Desert Literature, Desert Language


  • Matthew Del Nevo


I want to talk about some desert literature, and I want to talk about desert language, particularly about theology. We tend not to think of theology as a desert language, as a language of wild and open places, as a wild and open language. Theology as it comes to us, and has done now for so long, tends to be the language of the library and the academic study. In talking about desert literature I want to talk about two writers: Edmond Jabès, who died in 1991 in Paris, a French-Jewish writer; and James Cowan, who lives in Sydney. Let me start by talking about Jabès. Edmond Jabès was born in the desert city of Cairo in 1912. In mid-life he and his family were expelled from Egypt as part of the persecution of Jews following the Suez crisis of 1956. They relocated in Paris and Jabès was never to return to his native land. In Paris, Jabes began to write what he called the book of his non-belonging. Ten volumes, which as the jacket-notes to the last volume attest, constitute "a single work". I am talking about Jabès's monumental Livre des Questions ('Book of Questions') in seven volumes and Livre des Ressemblances ('Book of Resemblances') in three volumes.