JABÈS, EDMOND (1908–1991), French poet. Born in Egypt, Jabès settled in Paris when the Egyptians expelled him after the 1956 Sinai Campaign. Revived awareness of his Jewish identity led to the Le livre des questions (1963), an esoteric work mingling surrealism and Kabbalah, aphorisms and poems in the romance of two concentration camp survivors. For Jabès, writing is an act of creation, and God an enigmatic "circle of luminous lettres." Le livre des questions became the first of a series of seven works which consist of persistent questioning, sometimes in the form of narratives or dialogues, sometimes in the form of apocryphal talmudic discussions between imaginary rabbis or kabbalistic letter games. The condition of the Jew is for Jabès identified with that of the poet: both the creative writer and the Jew can exist only in the state of exile. The term is of course taken in a spiritual sense and has no political meaning. The title of the first volume is also the title of the whole series; the others are Le livre de Yukel (1964), Le retour au livre (1965), Yaël (1967), Elya (1969), Aely (1972), and El (1973), which is the conclusion of a search for the unity of Judaism and literary creation, and at the same time a ceaseless questioning of the relevance of language. Jabès bemoans the loss of the Word (divine inspiration) and the wandering of the People of the Book.
Le livre des ressemblances (1976), Le livre du partage (1987), Le livre de l'hospitalité (1991), Le livre du dialogue (1994) continued the contruction a major poetic oeuvre. Unétranger avec, sous le bras, un livre de petit format (1989) seeks to characterize the stranger and to describe his role. The book is also a self-portrait.
[Anny Dayan Rosenman (2nd ed.)]