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From Cognition to Being

Henry Davis McHenry

Part II: Ontology

6. Languaging as sharing

Texte intégral

  • 1 Between Man and Man, trans. Smith (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 28.
  • 2 Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. C. Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota (...)

When will the action of thinking endure, include, and refer to the presence of the living man facing us? When will the dialectic of thought become dialogic, an unsentimental, unrelaxed dialogue in the strict terms of thought with the man present at the moment?
—M. Buber1
A living human being cannot be turned into the voiceless object
of some secondhand, finalizing cognitive process.
—M. Bakhtin2

1We have now re-invented language as languaging, and we have begun to investigate how languaging and Being might be related, might modulate each other, on our way to re-inventing the wheel of our teaching as an embodiment of what Heidegger calls Saying. There is one more step to be taken, though, a further shift to be made before we attain that place, and for this shift we turn to Martin Buber, particularly to his difficult and immensely rewarding book I and Thou. For it still might sound as if languaging were no more than using language, as if using language were a skill in the contemporary sense of executing a set procedure, following grammatical rules with perhaps a canny regard for the social and psychological effects to be expected. In the domain of skill, even of social skill, we experience what Buber calls the “basic word I-It.” Then our subject material comes represented in hierarchically ranked outlines, in videotapes, filmstrips, and drill sheets; and our students come in tracks, serried according to their academic history and test scores. In the world of “I-It” we look to predict the future of students on the basis of their past; we look for evidence to confirm our predictions that a demonstrated structure of behavior will almost certainly produce the same results as it always has; or we seek to modify a student’s structure so that it can deal with the structure of the material. We define and classify our students, we confirm and re-confirm our generalizations. Thus we are able to conclude that our experience with students makes sense.

  • 3 By “sharing” I do not mean something like wearing a happy-face button. The short life of that fad (...)

2Insofar as we are teachers, we will be dwelling in a different domain: that world of relation established by “the basic word I-You,” the domain of sharing being. We want to expand on what Heidegger postulates about being-with, about being-for-one-another, about being-speaking-in-the-world; we want to feel beneath us the swell of another conversation mingled with the vocabulary of experience, where the past stakes its claim. For the vocabulary of experience cannot give us an ocean of mutuality, in which Saying and Being dwell together in the self-interpretation we spread around. Since the distinction between experience and mutuality is of such moment for our lives together, Buber devotes himself to developing the vocabulary of I-You against the rampant vocabulary of I-It that dominates the twentieth century. If Heidegger is the prophet of Being as housed in languaging, and thus in being-with (Mitsein), Buber is the prophet of I-You, of relation. He re-invents languaging as sharing.3 For Buber, it is not language, or even languaging, that houses Being. For him, Being resounds in the originary mutuality of “encounter.” If language is the house of Being, then encounter is the front porch of language.

  • 4 Between Man and Man, 171, 174.

3Since I am treating them together, I should note that Buber found Heidegger’s philosophy seriously deficient in that it “knows nothing of any essential relation with others or any real I-Thou with them which could breach the barriers of the self... that the individual does not have the essence of man in himself, that man’s essence is contained in the unity of man with man, has entirely failed to enter Heidegger’s philosophy.”4 In light of the passages quoted from Heidegger in the previous chapter, Buber’s criticism seems to me unduly harsh, but I am reading Heidegger’s philosophy of Mitsein as prefatory to Buber’s notion of mutuality—a luxury unavailable to Buber himself. In important ways, Heidegger and Buber are contraries. But I do think there is a further step for teachers in Buber’s thinking.

  • 5 Quoted in Steven Kepnes, The Text as Thou: Martin Buber’s Dialogical Hermeneutics and Narrative Th (...)

4For both thinkers the matter of our relatedness crucially involves our languaging. “The mystery of the coming-to-be of language and that of the coming-to-be of man are one,” says Buber.5 But even if there flickers in and out of Heidegger’s theses an idea very similar to this—the almost-identity of languaging, being-with, and being-for-one-another—Buber must still shift our notice away from language as the locus of this communion toward a notion of the ontological primacy of sharing, a communion of beings that seems to arise in a certain kind of meeting. When Dustin, at three, asks me a question about why some kids are bullies, or about how a bobcat that he saw in the back of a pick-up truck had died, there is a certain feel to the conversation between us. Perhaps it is some kind of urgency I feel, some special edge: some kind of sharing is available to us then beyond merely verbal, informational contact. I can answer from my knowledge (or perhaps from my sophistication). But if I do, I have faded to touch that knife’s-edge of encounter. And I may have missed the possibility of meeting, in which the “essence of man,” in Buber’s inadequate phrase, is somehow available between us. How may I share his attraction to, or perhaps fear of, the stilled potency of the bobcat? How do we, who love each other, name death? In speaking, if he and I are Saying, I listen the “word” I-You in these questions from a child, and we are awake not to interaction, but to possibility itself.

5Buber begins his re-inventing of the ontological primacy of sharing: “The life of a human being,” he asserts, “does not exist merely in the sphere of goal-directed verbs. It does not consist merely of activities that have something for their object.”

I perceive something. I feel something. I imagine something. I want something. I sense something. I think something. The life of a human being does not consist merely of all this and its like... For wherever there is something there is also another something; every It borders on other Its; It is only by virtue of bordering on others. But where You is said there is no something. You has no borders.

  • 6 I and Thou, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Simon & Schuster Touchstone, 1996), 55. All quotations fr (...)

Whoever says You does not have something; he has nothing. But he stands in relation.6

  • 7 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 55.
  • 8 The formulation is Maurice Friedman’s.

6In our twentieth-century vocabulary, in the paradigm of being made available there, Buber is hard to hear. What could it mean that You has no borders? Does saying You blot other things out? What is “standing in relation,” if it is equivalent to “having nothing”? Does Buber mean You as a concept? No, for concepts have borders; indeed, concepts are valuable because of their edges. One says “the concept of the self” to render discrete a component idea in his analysis. Nor does Buber mean that saying You is an experience. In German the verb “to experience,” erfahren, links up with fahren, to drive or go, and with befahren, to drive over the surface of something.7 Going over the surfaces of things, our experience brings back to our consciousness a report on conditions that obtain, on the already established borders of phenomena. It is hard for us to distinguish between “experience” and “encounter,” for in our language both words inexorably name that way of relating to objects that Descartes inaugurated and Locke codified so forcefully. The world of experience is “the world of It, the world of ordered objectivity and private subjectivity.”8

7Buber says “encounter”: what then is encounter? I am using the generic word so as to discourage our tendency to reify, to make realities into objects, instances, things. (And an encounter is a real, concrete, in-the-world phenomenon.) As Buber distinguishes it, encounter is, first, a realm borne in the possibility of greeting another. For Buber, greeting is far from simply emitting or hearing the formula, “how do you do?”:

  • 9 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 70.

