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Demeure, Jabes.

To R. S.

J'impose ma presence a chaque creature Et je pousse partout ma nouvelle demeure

--Fouad Gabriel Naffah (1)

... la langue arabe en qui, de toute eternite, le vers se dit "bayt," "maison" ou "demeure" ...

--Salah Stetie (2)

le suis de la race des mots avec lesquels on batit les demeures.

--Edmond Jabes (3)

"On relira mieux desormais Je batis ma demeure." (4) The first sentence of Derrida's reading of Edmond Jabes (Cairo, 1912-Paris, 1991), referring to the poetry of his Egyptian period from 1943 to 1957, (5) was occasioned by the publication of Le livre des questions, (6) Jabes's first book written after his exile from his native Egypt and his move to Paris in 1957. Nearly sixty years later, this 'better rereading' of Jabes's Egyptian poetry remains slow to emerge, with Je batis ma demeure instead having been eclipsed in the critical imaginary by the texts of the poet's Parisian period. (7) In fact, Derrida's premonition that "un certain lierre risquait d'en cacher le sens" (8) has been aggravated by a perception of Je batis ma demeure as Jabes's "seul livre de poesie," (9) and by continued reference to the texts of this collection as "a poetry based on a lyric 'Je.'" (10) The "lierre" of lyricism constitutes more than a mere inaccuracy in terms of Jabes's poetics, his literary work, and the entirety of his publishing history. For one, the terms 'lyric' and 'poetry' appear to be taken for confused generic synonyms of one another. They remain opaque in the ascriptions of some of Jabes's most prominent readers, as 'lyric' seems to be used in the conventional and unproblematized sense of a "tendance poetique ... privilegiant l'expression plus ou moins vive de la subjectivite." (11) Commentators of Jabes either suggest that it is lyrical, or altogether curtail the questions of Je batis ma demeure in order to engage Jabess later work. Furthermore, there has yet to be a thorough, rigorous study of any of the poetics of the collection, glossed over as 'lyric' and relegated to references in support of readings of the more celebrated books of middle and late Jabes.

In this essay, I propose an alternative reading to Jabess Je batis ma demeure than the one usually presented by critics. Through a textual meditation circling around the term demeure in the writings first collected in Je batis ma demeure (1959, revised 1975), and then later in Le seuil le sable (1988, revised 1990), I trace the intertextual literary loci and discern the poetic place of Jabess Cairene work in relation to his ceuvre, as well as to the aesthetic tastes of the Egyptian francophone literary sphere in which he composed the poems. With Jabes scholarship in mind, I further pursue this specific idea of "place" through an etymological and bilingual critical close reading of demeure, briefly considering its common English equivalent "dwell," in order to reveal meanings of the terms that have been left undiscussed; as Heidegger writes, "with the essential words of language, their true meaning easily falls into oblivion in favor of foreground meanings," (12) such that an investigation into the "true meaningjs]" of demeure explains how Jabes dwelt poetically while in Egypt, and during his years of exile and transition in France. In the second half of the essay, I place Je batis ma demeure alongside Derridas Demeure: Maurice Blanchot (13) to underscore the complexities of temporal simultaneity at stake in Jabes's construction of the collection and its title. This allows me to conclude by characterizing Jabes's Cairene texts as fundamentally placeless and untimely: subject to continuous revising, torn between the poet's problematized senses of belonging, and anxious of its own authors name in the annals of literary history.

Demeure thus emerges in my reading as having more to do with intertextuality, editorial tactics, and Jabes's attempts to secure a poetic place for himself within a modern canon of French poetry, rather than with the effusive lyric subjectivity commonly attributed to the collection. Indeed, the term demeure is repeated from one end to another of Je batis ma demeure and Le seuil le sable, along with a marked penchant for brief forms (formulae, definitions, sententious aphorisms) that stylistically unite these texts with the "non-lyric" remainder of Jabes's ceuvre. As a pervasive concept in his work, demeure resonates with contemporaneous poetico-philosophical inquiry, and furthers an understanding of Jabes's poetics of place: the poetics of his construction of a place for himself, or how he dwells poetically. The etymology of demeure provides additional insight into its full semantic spectrum for early Jabes, whose repetitiveness fails to establish any fixity of place, either semantic and figurative or concrete and physical. In fact, it has the exact opposite effect in his poetry. Terms that at first appear as unproblematic in Jabes as a simple notion of "home" (demeure) develop "polysemie and multivalent density" (14) as they move into the formulaic and repetitive. Over an extended compositional, editorial and reading time, Jabes's writing decomposes such a term into the plurality of senses that it holds for him. For him as much as for his reader, it then becomes necessary to trace and establish the term's full spectrum of senses throughout Je batis ma demeure and Le seuil le sable. In this fashion, my goal is to both reestablish and further problematize the poetic place these collections occupy within Jabes's oeuvre, which, I suggest, is much less coherent than it seems. The aporia of the text--condensed in a term (demeure) that, paradoxically, both holds the collection together, and is the reason for its dismantling--points to a basic impasse in its structure: its simultaneous desire and failure to insert itself into the cogency of a canonical Jabesian ceuvre, and to perpetually dwell in its own stasis of impasse.

