Category Archives: Jabés

Sometimes we have to wait for years

Dreams, like memories, are shores we row toward to escape the ever same tomorrows and their cruel futility. Days which cannot express themselves are grey and cold. Mute days whose untidy gestures tear us apart.

I have the impression of moving in the shadow of syllables, in regions before secrets, where language cannot yet answer the call of thought, in swamps where you risk sinking with every breath.

“Sometimes we have to wait for years,” said Red Tain, “before the minute which marked us finds its voice again. But then it speaks, and we cannot stop the flow of words.”

— Jabès, The Book of Questions Vol. 1 (tr. Waldrop)

Language is a lie

‘God’, too, comes forth, is fabricated by the power of naming, from nothing. In this sense, the God that is named is an impostor. Whereas verbal richness constitutes the lie of the language of men, nudity and poverty are the lies of God (‘La nudite´, la pauvrete´ sont mensonges de Dieu’, Livre des questions, p. 93). The inventive, mythifying power of the word is human in its wealth of flourishes and divine in its dearth, its blankness clearing space for infinity. But in either case, language is an artifice, a lie relative to the truth of infinite silence that outstrips it and is always already there where words end. So that the saying even of nothing betrays it into the guise of something: some sound or sign is given to represent the unrepresentable. This makes language constitutively mendacious.

William Franke on Jabès 

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

‘One morning’, wrote Reb Assad, ‘sitting up in bed, I noticed that I had overnight been sawed apart from top to bottom. Ever since, I have vainly tried to save both halves of myself.’

— Jabés, The Book of Questions (tr. Waldrop)


He was seventeen. An age with wide margins. And then one night, a little before day. And then one day, and then one night, and then nights, and days which were nights, the confrontation with death, the confrontation with the dawn and dusk of death, the confrontation with himself, with no one.

Jabés, The Book of Questions (tr. Waldrop)

I have stars for every night.

— Jabés

You enter the night

You enter the night,
as a thread enters the needle,
through an opening
propitious or bloody,
through the most luminous breach.
Being both thread and needle,
you enter the night
as you enter yourself.

— Jabés, The Book of Questions (tr. R. Waldrop)

‘And we watch it’

We walk barefoot along the pages of your book, Yukel, on rocks which overhang the sea. Your story is that of the waves, which break at our ankles and, sometimes, whip our faces. One and the same story, one and the same wave. Now full of strength, now so weak it seems wounded.

And we watch it, passively, because it asks nothing of us, but carries us beyond the shores, where the sun rises and sets, as if dark and light joined together for us.

— Jabés, The Book of Questions (tr. R. Waldrop)


Hope: the following page. Do not close the book.”

“I have turned all the pages of the book without finding hope.”

“Perhaps hope is the book.”

– Jabés, The Book of Questions Vol. 1 (trans. R. Waldrop)

The word which escapes me

A scholar: I settle in my work, but the work is unaware of it. The more I care about what I write, the more I cut myself off from the sources of my writing. The more sincere I want to be, the more the faster I must let the words take over: I cannot refuse to let them exist without me.
    And yet I am the origin of their existence. I am, therefore, the man who conceived the verbal being which will have a fate of its own on which, in turn, my fate as a writer depends.

A scholar: I write and right away I become the word which escapes me and thanks to which I am, the word which leads to other words and asserts itself as such. I am multiplied in my sentence as a tree unfolds in its branches.

A scholar: When a writer bends over his work he believes, or rather makes us believe, that his face is the one his words reflect. He is lying. He is lying as God be if He claimed to have created man in His image; because which then would be His image?

— Jabés, The Book of Questions (trans. R. Waldrop)