Lately I’ve been reading up on some Martin Buber and so I can’t help but see a relation to Buber’s work in everything I read. Obviously, Buber came after Kierkegaard, so the influence would move in the opposite direction, but I think exploring Buber’s ideas can help clarify parts of Fear and Trembling that have been a little fuzzy. One part that I’ve had a particularly hard time grasping is envisioning the kind of relationship that is formed between the individual and God when the ethical realm is suspended. Although we have been told that this relationship is “absolute” and it individualistic in nature, therefore it is not something one could really understand unless one is in absolute relation to God, Buber’s ideas might help us clarify what this “absolute” relationship is actually about.
Martin Buber (of Jewish roots) wrote I and Thou in 1923. This work focuses on the idea of “I,” that is, the self that we come to realize through relationship with other beings, and the two types of relationships in which the I can take part: I-It and I-Thou. The I-It relationship is one that Buber says the world around us is filled with. Every time that we enter into a relationship with an object or a person in an objective manner, we are viewing them as an It (this sounds a bit like Hegel). Through this relationship, we see ourselves as the I, the objective observer, experiencing the It. Buber says that an “experience” we have is always of an It. The I-It relation puts space between the two beings and the I only participates in the relationship with a part of its being.
The other type of relation, I-Thou, involved the whole being of the I. The I is, effectively, confronted by the Thou and looks immediately at it as a whole being. The I of this relationship is different from the I of the I-It; the I is encountering the Thou, offering its being to the other, and the distance between the two disappears. The Thou “fills the firmament” of the I and the I does not see it as a bunch of qualities or features, but as a whole being.
The absolute relation with the Absolute is something I liken to the relationship of the I-Thou. When the individual exists the ethical realm (which could effectively be seen as full of I-It relationships), the individual stands alone with God. The space between the individual and God, the mediation that existed through the ethical, disappears. God is the eternal Thou in which the I stands in relation.
Maybe this helps…