The term demeure recurs as a refrain to Je batis ma demeure, its underlying leitmotif (my emphasis throughout):

   Une demeure est une longue insomnie
   sur le chemin encapuchonne des mines. (15)

   Avec mes poignards
   voles a l'ange
   je batis ma demeure (16)

   ... Je demeure

   dans le brouillard de ta blessure confuse
   comme les richesses incalculables de la terre

   Amoureuse retrouvee avec le livre ouvert (17)

   Tu as perdu ta demeure
   en fuyant les heures (18)

   La demeure du ruisseau se reflete dans chacune de ses fenetres
      comme le
   monde aveugle dans nos yeux.

   Une fois conquise, l'image demeure dans nos yeux comme une ile au
   de la mer. (19)

While some of Jabes's commentators have briefly touched upon his "dwelling built of words," (20) one crucial aspect of demeure remains overlooked. Writing before Jabes, when Apollinaire says, for instance, "Les jours sen vont je demeure," or when Char enigmatically titles his collection Seuls demeurent, a temporal notion of place (to "last," to "survive") is progressively reintroduced and rediscovered in the term demeure. After all, who or what is it that, alone, dwells or remains in Apollinaires or Char's formulations? (Je demeure oU, quand, comment? Seuls demeurent qui? Seuls demeurent quoi?) Similarly, the first occurrence of demeure in Jabes's ordering of the collection ("Une demeure est une longue insomnie") presents an incalculable length of time, of waking time, of insomniac time, of non-sleep and non-dream time, lying, eyes wide open, hooded ("encapuchonne") in bed. Some two-thirds of the way through Je batis ma demeure, the verse "Je demeure / dans le brouillard" echoes the vague dreaminess of the opening insomnia, though at this later moment, the state of a wake-in-bed is accompanied by the erotics of an undefined, grammatically feminized beloved's "blessure confuse," the beloved's "livre ouvert" in which "Je demeure" (one possible translation of which may be "I dwell" or "I dwells"). Finally, paradoxically for Jabes, "en fuyant les heures" and in losing time, en demeurant one also loses one's temporalized demeure: "Tu as perdu ta demeure / en fuyant les heures."

What exactly would the loss of a demeure entail? What does the demeure of "une ile au milieu de la mer" have to do with images and poetics? What were the predominant poetics and aesthetic tastes in Egypt during Jabes's time? What were Jabes's own literary preoccupations? And why does he lose them? Why does he lose his demeure? What if he had never left Egypt--his premiere demeure--in the first place?

The questions raised by a temporalizing of demeure suggest, for one, that Jabes's reading and writing times in Egypt were deferred poetic acts. Jabes's physical and temporal distance vis-a-vis the French and the American literary worlds which he would later frequent (Rosmarie Waldrop's memories of Jabes (21) are interspersed with the many transatlantic readings to which they travelled together), his residing in Cairo away from the artistic milieus of Paris and New York, and a conflicting judeo-francophone identity in predominantly Islamic and arabophone Egypt, are illustrated in a colorful letter he receives from Max Jacob. Around 1935, Jabes had informed Jacob of how he was unable to find what must have then been the 1923 edition of Le cornet a des in bookstores anywhere in Egypt. (22) At this point in his life, Jabes was still learning about Jacob and his writings. Having then expedited a handful of books on himself to Jabes in Cairo, Jacob writes in a letter dated October 19, 1935:

Mon cher Edmond,

Voici ce qui m'arrive:

   l'Egypte n'admet pas les remboursements par la poste! On a renvoye
   les 3 livres a la librairie entremetteuse. La librairie ne sait pas
   que faire de ces livres quelle a payes de sa poche et leve les bras
   au ciel.

   J'ai commence par la rembourser de ses 59 francs, puis je lui ai
   dit de les envoyer par la poste en paquet recommande directement a

   Puisque c'est pour ma gloire que tu travailles, je peux bien
   t'offrir ces livres, quoi qu'il m'en coute. J'espere que ca finira
   par arriver. (21)

The temporal deferment evidenced by the Jabes-Jacob exchange is emblematic of the Egyptian literary milieu--its francophone community, "une ile au milieu de la mer" (24)--and offers a glimpse into the reasons behind the late blossoming of romanticism and symbolism in Egypt, as well as the relatively tardy diffusion of surrealism in the 1930s (as spearheaded by Georges Henein and others). More importantly, however, this ecart also explains Jabes's relative silence in the 1930s (the earliest poems of Je batis ma demeure date from the early 1940s) and his reserved stance with regard to the enthusiastic-even overzealous--subscription by some of his compatriots and immediate contemporaries to aesthetic, philosophical or ideological avant-gardism. It had made more sense to Jabes to first explore and occupy vaguely romantic and symbolist modes of writing--even if in a reticent fashion and at the expense of being perceived as a lyric poet--prior to the radical shifting of gears called for by the avant-gardists.