We greet those we encounter by wishing them well or by assuring them of our devotion or by commending them to God. But how indirect are these worn-out formulas... compared with the eternally young, physical, relational greeting of the Kaffir, “I see you!” or its American variant, the laughable but sublime “Smell me!”9

  • 10 Here his thinking may be seen to intersect with that of Merleau-Ponty. Cf. “Other People and the H (...)

8“Smell me!” is emphatically not to be translated as “Fit me into your category-system.” It means something more like “Distinguish me as a presence. Get me in my strongest particularity.” There is something “physical, relational” about greeting as encounter. Buber emphasizes the sense of bodily confrontation.10 In our psychology, we might analyze the punk-rocker’s pink spiky coif, the smoky knock-dead makeup and high-heeled boots, or the baggy “low-riders,” and unlaced high-tops of the “homeys” as attempts to stake out an individual identity, to stand out from the straight crowd, or to assert membership in whatever cool scene happens to have spun out of mass culture this season. Though as Americans we applaud individual self-expression, these we might regard as, at best, pathetic imitations. Buber’s premise asks us whether in the outrage to convention there might not be another drive, potent if unpurposed and unrecognized: perhaps we could see the pomaded spikes as an attempt to get into relation, a lunge toward encounter. It is a greeting. Its purpose is to “smell” bad to us, so that we can smell again, have to smell again. The challenge to authority is—can we suppose this?—really a challenge to the world of I-It, a commitment, however ill-mannered and ill-managed, to restoring the fecundity of I-You relatedness. Until I listen for this note of commitment, when such a youth confronts me in a class I am not confronted, I am affronted. I am speechless. I am outside his world, he is outside mine. How is this breach to be filled up? Instead of an answer, Buber has provided this riddle, this hint: in the moment when we receive another as other, as You instead of It, we have nothing. But “having nothing” is positive, decisive, crucial. For it is the condition that allows for, calls for, a naming like Adam’s.

9One rainy, gusty afternoon recently, as I was poring over my manuscript up here in my Cartesian garret, I was surprised to hear excited voices outside the window. Since the words on the monitor had begun to blur anyway—I noticed my bleary eyes at the same moment as I heard the voices—I got up from the computer and, hugging the wall of the building so as to stay under the eave, descended the outside stair to the yard. As there was a lull in the rain when I reached the ground, I ran across the open space between my little house and the big house, up onto the covered front porch, where I found my wife with our year-old daughter in her arms, and my slightly larger son, soaked through and dripping into a puddle at his feet, a tentative grin on his countenance. He blurted:

“I don’t know what came over me—I was just running and running around like crazy in the yard...”

I know,” I said.

«What?” he asked breathlessly.

Rain-running happiness

10His face erupted in sunshine, suffused with joy and satisfaction; and I saw in his eye, heard in his voice, the recognition of our secret, exuberant affinity. Where did that moment come from? The moment was a gift: what gave it? Is a simple psychological explanation—a father’s sentimental pride in his own son—all there is to it? The word “parent” is from Latin parere, meaning to bring forth. Though I am the parent, I have no sense that anything I did, consciously or not, caused that moment of what was really heart-stopping communion. I did not tell my child about rain-running happiness; I taught him. We invented rain-running happiness together.

11When I get You, then, when I listen for encounter, what I get is not a thing or set of things, but the context in which things can take place. What I get is a standing-in-relation in which the possibility of inventing world, inventing shared or mutual being, springs up, suddenly present, like a scent.

When I confront a human being as my You and speak the basic word I-You to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things.

  • 11 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 59.

He is no longer He or She, limited by other Hes and Shes, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition that can be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighborless and seamless, he is You and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light.11

  • 12 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 60.

12So encounter with You brings with it, as it were, a resplendently fulfilled present world. We might have heard this as a world filled with ongoing experiences, varied and significant; but Buber is careful to scotch this snake. “Experience is remoteness from You,”12 he says; far from multiplying or deepening our experiences, strengthening the borders between the objects and the objectives in our lives, to speak You is to pass through the arena where borders matter into an arena of immediate presence, a realm where “eye contact,” which occurs in the vocabulary of borders between beings, becomes communion of beings. There are no “significant others” in this realm; the popular phrase is a contradiction in terms. As long as an “other” is significant, it is not truly an other, but merely the locus of a category-system, an already designed set of qualities and attributes, and not a possibility for designing being. A “significant other,” in the sense of one who answers to some set of preconditions, cannot really be there for us, for we are present instead to that conceptual screen. Such an other wears plenty of deodorant. As do most of our students. As do we, most of the time. I mean, of course, metaphysical deodorant. Our metaphysics of objectivity, of content and form, data and interpretation, fact and value; all this masks the odor of You, the scent of encounter.

13In that redolent moment when we distinguish another as other, as You, we have nothing. For Buber, though, “having nothing” is a felicitous condition. For as it is the fecundity of I-You relatedness, it is the possibility for designing being, for inventing rain-running happiness. Here we are as far from Locke as we get. For the empiricist, things are what they are “by the necessity of their own nature.” Their names represent their fixed natures, discovered by experiment. By contrast, the You Buber means, the essence of the basic word I-You, is a naming like Adam’s. In his originating saying, Adam declared “I name You,” and thus became himself: “becoming I, I say You,” echoes Buber. The fecundity of I-You relatedness, the possibility for designing being, arises together with such a naming, a naming that does not record discoveries, but makes them possible. Here again is that recurring echo of the originarity of naming.

  • 13 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 83.
  • 14 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 84.

