What is in a word?

What is in a word? What lies at the core of language? It can only be the silent, empty Nothing of the tomb, the pyramid of the dead letter, as in the letter A. For language abstracts from things, it memorialises life, it voids presence. Yet, language says this nothingness in so many beguilingly soft, sweet, subtle and insinuating ways. The textures of words make it palpable, their sonorities render it audible and their suggestively shapely letters display it graphically. At the core of a word, beneath the crust of its consonants, is the liquid of its vowels, and these vowels in effect liquidate the word until it flows into the ocean of nothingness. This nothingness is what Jabès finds harbouring rapturously in the wings of language, and he parades and stages it in his books. But that nothingness into which all that is articulated dissolves is the unity of everything, albeit a unity that is itself nothing. As such, the inexistent totality/nullity of the Book governs every passage of the writing of words. Words are but the unfolding of this total nothingness. It turns them into a universe of emptiness: ‘Le verbe est univers du vide’ (‘The word is a world of emptiness’, El, p. 93).

William Franke on Jabès

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