The literary differance between France and Egypt brings me to the notion of a philosophical demeure that constitutes the idea of a singular anachronism, "l'anachronisme singulier du temps dont nous parlons." (25) The shift from physical place (Egypt, France), or the place of heritage or glory (one's place in a literary tradition), towards a temporalized, poeticized notion of place adds a nuanced dimension to Jabes's texts. No less than the first three entries for "demeure" in Littre's dictionary deal with the term's temporal qualities ("retard, delai," "retardement, le temps qui court au-dela du terme oU l'on est tenu de faire quelque chose," "duree de la residence"). However, Jabes criticism in English tends to render "demeure" as physical "dwelling," and at best allows for a figurative or metaphorical understanding of the term. This unproblematic translation of "demeure"--in many senses a philosophical untranslatable--quickly glosses over the density and the temporal richness of the term as it reads throughout Jabes's texts.

Crucially for Jabes, to dwell poetically is to dwell temporally, although the semantic field in English is complicated by the obsolescence of some important senses of the term "dwell" (which continue to be present in the French "demeurer"). (26) The impossible double senses of demeure/dwell (brevity and eternity, delaying and remaining, the temporal and the physical) constitute a first way of understanding Jabes's use of the term. In this sense, his creation of a poetic place and existence for himself was both rapid and slow. Under the initial influence of Apollinaire, Char and Jacob, Jabes quickly creates a poetic place for himself through the theme of the demeure. At the same time, the long history of Je batis ma demeure and Le seuil le sable ends up producing a unique series of texts in the entirety of Jabes's corpus for two interrelated reasons: 1) the texts collected in 1959 in Je batis ma demeure span a period of some fifteen years (1943-1957); and 2) as collections of collections, Je batis ma demeure and Le seuil le sable are Jabes's only texts that he continually revisits and restructures, beginning with the first publication of the earliest collection from 1947 (Chansons pour le repas de l'ogre, written 1943-1945), and ending with the final edition of Le seuil le sable in 1990. Unlike his Parisian book-poems (Le livre des questions, Le livre des ressemblances, Le livre de l'hospitalite ...)--neither revised nor reedited once published, even attaining a degree of repetition and resemblance which has Didier Cahen clamoring that "ces ouvrages ... laisseront penser aux lecteurs trop presses qu'Edmond Jabes ecrit toujours le 'meme livre'" (27) -the texts of Je batis ma demeure and Le seuil le sable stand singularly apart in the entirety of Jabes's oeuvre, rendering it less coherent than the canonical readings of Jabes's allegorized Judaism would seem to suggest. Constantly morphing, they are texts in which Jabes, even over a total period of more than half a century and despite the titular demeure, never comfortably succeeds at inhabiting or dwelling.

Prior to an in-depth analysis of the compositional and publishing history of the texts of Je batis ma demeure, and of the temporal and spatial impossibility of textual dwelling facing Jabes, a detour via Derrida's commentary of the French term in Demeure: Maurice Blanchot will highlight the complexities of temporal simultaneity at stake in Jabes's construction of the collection. Derrida's long essay on Blanchot's L'instant de ma mort (28) discusses, on the one hand, the place that witness and testimony occupy in relation to the self's complex, paradoxical rapport with its own death; on the other, it goes into an in-depth analysis of each single occurrence of the term demeure and its variants in Blanchot's text, five in total. In either case, the temporalization of demeure remains a constant throughout.

Blanchot's short text narrates a moment of encounter with what should have been the main characters certain death. Set during the Second World War in the French countryside, the events happen to recount Blanchot's own experience of almost being executed by the Nazis. Fortuitously, he manages to escape from the fusillade and the certainty of his own death. Appearing some fifty years after the event, L'instant de ma mort is narrated from the deferred perspective of a problematized relationship between the first- and third-persons.

As with Jabes, the very first occurrence of demeure in L'instant de ma mort depicts the image of an eternity of suspended time. It immediately precedes the narrators moment of evasion: "Les Allemands restaient en ordre, prets a demeurer ainsi dans une immobilite qui arretait le temps." (29) The "anachronisme singulier" of Blanchot's "demeurer" first of all involves stopping time ("arretait le temps"). This stoppage of the conventional, linear progression of time acts as a dense focal point within the spatio-temporality of the narrative. But instead of altogether eliminating the future, the narrative brings the future into the chronology and logic of its own present. The narrative presences the future in "une immobilite qui arretait le temps": the future shall be as this moment, the future shall remain as this moment. Put differently, and with the double sense of the term in mind (pausing and continuing), the future will "dwell" as the impossibility of the image depicted.

