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Batir au quotidien: Le livre des marges III, esquisse.

Edmond Jabes. Viviane Jabes-Crasson, pref. Antoni Tapies, ill. Montpellier, Fr. Fata Morgana. 1997. 99 pages, ill. 96 F. ISBN 2-85194440-1.

Few writers have engaged themselves with the relation of writing to the ethical imperative as thoroughly as Edmond Jabes. "Je crois qu'un ecrivain est responsable meme de ce qu'il n'ecrit pas," he notes in the final text of Batir au quotidien. Writing carried with it an enormous burden of conscience. The sincerity of the humility expressed in this piece, "Repondre a ... Repondre de...," is exemplary, so much so that the texts he did not write, or those he abandoned before completing them, or which he rejected once they saw print, or which fall by the wayside and were never later collected, ought to be considered when reading him.

Before his death in 1991 Jabes arranged with Fata Morgana to publish a third and final Livre des marges, the volumes in which since the middle 1970s his occasional pieces were gathered. A title and contents were provided, to which Batir au quotidien largely remains faithful, save in the two missing pieces on Eduardo Chillida and Maria Elena Vieira da Silva, both of which were published in a volume of short essays on painters and photographers, Un regard (1992). Only one text has appeared previously: "L'enfer en Dante," a lecture first given in 1986, which came out as a book shortly after Jabes's death. AS Viviane Jabes-Crasson explains in her preface, the decision to keep the Dante lecture, which opens Batir au quotidien, was due to the prominence of place her father gave it: it summarizes his project of exegetical reflections on political and cultural concerns after Auschwitz, or, as he put it, "notre modernite" as reflected in the Inferno.

To the fourteen texts which this volume gathers the editor has added the prefaces to the first two books of the Livre des marges (1975, 1984), the cycle of which this book completes. Antoni Tapies, who provided illustrations for the first two volumes, has also furnished several suggestive drawings and engravings reproduced here. Lastly, as in the two earlier volumes, most of the texts here are de circonstance, pieces composed in honor or in memory of friends, or for conferences or lectures. They show the breadth of Jabes's interests in poetry and philosophy, in music and the visual arts, and in Judaism, and they reveal further his potency of voice in speaking against racist and totalitarian politics. "Ecrire," he observed of himself, "c'est repondre a toutes les voix insistantes du passe et a la sienne propre; voix profonde, intime, interpellant l'avenir." And so it is that the voices of the past, asserting themselves in the present, make themselves heard in these writings.

Here then are texts on Jacques Dupin, Jean Grenier, Nelson Mandela ("au nom d'amande, douce a qui en connait la saveur, amere a qui en salt l'amertume"), the composer Luigi Nono, the philosopher Michel de Certeau, and Jabes's printer from the Cairene years, Guy Levis Mano ("D'ou vient que, dans un manuscrit, brusquement au milieu du texte, l'Ecriture change, s'affine ou s'epaissit; qu'un mot, par exemple, domine ou se confond avec l'ensemble?"). Other than the Dante lecture, the best-wrought and most incisive pieces are "En guise de cloture" and "Sur la poesie." The first text, Jabes's closing remarks to the 1982 Tel Aviv conference dedicated to his works, is a tribute to those who in their readings of him would reveal their peculiar condition of solitude. It is further a moving tissage of the voices of early models Max Jacob ("C'est toujours l'autre - autrui - qui nous revele notre visage") and Paul Eluard ("Livre ouvert. On y entre et on y sort sans cesser d'etre dedans") in which mingles a reflection on the Exodus from Egypt. The spirit of Gabriel Bounoure, Jabes's friend from the last of the Cairo days and whose essays on the first volumes of the Livre des Questions in the 1960s introduced him, with tremendous culture and sensitivity, to his Parisian readers, manifests itself in "Sur la poesie," a discourse on the relation of poetry to thought.

Building as a metaphor of the practice of writing, inextricably related to the refinement of one's being aloft in the world, was long clear to Jabes, who in the late 1940s wrote that it was patiently that he was building his fortune, a fortune quantifiable not in gold but in its extensive sensibility for autrui. This fortune was amassed equally in his abiding concern for his own sense of place. It was at this same moment that he formulated the expression which was to guide him for the rest of his career, "je batis ma demeure," a verse that became the title of the postwar collected poetry (1959). It is true that, for Jabes, the dwelling which knew no permanent soil was a constant source of renewal, but it was a renewal that could not be experienced without some regret: "Ecrire c'est, en dernier ressort, detruire; et, tel le carreleur, apres avoir brise le vieux carrelage de la salle a renover, c'est aplanir, au plus juste, son sol, afin d'y placer les nouveaux carreaux destines, unjour, eux aussi a etre, a leur tour, detruits." Batir au quotidien is an unassuming reminder, as solemn in its expression as it is deliberate in its responsiveness, of the fruits of Jabes's quiet craft.

Steven Jaron St. Lawrence University
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Author:Jaron, Steven
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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