Martin Buber’s Eternal Origin of Art

I have read this section in Buber's I and Thou over and over. Buber's statement struck me as so profound that I had to reinterpret, or rather, reconstruct the prose so that the message would flow more easily. The entirety moves me. But each section, alone, is capable of producing a fathomless wellspring of creative ambition. With apologies to the spirit of Buber and his translators, the reconstruction is as follows:

This is the eternal origin of art:

  1. The confrontation:  A human being confronts a form that wants to become a work through him. It is something that appears to the soul and demands the soul’s creative power. 
  2. The requirement: This is a deed that a man does with his whole being.
  3. The sacrifice: Infinite possibility is surrendered on the altar of the form; all that -but a moment ago- floated playfully through one’s perspective has to be exterminated; none of it may penetrate into the work; the exclusiveness of such a confrontation demands this.
  4. The risk: Whoever commits himself may not hold back part of himself; and the work does not permit me, as a tree or man might, to seek realization in our experience (the It-world); it is imperious: if I do not serve it properly, it breaks, or it breaks me.
  5. The reality: The form that confronts me I cannot experience nor describe; I can only actualize it. And yet  I see it, radiant in the splendor of the confrontation, far more clearly than all clarity of the experienced world. Not as a thing among the “internal” things, not as a figment of the “imagination,” but as what is present. Tested for its objectivity, the form is not “there” at all; yet what can equal its presence?
  6. The reward: If he commits it, and speaks with his being to the form that appears, then the creative power is released and the work comes into being.
  7. The result: It acts on me as I act on it. Such work is creation. Inventing is finding. Forming is discovery. As I actualize, I uncover. I lead the form across - into the world of experience (It). The created work is a thing among things and can be experienced and described as an aggregate of qualities. But the receptive beholder may be bodily confronted now and again.
A photo I took while flaneuring-with-camera in South Carolina.

A photo I took while flaneuring-with-camera in South Carolina.


The original version: 

This is the eternal origin of art that a human being confronts a form that wants to become a work through him. Not a figment of his soul but something that appears to the soul and demands the soul’s creative power. What is required is a deed that a man does with his whole being; if he commits it and speaks with his being the basic word to the form that appears, then the creative power is released and the work comes into being. 

The deed involves a sacrifice and a risk. The sacrifice: infinite possibility is surrendered on the altar of the form; all that but a moment ago floated playfully through one’s perspective has to be exterminated; none of it may penetrate into the work; the exclusiveness of such a confrontation demands this. The risk: the basic word can only be spoken with one’s whole being; whoever commits himself may not hold back part of himself; and the work does not permit me, as a tree or man might, to seek realization in the It-world; it is imperious: if I do not serve it properly, it breaks, or it breaks me. 

The form that confronts me I cannot experience nor describe; I can only actualize it. And yet  I see it, radiant in the splendor of the confrontation, far more clearly than all clarity of the experienced world. Not as a thing among the “internal” things, not as a figment of the “imagination,” but as what is present. Tested for its objectivity, the form is not “there” at all; but what can equal its presence? And it is an actual relation: it acts on me as I act on it. 

Such work is creation, inventing is finding. Forming is discovery. As I actualize, I uncover. I lead the form across - into the world of It. The created work is a thing among things and can be experienced and described as an aggregate of qualities. But the receptive beholder may be bodily confronted now and again. 

- I and Thou, Martin Buber