Abbot’s Journal Vol 61, September 4, 2007

by Norman Fischer | September 04, 2007 at 3:12 PM

Muir Beach

Finished Hank’s “Lyric & Spirit.” Interesting discussions of Jabes, Arakawa and Gins, Creeley, Rae, and a very long section in one of the essays on my work as one of the major instances of what Hank calls “spirit” in contemporary innovative poetry. Unfortunately the essay was written before either Slowly But Dearly or I Was Blown Back had come out – and these I think advance my work quite a lot, new directions and more depth. (Anyway, I hope so). Still, I was pleased to read the essay (I think I had not seen it – is it possible he’d not sent it to me before?) The Jabes stuff come in an essay on Rosemary Waldrop’s book on Jabes, “A Lavish Absence.” Many clarifying quotations from informal conversations with Jabes.

“Faced with an indecipherable world we set out to create a language, a place where human discourse can arise, and we come to exist as human beings; where, at the same time, we can maintain a relation to what transcends us, the indecipherable, the ultimate otherness, and speak it under the name of God.”
(Hank MS p 271)

“The name of God is the juxtaposition of all the words in the language,” Edmond Jabes reminds Marcel Cohen. “Each word is but a detached fragment of that name.”
(p 275)

“According to Kabbalistic tradition this pure spiritual light of the first day was, but did not remain. Where did it go? In the Torah. That is, into the word.”
(p 275)

“The Jew has been persecuted for being ‘other.’ But ‘otherness’ is the condition of individuation, the condition of being set apart from the rest of creation in the glorious – and murderous – species of humankind, and, in addition, set apart from our fellow humans as individuals, always as ‘other.’

“Judaism: a paradoxically collective experience of individuation. Exemplary of the human condition.”
(p 276)

“I (Rosemary) asked Edmond Jabes: “You say you are an atheist. How can you constantly write of God?”

“It’s a word my culture has given me.”

Then he expands:
“It is a metaphor for nothingness, the infinite, for silence, death, for all that calls us into question. It is the ultimate otherness.” Or, as he puts it later, in the conversation with Marcel Cohen: “For me the words Jew and God are, it is true, metaphors. ‘God’ is the metaphor for emptiness. ‘Jew’ stands for the torment of God, of emptiness.”
(p 276)

Hank: “I find Jabes’ writing – and Derrida’s too – to be the most important religious writing of our time. Yet I find myself wondering how that comes to be: how a non-believing Jew, an atheist, writes a poetry (or, truly, a generically unclassifiable writing) that has such a powerful capacity to engage and instruct. Perhaps Jabes writing demonstrates to us – in book after book – how inadequate and crude such terms as ‘belief’ and ‘non-belief’ are and that while Jabes may be classified as a ‘non-believing’ Jew and an ‘atheist,’ the opposing qualities of belief are, throughout his writing, of equal intensity. Perhaps what matters then is the intensity (and credibility and nuanced nature) of Jabes relationship to the fundamental portals of ‘Jew’ and ‘God’ and in this regard his writing is unsurpassed. I sometimes suspect (or entertain the thought) that for Jabes (and for Derrida as well) a direct or simple profession of belief, particularly a profession that assumed a static or definite quality, would not only be a betrayal of the fundamentals of their thinking and writing and of their profound sense of thinking as always being in motion, but also a violation of an orthodox interpretation of the commandment prohibiting one to have or worship any false images of the divine. For such a fixity of belief carries with it the hazard of actually standing between one and one’s relationship to the divine by becoming a sign or site of formulation that one mistakenly substitutes for that engagement.”
(p 276-77)


Norman Fischer