Show Less
Open access

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

Series:

Przemyslaw 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.

Show Summary Details
Open access

10 Jabès’ Ethics: Repetition, Resemblance and Hospitality

10 Jabès’ Ethics: Repetition, Resemblance and Hospitality

Three notions in the title of this Chapter chart Jabès’ ethics, which is, as a matter of fact, closely related to his negative ontology. Nowhere else is Jabès’ connection to his contemporary philosophy more conspicuous, with Lévinas’ thought reverberating in Jabès’ ideas particularly vividly. In this Chapter, I want to address Jabès’ ethics – controversial though the term may sound in this context – and to identify its links to modern philosophy.

The three eponymous notions are key concepts which recur throughout Jabès’ body of writing, with the latter two featuring in the titles of his books. Basically, they make up an underlying ontological grid on which the Jabès’ entire thinking is founded as they map the relations which beings establish (repetition and resemble) or can enter (hospitality) with each other. In the sequence proposed in the title, the notions progress from the groundwork of ontology up to an ethical culmination. Below, I will discuss them in this order to conclude by exploring the possibility of ethics in simplification-seeking modernity.

Repetition

Repetition is the only notion I address here which does not appear in any title of Jabès’ books. Sometimes it is admittedly difficult to draw the line between repetition as used by Jabès in its colloquial sense and repetition as charged with idiosyncratic connotations, which gives us a sense of Jabès’ distinct take on repetition. Repetition is a consequence of perspectival reality, in which there is no simple connectedness among various perspectives – books, worlds, and so forth. Each perspective has its own meaningful world, without communicating with any other one. Therefore, they are neither different nor similar, for they are separated by discontinuity.

Nonetheless, Jabès does not presuppose an absolute impossibility of two things, two moments or two perspectives convening. This is where the notion of repetition comes into play, supplanting the colloquial concepts of similarity, sameness or identity. Repetition, as defined by Jabès, means that there arises a being (a thing, a moment, a book) which is shaped by the same structure that has determined another being. Because this very structure produces conditions of utterability, the structure itself cannot be depicted. Consequently, the instance of repetition cannot be proven because the repeated cannot be possibly brought ←305 | 306→side by side with the repeating. Repetition is thus a mutual relationship of different particularities which defy comparison.

Therefore, the act of repetition is unique and non-comparable with any other one even though it repeats this act. That repetition is taking place cannot be substantiated by anything external to this event. In this regard, the ascertainment of repetition corresponds to Hegel’s infinite judgment or Nietzsche’s thesis of perspectivism: within a particularity, this ascertainment tries to refer to what is outside it and, as such, is by definition impossible. Finally, each act of repetition embodies the repeated structure fully, and, in this respect, it is equal to any other one (even though it obviously cannot be uttered). For this reason, all imaginary depictions of the primordial disaster are mutually equivalent in Jabès, for each of them renders the same structure of unutterability, whatever specific content it may bear. Repetition transcends the same-other opposition (“you are never twice either the same or the other,”1 writes Jabès in a spontaneous gesture of a-Heraclitism), for this opposition applies to things comparable rather than to things discontinuous.

A suggestive metaphor for repetition often employed by Jabès is the image of concentric circles:

A circle

and in the circle another

circle

and in the new circle still another

circle

and so on

till the last: a forceful [assujettissant] point

then an invisible point

unbelievably present,

majestically absent.2

The space in which these circles find themselves is that comprehension-eluding, ultimate space of all places, that is, the Book. To understand the image, we must grasp that the circles never intersect and, as such, never come in touch directly. Each of them is surrounded on both sides by its own blank space, which separates it from other circles. Therefore, each is alone against whiteness. At the same time, they are involved in a relationship, be it only a ←306 | 307→relationship as perceived from the point of view of that whiteness, which is the only space where no meaningful utterance can be formulated. Relationships among the circles are made possible by what is impossible for them but holds their conditions of possibility. At the same time, each of the circles fully embodies the condition of the circle: its emplacement in the space of the Book, circularity and being surrounded by whiteness, which is its radical beyond.

It is not without reason that Jabès’ metaphor relies on circles rather than any other geometrical figure. Having no beginning and no endpoint, the circle is self-enclosed, a property that philosophy has used regularly for multiple purposes. In other words, within itself, the circle does not encounter any visible end. Such an end is demarcated only by the whole of the circle against the space which is impossible from the circle’s point of view. It is in this space that the circle is finite and duplicates the position of other circles.

The image of circles epitomises Jabès’ perspectivism: the relationship of circles is the relationship of perspectives, each of which, though self-enclosed and complete in itself, is finite and particular vis-à-vis the space in which it is located. The perspectives can obviously be identified with Jabès’ “books.” Circles can have radiuses of various lengths and, consequently, various perimeters; perspectives, likewise, can have more or less content, but this does not determine their existence as such. Content establishes the scope of a perspective but does not provide the principle of singularisation, which lies in the radical singularity of everything contained within the space of the Book.

This can be discerned in the central point of all circles. In Jabès’ image, they all share the same centre, which lies beyond them all. The reduction of content, i.e. the depletion of perspectives, corresponds in this image to the gradual shortening of the circles’ radiuses as they approach the central point. The point is absent, as Jabès says in the passage quoted above, which can be taken to mean that all content disappears in the central point, and the circle (perspective) becomes indistinguishable from the point (the principle of singularisation). This is the reason why the circle can exist only where it keeps at a distance from its own centre, without overlapping with it. Hence, the point is at the same time the circle’s condition of possibility (and is, in this sense, “unbelievably present”) as well as the boundary crossing which the circle ceases to be (and is, thus, “majestically absent”). Since we know that, according to Jabès, “when God wanted to reveal Himself He appeared as a point,” we must realise that God is, to him, an absent centre around which all perspectives revolve – a centre which makes them possible and, at the same time, must be inaccessible to them (a “forceful,” or as Jabès originally puts it, “assujettissant” point, which plays on the double meaning of ←307 | 308→the French word: “making subject to itself” and “turning into a subject”3). Just as the circle must “move away” from its centre to be distinguishable from the point, God cannot appear within any perspective,4 but must form its invisible centre of gravity outside it. At the same time, the progressive reduction of perspectives, the depletion of content in writing, helps near the central point, without ever making it possible to reach that point. Therefore, the circle in Jabès, just like the Möbius strip and the Borromean rings in Lacan,5 serves as the only viable, i.e. material (geometrical), representation of the position of perspectives.

