Edmond Jabès

Edmond Jabès fled his homeland Egypt during the persecution of the Jews in the 50’s and his whole oeuvre is informed by the notion of the foreigner and a deep interrogation of language and its relation to identity culminating in a poignant exploration of emptiness and God’s absence. His language is beautiful and enigmatic. Identity is ever lost. Love is a cry and a song before being poetry. Jabès’ sister died in his arms from tuberculosis when he was twelve. But never does his poetry invoke the pathetic nor the painful. His images recoil before bad taste. Love must be honoured beyond death with poetry.

Jabès seems to abdicate all forms of personal autonomy in the pursuit of a language which is always on the verge of disappearing into darkness, a language despite its author, beyond his worldly intervention, a mystical prose crossed by visions and illuminations. Words fill the desert, the desert empties words.
Unknowing does not come before knowing but very long after. Jabès writes from beyond himself, from behind and beside, from the depth of his unknowing. In his work, aphorisms follow imaginary debates and dialogues, poems shine, gems for the future. Without hatred, adverse to all manner of violence and revenge, his very particular narratives weave mysterious webs
of a future wisdom which heralds to an immemorial past. 


Words sometimes lie in order to seduce.

The book never.


Given Jabès’ personal story, it is an incredible achievement to avoid the illusory magnets of anger and madness. Only rarely does he castigate his ‘racist’ persecutors along his infinite journey. From Surrealism where his writing began, Jabès has always followed his own path without belonging to any school, any fashionable trend. His vocation was to invent, to chisel words and poems in the manner of an artisan, to listen to the infinite and become its scribe. His wonderful poems are collected in Le Seuil, Le Sable. To all races of persecutors whatever their creed, his challenge is unequivocal: May your thought be not a blade that kills, but a simple nourishing blade of wheat.


Being is at the heart of the question and questioning at the heart of being. In his Book of Questions, his characters voice myriad interrogations. Who can renounce himself for words? Who can fulfil himself without turning against himself? Who can live without identity? Without destroying the language of the other? Who can accept the foreigner and welcome him inside himself, recognizing himself as that selfsame foreigner? How can one live without turning our anger against ourselves at our frustration and pain? How can we accept God in his absence? Who can be so humble as to accept greatness in others? Words are our only answer to this unending labyrinth of questions. “He said to me: ‘You see, I have no face. The one I am showing is a face of the moment. The writer is a foreigner precisely because, to reveal himself, he must borrow a face from language.………… The writer is the foreigner par excellence. Denied domicile every- where, he takes refuge in the book, from which the word will evict him. Every new book is his temporary salvation.’” French words written by an Egyptian Jew.


And finally: the desert. Nothing but sand, grains of sand. That’s all we ever were and all we’ll ever be. Sand and the soul between.


- God‘s indifference toward us is perhaps only neglect of His responsibilities to the world
- Is God so cowardly?
- No. But having lost His way, He fell into the abyss He looked out on.


(Quotations in Italics are some excerpts from A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of his Arm a Tiny Book, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop.)