The future, as it is brought into the present-time of Blanchot's narrative logic, is further complicated by the composition of the phrase in the past imperfective. The narrator is recounting a precise moment in the past that should have had no other future, save for the physical death of a troubled narrative subject. But there he is writing and telling it, not even shortly before or shortly thereafter, but a full half-century later. The two past imperfective verbs, "restaient" and "arretait," couch the timeless infinitive "demeurer." Near synonyms of one another, but not quite, the various meanings of the three terms can be summed up in the contradictory senses of demeure/dwell. At base, the three verbs remain, in terms of Blanchot's narrative, incommensurable: the impossible eternity of the brief moment of almost-death, the complexities of the narrative-time's present and future, and the author-narrator's deferred writing of a half-century later.

The Blanchotian temporal incommensurability recasts in a curious light Jabes's title, Je batis ma demeure. "Je batis," as both the simple present and past tenses of "batir," brings us closer to a nuanced layer of simultaneous time ingrained into the poetic demeure of Jabes's Cairene collection. At first, it appears that Jabes "builds" in the objective indicative mood of the present tense (Je batis): he creates his place, he builds his "dwelling" (ma demeure, in which one also reads and hears the vocable a demeure and demeures rich temporal, idiomatic inflections in French that remain untranslatable by the English "dwelling"). Therein an eternity is already present, but one that necessitates the presentness of the verb, of the action, of the building, of "je batis," while the verbal and architectural doubling ("batir"/"demeurer") reduplicates the atemporality of the substantive forms ("batiment"/"demeure"); as Derrida puts it, "Ni synchronie ni diachronie, une anachronie de tous les instants ... Ce temps de demourance est incommensurable." (30)

As temporalized presencing, bringing, and placing into the world, the singular anachronism of demeure and the title of Jabes's collection echo Heidegger's declaration that "building is really dwelling." (31) Expanding on Heideggers view that language retracts and retraces the meanings of words over time (the old English "dwele" and the contradictory specialized usages of "dwell" being a case in point), I am claiming that Jabes's usages of batir and demeure offer him an alternative to the aporia of his Franco-Egyptian existence: they provide him with the possibility of a poetic, word-based process of ontological thinking and presencing. As Jabes's language builds, constructs and structures meanings over the extended time of poetic composition and compilation, words come to delineate temporal boundaries, thresholds, limits, liminal spaces. To what Heidegger calls "a double space-making" (32) in which one may in all fullness truly dwell, Jabes coins a temporal equivalent with the double tenses of "je batis" and the temporalization of demeure.

Yet, like Blanchot, nothing is as simple as it seems for Jabes. In addition to the unique status of the texts within Jabes's oeuvre, the paradoxical combination of impossible time, and a Heideggerian fullness of truly dwelling ("je batis ma demeure"), Jabes's building and his dwelling, so carefully constructed out of words, are at once present, of his world and its time, and temporally elsewhere. Jabes's Franco-Egyptian publishing history and the ordering of texts in Je batis ma demeure best illustrate this simultaneous anachronism. In this respect, it is important to bear in mind that Je batis ma demeure, taken as a whole, is a retrospective creation, both in its structure and, especially, in its title---despite the fact that the verse itself was composed at least a full decade earlier. "L'auberge du sommeil," the poem containing the verse that gives Je batis ma demeure its title, forms a part of the 1949 collection La voix d'encre. (33) Whereas the moments of exile and transition between his past Egyptian writings and his future French pub lications are quite troubled, Jabess publication history in Egypt is itself uncomplicated. La voix d'encre was originally published by Edmond Jabes and Georges Henein's editorial project, the Cairo-based publishing house and small magazine La part du sable. For Jabes, the 1940s were his most fecund period of poetic production while in Cairo. Between 1943 and 1945, he composes Chansons pour le repas de l'ogre (dedicated to the memory of the death of Max Jacob in Drancy). His Le fond de leau (1946) copies almost exactly (adding only the initial definite article) the title of a collection of Christian lyric poems by Jacob (Fond de l'eau, 1927), and initially appears in the pages of the first issue of the magazine La part du sable (February 15, 1947). These texts are followed next by Trois filles de mon quartier (1947 1948), and then in 1949 by La voix d'encre and La clef de voute (the latter consisting of a cycle of six heteroclite poems, one of which appears alongside Henri Michaux, Georges Henein and Rene Char in the second and last issue of La part du sable in April 1950). (34) Les mots tracent, Jabess hybrid tome of aphorisms and prose poems from 1943-1951, appears in Paris in 1951 under the Cage d'or imprint.