14As I try to listen my way into this realm of encounter where naming grows, as Buber reveals it little by little, I am met with a difficulty that seems insuperable. For Buber himself says that you cannot define or elucidate or detail the realm of the You, the realm of sharing, or of shared being; “It cannot be surveyed: if you try to make it surveyable, you lose it.”13 Consequently, “you cannot come to an understanding about it with others.”14 To survey the realm of sharing, of shared being, you would have to draw in lines and boundaries, establishing just those borders by which the It-world persists in its intelligibility. If the You-world were to become intelligible in the usual way, Buber seems to say, it would suddenly become the It-world. How can I deal with it as an item in an exposition then? More pointedly, how can I purport to recommend that teachers devote themselves to this immitigably inscrutable non-phenomenon?

15That, it would seem, is a killer question. Doesn’t it just stop the show? “How can I get out of this trap?” I ask myself. “My own key witness just said something that casts doubt on my whole case!” Let us replace the question by asking where it comes from: where does the question get its impetus, its force? Where are we standing, you and I, when we ask it? You are the reader and I am the writer, but what does that presume; what is projected out ahead of us as the model for our interaction? What do we expect from each other? Well, what is the vocabulary of our conversation? The notion of a “case” to be made involves the vocabulary of evidence and its valid use, of logical consistency, of persuasion: of meritorious argument. And we are indeed (whether we like it or not) playing the game in that arena, for those stakes. We are pulled into that arena, are we not? But it is exactly the point to notice the arena, to be able to give some body to the context in which forces operate. This is what Buber is doing in I and Thou: he is distinguishing two arenas for us so we can see the one against the other. It looks as if he is describing the It-world and the You-world, experience and encounter, but he is not. He is naming them, inventing them. For the sake of that rain-running happiness, for the promise it offers, I want to stay with him a bit longer. What else can we glean about naming?

16Having now begun to distinguish the realm of I-You from the realm of I-It, Buber elaborates on ways the two realms appear, fading or erupting, supplanting each other like the faces and vase, or the rabbit and duck:

Every You in the world is doomed by its nature to become a thing or at least to enter into thinghood again and again. In the language of objects: everything in the world can—either before or after it becomes a thing—appear to some I as its You. But the language of objects catches only one corner of actual life.

  • 15 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 69.

The It is the chrysalis, the You the butterfly. Only it is not always as if these states took turns so neatly; often it is an intricately entangled series of events that is tortuously dual.15

17We must be careful not to hear in these sentences a relapse into the ordinary opposition between the “language of objects” and the “language of feeling,” say, or the “language of words.” For that would plunge us right back into the quagmire of referentiality (words versus objects) or expression (facts versus feelings).

18But Buber does envision an alternation between states of being that, though intricately entangled, are radically distinct: between “bodily confrontation” on the one hand, and dwelling in the structured array of pre-formulated ideas, using the taxonomy of objects and objectives, on the other.

  • 16 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 63-4.

The I of the basic word I-It, the I that is not bodily confronted by a You but surrounded by a multitude of “contents,” has only a past and no present. In other words: insofar as a human being makes do with the things that he experiences and uses, he lives in the past, and his moment has no presence. He has nothing but objects, but objects consist in having been.16

19Buber here fairly designates our occupational hazard. Here is that backhoe, scooping up the soil of the past. Surrounding ourselves with a multitude of contents, the contents of the curricula mandated, the core knowledge we devote ourselves to dispensing, we teachers may often be led to make do with things that we experience and use, with sentences whose kinds we already know. (We might ask Wittgenstein “Why are there countless kinds of sentences?” Buber’s answer might be: because there are countless unrepeatable encounters.) And then, without a present, we can have no presence in the classroom among our students. Thus we may often lose even the tortuously dual series of events that fuse knowledge into encounter. We may find the chrysalis empty. Even if we are not tied to a textbook’s structure of information, or to a curriculum guide, we may find ourselves in the It predicament. For we are led into It by the vocabulary, the conversation of our culture. Fine for us if in the intricately tangled series of events that makes up a classroom day, there shine out sometimes moments of this confrontation, this being with another being.

  • 17 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 65-7.

But the It-humanity that some imagine, postulate and advertise has nothing in common with the bodily humanity to which a human being can truly say You... The ideas are just as little enthroned above our heads as they reside inside them; they walk among us and step up to us... Every word must falsify; but look, these beings live around you, and no matter which one you approach you always reach Being.17

20And here is the delight of our profession, the source of our calling. Every word, Buber must mean, in the absence of the “basic word I-You,” cements the objectivizing, structurizing way of dealing with phenomena. It is not that the basic word of relation must replace the words used to refer to things in the object world, as if it were one of them. It is rather that the It-words can only live truly among us—that means, we can only be students—when they, It-words and It-world, have become the occasions of our relating to one another.

  • 18 Donald L. Berry, Mutuality: The Vision of Martin Buber (Albany: SUNY Press, 1985), 66-7.

After one has stood in relation, one can no longer live with, or “deal with” the things and beings of the world in the same objectifying way... Our natural tendency is to transform relation into an experience that can be located, staked down, in space and time, since it is by such an approach that our knowledge about the world is secured. But the kind of continuity appropriate to relation is of another sort. From the point of view of one who has stood in relation, the world of It, the structure of need and its response, has a new, non-threatening status. Such a person finds himself entering again and again into the world of It with a kind of expectancy, a kind of reverence which he did not have before all the things and beings because one or another of them has been the vehicle or occasion, the minister or partner of relation. The It-world is preserved in its own necessary distance and integrity, but that world has been transformed, has been penetrated by relation.18

21As a description of the attitude toward the world we might hope our teaching would engender in our students, this is not bad. It suggests that the fact of relation is the soil where Being grows. Teaching that does not welcome and nurture encounter is organic in no ecology. And to encounter others, in the way peculiar to human beings, is to share naming with them—sharing naming being a tautology, of course. Until I can share naming of world with my student, then—until we can share in having nothing—we will not have world to live in together, only the separated worlds given from the past.

22If relation, sharing, I-You, transforms our world in this way, could we provide for this kind of standing-in-relation, this pregnancy, this expectancy, in a classroom between teachers and students? How does a teacher speak the basic word of relation so that students are included in what we have called the space of inventing? Is it the same kind of speaking as when he or she delivers information?

  • 19 His addresses to the Third International Educational Conference in 1925 in Heidelberg, and to the (...)