As this image suggests, repetition takes place between the circles (perspectives). I believe that time must be seen as a factor in the arising of circles as it is not for no reason that Jabès talks of “new” circles. They differ in terms of their positions in the Book and, also, in terms of the singularising moments of their formation. Most fascinating is the position of the midmost point, which, contentless and always central, though each time different, keeps repeating itself. In Jabès’ vision, the point is thus not the centre of stability and self-identity. On the contrary, it is the utmost concentration of distinction, which can be repeated at the same place only because it has no content and is differentiation itself. In Jabès’ ontology, a thing can persist in the same place only when it is not stable at all but is just the principle of distinction – the point of indistinguishability ←308 | 309→between the present and the absent.6 This corroborates the insights of Jabès’ negative theology as discussed in Chapter Five.

Because perspectives repeat each other, every act of creation is a repetition of God’s primary act:

Repetition is man’s power to perpetuate himself in God’s supreme speculations. To repeat the divine act in its First Cause. Thus man is God’s equal in his power to choose an unpredictable word which he alone can launch. I obey slavishly. I am master of the metamorphoses. Adventure is a property of words.7

The specificity of repetition makes the human act of creation free (in that it has its own unique place) and “slavishly obedient” to the First Cause, at the same time. Counterintuitively, the two properties, rather than being contradictory, are each other’s perfect equivalents in Jabès’ ontology. Repetition is both the performance of the same act, as it fully embodies the same structure, as well as its subsequent iteration from the point of view of the Book.

In Jabès’ texts, repetition serves also as a prerequisite of creative practice. For if all creation is doomed to follow the same process of fall, it should also be doomed to cease when confronted with the past. However, exactly due to repetition, every act of creation has its own radically particular place, where it cannot be related to what has already happened. While two adjacent beings can be similar in a common way, in Jabèsian repetition the repeated and the repeating must be divided by destruction. In this way, Moses’ Second Tables repeat the first – Divine – ones and are possible only when the former have already been shattered.8 Each human book has the power to repeat God’s book because God’s book has failed. Thus, Jabès can insist that “repetition is our subversive way, for it moves by an inborn need to destroy and be destroyed.”9 Repetition is thus the principle of coming into being and perishing. Unlike in the principle of identity, that which comes into being through repetition has its structure inscribed in the material memory of the worlds which have already perished, making repetition possible, and appears within the horizon of its own perishment. As such, repetition can be considered a negative equivalent of the identity principle in Jabès’ nothing-based perspectivism.

←309 | 310→

It is also due to repetition that Creation perpetually goes on rather than remaining locked it its once-shaped being. As Jabès writes: “The Origin is All. Nothing is not invented. All and nothing are repeated. O miracle of repetition – a regular escape to All, a passionate return to the origin.”10 Repetition makes it possible to experience originariness here and now only because the origin has already been destroyed. Repetition re-opens the process leading to creation and “is a chance for continual change.”11 Clearly, Jabès shares some of Benjamin’s ideas, who similarly described the process of recalling and salvaging the past, including the notion of the origin which is ahead of rather than behind us. By repeating, we do not imitate but take the same place that the repeated has occupied and, as such, we reclaim also all the possibilities it has had.

A fitting conclusion to the discussion of Jabèsian repetition is found in Derrida’s remarks on repetition in “Ellipsis.” Derrida states that repetition removes the centre and identity of the origin.12 Repetition (return to the book, in Derrida’s essay) is elliptical in the double sense of the word as a geometrical figure and a literary device:

Something invisible is missing in the grammar of this repetition. As this lack is invisible and undeterminable, as it completely redoubles and consecrates the book, once more passing through each point along its circuit, nothing has budged. And yet all meaning is altered by this lack. Repeated, the same line is no longer exactly the same, the ring no longer has exactly the same centre, the origin has played. Something is missing that would make the circle perfect.13

Repetition is based on the ellipsis because the repeated must remain “invisible and undeterminable.” In Derrida, repetition is symbolised by the ellipsis rather than by the circle to emphasise that, in repetition, the beginning of the circle must be displaced. The imageries used by Jabès and Derrida differ only ostensibly. Admittedly, Jabès adheres to the image of concentric circles in order to institute at their middle a point, a centre of presence/absence, God that every circle refers to. Nonetheless, such a relation could solely be visible in the inaccessible space of the Book. Because we have only the script, which in its continuity passes from one circle to another, in our actually experienced reality we indeed ←310 | 311→encounter the ellipsis, as suggested by Derrida.14 The image of concentric circles and God’s point would only be its representation.

Finally, repetition has an unignorable ethical dimension to it. Unlike any form of the identity principle, repetition discriminates rather than uniformises, and it indicates loss instead of replacing the lost with a mock-up of the past. Repetition helps think something without abolishing the difference between the “object” and the thinker. It establishes their community and, in doing so, gives elementary justice to that which is. Jabès’ ethics is oriented on things rather than on people alone, and repetition unites in protest against the unstoppable disaster of creation.

Resemblance

The idea of resemblance is a recurrent theme in Jabès, particularly in his middle and late periods, serving as the overarching concept of The Book of Resemblances series. Rather than a fixed concept, resemblance accumulates findings of ongoing explorations around a certain primary idea. Apparently, resemblance is a notion that serves to examine the relationship of beings in a repetition-based reality. As it is difficult to distinguish resemblance from repetition, I would draw the following line between them: while repetition is an act, an event, resemblance designates relationships between the repeated and the repeating. Jabès talks of resemblance only after he has shown in his previous books that similarity, in its colloquial sense, is impossible as it stumbles over ontological obstacles.15 Having developed ←311 | 312→the idea of repetition and an awareness of discontinuity that divides beings, he revisits the concept of resemblance the meaning of which differs totally from the colloquial one.

Discussing resemblance in Jabès, we must remember that resemblance is a wish, a hope for repeating something radically different in order make contact with it:

[…] every time I am similar to the other [à un autre].

[…] Likeness operates on the level of faith.

[…] There is no [il n’y a point] book outside its likeness to the book when faith is lacking.

[…] Any book is but a dim likeness of the lost book.

[…] In the beginning was the word that wanted to resemble.

[…] All creation is an achievement of likeness, is the act through which it risks asserting itself.16

To understand these passages, we could usefully recall Jabès’ observation that “repetition is the power of resemblance.”17 Thus, though resemblance is based on repetition, it is also something more than just repetition. This seems to be associated with the fact that resemblance is the only mechanism of establishing bonds between beings in fragmented reality. Because repetition can be neither shown nor proven – after all, it is grounded in the impossible – resemblance is a form of faith. Resemblance means believing that there is indeed a repetition-based connection, for example, between two books. What is more, this faith not so much concerns relationships between the already existing beings as rather underpins the coming-into-being of that which is repeated, providing, so to speak, a protective horizon for the emergence of beings.

Resemblance is a wish to make repetition a reality, a wish that enables repetition to take place. “All creation is an achievement of likeness,” claims Jabès, adding that there is no book outside its likeness and faith. It was in this way, ←312 | 313→as Jabès himself asserts, that The Book of Resemblances came into being out of its conscious similarity to The Book of Questions.18 Celan might have had the same thing in mind when he spoke of the poem which “attempts to gain a direction”19 toward an object, without fusing with it. In Jabès, however, it is not only about making a new book20: since all being means “being-continually-created” (“keeping alive the fire of creation”), resemblance forms the horizon of everything that happens in its being.

