The Book of Margins

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The death of Edmond Jabès in January 1991 silenced one of the most compelling voices of the postmodern, post-Holocaust era. Jabès's importance as a thinker, philosopher, and Jewish theologian cannot be overestimated, and his enigmatic style—combining aphorism, fictional dialogue, prose meditation, poetry, and other forms—holds special appeal for postmodern sensibilities.

In The Book of Margins, his most critical as well as most accessible book, Jabès is again concerned with the questions that inform all of his work: the nature of writing, of silence, of God and the Book. Jabès considers the work of several of his contemporaries, including Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot, Roger Caillois, Paul Celan, Jacques Derrida, Michel Leiris, Emmanuel Lévinas, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and his translator, Rosmarie Waldrop. This book will be important reading for students of Jewish literature, French literature, and literature of the modern and postmodern ages.

Born in Cairo in 1912, Edmond Jabès lived in France from 1956 until his death in 1991. His extensively translated and widely honored works include The Book of Questions and The Book of Shares. Both of these were translated into English by Rosmarie Waldrop, who is also a poet.

Religion and Postmodernism series

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226388892
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/1993
  • Series: Religion and Postmodernism Series Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 222
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Series Editor's Foreword
1. It Goes Its Way
Page without Date, Undatable
First Step
Intimate Distance
The Eternity of Stones
The Moment After
Wing and Bond
On Fear, I
One Fear, II and III
Of the Recovery and the Reservations of the Text
The State of the Game (Michel Leiris)
The Unconditional (Maurice Blanchot)
The Absoluteness of Death
2. Doubly Dependent on the Said
The Bet
Intimate Distance, II
The Point
Wrinkles of the Day
Carte Blanche
The Merits of Comfort: Its Portion of Night
The Oval
The Setting - The Opening
May He Rest in Thus
Writing in Motion (Short Reply to a Questionnaire of La Quinzaine Littéraire: Does Writing Have a Gender?)
1977 (Reply to a Questionnaire of Les Nouvelles Littéraires)
The Invention of the Word
The Wall
Memory of Paul Celan
The Man with the Secret
(Max Jacob)
Days of Wrinkles
The Infallible Decree
(Jacket copy for L'Arrêt de mort by Maurice Blanchot, Collection "L'Imaginaire," Gallimard)
There Is No Trace But in the Desert
(With Emmanuel Lévinas)
Extract from a Speech
(given on April 21, 1982, in Paris, at the Foundation for French Judaism)
Extract from a Speech
(given on the occasion of a day in honor of P. P. Pasolini, Milan, May 2, 1983)
The Word of the Book
The Naked Sword
(Michel Leiris)
The Unconditional, II
(Maurice Blanchot)
Louis-René des Forêts or The Unease of the Question
In the Margins of Yaël
(From the Rediscovered Draft of a Letter to Gabriel Bounoure)
In Farewell

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2003

    Writing As Reality.

    'Writing is the measure of all things' could be more than a poorly conceived aphorism these days if it points to the amount of effort being invested to redirect the intention of writing. To be sure, writing at one point in history pretended to record life, then it attempted to re-create it. At other moments, writing attempted to replicate speech and then, in different ways, it attempted to replicate thought. As if following a process of elimination, writing is trying to replicate itself these days, sometimes falling in extremes such as self-parody, self-deprecation, and self-aggrandizement. What seems to be definitive this century is an effort to reduce writing to itself which often takes the form of a denial of its character as mediation (of thought, of language, of meaning) or of an affirmation of its 'material' essence (as sign, word, text) but, fundamentally, it betrays a tendency to deny every form of meaningful spirituality. This is offered to us as a triumphant, courageous, stoic, and omnimode verbally-based rationalism: Jabès donning his disguise as a hero of renunciation, wearing the sheepskin of clinical pulchritude. One can easily think that, when in disgrace and misfortune in human eyes, an individual will see all his qualities, all his virtues, gradually swept away. But even then, we are reminded, there remains the hope of a simple, yet sacred, singularity: 'after all this, I am still I'. The individual is reduced to a point, an 'I' which, although still real, is a merely subsisting one. In the poetry of Edmond Jabès we are witness to the wounded disappearance of this 'point', of the I, which is fragmented and scattered by the wind into the emptiness of the desert. The text of Jabès' poetry, these ciphers, these written words, are the purest expression of a soul bereft of masks, a faceless soul, become the fleeting lines drawn on a desert floor. The signs of this desert, delicate and ephemeral as the are, cannot be declared a death of the soul as an end, nor are they nothingness. Rather, these traces, these words, are most ardent and forceful in their being the enacting of original gestures: thoughts and words ex nihilo, as poor, and yet as divine as those that God first wrote, tentatively, far before He declared: 'I Am That I Am'. This, of course, is the strength of Jabès poetry: the act prior to all acts, the first gesture after death, willed into being out of nothingness. That is, The Beginning, precarious as it always is. A cold, abstract pain germinates throughout the Book of Margins: a pain not felt, but known. It was perhaps born of a schism, a cutting choice made between living and writing: living meant pure suffering, or death; writing meant abstract living, thinking suffering, thinking death; that the later was chosen, was perhaps, something forced upon Jabès, resulting in the indelible condition of his being branded a poet. Thus, the pain, for Jabès, stems from this very condition itself: that of living through writing. One explanation, an existential one, is that for Jabés, writing is the only medium of perception. All of life's appetites are reduced to effecting revolutions and shifts within and for this perception. In this way, life is pictured through the window of writing. Desire can never grasp the substance of feeling; it can only write it. And, as all perception, writing cannot be avoided, only redirected. This means that Jabès, cannot stop writing, simultaneously wishing to go beyond perception, and also to reinvent perception, both through and in writing. Writing is, for Jabès, none other than the whole of Reality and its possible beyond. And the poet has given a name to this Reality: the Wound, that word that defines all his words. This ceaseless frustration, this 'pain' thought by a transcendental I, is the ever abstract pain which is the true subject of these poems. The second explanation, now a metaphysical one, is that writing is a substratum with its own rules: on the

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