23For Buber, who devoted considerable attention to the problems of pedagogy,19 real education happens in the space of the particular kind of sharing we have been pointing to. Already this contrasts with the space of concern about curriculum per se. For the question at the base of our concern with curriculum is too often said to be: what facts and skills should an adult know and have? Then the further question is implied: in what order should a child learn these? Here we are caught up in considering the “structure of need and its response.” What do adults need to know, and how do we need to teach these things? And to answer these questions, we are impelled to look at ways of building sequences of concepts in the subject matter of a discipline, even if we have one eye on stages of “cognitive readiness” or psychological development. If what a teacher does is select materials and activities—curriculum—that will make a difference for his students, transforming their ideas, interests, and abilities, then how is that achieved? How does it happen that the curriculum, however selected and ordered, promotes our entering again and again into the world of It, the world of experience and knowledge, with reverence and expectancy? What is there besides need and its satisfaction?

24Here, I think, is the way Buber might answer, commenting on that moment of rain-running happiness I shared with Dustin:

  • 20 See “Distance and Relation,” trans. Ronald Gregor Smith, The Hibbert Journal, January 1951, vol. X (...)

Sent forth from the natural domain of species into the hazard of the solitary category, surrounded by the air of a chaos which came into being with him, secretly and bashfully he watches for a Yes which allows him to be and which can come to him only from one human person to another.20

25My dripping, exultant child did not know what had come over him. I think it was that his exuberant animality had surfaced briefly, unexpectedly—an exuberance that, to one whose language is becoming human, looks like chaos. He had had in that moment of running a glimpse, as though back over his shoulder, of the natural domain; and from the perspective of the solitary category of I, me that develops as our human language refines its categorization, he could only be amazed at his exuberance. Sheepish, bashful, he could only watch for an answering Yes from another human person. When I am available to be that person, it is the best luck I ever have. For it satisfies more deeply than any It can reach.

26What is the relevance for teaching and learning of this moment of mutual confirmation? Is there a way of planning for such moments, designing them into the fabric of classroom events? Here is Buber commenting in a less lyrical mode on classroom practice:

  • 21 In The Way of Response: Martin Buber, N. N. Glatzer, ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1966), 94.

...the teacher must relate himself to his students... as one being to other beings; as a mature being to maturing ones... his guidance should emanate not from above to below, from his lectern to their desks, but from a genuine interrelatedness and exchange of experience—the experiences of a full life and those of lives still unfulfilled but no less significant. What is required is not merely a search for information from below and a handing down of information from above, nor a mere interchange of questions and answers, but a genuine dialogue into which the teacher must enter directly and unselfconsciously, though he must also guide and control it. This dialogue ought to be continued until in fact it culminates in a wordless being-with-one-another.21

27We note that Buber does not eschew the vocabulary of experience when he is envisioning an encounter between a teacher and students. So much for absolute categories. But we do have a hint of his distinction between arenas in the difference between “dialogue” and something in which dialogue “culminates.” And of course, in my unplanned encounter with Dustin in the rain, it was not a matter of beginning a dialogue and then continuing toward a “wordless being-with-one-another”; but of the scent of being-together springing out into presence, suddenly freshening. It was a momentary gift, to which I could only be open. The question for the rest of the chapter is, what is this openness? How are we to open ourselves appropriately to the experience of a “wordless being-with-one-another” in the setting of a school? Must it remain a matter of luck?

28Here is one last passage from Buber, the most explicit specification of “dialogue” or “encounter” that he provides:

The chief presupposition for the rise of genuine dialogue is that each should regard his partner as the very one he is. I become aware of him, aware that he is different, essentially different from myself, in the definite, unique way which is peculiar to him, and I accept whom I thus see, so that in full earnestness I can direct what I say to him as the person he is...

  • 22 The Knowledge of Man, Maurice Friedman, ed. (London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1965), 78-80. O (...)

But what does it mean to be “aware” of a man in the exact sense in which I use the word? To be aware of a thing or a being means, in quite general terms, to experience it as a whole and yet at the same time without reduction or abstraction, in all its concreteness. But a man, although he exists as a living being among living beings and even as a thing among things, is nevertheless something categorically different from all things and all beings. A man cannot really be grasped except on the basis of the gift of the spirit which belongs to man alone among all things, the spirit as sharing decisively in the personal life of the living man, that is, the spirit which determines the person. To be aware of a man, therefore, means in particular to perceive his wholeness as a person determined by the spirit; it means to perceive the dynamic center which stamps his every utterance, action, and attitude with the recognizable sign of uniqueness. Such an awareness is impossible, however, if and so long as the other is the separated object of my contemplation or even observation, for this wholeness and its center do not let themselves be known to contemplation or observation. It is only possible when I step into an elemental relation with the other, that is, when he becomes present to me. Hence I designate awareness in this special sense as “personal making present.”22

  • 23 See Viviane M. J. Robinson, “Dialogue Needs a Point and a Purpose,” in Educational Theory, spring (...)
  • 24 Though in “Elements of the Interhuman” (The Knowledge of Man, 1965, 72ff.) there is a catalog of f (...)

29Here Buber’s picture of the nature of “genuine dialogue” does not include parameters such as rational argument, mutual understanding, consensual agreement, or the empowerment of problem solving, however the latter may be defined.23 The simplest tasks of cognition fall away into the background, out of focus. Here there are no taxonomies of educational objectives, no stages of cognitive development. The picture simply elides the question of motivation, as if that phenomenon occurs neither because of a choice by one partner nor out of the procedure that a group may adopt, but by virtue of a kind of awareness that is not perceptual, or at least not perceptual in the sensory meaning. Though Buber (here as elsewhere) does envision the efficacy of a personal commitment to genuine encounter, he gives us no techniques, no recipes for “having nothing,” beyond a description of its “presupposition.”24

  • 25 According to scholar-practitioner Deborah Meier, the shift we need to prepare for is not merely a (...)