Though there is no connectedness among beings, each of them in its solitude can direct itself towards another one, and this faith-underpinned direction-taking can be referred to as resemblance. Resemblance, thus, wrests a being out of its solitude (though only in an imaginary way, perhaps) and is the only bond that has survived the catastrophe. Because beings, in their solitude, direct themselves towards each other, their peculiar solidarity is produced as they establish relationships through resemblance.

To resemble . . . does not mean to become the other but to let the other be you, to some extent. It means to perish doubly within him and doubly live his death through one subjective bond.21

Resembling, taking shape as somebody that resembles, does not entail “becoming the other” because repetition precludes retaining or copying identity in time. Rather, it makes it possible to shape one’s being as a repetition of the other’s being towards which one turns. In this sense, resembling enables the other to become me. Admittedly, I perish and survive once only, but directing myself in resemblance to another being, I can – through a subjective bond – embody two deaths and two survivals.

←313 | 314→

Unmistakably, Jabès merges the ontological and the ethical in his concept of resemblance. It is a far more radical step than Lévinas’ gesture of replacing ontology with ethics as first philosophy, which was, in a degree, just a reversal of the previous order. In Jabès, ethics is not an injunction but rather a pursuit of beings which is formed alongside their ontological coming-into-being within dispersed reality. Jabès seems to dismantle the established hierarchies of ontological and ethical argumentation in order to show the primordial level of happening/enowning, where ontology is entirely inseparable from ethics. If Lévinas endeavoured to respond to Heidegger by giving ethics precedence over ontology, Jabès – who thinks at the same level as Heidegger – finds ethical components in Heidegger’s thought. Clearly, an ethical command is missing here, even in the form demanded by Lévinas. Jabès was always sceptical about the Lévinasian idea of responsibility for the other22 though, basically speaking, he should have shared the vision of an ethical impulse produced by the other’s existence alone. Yet Jabès’ ontologised ethics focuses rather on underscoring resemblance to the other, in solitude that nonetheless endures. This vision is closer to Blanchot’s communauté inavouable, a community in which the dying other is accompanied, but his loneliness, rather than reduced, is just repeated in the bystander’s loneliness:

“You will resemble the dead in the moment of dying,” said reb Maalad. “In the end, you will take on a likeness to all exhausted likenesses.”23

But, in Jabès, resemblance is not limited to the community of the dying (or community with the dying other, as in Blanchot), which is only a particular case of the ontological relationship among beings. Awarded no distinguished position, the human is simply one of the things that arise, repeat and resemble just as other ones do. It is not a coincidence that the sentence which opens the analysis of Creation in Chapter Three – “We are all equal before language” – is to be found nowhere else than in The Book of Resemblances. This language, taken to be the fundamental structure of reality, determines relationships of all things, including the human being. What is more, Jabès apparently presupposes that it is the recognition of one’s resemblance to and equality with things that produces a truly ethical community. Resemblance is what “is at the same time identical,” ←314 | 315→“something unknown laid over the known,”24 he observes. In resemblance, we are most ourselves and, at the same time, transcend ourselves most. Even though the structure of fragmented reality prevents us from giving an account of the “unknown,” by distancing ourselves from the known in the representation, we can turn towards the unknown. In this way, resemblance seems to guarantee respect for all beings in their separateness and ensure elimination of violence. Emphatically, this must be a resemblance that is aware of the solitude of beings, which it ventures to override, rather than a blind resemblance that takes itself to be the basis of sameness.

Having elucidated the ethical dimension of resemblance, let us focus on its structure. According to Jabès, resemblance is possible where separate beings exist, and that means in time. Time pushes things similar apart and, consequently, “future guarantees resemblance.”25 Because there is no continuity in time, nothing is identical with itself. Resemblance is possible where identity is precluded:

Where resemblance appears everything is shifted apart [décalé]: being is not being, things are not things, the book is not the book.26

However, while in the real time beings are disjoined, resemblance – like Benjamin’s “flash of recognition” – produces an unexpected connection across time that has passed. As resemblance itself is a matter of faith, it does not remove the real time but, instead, breeds a subjective feeling of reproducing the moment when the similar existed. This feeling is called by Jabès “the time of resemblance”:

Resemblance is a brief harmony [accord] of the infinite. You resemble him that resembles you, the time of resemblance.

There is no eternal image.

The eternity of God is the absence of image.27

Resemblance seems to suspend for a moment the fragmentation of reality and the discontinuity of time, binding two moments and two beings. Their separateness is not abolished, and they cannot be said to be one and the same thing. Resemblance presupposes that A is similar to B, and B to A and, as such, in the ←315 | 316→very structure of this depiction it presupposes two separate beings. Besides, it is not a reciprocal relationship.28

In this respect, Jabès endorses Wittgenstein’s idea of “family resemblances.”29 In this concept, resemblance is not derivable from the common features several beings share but is a relation that precedes them: A is in a degree similar to B, B in another degree to C, and so forth. It is not the plane of properties that produces resemblances of beings; if it were so, they would be derivative constructs. Resemblance can be seen only in a concrete juxtaposition of beings whose autonomy is not reducible to a set of properties. Similarly, Jabès states:

“The Jew is the Jew,” he said, “because he is similar to the Jew. He is because he resembles…; but the one he resembles does not exist by himself but because he resembles… He is only his resemblance to another [un autre], to the other [l’autre].”30

In Jabès, Wittgenstein’s insight is bolstered by the ontological assumption that there is no available plane on which to juxtapose beings in the first place. Resemblance does not follow from commonly shared features; more than that, resemblance cannot be even perceived in the comparison of beings, and it is revealed only in one of them choosing direction towards other ones. Resemblance is an ungraspable, residual bond of discrete beings.

In this way, the elusive “time of resemblance” comes into being. While Jabès contrasts its fleeting nature with the “eternity of the image,” he underscores that there is no eternal image. This can be construed as ruling out the possibility of stable and comparable features which guarantee similarity in the colloquial sense of the term. “The eternity of is the absence of image,” adds Jabès, which is understandable if we remember that God is a point in which repetition and contentlessness reach their pinnacle. Unlike identity in the metaphysics of presence, resemblance cannot thus be permanent. Instead, it is a momentary “harmony of the infinite.” Celan seems to have expressed the same insight when he wrote about the poem which “lays claim to infinity” and “seeks to reach through time.”31 This is just a small step away from Benjamin’s idea of “the time of the now”:

History is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogeneous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now [Jetztzeit]. Thus, to Robespierre ancient Rome ←316 | 317→was a past charged with the time of the now which he blasted out of the continuum of history. The French Revolution viewed itself as Rome reincarnated. It evoked ancient Rome the way fashion evokes costumes of the past. Fashion has a flair for the topical, no matter where it stirs in the thickets of long ago; it is a tiger’s leap into the past. This jump, however, takes place in an arena where the ruling class gives the commands. The same leap in the open air of history is the dialectical one, which is how Marx understood revolution.32

To Benjamin, time is discontinuous, which is obscured by the structure of history. There are moments, however, when the continuum of history is “blasted,” and the past moments, no longer positioned in “empty, homogeneous time,” are manifest in their “now-time.” The present performs a dialectical “tiger’s leap” into the past to reproduce it as the present.

