Encyclopedia of Contemporary French Culture

By Alex Hughes; Keith Reader | Go to book overview

J

Jabès, Edmond

b. 1912, Cairo, Egypt;

d. 1991, Paris

Poet

Edmond Jabès is the outstanding self-consciously Jewish poet writing in French during the second half of the twentieth century. Born in a French-speaking community, he began writing poetry in 1943, having cultivated friendships with Max Jacob and Gabriel Bounoure. After the Suez crisis he left Egypt to settle in Paris and pursued his activity as a writer with renewed vigour. Deeply marked by the trauma of the Holocaust, Jabès tried in his writings to come to terms with the silence and absence of the Hebrew God during the years of persecution and extermination. After an initial collection of poems published in 1959, Je bâtis ma demeure (I Build My Dwelling), he developed a poetic style comprising lyrical expression, narrative, meditation, journal entries and aphorisms. The first cycle of six books (1963-5) is called The Book of Questions/The Book of Yukel/Return to the Book (Le Livre des questions/Le Livre de Yukel/Le Retour au livre), followed by the anagrammatic series Yaël/Elya/Aély (1967-72) and closed off by a seventh volume entitled El, ou le dernier livre (El, or the Last Book) (1973). 'Livre' occurs consistently in these, as well as in Jabès's later works, such as the three volumes of 1976-80, The Book of the Resemblances (Le Livre des ressemblances); its specific significance lies in the fact that Jabès thinks of the persistence of Judaism as being informed and confirmed by 'the Book'. Thus, for him the act of writing has become in certain ways the most authentic Jewish (and also human) act in the time of God's eclipse: how to speak the unutterable.

WALTER A.STRAUSS

See also: poetry

Jakobson, Roman

b. 1896, Moscow, Russia;

d. 1982, Boston, USA

Linguist

Jakobson worked successively with the Moscow, Prague and Copenhagen linguistic circles before settling in the United States, and published highly influential essays in a variety of fields: phonology, language acquisition, general linguistics and poetics. His model of the six functions of communication, and his binary analysis of the metaphoric and metonymic poles, have been widely quoted in France, particularly in connection with structuralism.

BÉATRICE DAMAMME-GILBERT

See also: Lévi-Strauss, Claude; linguistic/ discourse theory.

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