These works are then deferred to the retrospectively assembled and titled collection of collections, Je batis ma demeure. Quietly occluding his juvenilia from the 1920s and 1930s, (35) it is only in Paris that Jabes would select some of his poems composed in Cairo for inclusion in this collection. In 1959, with the aid of Gabriel Bounoure and Jean Paulhan, he manages to have it published by Gallimard. (36) Reading "L'auberge du sommeil" in the order presented in Je batis ma demeure, the word "sommeil" comes to bear a thematic and architectural atavism, as a throwback to the opening pages of the collection and the liminary encounter of "demeure" with (lack of) sleep ("Une demeure est une longue insomnie / sur le chemin encapuchonne des mines"). (37) As a strong and deliberate architectural work, the collections grouped in Je batis ma demeure do not follow any chronological arrangement. The particular order conferred upon them by the poet instead reflects back onto the beginnings and the ends of his literary itinerary. Indeed, the couplet "Une demeure est une longue insomnie ..." appears in the 1956 Labsence de lieu. Placed near the beginning of the book, it enacts the anachronistic demeure poetics of early Jabes. Placed at the beginning and at the end of the collection, the later, terser texts frame the earlier, more limpid Cairo poems. Or, even better, the later texts may be considered to be not properly Cairene, but rather as Jabess first poems of detachment, movement and exile, major themes of the Le livre des questions cycle: 1956-1957 were, after all, the years of Jabes's flight from Egypt, his slow and painful transition into French life, and his first major encounter with anti-Semitism. (38) The in-between texts placed at the opening of the collection are Leau du puits (1956) and Labsence de lieu (1956); Du blanc des mots et du noir des signes (19531956), Petites incursions dans le monde des masques et des mots (1956) and Le pacte du printemps (1957) are placed at its closing. (39)

The editorial history and architectural structure of the collection reinforce the antithetical untimeliness of a simultaneous reading of "je batis" as "I build" and "I built." The verbal ambiguity of the title is a concise poetic summary of Jabess poetic place, his demeure: an "objectivist" poet of the moment and of the present ("I build"), but one whose moment has also passed ("I did build"). Written in the past tense, this latter reading is symptomatic of the poet's conflicted relationship with his Egyptian literary trajectory: an uprooting from a native land whose landscape (if not the geographical place itself) had thoroughly nourished his later poetics; having a home country where he was never a national; being an atheist marked racially, culturally and politically as Jewish, and consequently forced into exile. By naming his collected poems both in the present and the past, Jabes never quite succeeds at separating the past (the Cairene poetry) from the present (the uncertainty of being in France), choosing instead to continue dwelling in a poetic place characterized by an anachronistic demeure time.

Ma mort est-elle possible?

--Jacques Derrida 40

I will complicate matters further in guise of a conclusion. Three more collections from Jabes's later Parisian period are appended after Je batis ma demeure in Le seuil le sable. While Je batis ma demeure comprises the section entitled Le seuil, in a second section, Le sable, one finds collected the experimental grammars and typographies of Recit (1980), La memoire et la main (1974-1980), and Lhppel (1985-1988), presented in that order in the volume. These later texts were written within the context of a more mature poetic place: at this point in Jabes's career, the question of his place as an important modern poet was moot, as by then he had been canonized by a series of important critical readings, a Cerisy-la-Salle conference, a long list of prizes. But in these later texts, the familiar poetic locus proffered by the first-person je appears exactly four times, and only to be profoundly troubled. For example, in the second part of La memoire et la main, one reads at the end of the poem "Beau" (which echoes the title of Deau du puits, the first poem of Je batis ma demeure):

   J'ecris le desert
   Si forte est la lumiere
   que la pluie s'est volatilisee.

   Il n'y a plus que le sable
   ou je passe. (41)

The final near-effacement of the self's place in the world could be read as a late commentary by Jabes on Jabes, on his own place and on the place of his earlier texts. Without quite rejecting them, he appears to modify or even to erase the reader's understanding of the place of his earlier writings ("II n'y a plus que le sable I ou je passe"). In relation to this couplet, and as had been briefly noted above, just as "Je demeure" can be read as either "I dwell" or "I dwells" in one possible translation, the grammatical resemblance to "Je est un autre" is similarly present in the final verse of "Iieau." In this sense, "ou je passe" can be doubly read as "where [or when] I pass" and "where [or when] (the) I passes."

