Martin Buber

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Martin Buber

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The Daniel dialogues thus seek to discuss an opposite direction in cultural development, one that Buber accordingly terms realisation. That is Buber’s first theoretical term for religiousness. We have already mentioned the first characteristic of realisation, the sympathetic contemplation of the individuality of another being. Buber derives a second characteristic from the concept of polarity in the world. The person who follows the path of orientation will, above all, overlook the law of polarity. He sees the dualism that divides the world in so many ways well enough, but he makes it barren; either by fossilising it into a schema, as we saw, or by trying to mediate between the opponents or by taking his stand in a party, anxious to do away with the other. He is thus aware of duality, but not of polarity. That means that he is not conscious of the inseparability of every pair of opposites, of their essentially polar nature . He mistakenly regards each tendency as absolute, capable of existing by itself; such an attribution of independent existence to mutually opposing forces and ideals has far reaching consequences and obscures the true meaning of duality. The partisan sees his guiding principle as absolute and independent and this blinds him to the depth and richness of the opposite conviction. He is a fragment of a man, shut off from the wider vision that embraces both him and his opponent as elements of a unity. Two forces in opposing senses can ether cancel each other out and produce nothing or they can, if related by polarity, work together and produce something new. If each takes account only of itself and denies the other, they neutralise one another and result either in a stalemate or in an unwilling compromise that soon explodes into a new conflict. But if they can find expression in opposite poles, a new organism can come into being around them within which each can retain its essential nature.

It is a receptiveness to totality that opens our eyes to the polar character of opposites and makes them manageable. Otherwise, incompatible dualism seems to tear the world asunder and result in perpetual conflict, broken only now and again by the uneasy truce of compromise. Seen from the point of view of the whole, the pairs of an antithesis are polar, i.e., they belong together; where there is an underlying whole, the dualism unity may bring the warring forces back within its realm. The spirit of realisation strives essentially towards this unity, as it overcomes the dualism to which the spirit of orientation inevitably succumbs. But establishing the unity is a difficult beginning because we take the rift seriously and do not attempt to smooth it out in some way or other.

Buber refers to three doctrines that aim at unity; they short-circuit our world of dualism and direct experience of conflict in order to arrive at a concord quickly. First, we have the ‘One’ of the Eleatics, in which the Many and our world pale into a mirage. The ‘One’ towers behind the world of appearances instead of being in it. Secondly, we have the unity of the philosophy of identity in which, again, the duality of mind and nature, subject and object disappears in an accessible absolute. Finally, there is the unity of the Buddhist Escape-from-Suffering, in which the conflicting aspects and forces are neutralised in the life and consciousness of those who are saved.

But in the smoothing out an essential and valuable element of existence has once again been abandoned: the tension of richness born of opposition. Buber insists on the unity of opposites while maintaining them and he will have this within the world. To preserve the opposites and to bring them into effective unity is intended to make the tension between the poles fruitful. Just as the highest musical form is not pure consonance, but is reached when discord gives place to concord, the relaxation of the tension produced by dissonance heightens the sensation of harmony.