Emily Ketzner RL 370 Buber Essay Buber’s Cat Buber’s ideas are very interesting to me. As I was reading I and Thou I found myself agreeing with him in many of the things he said. One of the most thought-provoking passages in my opinion is the passage where Buber talks about his cat. There are many different ways that this section of the book can be interpreted, and I am going to explore those interpretations in this paper. Buber’s statements about his cat can be a metaphor for how we should treat animals/nature, how we should treat other humans, or how we should approach our relationship with God. Upon one’s first reading of the passage about Buber’s cat, one might not see all the possibilities of the metaphor. It may seem to be only a statement about us humans and our interaction with nature. When I first read it, this section inspired me to recognize the I/Thou relationship in places that I would usually see an I/It. I found the simplicity of the idea to be something very beautiful. Cats are not my favorite animals; that Buber could see the I/Thou relationship in a household pet is something that just makes me smile. Buber encourages us to find I/Thou relationships in everyday life, and cats are something that we experience all the time. Before continuing, I want to address an important question. Why should we seek I/Thou relationships? For Buber, God is an irreducible You. (I will be using Thou and You interchangeably in this essay.) God cannot ever be an It. Therefore, we should seek those I/Thou relationships because that is the type of relationship we have with God. God is found in the You dimension. When we create an I/Thou relationship we go beyond the one “you” of the relationship and also elevate other beings to Thous. In doing this, we are able to find God and learn how to create and maintain the relationship that we have with God, the ultimate You. So we know why we want to seek I/Thou relationships, and I have already discussed the inspiration that comes from Buber being able to see an I/Thou relationship in something as simple as a cat. However, I do not think that Buber’s anecdote about his cat was only meant to show that we can elevate any relationship from an I/It to an I/Thou. My first contemplation on this passage led me to the conclusion that this was a metaphor for how we are supposed to treat each other. I assumed that the cat stood for other humans, and Buber’s comments were meant to direct us in our everyday interactions with those around us. Buber wrote, “The domesticated animal has not by any means received the gift of the truly ‘eloquent’ glance from us, as a human conceit suggests sometimes…” (pg 145) My interpretation of this statement is that we do not always take the time to relate to others in the way that we should. To me, this could be interpreted as a reprimand of humanity in general. We humans are often too busy being self-centered to “eloquently” look upon the people with whom we interact every day. I think Buber is saying that by not elevating our neighbors to the You dimension, we are making them no better than a pet cat. This is a bold statement, I know, but it is important, both to Buber and to me, that we treat humans as persons, not as Its to be used. When in the book Buber remarked on how short a time the I/Thou relation with his cat was sustained, I at first took that to be another comment about humanity. I now believe that Buber meant something else, but the statement can have multiple meanings, and I do not think that my first interpretation was completely false. I thought that Buber meant that even when we do create an I/Thou relationship with others, we do not maintain that relationship. Instead, we let it fall back to the I/It realm, and that is what I thought was melancholy. Buber did mean something else when he wrote that part; what he believed to be melancholy I will discuss later in the paper. However, it is a sad thing that we cannot sustain I/Thou relationships with the people around us. For some reason, even when we are able to see another as a Thou, that experience usually goes away quite quickly. The most beautiful metaphor for Buber’s cat and the one that I now know Buber wanted us to see when he wrote the passage is that the I/Thou relationship between Buber and his cat stands for the I/Thou relationship between God and us. In this analogy, God is the human and we are the cat. Buber’s cat looked at him with anxiety and confusion. According to Buber, this is how we approach God. Buber said his cat’s glance was full of questions: “Can it be that you mean me? Do you actually want that I should not merely do tricks for you? Do I concern you? Am I there for you? Am I there?” (pg 145) These are the same questions that we ask God. As a human, we cannot imagine that God wants to have an I/Thou relationship with us. It was too much for the cat, and it is too much for us. We are not accustomed to being a Thou for anyone; why should God accept us as a Thou? In this passage Buber talks about being melancholy. He says that is it melancholy that the cat cannot hold his gaze and maintain that I/Thou relationship for more than a brief instant. Of course, Buber is not saddened by the cat’s lack of focus, but rather our own. We cannot hold the gaze of God and hold ourselves in that Thou dimension. This is what is melancholy; this is what saddens Buber. We keep falling back into the It world, and that means that we keep falling out of a true relationship with our eternal You. What I believe to be the saddest part of this predicament is that we cannot stop ourselves from this falling. Buber discussed “the fated lapse into It of every single You.” (pg 146) In the same paragraph discussing this fall he wrote, “At least I could still remember it, while the animal had sunk again from its stammering glance into speechless anxiety, almost devoid of memory.” (pg 146) Not only is he saddened by our inevitable fall back into the It realm, but Buber is also saddened by the fact that we cannot remember what it is like to be in that Thou realm and experience a true relationship with God. Buber’s contemplation about his cat revolves around the cat’s eyes; the I/Thou relationship with the cat is created by one look exchanged between Buber and the cat. Buber’s initial comments about the cat’s eyes can also be a part of the metaphor that comes from this passage. Buber says that the cat can communicate “without any need of the assistance of sounds and gestures”. (pg 144) This idea can symbolize for us how we are to approach our relationship with God. The cat comes to Buber without vocalizing a need or an expectation; it simply comes and looks at him. We should come to God in this way as well. In discussing the cat’s “language”, Buber said, “This language is the stammering of nature under the initial grasp of spirit, before language yields to spirit’s cosmic risk which we call man.” (pg 144-145) Words are a human construction; they exist in the It world. The “stammering of nature” that Buber speaks of is more than sufficient for the Thou world that we are entering into. The cat could capture everything it needed to say in just one glance; there is no reason why we cannot do the same. It is strange to think that our relationship with God is comparable to Buber’s relationship with his pet cat. We humans tend to think of ourselves as higher than all other animals, and we refrain from comparing ourselves to them. However, I believe Buber’s comparison is extraordinary. He captures the essence of this kind of relationship in every parallel that can be drawn from this anecdote. When one sits down and thinks about it, it is not difficult to realize that what existed between Buber and his cat for just that brief instant is what we should be striving for in our relationships with God. Yes, this story can be read at surface level and be thought to only comment on our relationships with nature or even with other humans, but when it is viewed with a different lens it can be extremely beautiful.