I totally forgot. Never mind.
Daniel Horne says
Just so I don’t break the “no name-dropping” rule, I thought Schleiermacher relevant because Buber had read Schleiermacher as a younger student. And Buber seems to have shared Schleiermacher’s sense that God is something to be sensed, but not cognized. That is, they both describe God’s presence as something which can felt emotionally, but not theoretized.
I don’t want to overstate the Schleiermacher issue, though. One might say any Schleiermacher influences came to Buber via Wilhelm Dilthey, under whom Buber studied until Dilthey’s death. Dilthey was far and away the greater influence: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Dilthey
Nate Johnson says
Nate Johnson says
The Cohen essay, “Buber and Levinas – and Heidegger” sounds especially interesting, as does the Buber lectures he mentions in it: “What is Man?”
Tim Kavi says
Hello Seth! For online resources: you might try Hune’s blog aka the Institute of Dialogical Ecology http://dialogicalecology.blogspot.com . Rich Hycner, Tim Kellebrew, and William Heard have all written interesting books about Dialogical Psychotherapy, although I am not aware of a website describing dialogical psychotherapy and Buber’s main influence and contribution to practicing therapists. I will say that Friedman’s three volume resource on the Life and Work of Martin Buber published by Wayne STate University Press is a great print resource by a man who knew Buber well. (All of the above (except for Hune) were students at the Institute of Dialogical Psychotherapy, as well as myself. The guy commenting on Dilthey being the major influence on Buber over some others is certainly correct.
Seth Paskin says