Jabèsian repetition is underpinned by the same structural principle. His starting point is discontinuity in time, from which hollowness of all constructions of history results. What follows is that beings have neither identities nor a plane on which to be compared. Nevertheless, a being can direct itself towards another one, analogously to the French Revolution, which – in Benjamin’s account – turned to ancient Rome. While in Benjamin, the past appears as the present in the moment of “the dialectical leap,” in Jabès, the moment of recognition of resemblance is “the time of resemblance” – “harmony of the infinite” – and a fusion of two separated moments. Paradoxically, only one of the beings recognises its resemblance to another one; there is no “objective” resemblance. But only in this way is connectedness possible between beings set apart by discontinuous time.

Concluding our analysis of resemblance, we should add that the search for resemblance amounts, in Jabès, to wandering, which is inseparably bound up with exile in the desert of reality:

“Our resemblances [ressemblances] are gathered remnants [rassembles] of infinite, arid memory,” he said.

The city humiliates the face, obliterates resemblances.

The desert gives us back our forgotten traits.

[…] Wandering is a restless search for resemblance within the impossible resemblance to God, to self.

“Wandering,” he said “were nothing else than an attempt to re-create the face cut into pieces by absence.”33

←317 | 318→

Resemblance can be seen where one recognises discontinuity separating entities, not where they are treated as beings: that is why the desert is a privilege place of recognising resemblances. All resemblances converge in the endpoint of absence:

There are degrees – sometimes imperceptible – in resemblance.

Look at the resemblance of white to white, likewise of white to ideally white, and of the absent book to the book of all our absences.34

All paths lead into the night, a place where all resemblance is abandoned […].35

Resemblances, thus, have their degrees and head towards the central point of absence, which is devoid of content and, as such, demarcates the limit to resemblances. For it can be said that everything is similar there (no longer differing in content) and, at the same time, dissimilar in the highest degree (being a pure repetition). In this sense, Jabès talks in the passage quoted above of God’s utter dissimilarity from himself.

There is a terrifying equivalent of this divine point in the human world:

“In the Nazi camps […] the resemblance of barely living beings reached – o daylight of crime! – its zenith.”36

In the camp, the human is his bare form to which he has been reduced by uttermost violence. Nowhere else is he more degraded and, simultaneously, more equal with other people and closer, in his condition, to God. The idea of resemblance meets its ne plus ultra here. The ultimate community has been established in the most ruthless way imaginable. Resemblance is here the movement of extreme simplification, which haunts Jabès’ writing in so many equivalent forms. It can be the worst of evils, as it is in the just described context, or it can be a voluntary community of the equal – of equal people and equal things – in the ultimate renunciation of violence. Can the ultimate depletion bear a positive ethical value? The answer to this question is associated with the last of the poet’s three ethico-ontological concepts, a notion to which he devoted his last book.

Hospitality

It is no coincidence that Jabès erects his last book upon the concept of hospitality. Each book ending is, in him, a play with the end and with the community ←318 | 319→of equal things – that is, with the void of the whiteness of the Book. In The Book of Hospitality, which was meant to be his last work, Jabès summons the lustre of everything he has written so far in order to fashion a space of the white for his books and for himself. Motte writes:

Le Livre de l’hospitalité as a whole displays a recapitulative strategy embracing a broad variety of the preoccupations that impelled Edmond Jabès’ work over the years. Meditations on death, cast in the light of its imminence, color the volume from first page to last. […] Yet despite its elegiac tone and retrospective stance, Le Livre de l’hospitalité also testifies to a powerful and ongoing engagement in the world, one that is far more explicit than anything to be found in the texts that precede it.

[…] Le Livre de l’hospitalité, I believe, attempts to perform the same connective gesture [As • (El) with regard to The Book of Questions] with regard to Jabès’ work as a whole, adumbrating dialogical relations between his books and the cycles in which they figure, suturing various thematics together in compelling ways, as the poet takes stock of his writings as an oeuvre […].It is a powerfully potential moment for him, one where speech and silence, desire and duty, thought and deed might be reconciled, however tenuously […].37

Thus, The Book of Hospitality is a book of hospitality in the double sense of the term: it studies the notion of hospitality and, simultaneously, itself seeks to practice hospitality towards everything it calls upon and binds together. Similarly to any other Jabèsian book ending, the content converges here with its conditions of utterability – an utterance is possible only because it performatively practices what it utters. Hence the weight of the unique moment in which the content and the conditions of sayability unite and approximate the power of the whiteness of the Book closer than ever before. As Motte aptly notices, Le Livre de l’Hospitalité – written in the shadow of actual death – offers the most specific of these moments Jabès had ever chanced upon. It is his ultimate, least-staged vanishing, marked only by the frailest, liminal form of writing, which balances between still-describing and already-non-existing:

The words are put together […] not by me but by the man I was, once, who wrote for himself.

As if what his pen still wrote were written in the past, which was my present once, before a sudden and final rupture, whose date I cannot tell; for I am without memories and words, and where I try to move, with difficulty, time is overthrown.38

←319 | 320→

The Book of Hospitality is, thus, not only a text which uses the notion of hospitality to explore the community of things but also a place39 where everything that aspires to a separate or strong existence – the author including – abdicates its claims. The idea of place has distinct connotations in Jabès: the place designates a field of reality which not so much exists as affords others an opportunity to exist. The desert is the model of the place. Its images recur in The Book of Hospitality, where it is a locus of ultimate, present absence:

“The desert is the place of all presence,” he said, “a real place.

Neither past. Nor future.

Where am I?

My past has enchanted my future.”

The nomad said “You are in your memory, which isn’t [n’est…point], as could be thought, bound to the past, but chained to the present it makes.”

“I remember nothing,” I answered him, “so I don’t exist.”

“You exist in the Nothing,” the nomad replied.40

Having wrestled with memory and forgetfulness, Jabès returns to the desert, the metaphor for the place of ultimate non/presence, where nothing is remembered anymore and, as such, dissolves in the community of things. Memory stops making sense and crafting the past for him. The time of language fades away. In this way, he approaches the goal he sensed as early as in Yaël: “I must go, go, go till the All dissolves into Nothing [se résout en Rien].”41 However, the point lingers on, resists being absorbed and leaves a trace of this wandering in writing.