Whereas the ambiguity of "je batis" is verbal, the ambiguity of "ou je passe" is first of all spatio-temporal (the double sense of "ou," with preceding verses developing a sustained metaphor of time). But it is also pronominal (the "je" that is simultaneously a first- and a third-person) and existential; while the richness of the poetic place of "je batis" lies in its anachronistic demeure, the verbal preciseness of "ou je passe" underscores a tension inherent in Jabes's construction of poetic place: a full assumption of impasse, and the impossibility of an easy dwelling of any sort, whether in the world, or even in the words forged by the poet himself.

Through the perspective afforded by the term demeure, the poet's solid "dwelling built of words" now seems to be no more than shifting sand, which would rather emphasize the pastness of "je batis," as well as this first-person je that is no more than "un il douloureusement proche, douloureusement etranger." (42) Where Jabes's hand may have once left a durable mark in ink, it now appears like traces on sand passed over with a stick, his poetry always susceptible to the force of the elements of nature: "Si forte est la lumiere / que la pluie s'est volatilisee."

Further on, in the short text Lappel, on the very last page of Le seuil le sable, Jabes composes the collections ultimate strophe, which is both poetic dwelling in its verbal repetitiveness of negations, the imperative and the future tense, and erasure in its final, dialogical question and answer:

   Cherche mon nom dans les anthologies.
   Tu le trouveras et ne le trouveras pas.
   Cherche mon nom dans les dictionnaires.
   Tu le trouveras et ne le trouveras pas.
   Cherche mon nom dans les encyclopedies.
   Tu le trouveras et ne le trouveras pas.
   Qu'importe. Ai-je jamais eu un nom?
   Aussi, quand je mourrai, ne cherche pas
   mon nom dans les cimetieres
   ni ailleurs. (13)

Explicitly distinguished and separated from the places of his je and his name by the question ("Ai-je jamais eu un nom?"), and then distinctly attached to the future tense of the ever-problematic verb mourir ("quand je mourrai"), the poet's name--his legacy and his glory, supreme poetic place--is effaced before his death. As with Blanchot and Derrida, the question becomes impossible to answer: Can one bear witness to a posterity--or an absence of a posterity--following one's own (failed) disappearance from the world? Whatever the case may be, the poet only commands the tu to not search for such a posterity.

For the name of the poet is effaced from all places: not only from all compilations and books (tombs in their own respect), but especially from all cemeteries, one's derniere demeure.

Dartmouth College


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Jaron, Steven. Edmond Jabes: The Hazard of Exile. Oxford: Legenda, 2003.

Lancon, Daniel. Jabes l'Egyptien. Paris: Jean-Michel Place, 1998.

Langlet, Irene. "Recueil de recueils : l'exemple d'Edmond Jabes." Methode! 2 (2002): 65-71.

Laroussi, Farid. Ecritures du sujet: Michaux, Jabes, Gracq, Tournier. Mons: Sils Maria, 2006.

Levinas, Emmanuel. Noms propres. Montpellier: Fata Morgana, 1976.

Met, Philippe. Formules de la poesie: etudes sur Ponge, Leiris, Char et Du Bouchet. Paris: puf, 1999.

Missir, Marie-Laure. Joyce Mansour: une etrange demoiselle. Paris: Jean-Michel Place, 2005.

Naffah, Fouad Gabriel. La description de l'homme, du cadre et de la lyre. Preface by Salah Stetie. Paris: Mercure de France, 1963.

Rabate, Dominique, ed. Figures du sujet lyrique. Paris: puf, 1996.

Rabate, Dominique, Joelle de Semet et Yves Vade, eds. Le sujet lyrique en question. Bordeaux: pub, 1996.

Stamelman, Richard and Mary Ann Caws, eds. Ecrire le livre : autour d'Edmond Jabes. Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 1989.

Stamelman, Richard. Lost Beyond Telling: Representations of Death and Absence in Modern French Poetry. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990.

Stetie, Salah. La nuit de la substance. Montpelier: Fata Morgana, 2007.

Waldrop, Rosmarie. Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabes. Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 2002.


(1.) Fouad Gabriel Naffah, La description de l'homme, du cadre et de la lyre, preface by Salah Stetie (Paris: Mercure de France, 1963), 59.

(2.) Salah Stetie, La nuit de la substance (Montpelier: Fata Morgana, 2007), 38.

(3.) Edmond Jabes, Le livre des questions I (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), 36.

(4.) Jacques Derrida, Lecriture et la difference (Paris: Seuil, 1967), 99.

(5.) Edmond Jabes, Le batis ma demeure: poemes 1943-1957 (Paris: Gallimard, 1959).

(6.) Edmond Jabes, Le livre des questions (Paris: Gallimard, 1963).

