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The Freedom of Lights: Edmond Jabès and Jewish Philosophy of Modernity


Przemysław Tacik

Edmond Jabès was one of the most intriguing Jewish thinkers of the 20th century – a poet for the public and a Kabbalist for those who read his work more closely. This book turns his writings into a ground-breaking philosophical achievement: thinking which is manifestly indebted to the Kabbalah, but in the post-religious and post-Shoah world. Loss, exile, negativity, God’s absence, writing and Jewishness are the main signposts of the negative ontology which this book offers as an interpretation of Jabès’ work. On the basis of it, the book examines the nature of the miraculous encounter between Judaism and philosophy which occurred in the 20th century. Modern Jewish philosophy is a re-constructed tradition which adapts the intellectual and spiritual legacy of Judaism to answer purely modern questions.

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1 Jewish Philosophy of Modernity

On the Affinities between Modernity and Judaism

The Problematic Connectedness between Judaism and Modern Thought

The Universe of Modernity I: The Historical Hiatus

The Universe of Modernity II: The Structure that Conditions Thinking

The Universe of Modernity III: The Problem of Philosophical Account of Judaism

The Concept of Jewish Philosophy of Modernity

2 Edmond Jabès: Life and Writing



Conclusion: Jabès’ Supercooled Modernism

3 Tzimtzum: Jabès and Luria

Inaccessibility of the Origins

Effects of the Catastrophe

The Jabèsian Tzimtzum: An Outline

Tzimtzum as an Ontological Principle

An Example of the Tzimtzum Cycle: The Act of Writing

Tzimtzum as the Principle of Discontinuity

An Example of the Tzimtzum Cycle: The Act of Writing

Tzimtzum in Jabès and in Luria

Conclusion: The Jabèsian Tzimtzum as a Philosophical Idea of Modernity

4 Negative Ontology I: The Vocable

The Vocable: The Concept and its Contexts

The Vocable as an Element of Negative Ontology

The Vocable as a Trace of the Indicible

Representation and Repetition.

Writing as a Philosophical Practice

The Role of the Text as a Path of Tzimtzum

Conclusion: Kabbalistic vs. Modern Meaning of the Ontology of Writing.

5 Negative Ontology II: God, Nothing and the Name

God – Nothing.

Tzimtzum and the Exigency of Monotheism

Language and Monotheism.

Conclusion: Relentless Theology and the Fate of Jerusalem.

6 Messianism of Writing

Hope for the Definitive Book

Messianism and Jabès’ Ontology

Messianism, Time and Truth

The Risk of Messianism: “The Edge of the Book”.

God as the Ultimate Reader: Messianism and Monotheism

Oneness and Equality of Things

Equality of Things: Possibility and Impossibility

The Essence of Messianic Utopia

Messianism’s Bi-directional Movement

There Is No Salvation Beyond Writing

Conclusion: Jabès’ Messianism and Modern Philosophy

7 The Concept of the Book

Introduction: The Layers of the Book

Whiteness: Continuity and Legibility

Whiteness: The Awe of Excess and Sur-vival

Whiteness: Existence as Incompletion and Succession

The Script of the Book

Writing and the Book

Writing as Marking the Book: Jabès vs. Hegel and Mallarmé.

Writing Instead of Knowledge

Conclusion: The Book and Jewish Philosophy of Modernity

8 Judaism and Writing

Introduction: A Jew and a Writer

Writing and Judaism: The Structure of the Book

The Wound as the Beginning of Judaism and Writing

Historicity: Judaism as a Religion after Religion

The Jew and the Writer: A Silent Community

The Fusion of Judaism and Writing: Life as Interpretation

Conclusion: Jabès’ Judaism and Jewish Philosophy of Modernity

9 The Shoah and Anti-Semitism

The Shoah as a Disaster

Bearing Witness to the Shoah

Anti-Semitism as the Rule of the Name

Conclusion: Anti-Semitism and the Modern Depletion

10 Jabès’ Ethics: Repetition, Resemblance and Hospitality




The End in Whiteness: A Possibility of Modern Ethics

11 Theology of the Point: Jabès as a Modern Kabbalist

Introduction: Linguistic Kabbalism in Jabès’ Thinking

From Letters to the Point

Introduction to Kabbalism of the Point, or on Jabès’ Materialistic Différance

The Point as the Basis of Creation

The Point as the End of God’s Erasure and Withdrawal

Conclusion: What the Theology of the Point Actually Describes

Conclusion: Edmond Jabès and Jewish Philosophy of Modernity