The desert helps Jabès re-examine the idea of hospitalité because, after all, it has its permanent dwellers – the nomads. Their behaviour represents a paradigmatic example of hospitality to Jabès. In The Book of Hospitality, he recounts a car trip across the desert he went on with his friend when still in Egypt.42 Equipped with a car and furnished with provisions, they set off assured of being well prepared and running no risk. However, when they had already been far away from human dwellings, the car broke down, tumbling down a dune. Aware that they would not be able to return on foot, they started to prepare for death. It is only in his last book that Jabès revisits the experience and, in doing this, strips the desert of all its literary and mythical aura, showing it as a place where death is a patent ←320 | 321→and immediate possibility. When, entirely exhausted, they had already lost all hope, a nomad unexpectedly appeared. He rescued them without saying a word and helped them get back to town.

What Jabès found most fascinating about the nomad was that when some time later the poet coincidentally met him again, the nomad did not remember anything. He remembered neither the faces of the people he had rescued nor the event as such. This was not due to frail memory or indifference. As Jabès concludes, this is simply the way the nomad lives and this is what the behaviour of the human formed by the desert is like: one helps anonymous wanderers only to remember nothing of it later. One does not rescue particular people because of their exceptionality or familiarity with them. One helps wanderers as such; one helps those in need of help. According to Motte, the nomad treats the other as an undifferentiated representative of the whole.43 He helps unfailingly, but he goes away and forgets equally unfailingly. He does not use words, yet his entire behaviour anyway expresses a mute rapport with those he helps. In this, no one crosses the barrier of their solitude, nor uses language to communicate. Help does not involve names, meanings, social relations as they do not exist in the desert. What exists is only a bare relationship of lonely things which do not overcome their seclusion though they can help each other. This is what Jabès calls hospitality.

This story serves Jabès as a starting point for re-considering the generalised idea of hospitality, in which ethics dovetails with negative ontology. As the desert is the precondition for the nomad’s hospitality, so this generalised hospitality presupposes prior ontological desertification. In other words, hospitality is a response to the fragmentation of reality, a response which does not seek to negate the desert, instead accepting it as its inevitable condition. In one of his late interviews, Jabès explains his notion of the desert in the following way:

Surely there is no more faithful emblem of the infinite. In the mountains the sense of infinitude is disciplined by heights and depths and by the sheer density of what you confront; thus you yourself are limited, defined as an object among other objects. At sea there is always more than just water and sky; there is the boat to define your difference from both, giving you a human place to stand. But in the desert the sense of the infinite is unconditional and therefore truest. In the desert you’re left utterly to yourself. And in that unbroken sameness of sky and sand, you’re nothing, absolutely nothing. The appalling silence tells you so. It abolishes you. Enter the desert and you broach a new grammar of being. It’s a grammar of death. In the desert you are divested of everything.– even language, which counts for nothing, makes no more sense, in a world from which ←321 | 322→man has been erased. [In the desert] language balks, comes to an end; the grammar of the living is overcome by a more potent grammar of death.44

Jabès infers ultimate conclusions from the image of the desert used to depict modern reality. The separateness of being is ultimately overthrown in it. The universe is an infinite whole in relation to which language wields no power. The “grammar of being” mutates completely. In this way, Jabès relies on Jewish tradition to draw final conclusions from modern thinking, joining Nietzsche, Kafka, Benjamin and Heidegger in this enterprise. Facing the desert that reality has become, he proposes a fitting solution in hospitality that originates in the nomad’s life, which is closest to the desert and persist against it. In the desert, ethics means as much as language – nothing. Hospitality is the last lifeline, which requires recognising the realness of the desert.

Hospitality can appear where the guest comes from nowhere and has only his wandering for the name and the goal:

“I bless you, my visitor [mon hôte], my guest [mon invité],” said the holy rabbi, “because your name is: The one who wanders [chemine].

The road [le chemin] is in your name.

Hospitality is a crossroads.”45

Hospitality can be extended to those who, having no permanent place, are on the road all the time. They are not designated by any meaningful words, names, attributes, backgrounds or places of residence: they are only those who wander across them. They are a thing as such because no appellation holds them, traversed and transcended by them as it is. But those who offer hospitality live in the same manner. It is not just a fortuitous word choice that Jabès relies on a peculiarity of the French language, in which the same word – hôte – denotes the guest and the host. Hospitality is not a unilateral gesture the settled one makes towards the wandering one; rather, it is a symmetrical relationship of two migrants whose paths intersect, making them hôtes: guests and hosts in one.

This shows the ultimate difference between Jabès’ hospitality and Lévinas’ responsibility. In Lévinas, responsibility for the other is not a relationship, but an ethical injunction placed on every human being and sustaining his subjectivity.46 It is not symmetrical in the least; on the contrary, it is an expression of utmost asymmetry in which I must take full responsibility for the other, no matter how ←322 | 323→he responds. I am obligated before I undertake any action, prior to my intentionality and prior to freedom.47 In Jabès, in turn, hospitality is not an ethical injunction placed on the individual but a mutual relationship of two wanderers in the desert. Instead of fostering subjectivity, it overthrows subjectivity.

Lévinas emphasises that responsibility persists regardless of the Other’s behaviour and, in doing that, he in fact still measures one action against another in terms of the exchange of gifts to conclude that no matter what the result of such measurement is, responsibility cannot cease. Jabès does not reason in such categories at all, for he assumes they are not adequate to the desert. In the desert, there are neither signposts nor injunctions, and the words in which one could wish to convey them are lost in the unmeasurable vastness of the void. Lévinas is to Jabès what Nietzsche was to Heidegger: the last representative of a centuries-long tradition of thinking who, admittedly, radicalises and reverses this tradition, but fails to step beyond it. His critique of morality notwithstanding, Lévinas puts his ethics in verbal prescripts. Jabès’ ethics, if it can be called ethics in the first place, is an ontological relationship of things as such:

“My responsibility for you,” he wrote, “is comparable to the sky’s for birds and the ocean’s for its fauna and flora.

Who could hold the earth responsible for the day being born and dying?” he wrote.48

This is Jabès’ implicit criticism of two issues in Lévinas. First, he criticises Lévinas for focusing his ethics on the human being, which alienates him from the community of things and hurls him back into the dominion of language. Second, he denounces Lévinas’ failure to perceive the paradoxes of total ethics and unconditional responsibility. Responsibility for everything and everybody easily leads to a lack of responsibility for anything at all. This is the fact Lévinas refuses to consider, while Jabès accepts it as an inevitable consequence. This is what his hospitality is like: it is a responsibility for everything – therein things – equal to a responsibility for nothing. As part of reality, each thing is defined by everything it is not. In this sense, it responsible for reality through its very form. But in this regard, it cannot change anything, for it always belongs to reality. The ethical injunction in Jabès could make sense only if it helped go beyond reality. In this, Jabès is again in tune with Wittgenstein’s reasoning in the Tractatus.49 For ←323 | 324→this reason, the only form of such a behest is, as already mentioned, continuing to mark, in the scream or in the point, the discontinuity between reality and that which – as the impossible – is its beyond. Within reality, ethics de facto does not exist, being only the outermost point of the community of things.