(7.) Jabes's earliest and most important readers were his close friend and mentor Gabriel Bounoure, in his 1959 preface to /e batis ma demeure, later collected with other essays, notes and some correspondence in Edmond Jabes: la demeure et le livre (Montpellier: Fata Morgana, 1984); Jacques Derrida, "Edmond Jabes ou la question du livre" and "Ellipse" (both dedicated to the Le livre des questions cycle), in Llecriture et la difference (Paris: Seuil, 1967); Maurice Blanchot, "Traces," in Llamitie (Paris: Gallimard, 1971); and Emmanuel Levinas, "Edmond Jabes aujourd'hui," in Noms propres (Montpellier: Fata Morgana, 1976). More recent academic inquiry into Jabess writings includes Mary Ann Caws' monograph, Edmond Jabes (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988); Richard Stamelman and Mary Ann Caws's edited volume of the proceedings of the Cerisy-la-Salle conference on the poet, Ecrire le livre: autour d'Edmond Jabes (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 1989); Richard Stamelman, "The Nomadic Writing of Exile: Edmond Jabes," in Lost Beyond Telling: Representations of Death and Absence in Modern French Poetry (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1990); Daniel Lancon, Jabes TEgyptien (Paris: Jean-Michel Place, 1998); Steven Jaron, Edmond Jabes: The Hazard of Exile (Oxford: Legenda, 2003); Farid Laroussi, Ecritures du sujet: Michaux, Jabes, Gracq, Tournier (Mons: Sils Maria, 2006); and Nathalie Debrauwere-Miller, Envisager Dieu avec Edmond Jabes (Paris: Cerf, 2007).

(8.) Derrida, op. cit., 99.

(9.) The editorial paratext of the definitive edition of Jabess collected poems, Le seuil le sable : poesies completes, 1943-1988 (Paris: Gallimard, 1990), "quotes" him, in a terse biographical blurb appended to the end of the volume, describing it as "mon seul livre de poesie" (399). 1 have been unable to locate this quote in any other source.

(10.) Jaron, 136.

(11.) "Lyrisme," Le tresor de la langue francaise informatise, accessed November 25, 2012, In his edited volume on the figurations and defigurations of lyricisms "dispositifs enonciatifs," Figures du sujet lyrique (Paris: puf, 1996), Dominique Rabate takes a similar point of departure in order to problematize the lyric as genre. His complementary volume, edited with Joelle de Semet and Yves Vade, Le sujet lyrique en question (Bordeaux: pub, 1996), recasts the problematic through questions of lyric subjectivity, literary itinerary, and poetic voice, while Gustavo Guerrero's Poetique et poesie lyrique (Paris: Seuil, 2000) presents transhistorical analyses of treatises and documented accounts of "lyricism."

(12.) Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought (New York: Harper Perennial, 2001), 146.

(13.) Jacques Derrida, Demeure : Maurice Blanchot (Paris: Galilee, 1998).

(14.) Philippe Met, Formules de la poesie : etudes sur Ponge, Leiris, Char et Du Bouchet (Paris: puf, 1999), 4; cf. also Stamelman, Lost, 245.

(15.) Jabes, Le seuil, 25.

(16.) Ibid., 99.

(17.) Ibid., 218.

(18.) Ibid., 230.

(19.) Ibid., 305.

(20.) Cf. Jaron, 114.

(21.) Rosmarie Waldrop, Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabes (Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 2002).

(22.) Max Jacob, Les lettres de Max Jacob a Edmond Jabes (Pessac: Opales, 2003), 21.

(23.) Ibid., 37.

(24.) Quite literally, as well: the life of the francophone literary community in Cairo was centered on Zamalek island, in the heart of Cairo and in the middle of the Nile, where, for instance, Jabes lived in the same building as Joyce Mansour; cf. Marie-Laure Missir, Joyce Mansour: une etrange demoiselle (Paris: Jean-Michel Place, 2005), 24 et passim.

(25.) Derrida, Demeure, 61.

(26.) Cf. the Oxford English Dictionary for the English terms oldest etymologies, which suggest notions of confused delaying and tarrying, in both the substantive and the intransitive verbal usages of the archaic "dwele"; likewise, specialized usages of the "dwell" suggest antinomic "slight pauses" and "brief continuations."

(27.) Didier Cahen, Edmond Jabes (Paris: Seghers, 2007), 87.

(28.) Maurice Blanchot, L'instant de ma mort (Paris: Gallimard, 1994).

(29.) Ibid., 12 (my emphasis).

(30.) Derrida, Demeure, 107.

(31.) Heidegger, op. cit., 146.

(32.) Ibid., 156.

(33.) The metaphor "la voix d'encre" itself is lifted from Char's Feuillets d'Hypnos (19431944). In note or feuillet number 194, Char writes: "Je me fais violence pour conserver, malgre mon humeur, ma voix d'encre" (Rene Char, CEuvres completes (Paris: Gallimard, 1983), 221).

