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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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With books which take five years to write, as this one has, it is a sheer impossibility to even name, let alone properly thank, all the people to whom such thanks are more than due. The bulky body of writing may seem to grow of its own accord, but it is always made possible by timely help from others. This book makes its way through its writer’s life, absorbing the traces of the paths he has walked and challenges he has had to negotiate. It bears witness to these traces by itself while the writer’s task is to thank all those who have directly contributed to its making.

My thanks go thus to Professor Agata Bielik-Robson, Professor Marek Drwięga, Professor Rodolphe Gasché, Ireneusz Kania, Professor Krzysztof Kłosiński and Professor Adam Wodnicki, whose invaluable advice and support helped me avoid many mistakes and inspired new interpretive insights.

This book would not be what it is had it not been for the hospitality I gratefully received from the Université de Nice and the State University of New York at Buffalo, which offered me true research comfort. As there are no institutions without people, my special thank-you goes to the SUNY’s Professor Stephen Dunnett, Bronisława Karst-Gasché, Professor Ewa Płonowska-Ziarek, Professor Krzysztof Ziarek and Kathy Kubala as well as many other people who kindly helped me in Buffalo.

I would also like to thank Wydawnictwo Austeria, the publisher of this book’s Polish version, and in particular Wojciech Ornat, for extraordinary hospitality by the standards of our times.

I am greatly indebted to all those who worked on preparing the English version of this book. The extraordinary translation by Dr. Patrycja Poniatowska combines the highest precision with linguistic elegance. Thanks to her this text, which was already born at the crossroads of a few languages, could get a new life in English. I would also like to express my gratitude to Jan Burzyński, Łukasz Gałecki and Peter Lang Publishing for navigating this text to its publication.

I am grateful to this book’s first reader. Olga, this text will forever preserve the trace of your first gaze.

Last but not least, I wish to thank all hidden tsaddikim who helped me in my work although I did not realise how profoundly they contributed to it.