Therefore, hospitality is not based on obligation or mutuality:

“I don’t deserve hospitality I owe you.”

“Accept it. I will know you have forgiven me,” said a sage.50

Hospitality unhinges the notions of debt, guilt and forgiveness. Jabès does not try to find either justifications or total responsibility for everything. On the contrary, following, as it were, the course of desertification, he strives after the community of all things, in which guilt, debt and forgiveness stop making sense. It is responsibility that lays guilt while hospitality liberates:

Always within the reach of what comes up against it [se présente], hospitality can be thought only through what it offers.

Responsibility alienates [aliène]. Hospitality relieves [allège].

To give welcome to the neighbour for his presence alone, in the name of his being, only for what it represents.

Because he is.

“Responsibility is a daughter of dialogue it naively leans on.

Hospitality is a silent understanding. That’s its property.”51

To put it in Derridean terms, responsibility – with Lévinas as its chief advocate – is still all too logocentric for Jabès. It is based on dialogue, and its focus on the human being is coupled with the capacity to speak. Yet Jabès regards abiding by a meaningful utterance as violence and, consequently, seeks the “silent understanding” of hospitality. Responsibility is human while hospitality is Divine rather:

To man, excessive power of speech.

To God, excessive power of silence.52

Hospitality is not definable, for a definition would entail “narrowing while hospitality suffers no limitation.”53 It means respect for the other, without any moralising raptures but wary all the time lest the other should bring death.54 For it is ←324 | 325→impossible to know who stealthily readies themselves to finish you off, observes Jabès. His notion of hospitality combines peculiar austerity and ostensible indifference with boundless understanding of and succor for another thing. Cherishing no illusions about hazards, hospitality does not idealise the other, as Lévinas-inspired thinking tends to do. Undoubtedly, Jabès tries, in this way, to draw conclusions from what the Shoah disclosed to be possible. He endeavours to accept reality as a given instead of denying it in and through the idea of total responsibility. Hospitality is an idea adjusted to the modern condition, sharing its anti-humanism, and yet salvaging the ethical impulse despite all the experiences of history. Ronnie Scharfman explains:

Jabès’ concept of hospitality […] functions as the crucial link between himself as referential, autobiographical subject of the enunciation which he reveals so openly in this text [Le Livre de l’Hospitalité] and that postmodern, post-Auschwitz, decentered, fragmented subject of the depersonalized statement which we have come to identify as Jabès’ text. I would suggest that hospitality is posited in this text as the ultimate virtue, the polar opposite of exclusion, the unique and supreme weapon against the nihilism of intolerance whose name is Auschwitz.

Hospitality means, as Scharfman enumerates, “respect for the other, and for the alterity of the other,” “patience,” “mutual recognition of solitude, anonymity, wandering” and, finally, “in practical, referential terms survival.”55

Scharfman aptly links hospitality to sur-viving. Hospitality extended by another helps one survive, without providing any explanations, without either entering the relations of indebtedness and payback or getting entangled in purposiveness.

[…] desolate [désolé] land of sand where hospitality guarantees survival.56

Hospitality corresponds to the way of being in the desert. It does not offer any meaning and boils down only to sustaining the thing in its being. “Hospitality is no gift […]; it is given even before requested.”57 Things connected by hospitality do not interfere with each other’s solitude but show themselves to themselves as a part of the only reality in which they are all co-dependent:

The foreigner allows you to be yourself by making a foreigner of you.58

←325 | 326→

You are a foreigner. And I? [Et moi?]

For you I am the foreigner. And you? [Et toi?]

Star [étoile] remains forever separate from star; what brings them close is but their will to shine together.59

To obey the unexpressed demands of hospitality means to learn about our dependence on the other.60

Hospitality is not kindness; it has nothing, colloquially speaking, human to it. This is highlighted in Le Livre de l’Hospitalité in a hypothetical dialogue of God with characters of the Torah. Asked by Eve if we are free and have our own place, God replies:

“You are here, with God. […] I am all your freedom and your place.”

And Abraham would doubtless say:

“Loneliness is a place.”

Then, Moses would no doubt say:

“Lord, are you so ungenerous that I’ll have to die separated from my people and myself? Without a tomb?”

And then a sage would say logically:

“Open the place, Lord, which I keep ajar with so much effort.

I grow weaker and my heart’s ardour abates.”

And everybody asked to speak would certainly say:

“Lord, where is my homestead? Hostile land and inhospitable sky. Nowhere did I feel sheltered.

Am I of so little interest to you?”

And God would undoubtedly reply:

“Ungrateful creatures. You accuse me of not doing the duty of the host/guest [hôte]. Boundless is the hospitality of the Book. But you have no idea of that.”61

Hospitality does not consist in offering care, interest, accommodation or protection, as people would be inclined reproachfully to point out to God. Instead, hospitality consists in providing a place where a thing can endure and survive. God is not hospitable because he does not provide the place. Instead, the Book, which came into being as a result of creation, does, and God is only a guest in it. Therefore, God cannot be blamed for failing to do the host’s duty, for he is himself a visitor in the Book. Hospitality, in general, eludes the opposition of care and indifference. It guarantees survival, but, as we remember, survival in Jabès is tantamount to experiencing inhuman suffering.

←326 | 327→

Harsh hospitality.

Of the desert.

Of the race.

Of oblivion.62

[…] desolate [désolé] land of sand where hospitality guarantees survival. […] The Book is this land.63

Hospitality provides a place and allows abiding in it. It offers survival and dooms to survival. It makes no sense and defies interpretation.64 It discloses reality in its nakedness. Austere and ascetic, it takes in everybody on equal terms and without exception, just like death and oblivion host the living. As such, it is “the last voice.”65 In the same way, the writer hosts, in his book, those who have passed, without even calling them by their names, and offers them the same blank place within which he is himself engulfed.

