March 19, 2011

QBWL poiesis and Buber's "I and Thou"

I've been working my way through Martin Buber's I and Thou. It is, shall we say, a challenging read, but it's riveting and thought-provoking nonetheless.

In a nutshell, there are two modes of existence: I-It and I-Thou. The I-It mode is bound by connections between things - ie, something as this, that, or the other. The I-Thou mode is a mutual relationship between subjects that are whole in themselves. These are not mutually exclusive; we inhabit both simultaneously.

As I was reading I and Thou, I recognized the ultimate goal of a queer Black womanist liberation poiesis - or, to be frank, the ultimate goal of social justice, period - to increase our capacity for expressing our I-ness and recognizing the You-ness of others.

Let me give you an example. In Tulpa, or Anne&Me, the I-You mode allows [Name] to relate to Anne as Anne instead of Anne only as actress, pretty, celebrity, female homo sapiens, feminist, Caucasian, and so on. At the same time (and this is important!), the I-You mode lets Anne relate to [Name] as [Name] and not just [Name] as web comic artist, African American, introverted, woman, queer, unknown, etc. At its most extreme, all sense of division dissolves, allowing for a relationship like that of Chuang Tzu and the butterfly.

In short, the I-You relationship makes it impossible to objectify people and therefore dehumanize them. It completely obliterates the ability to oppress and makes way for real freedom.

Later, I'll talk about the importance of voice to I-You.


  1. I don't know anything about Martin Buber, but I think I follow what you're saying about I-You versus I-It. I get that working to see and relate with the full personhood of another makes it much harder (impossible?) to objectify that person.

    So... are you concerned about this internet forum for working it out? Obviously the internet is not a monolithic thing, but it definitely facilitates the kind of laziness that we can all be guilty of, where we objectify the other side of our discussions (see how I just turned other people into the other "side"?). In short, I fear that the internet facilitates I-It, not I-You. Of course, without the internet, I could probably not engage in this conversation with You...

  2. In short, I fear that the internet facilitates I-It, not I-You.

    Buber actually addresses this. To him, I-You always becomes I-It after the moment of encounter.