30Dialogue here seems to depend on something called “stepping into an elemental relation” with another, attuning our awareness to the person as uniquely “determined by the spirit.” It may be useful to notice that we are uncomfortable (if we are) with this formulation: how do we use it, where does it direct us? If, as Buber seems to counsel, we are to step away from the comforts of our already formulated structures, how is such a stepping up to another (or others) and stepping into relation accomplished, or made possible or likely? Does it require an endorsement of some kind of spiritual practice? I think Buber would say no: what it requires is a conscious step away from the position of contemplation or observation that takes the other, the student, for its “separated object,” and thus away from the paradigm that governs our perceptions most of the time.25 This is not a matter of enhancing attitudes of acceptance of tolerance or even openness to others. For attitudes are my attitudes, attributes of an individual. But the shift from cognition to being is a breakthrough. It is a matter of being with and for another person, addressing myself to “the very one he is.” “Becoming I, I say You.” This step into an “elemental relation,” with students and teacher if not with parent and child, needs to be prepared for; it is an opportunity we watch for, even if it cannot by its very nature be designed into the curriculum. Since observation and procedure are such a large part of the algorithm of teaching, we need to make room somehow for these prescriptionless moments. It is not that the position of objective observation is wrong or useless, but that it is insufficient, incomplete. We could work on bringing it about that we have opportunities to turn to each other in “speech in its ontological sense,” making available in our speaking an openness to Being. For another feature of encounter, of the step into elemental relation, is that it arises along with the fact of approach between persons, with speaking together, with the phenomenon of “address.”

  • 26 Buber discusses this “spiritual element of primitive life” in I and Thou (Kaufmann), 71ff.

31In the classroom as in everyday being, there is the process of information transmission, of describing and cataloguing, of exposition and illustration, and there may be also the moments of address, recurring like lightning flashes, like the mana of primitive myths,26 without which no exposition can proceed powerfully for long: these are the moments in which teacher and student or students turn to face each other in recognition, standing in nothing, no system of rules or of roles, but acknowledging their relatedness; the moments when eye contact becomes communion. In such a room we are not speaking about relatedness; instead we are speaking it with our being. We are coming from a conversation of relatedness, not going toward one. To come from a conversation of relatedness is to generate relatedness. Our languaging in such a space occurs as sharing, as communion, as service. In such a space there is no need; only wonder, only grace. Imagine that space among all the others which flicker into and out of your classroom.

32We have now re-invented languaging as sharing. Far from merely using a language, when we are languaging we are Adam, sharing (we might say) God’s power to share her being with the human family; poets who make experience as well as subjects who undergo it; designers rather than only recipients of our life together. We are all, teachers and students together, parents: bringers forth.

  • 27 Being and Time, 151.

33See how far we are now from Descartes, or rather from where Descartes’ Method for Rightly Conducting the Reason led. For Descartes began with the sole subject, the irreducible “I” sitting by the fire, looking out from its study and confronting what became the world. Heidegger has let us notice how inexorable this starting point has become—“What is more indubitable,” he asks archly, “than the givenness of the ‘I’?”—and points to the consequences that attend on starting at this point. For starting with this givenness leads us to “disregard everything else that is ‘given’—not only a ‘world’ that is, but even the being of other ‘I’s.’”27 Once we separate subject from object, Heidegger means to say—once we interpret the cogito as the activity of a solitary consciousness reflecting on its environment—we have boarded a boat destined to sail in a single ocean. For then we are imprisoned—in epistemology; in knowledge—immured, as Keats lamented, in our “sole self.” Each of us, in this paradigm, looks like a single plank. We can build things out of the boards, like houses, ships, towns, and cities; and each plank and each construction retains its identity within the larger construction—its “values,” its rights, its individual duties, its political position, its place in a platform, its national destiny, its holy mission…

  • 28 The Knowledge of Man, 86. (Note that “word” is not capitalized.)

34In these complementary, mutually reinforcing paradigms of structured knowledge and individual identity, my parenting of Dustin is an affair of positionality, of reinforcement, of nailing in place a structure. It is a struggle of agendas, a manipulation, a battle between right and wrong, correct and incorrect, proper and improper behavior. I expect to keep fighting that battle where it is necessary, and (if past is prologue) even where I am pulled into it when it is not necessary. And there is a way of being in the battle that engages our freedom and our responsibility for each other, that derives from and nourishes our mutuality. In the new paradigm instantiated in the philosophies of Heidegger and of Buber, individuals are not primordial. Languaging is. Speakinglistening is. Inventing is. Buber calls it “the common life of the word,” and he means to emphasize two notions—“common life” and “word”—equally.28 Languaging is the house of our common living, of our membership. In this paradigm, parenting, as it comes out of encounter, is risky, lucky, an affair of transformation, generating context rather than generated content. Here, communion precedes and supercedes communication.

35All right, then—what contributes to our openness to communion? Will we no longer have to plan our lessons in this brave new world of relatedness? Or do we just depend on our good luck? How can we be responsible professionals if we depend on luck? Well, what is behind the opposition between planning and control (work) and luck—and, we may notice, the implied denigration of “mere luck”? Is not luck different from skill, maybe even opposed to skill, maybe even a little shady, like gambling? Notice how the conversation has shifted now: we were talking about the virtue (which means strength) of communion, its power in parenting; and our listening has wrenched the topic around to the vacuity (emptiness or inanity) of mere luck. We were talking about the possibility of power, and we ended up talking about our need for control. We were talking about the presence to be found in personal encounter, and we slid into talk of gambling.

  • 29 Cf. The Knowledge of Man, 75-8.

36Yes, my parenting, of Dustin and with my students, insofar as it partakes of communion, is a matter of luck. But it is not “just” luck. It is a matter of availability for communion—and I am not available for communion unless am “I” am at risk. It is not that communion entails danger—it is that going forth to the adventure of communion is in fact a risking of what I think I know and who I have considered myself to be. It entails a willingness to commit oneself to something beyond the preservation or enhancement of an image of oneself.29 When you commit yourself to white water in a canoe, you have a life jacket on to safeguard your ongoing identity, to preserve your personal continuity. But why risk a capsizing, a dunking, if there were not something greater than preservation to be won, something beyond the horizon of past accomplishments? Either I speak the basic word I-It, thereby cementing “my” identity as a thinking thing among extended things, a past with no present; or I speak I-You. What is it, we are asking, to speak I-You? How is this “speaking” different from the using of objects and objectives that we will be doing at the same time, most of the time? For speaking I-You is not a technique. There are three sides to an answer—or perhaps three related inquiries.

  • 30 The Knowledge of Man, 84.

37For there to be communion there has first to be the possibility of communion, of an I-Thou knowing—the possibility of ontology as distinct from the epistemology of I-It. Buber calls this distinct realm the “ontology of the interhuman.”30 It will help, then, to dwell at some length in the conversation in which the two realms are distinguished. That is the purpose of Buber’s entire work, and it is the purpose of this book to let us begin listening in on that conversation, partaking of it, participating in its possibility. As we begin to gather in more and more of the vocabulary of being together—which is the vocabulary of adventure—we may find ourselves open to moments of sharing with students that quicken the bloodstream of our profession.