The End in Whiteness: A Possibility of Modern Ethics

The messianic equality of things, as discussed in Chapter Six, is an illusion – a convergence point out there on the horizon, but never actually present here and now. Of course, Jabès’ hospitality refers to this illusion in an effort to place the messianic equality within the ultimate ethical command. But in this way Jabès arrives at a breaking point and reaches the dark origin of his thinking, where all the themes of his work coalesce. Hospitality is not “merely” an ethical notion: it is the same ideal of equality outside language that has recurred in this volume from its beginning, as the centre of tzimtzum, or the moment of salvation, or the pivot of created reality. Nowhere else is Jabès closer to modern philosophy; nowhere else must he more effortfully distance himself from Heideggerian Gelassenheit, which is governed by the same mechanism, without however exploring its own inner impossibility or cultivating a robust ethical investment. In Jabès, the ←327 | 328→equality of things is both an ethical ideal, an expectation of messianic salvation and the most dreadful of all modern conditions. Positive and negative appraisals unite in its midpoint. Jabès’ hospitality implies that modern thinking, to whose mechanisms it is subject, comes forth as a result of enveloping the unchangeable structure of the remnant with sundry kinds of content.

This structure nurtures both utter nihilism and the ethical ideal. Jabès’ thought is a testament to desperate attempts at giving an ethical vector to this structure’s illusory centre. Can such an enterprise at all succeed? At any rate, this vector belongs to the field that has been damaged by the very movement of simplification, leading to the disclosure of the dark point of unity. Jabès walks here a tangled, dialectical path. On the one hand, he accepts the way simplification eradicates ethical notions; more than that, he joins this movement in the desire to see desolation finally completed. But on the other hand, he wants to harness this inexorable tendency with ethical reins, no matter how feeble they could be. As such, he must combine two incompatible pursuits in his thinking. Is it even possible? That it is not is not a foregone conclusion. For both tendencies do not reach their consummation, bound and, at the same time, deferred by the central point of tzimtzum. Simplification never comes to its end and, consequently, never leaves the territory where an ethical vector can be formulated. Jabès’ ethics stands a chance of success because it is inconclusive; exactly because it is a sheer impossibility to reach the point where hospitality and radical evil are indistinguishable, the difference between them can still be marked. If, like Jabès, one presupposes the simplification movement to be inevitable, sustaining adamantly the difference between hospitality and radical evil – a difference which arises due to the very structure of tzimtzum one heads towards – would be the only salvaged ethical injunction.

Along these lines, we may infer that the age of mature modernity knows only one categorical imperative: the irremovable modern difference that appears on the horizon of the movement towards simplification must be used for the sake of ethics and in order to save it. Simplification is unavoidable, but it is our call how we use the fact that it cannot reach completion and must halt in the last difference. This difference must be erected into the last ethical rampart.

Ultimately, the vision of hospitality does not lead to anything except to the repetition of the same dark point which has fed modern philosophy for over two centuries. The careful work on sensitivity which would correspond to thus-conceived hospitalité – descending the rungs of the quietness of sound down to the almost-lowest silence – re-enacts Heidegger’s path in Contributions to Philosophy but tries to keep to the ethical side. However, the goal of this journey contradicts the way in which it is supposed to proceed. Each step, though seemingly a ←328 | 329→unique achievement on the road towards the community of things as such, may be just one step further in the closed circle of depletion. Between all and nothing there is a breaking point, a point of ultimate indeterminacy, and nothing more seems to be there for philosophy now. Maintaining ethics in this point may be philosophy’s final task until the logic of modernity eventually passes.

Le Livre de l’Hospitalité is a book for which a writer like Jabès cannot possibly fail to be grateful. That which has eluded him all the time – the moment of the fleeting accord of life and meaning – seems to have been given to him just before death. The book’s conclusion echoes Wittgenstein’s words at the end of the Foreword to his Tractatus: “the problems have in essentials been finally solved. And if I am not mistaken in this, then the value of this work […] consists in the fact that it shows how little has been done when these problems have been solved”66:

You’ll manage to express it [the thing that has eluded you] once in your lifetime; it will be in your final encounter with death.

You’ll have to speak with discretion, and all you’ll say will be just a few brief sentences.

You’ll be astonished that you’ve needed your whole life to collect so few words.

And you’ll have yourself only for the interlocutor.

Don’t return anymore to this one thing to say [chose à dire]. It is a thing in becoming and thus irrevocably doomed.

Like the moment.67

Ultimately, to say this thing would take an eternity of all individual eternities that open up in their moments. That is why it deserves to be preserved for saying out loud in that lone moment – encounter with death – when words are no more and hospitality flings its gate open. It is there that Jabès’ thought relegates its ultimate illusion, looking for the messianic consummation in the moment where nothing is anymore.

“The word of our origin is a word of the desert. O desert of our words,” wrote Reb Aslan.

“There is no possible return if you have gone deep into the desert.”

[…] “Sand, the asking. Sand, the reply. Out desert has no limits,” wrote Reb Semama.

He held a bit of sand in each hand: “On the one hand, questions, to the other, answers. Same weight of dust,” he also said.68

I write the desert.

So strong is the light

←329 | 330→

that the rain has evaporated.

Face of the present. Face of the past.

A veil between them. A damp curtain.

The eye blurred again with a tear from ages ago.

Melancholy. Melancholy.

He had – it seemed to him – a thousand

things to say

in words that said nothing;

waiting, in a row;

in underground words

with neither past nor destiny.

This haunted him to no end;

up to the point where he

had nothing more to say,

that’s it, that’s it.69

Victorious, the day like the point of flash on the horizon.70

No bounds for the unknown

nor frontiers to the infinite.

Horizon. Horizon. Horizon.71

Nulles bornes, à l’inconnu

ni frontières, à l’infini.

L’horizon. L’Horizon. L’Horizon

←330 | 331→

1 LR I, p. 88.

2 BQ II, p. 11.

3 The double meaning of assujettissant has made the term popularly useful. It has been widely employed, particularly by Foucault, where its customary English translation is either subjectifying or subjectivating.

4 At this point, Jabès’ thought coincides with the insights in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, which is deliberately evoked in El. According to Wittgenstein, God does not reveal himself in the world and cannot be an object of meaningful propositions but is a condition of possibility of the world that lies outside him (cf. theses 6.432, 6.41, 6.45). It must be borne in mind, however, that as Jabès develops pluralistic perspectivism, the transcendental boundary, which in Wittgenstein divides one world from its outside, is in Jabès the boundary of each perspective. This pluralism makes possible repetition as conceived by Jabès, and this repetition is the relationship of various Wittgensteinian “worlds” with each other. Obviously, Wittgenstein’s philosophy form the Investigations period also expresses such pluralism though it abandons the Tractatus ontology. It can be posited that in some of his insights (e.g. in his reflection on the point), Jabès offers a pluralistic equivalent of the Tractatus philosophy: a kind of Investigations, which explores the forever repeating (rather than one) transcendental boundary, instead of examining colloquial language.

5 Cf. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book X: Anxiety (1962–63), trans. Cormac Galligher; The Seminar, Book XXIII: Joyce and the Sinthome (1975–76), trans. Cormac Galligher, http://www.lacaininireland.com/web/published-works/seminars/.

