Vol. XXIII, #2 Rick Moody / Ann Quin / Silas Flannery
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabès, by Rosmarie Waldrop
reviewed by Brian Evenson
Foreword Richard Stamelman. Wesleyan Univ. Press, 2002. 205 pp. Paper: $17.95.
“Edmond Jabès does not write novels,” Rosmarie Waldrop tells us. “Nor poems for that matter. He claims to write in a new genre, ‘the book.’ ” Indeed, one of the things that makes Jabès an important literary figure is the way in which he seems to slip between genres: Jabès was writing hybrid genres well before the term was in vogue and does so in a way that seems at once necessary and aesthetically considered. In Lavish Absence Rosmarie Waldrop offers a critical book that is intergeneric as well—part commentary, part memoir, liberally sprinkled with Jabès’s own words and writing—and which goes a long way toward revealing Jabès. Having translated Jabès’s work into English for thirty years, Waldrop is in perhaps a unique position to do so. In addition to incisive analyses of particular notions in Jabès’s work and intimate portraits of Jabès himself, Waldrop discusses the difficulties of translating a writer who is elliptical and interested in wordplay, offering examples of some of the difficulties a translator faces trying to render Jabès’s economical and sparse, yet surprisingly double-voiced, French into an equally evocative English. “Readers who read Edmond Jabès in the English do not read Edmond Jabès,” she indicates. “They do not read Rosmarie Waldrop either, but our dialogue and collaboration.” Yet in both English and French, Jabès’s meditations on authorship, nothingness, language, and on a God he doesn’t believe in but that stands in for something else he can’t quite pin down, remain highly original and quite moving. A wonderful introduction to both Jabès’s work and Jabès the man, Lavish Absence is a provocative entry into Jabès’s evocative world.