38Since we are Adam, now, we—teachers and students together—can be responsible for the speakinglistening that occurs. In the beginning can be our word. We can be responsible, together, for the Saying of the classroom. Lessons seldom speak to students on their own. They occur for us in the conversation that gives our world. The question is, what conversation are we dwelling in? What kind of conversation is it? If it is a conversation about structures of meaning, about the (correct or correctible) representation of knowledge, is it also a conversation in which naming is expected and honored? Is it a conversation that calls for, pulls for, that turning to each other in which our freedom and our responsibility dwell? Does the classroom allow for that “personal making present” that is at the heart of responsible confrontation? Can we greet one another in our classes?

39First, then: to open the possibility of speaking and listening “I-You,” we may remind ourselves of these questions. Keeping them before us may help open us for communion, even in the midst of communication. Just voicing these questions may open us for the possibility that arises in the face-to-face encounter.

40Next, look for examples of knowledge conversations—speaking and listening in which the vocabulary is tuned to the epistemology channel. You will find them everywhere, particularly in discourse about schooling, but also in the discourse which makes up the schooling we purvey. Here is one taken from the commentary printed on a road map of part of the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina (the scriptural place name is entirely coincidental):

Where does the name Pisgah come from?

Mount Pisgah was the biblical name for the mountain from which Moses saw the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Local legend attributes the naming of Mt. Pisgah to Reverend James Hall, a gun-toting, whiskey-drinking Presbyterian minister, who acompanied General Griffith Rutherford’s 1776 expedition against the Cherokee into western North Carolina. Impressed by the bountiful French Broad River basin, visible from the mountain, he drew upon his knowledge of the Bible to name the peak Mt. Pisgah.

41In this conversation—for the map is speaking as we listen—we hear that the source of a name is knowledge of the past. The modern peak is named in analogy with, or in imitation of, a peak with similar characteristics that we learned about by studying the Bible. If there were to be a test on this text, the question would be “Where does the name Pisgah come from?” And the correct answer would be: it comes from the Bible. To a student who remembered the analogy triggered by the sight of the French Broad, we might give extra credit. But how could we bring into our classes the actual experience James Hall, the Adam of that moment, might have had when he first saw the great river valley spread before him in the distance, shimmering in the morning? For the Bible did not name the peak, he did. Where did he get the name? From being with his fellow soldiers in the wilderness, legend says. He spoke the name into their listening.

42Could we get sharing in the wilderness into our classrooms along with the knowledge conversations? What if we could take our students out into the city to name the buildings, the streets for themselves? What if we could, in the “confines” of our regular classrooms, build with students the edifice of knowledge as a house of shared names? In the arena of inventing, coming in to the wilderness together, we are present not to our separate agendas, our scripts, but to each other. As teachers, in the arena of listening for inventing, what practices or activities would occur as embodiments of sharing, would enable, among us, presence to each other? In a lecture, to a hundred or a thousand students, can a teacher listen to and for the students? Can she hear them listening to the lecture? If we ask ourselves how our standard practices bring forth the possibility of listening, we may open a space in our classrooms that enables participation. Refer back now to the previous chapter (page 121), where you listed the activities of your class that made sense with the subject/object paradigm of knowledge in the background. Now make up, invent new activities (or re-invent the old ones) from the alternate paradigm of a sharing that is poetry. (If you have trouble doing this, read the next chapter first.)

43Second, then: looking for, listening for opportunities to educe that kind of sharing from our daily activities may also help open us for communion. Of course it may have to be a wilderness of words, not woods. And we will need to inquire into this: what is wilderness? Perhaps the wilderness students encounter in school is a tabula rasa; but it is one in which our naming allows for our dwelling. The confrontation Buber means is not between subjects and objects, and not between subjects and other subjects, either. Buber’s confrontation is “the essence of man”; “contained in the unity of man with man”: it is Dasein that is Mitsein, languaging that is sharing of this particular undetermined and indeterminate but not random character.

44A conversation that partakes of naming is poetry, not because things need names, or because anyone can call anything whatever he wants to call it, but because naming is sharing. At those shining moments of breakthrough when we feel that whatever we paint into the canvas of the class hour will fulfill the purposes of the lesson, to the curriculum, of schooling, of our students—then we are poets, existing in our speakinglistening of each other, sharing as mages of origination, making, naming. This way of being together is the antithesis of manipulation.

45At the beginning of the road, the signs pointed to a simple equation: Teacher = Inventor, which we quickly re-read as Teacher = Co-inventor. As we have been re-inventing this wheel of Saying along with Heidegger and Buber, we now get simultaneous equations, or rather a circle of values related like spokes:

  • 31 “The experience which the child has of a familial constellation, his own, gives him more than the (...)

46Teaching belongs in this wheel by virtue of its affinity with naming, with poetry, with sharing. Teaching is Saying: listening that speaks our Being as namers, poets, dwellers in the co-poetic word. The spokes of the wheel of Saying are not related to each other causally. As Merleau-Ponty puts it, they are phenomena among which there is “solidarity.”31 They are values in a system, terms in a vocabulary. With this wheel of Saying we have begun to construct a system of terms, a conversation to embody the pragmatic ontology of encounter that Buber has been urging. When we had naming as labelling, we were breathing the vocabulary of representation: of portrayal, communication, adequacy; of knowledge and skill; of educare. With naming as sharing, as co-poiesis, as the scent of encounter, we breathe a rarer atmosphere. True, what we call oxygen is necessary to sustain our physical life. But must we rely on representation as our founding and final vocabulary? Can we let the vocabulary of being together and inventing say its Saying to us? Let us return to the dictionary: can we blend the two vocabularies, can we let them support one another?

  • 32 On the Way to Language, 122.