6 In crossing the principle of identity, Jabès follows the Kabbalistic tradition in an attempt, as Marc-Alain Ouaknin insists, to think and practice a “beyond” of the identity principle. Ouaknin, Concerto, p. 28.

7 BQ, p. 328.

8 Cf. PHD, p. 117.

9 Ibid., p. 88.

10 Ibid., p. 117.

11 Ibid.

12 Jacques Derrida, Writing, p. 374.

13 Ibid., p. 373.

14 It is difficult to ascertain in how far the opposition of Jabès’ circle and Derrida’s ellipsis actually separates the two concepts. In my reading, a conflict between them can be avoided. However, Derrida insists on eliminating the concept of the “centre” and on going beyond absence and presence. At the same time, Jabès, as frequently emphasised, believes that thinking, be it only imaginary thinking, of the centre of absence is necessary. In Yaël he writes: “Even absence needs a centre” (BQ II, p. 83). As this is the centre of nothing, and hence an empty, inaccessible point of permanent displacement, this concept produces similar effects to the consistent elimination of the idea of the centre. Derrida himself is anyway also haunted by the spectre of the centre. The centre disappears only where reality is entirely aleatory, as in Deleuze’s thought. That is why the differences between Jabès and Derrida are certainly less significant than their difference from Deleuze.

15 Jabès seems to address similarity as colloquially understood in the following passage: “Nothing does not resemble nothing: the likeness of the world and God is the likeness of All and Nothing” (LR I, p. 114). And further: “God is dissimilarity at the heart of everything similar to Him” (Ibid., p. 115). The separateness of fragmented things excludes their similarity in the first place; each thing is autonomous and non-comparable. Ignorance of this and insistence on the common notion of similarity are as dangerous as ignorance of the role of Nothing discussed in the previous Chapter. Jabès mentions that people’s faces are evaluated only in terms of similarity: it is the only possible, and simultaneously mistaken, approach. Polemicising in a way with Lévinas’ idea of the Other’s unique face which triggers ethical responsibility, Jabès views the face rather as the source of hurtful inferences made by people who fail to notice that similarity is a meagre basis of conclusion-drawing. The Jews, he adds, have suffered much because of this (DEJ, pp. 307–308).

16 LR I, pp. 9, 29, 30, 49, 50 (except the first line, in Jabès, “From The Book of Resemblances,” pp. 15, 20, 21).

17 Ibid., p. 75.

18 DB, p. 113.

19 Paul Celan, “Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen,” in Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, trans. John Felstiner (New York and London: W.W. Norton, 2001), p. 396.

20 In writing, resemblance is, however, very strongly visible. In Jabès, it is additionally associated with the fact that the writer does not have his “own” words or letters but uses the already existing ones. As such, although he creates his books anew, he must constantly refer to what has been written before. The drive to create his own book, which severs him from the past, produces a discontinuity through which resemblance can take place. Jabès emphasises this reasoning by a play on words: the writer is a gatherer – a re-assembler – of words (rassembleur), and as such, he is doomed to resemblance (ressemblance). Cf. PHD, p. 120.

21 BR II, p. 14.

22 Also this issue fell victim to the academic, philosophical and literary fight between Judaism and (Greek) Christianity. In his conversations with Marcel Cohen, Jabès doubts whether the idea of total responsibility for the other was not more Christian than Jewish (EEJ, p. 73). Jabès himself was sceptical about this kind of responsibility as an unviable illusion. His ethics is far more anti-humanistic and a-humanistic.

23 LR I, p. 118.

24 DB, p. 113.

25 LR I, p. 88.

26 Ibid., p. 104.

27 Ibid., p. 95.

28 Cf. Ibid., p. 115. “You can be similar to God, but God is not similar to anything” and, as such, he is again the centre of “non-reciprocity” of the relation.

29 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), § 65–67.

30 LR I, p. 106.

31 Celan, “Speech,” p. 396.

32 Benjamin, “Theses,” p. 261.

33 LR I, p. 63.

34 PHD, p. 121.

35 LR I, p. 79.

36 Ibid., p. 65.

37 Motte, “Hospitable Poetry,” pp. 35–8.

38 LH, p. 93.

39 Cf. Motte, “Hospitable Poetry,” p. 40.

40 LH, p. 96.

41 BQ II, p. 109. The phrase Jabès uses – se résoudre – means also deciding and resolving to do something. In the light of the idea of hospitality, this connotation is certainly deliberate.

42 LH, pp. 84–5.

43 Motte, “Hospitable Poetry,” p. 42.

44 QJQW, p. 16.

45 LH, p. 13.

46 Cf. Maurice-Ruben Hayoun, Petite histoire de la philosophie juive (Paris: Editions Ellipses, 2008), p. 144.

47 Cf. Lévinas, Beyond the Verse, pp. 127–8.

48 LH, p. 18.

49 The Tractatus offers a vision of transcendental ethics which cannot take place in the world, but only in its inaccessible outside (ct. theses 6.42, 6.421 – 6.423); Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, trans. John Ogden, with an Introduction by Bertrand Russel (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. Ltd., 1922), p. 88.

50 LH, p. 18.

51 Ibid., p. 21.

52 Ibid., p. 55.

53 Ibid., p. 57.

54 Ibid., p. 60.

55 Ronnie Scharfman, “Welcoming the Stranger: Edmond Jabès’ Le Livre de l’hospitalité,” in Antoine Régis (ed.), Carrefour des cultures: Mélanges offerts à Jacqualine Leiner (Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1993), pp. 237–42, on pp. 239, 241.

56 LH, p. 90.

57 Ibid., p. 76.

58 F, p. 1.

59 Ibid., p. 7.

60 LH, p. 70.

61 Ibid., pp. 65–7.

62 Ibid., p. 29.

63 Ibid., p. 90.

64 In this sense, hospitality has little to do with quasi-materialist insights that appealed to late Derrida. Like khōra – in Derrida’s reading of Plato, the non-place which only takes in and gives place without ever being occupied – Jabès’ hospitality predates those whom it “helps,” refuses to be explained or exhausted and does not take on any denotations. Both concepts attempt to reach the non-binary infrastructure of all oppositions, the non-sense that is the precondition of sense. Cf. Jacques Derrida, Khôra (Paris: Galilée, 1993), pp. 15–37, 58–62, 92–97. See also, Jacques Derrida, “Khōra,” trans. Ian McLeod, in On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1995), pp. 89–130.

65 LH, p. 87.

66 Wittgenstein, Tractatus, p. 24.

67 LH, pp. 89–90.

68 BR II, p. 103.

69 LSLS, pp. 384, 395, 396.

70 A, p. 293. The passage comes from a posthumously published text which Jabès wrote when he was 18 years old.

71 BS, p. 59.