(34.) The texts are Henri Michaux, "Tranches de savoir"; Georges Henein, "Lesprit colonial"; Edmond Jabes, "Le rocher de la solitude (poeme a plusieurs voix)"; Rene Char, "Corail" and "Le tout ensemble." Tire W. T. Bandy Center at Vanderbilt University keeps an original copy of the second issue of La part du sable in its Pascal Pia Collection.

(35.) For full details about the circumstances of publication, dissemination and readership for early Jabes, and about the texts retained and those left behind, cf. Daniel Lancons groundbreaking Jabes l'Egyptien-, Steven Jaron's edited volume, Portrait(s) d'Edmond Jabes (Paris: BnF, 2000), which presents a careful selection of some of Jabes's earlier material, culled from the Bibliotheque nationales Jabes archives; and Jaron's monograph, Edmond Jabes: The Hazard of Exile. This more recent study is informed by extensive research in the archives of Egypt's francophone periodicals that were Jabes's first publishing venues. Jaron offers compelling readings of Jabes's earliest poems that the poet would subsequently renounce and leave out of Je batis ma demeure, as well as an overview of critical reception--wide-ranging and mixed--of early Jabes. Some of Jabes's omitted poems and collections, which had caused a stir in Cairo, include: Illusions sentimentales (Paris: Eugene Figuiere/Les Anthologies du XX' siecle, 1930); Je t'attends! (Paris: Eugene Figuiere, 1931); the essay Apport a la poesie and the experimental "spilling typography" (Jaron 53) of Extraits, published in the periodical La Semaine egyptienne 35-6 (1932); Les pieds en l'air, prefaced by Max Jacob (Cairo: La Semaine egyptienne, 1934); and the artistic manifesto Arrhes poetiques (Cairo: La Semaine egyptienne, 1935). As an example of the criticism generated by some of these texts, Jaron writes: "With the appearance of Les Pieds en l'air in the winter of 1934 came a renewed gust of criticism. Adolf Shual wrote sarcastically of it: 'Dans une lettre preface qu'il adresse a l'auteur, Max Jacob lui declare: "Je suis tout a fait persuade que vous irez tres loin sur le chemin d'Art." Mon Dieu, s'il doit faire cette longue route avec Les Pieds en l'air, il faut croire que son talent tient plus de l'equilibriste que du poete, du moins, dans le sens classique que nous sommes habites a donner a ce mot.' Another critic, Zeinab, writing in the Semaine egyptienne, confessed: 'J'ai bien cherche a comprendre ce poete, et malgre toute ma bonne volonte je ne sais si j'y suis parvenue. ... Jabes veut bien, du temps a autre, nous initier a son univers intime, mais il tient par-dessus tout a nous ebahir. Et il reussit!' Writers in Paris also noticed an undue obscurantism. Jabes's new poetry, then, was a mystery to his readers, and he would have to account for it" (61).

(36.) Edmond Jabes, Du desert au livre : entretiens avec Marcel Cohen (Paris: Belfond, 1980), 60-61.

(37.) Jabes, Le seuil, 25.

(38.) Upon arrivai in Paris, Jabes confronted and assumed a thus-far marginalized Jewish identity, which he newly rediscovered following an encounter with racist graffiti. He writes this awakening into the very outset of his first Parisian book, Le livre des questions: "Une ville, la nuit, est une devanture videe de son contenu. / Il a suffi de quelques graffiti sur un mur pour que les souvenirs qui sommeillaient dans mes mains s'emparent de ma plume. Et pour que les doigts commandent la vue" (Le livre des questions 130). When later discussing this event, Jabes says: "J'habitais a cette epoque--c'etait en 1957--le quartier de l'Odeon. Alors que je rentrais un soir, les phares d'une automobile balayerent un pan de mur qui me faisait face. J'eus le temps de lire 'Mort aux Juifs' et, a cote, en anglais, ce qui me parait encore inexplicable: 'Jews go Home'" (Jabes, Du desert au livre, 67; cf. also Le livre des questions I, 56-57).

(39.) For a different, but complementary, reading of the modifications made by Jabes to Je batis ma demeure in Paris, and for a brief consideration of the thematic and structural (dis)unity of the collection, cf. Irene Langlet, "Recueil de recueils: l'exemple d'Edmond Jabes," Methode! 2 (2002): 65-71.

(40.) Jacques Derrida, Apories: mourir--s'attendre aux 'limites de la verite' (Paris: Galilee, 1996), 48.

(41.) Jabes, Le seuil, 384.

(42.) Louis-Rene Des Forets, Ostinato (Paris: Mercure de France, 1997), 30.

(43.) Edmond Jabes, Le Seuil le sable: poesies completes, 1943-1988 (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1990).
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Author:Elhariry, Yasser
Publication:French Forum
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Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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