47As we noted earlier, Heidegger proposes that “Say” means “to show, to let appear, to let be seen and heard.”32 Saying allows for a phenomenon. Saying provides the space for Being, and it is a space that opens in an encounter with another, a con-frontation. When I bend to listen to Dustin’s tale of magic, to take his tale as if it were magic, then we are confronted, not by but in each other. In confrontation, we be with each other in a world. What is confrontation? What is it to speak I-You? What is this openness? The bending down to Dustin’s eye-level is not, it seems to me now, a mere adjunct to being open. While my automaticity directs me to stand up straight, to speak to them in generalizations and assertions preformulated and warranted by my adult experience, the getting out among students, where they sit in the classroom, and actually bending to them, embodies for me now some of the praxis, the vocabulary, of openness. More of the practical vocabulary follows in the next chapter.

48But to return to the other embodiment, to the etymological playing—my German-speaking consultant does not find the sense of “letting appear for another” under sagen or dichten. Heidegger may be inventing a sense of Saying that suits his own intentions. To see if it suits ours, let us investigate this fabrication: can we listen to it? Can we let it confront us?

49The imputed sense of poetic co-origination does appear in the Old Norse saga—legend, fable, myth—also adjoined in Heidegger’s “etymology” of Saying. And in the myriad English uses the sense of letting or causing a state of affairs to appear, out of nowhere or out of an indistinct miasma, mingles with the sense of describing or reporting on an extant structure of fact.

1829 Gibbon says that the French monarchy was created by the bishops of France.

50Gibbon’s saying, it seems presumed, goes far toward establishing the bishops’ constitutive role. However, we still have less an etymology than a partial compendium of usage, partial in the sense of incomplete and partial in the sense of favoring a particular view. Just as you can quote from Scripture to support nearly anything, so the message from etymology seems to depend on who you are.

51That is to say, there may be an opportunity for poetry here, for generating something together. The word arises along with the possibility of confrontation. In the present foray into the dictionary we have been trying to find evidence for Heidegger’s “definition” of Saying. If we listen now “through” the wheel of Saying—one of whose spokes is teaching—there arises a new possibility. And following its hint, we find that the closest thing to a match for Heidegger’s notion of Saying as co- creation occurs precisely in an old English source for our word “teach”:

  • 33 Jos. Bosworth, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, edited and enlarged by T. Northcote Toller (Oxford Unive (...)

tœcan: to offer to view, present; to show an object to a person so that the object may be attained by the person, to show a way, a place, etc.; to show a person the direction that must be taken, to direct, to cause a certain direction to be taken; to show the course that must be followed...33

52Even more strongly here, the person of the other is included with us, present for us, along with and as a condition of the attainment of an end. We may hear in the old definition an echo of Buber’s distinction: to offer, to present, to show, to direct—all these require and embody confrontation. So the once primary sense of our word for teaching resonates with what Heidegger and Buber have been saying about speaking, listening, and dwelling together:

  • 34 On the Way to Language, 122.

To speak to one another means: to say something, show something to one another, and to entrust one another mutually to what is shown. To speak with one another means: to tell of something jointly, to show to one another what that which is claimed in the speaking says in the speaking, and what it, of itself, brings to light.34

53The family resemblance between the Old English word for “teach” and the ontological sense of “to speak” is unmistakable. Is it not? What do you think?

54Third, then: what if we committed ourselves to this vocabulary of teaching, this association among the values of the wheel of Saying? What is the “essence of man”? Is it a structured essence, or is it possibility? Namers, poets, dwellers in the word, we mortals get to share, for our listening with language, our listening, is sharing. Opening a life and feeling it touch our present world, we enter into the area of our dwelling together. Being together is the possibility of inventing. And the way of our being together—the way of ourbeing—is listening. Following even further the wheel’s hint, its beckoning toward an area of dwelling together for teachers and students, we find that the correlative of teaching—of tœcan—is not learning. It is listening, listening of a particular character:

hlosnian: to listen, be silent in expectation of hearing, listen for the coming of a person, watch, await, be on the lookout

hlystan: To list, listen to, hearken

Hê sceal bôclârum hlystan swŷdé georne (“he must pay diligent attention to the teaching of books”)

Man láreówum hlyste (“let teachers be listened to”)

55What I am Saying is not a function of my words only—it is a function of my listening-for and of my being-toward. Erect or slouching, marching or sauntering, Saying dwells in posture and carriage as in the remark, in the lecture. Saying is a function of the body, of bodies as vehicles of spirit, or maybe as homes for spirit. What is the conversation in which my/our world occurs? Speakinglistening Showingsaying. How do I know what I have said? I be silent in expectation of hearing, I pay diligent attention to the encountering answer, the listening Saying, the Being-toward-others-and-myself of my fellows. I take us for poets.

  • 35 After I had all but finished this chapter, I came across Walker Percy’s The Message in the Bottle,(...)

56One morning, distressed at lost sleep or something else, I asked my wife: “Is Dustin always like this in the mornings?” As if defending his right to be a little boy, she shot back “Yep—there’s nothing wrong with the way he’s being!” Had I said there was anything wrong with him? Had my peevish tone implied a denigration of his behavior? Clearly there was more going on in our interchange than encoding and decoding, than exchange of information. My question lived partly in her listening and partly in my speaking: it lived in our speakinglistening. But what Heidegger and Buber are saying is not that there is also a psychological side, a matter of shadings and nuances, as well as the more overt character of the exchange of words. It would be easy to observe in this interchange that my wife was listening with a lot of unexpressed feelings in the background. Perhaps she heard my question as revealing my blindness to the fact that I had not been around enough in the morning, helping her out; and the response it drew from her was like a cry of frustration. (This analysis is eminently plausible.) But our philosophers’ writings do more. They add another dimension to the consideration of speakinglistening; not a psychological dimension, freighted with its morass of individual cathexes, traumas, memories; but an echo and reminder of that naming which Adam, the progenitor of humanity, brought forth in the simplest morning of his being in the world, that voice that filled Eden (and, perhaps later, emptied it). What is interesting in our exchange is that a world arises as we speaklisten each other. How do I know what I have said? I pay attention to world arising in my colloquy with others. As with others I speak and listen for a world, not merely to the world, we assume the responsibility of Adam.35 Whether or not we are participants in the religious consciousness in which Buber’s thinking is rooted—religion, by the way, is from re + ligare, to tie back together, like a ligament—I hope more of us will take up the spirit of this challenge to our vocabulary of knowledge and procedural orientation. For unless we can make possible in the classroom, from time to time and at crucial moments, the “personal making present” that can occur within a group as in a dyad—unless we have some commitment to encountering the spirit of persons—we may lose even the knack of transmitting knowledge, and with it the possibility of re-inventing our culture together.

  • 36 “There is a contrast between the way in which we do not control the range of our hearing and the w (...)

57We are shifting our central metaphor from picture to listening. The picture metaphor gives us something to look for—if we are changing pictures, we look for another one—but the listening metaphor gives listening for or through. Since we can more easily think of listening as an activity, a power, this puts the attention on the listener, not on something structured outside him, and it suggests a different technique for being, an artifice more powerful than hammering.36 “Technique” and “artifice,” though, may evoke the wrong listening: being—especially “being on the lookout”—is not a matter solely of technique, nor is power acquired through artifice. It is not a matter of foresight and prediction and control, but a matter of openness, of communion, of encounter—an epiphany of rain-running happiness. This point is still a mystery for me, of course: I have had occasion to ask my child more than once if he forgives me, and though forgiveness has come into presence on each of those occasions, he cannot define the word. Can I define it? I know the procedure for looking the word up, but the definition is not what is present in our encounter. The definition is like a picture, an explanation of what happened, after the fact. It is a memory of forgiveness. In educational practice, too, the landscape of memory could be transformed into a listening for inspiration. This will require artifice of a different kind. Artifice? Rather, a heuristic for being together. One that works down in the city streets.


1 Between Man and Man, trans. Smith (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 28.

2 Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. C. Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 58.

3 By “sharing” I do not mean something like wearing a happy-face button. The short life of that fad is actually a hopeful sign for our culture. For the schematic diagram of happy openness does not constitute sharing or even make it more likely. It puts sharing off, even as “social skills” do.

4 Between Man and Man, 171, 174.

5 Quoted in Steven Kepnes, The Text as Thou: Martin Buber’s Dialogical Hermeneutics and Narrative Theology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 62.

6 I and Thou, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Simon & Schuster Touchstone, 1996), 55. All quotations from I and Thou reprinted with the permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster. Translation copyright © 1970 by Charl;es Scribner’s Sons.

7 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 55.

8 The formulation is Maurice Friedman’s.

9 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 70.

10 Here his thinking may be seen to intersect with that of Merleau-Ponty. Cf. “Other People and the Human World,” in Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; and New York: The Humanities Press, 1962).

11 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 59.

12 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 60.

13 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 83.

14 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 84.

15 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 69.

16 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 63-4.

17 I and Thou (Kaufmann), 65-7.

18 Donald L. Berry, Mutuality: The Vision of Martin Buber (Albany: SUNY Press, 1985), 66-7.

19 His addresses to the Third International Educational Conference in 1925 in Heidelberg, and to the National Conference of Palestinian Teachers, Tel Aviv 1939, are printed in Buber Between Man and Man (New York: Macmillan, 1965).

20 See “Distance and Relation,” trans. Ronald Gregor Smith, The Hibbert Journal, January 1951, vol. XLIX, 105-13. (Quoted in M. Friedman, The Life of Dialogue (University of Chicago Press, 1976), 82.

21 In The Way of Response: Martin Buber, N. N. Glatzer, ed. (New York: Schocken Books, 1966), 94.

22 The Knowledge of Man, Maurice Friedman, ed. (London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1965), 78-80. Of course, though Buber himself may have been thinking primarily of the male when he wrote about “man,” we read him as speaking about the distinctiveness of humankind.

23 See Viviane M. J. Robinson, “Dialogue Needs a Point and a Purpose,” in Educational Theory, spring 1995, vol. 45, no. 2, 235ff.

24 Though in “Elements of the Interhuman” (The Knowledge of Man, 1965, 72ff.) there is a catalog of features and characteristics of genuine dialogue or encounter, and some suggestions of how the distance of separated observation may transform into the presence of I-You encounter, these do not amount to a list of steps to take or rules to follow. They are more like a description of the commitments of the participants in meeting.

25 According to scholar-practitioner Deborah Meier, the shift we need to prepare for is not merely a change in “viewpoint,” not a perceptual matter at all:
«Changing one’s view” is what many schools of education thing they’ve accomplished in their Foundations and Methods courses. But what kind of experience or mental shift is required before the difference between millions and billions is real to us? The kind of mental paradigm shift, the “aha” which is at the heart of learning, usually requires more than being told by an authority or shown a teaching/learning, not just more coursework, but a new way of learning about learning. (Deborah Meier, The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem (Boston: beacon Press, 1995), 140.

26 Buber discusses this “spiritual element of primitive life” in I and Thou (Kaufmann), 71ff.

27 Being and Time, 151.

28 The Knowledge of Man, 86. (Note that “word” is not capitalized.)

29 Cf. The Knowledge of Man, 75-8.

30 The Knowledge of Man, 84.

31 “The experience which the child has of a familial constellation, his own, gives him more than the simple recording of certain [singular] relations [“rapports”] of human being to human being. It is a whole form of thought which takes root in the child at the same time as he assumes and gives form to his familial relations. It is a whole, a use of language, and a manner of perceiving the world also.” (In Les Relations avec autrui chez l’enfant [Sorbonne/Paris: Centre de Documentation Universitaire, 1975], 23.)

32 On the Way to Language, 122.

33 Jos. Bosworth, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, edited and enlarged by T. Northcote Toller (Oxford University Press, 1973), 967-8.

34 On the Way to Language, 122.

35 After I had all but finished this chapter, I came across Walker Percy’s The Message in the Bottle, where much of the conceptual groundwork I have been doing here is prefigured. Reading modern linguistics and philosophy together in quest of the nature of the uniqueness of human consciousness, he reaches a conclusion resoundingly similar to mine: “The I think is only made possible by a prior mutuality: we name” (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Noonday, 1975; 275). The question arises: What is going on, that I retrace Percy’s steps unawares? Where does discourse come from?

36 “There is a contrast between the way in which we do not control the range of our hearing and the way we do control our field of vision. It might be said further that we only limit our range of hearing through obliterating it by making noise. Vision begets the pictorial conception of things and the stance of the spectator; the world as picture holds us and confines our thinking. In hearing, the temporal element is necessary and we do not know in advance what will draw our attention; this is something which is beyond our control. In hearing words, moreover, there is the possibility that we will be called upon. A receptiveness and a readiness to respond is required in hearing while, in contrast, seeing the picture can leave us as we were.” (Paul Standish, Beyond the Self: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Limits of Language [Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co., 1992])

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