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the Complete Review
the complete review - biographical

Lavish Absence

Rosmarie Waldrop

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To purchase Lavish Absence

Title: Lavish Absence
Author: Rosmarie Waldrop
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2002
Length: 160 pages
Availability: Lavish Absence - US
Lavish Absence - UK
Lavish Absence - Canada
  • Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabès
  • With a Foreword by Richard Stamelman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : useful introduction to Jabès, appropriate homage

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . Summer/2003 Peter Bush
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Summer/2003 Brian Evenson
TLS A 20/8/2004 John Taylor
World Literature Today . 7-9/2003 Warren Motte

  Review Consensus:


  From the Reviews:
  • "In Lavish Absence Rosmarie Waldrop offers a critical book that is intergeneric as well -- part commentary, part memoir, liberally sprinkled with Jabèss own words and writing -- and which goes a long way toward revealing Jabès. (...) A wonderful introduction to both Jabèss work and Jabès the man, Lavish Absence is a provocative entry into Jabèss evocative world" - Brian Evenson, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "(A) moving and often brilliantly insightful act of homage. Collage-like in conception, open-ended as befits Jabes's open-ended work, this compelling volume juxtaposes critical reflections with fond memories of an endearing yet elusive man (.....) Lavish Absence does not conceal its origins in apprenticeship, gratitude and mourning. Some passages reveal Rosmarie Waldrop coming to terms with her grief. Elsewhere, she offers perceptive, even inspiring, remarks about the art of translation. Throughout this important and original book, she brings her critical acumen -- as well as respect and affection -- to bear on the achievement of her friend and mentor." - John Taylor, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Moments of lamentation, stunning in their poignancy, alternate with moments of closely honed critical analysis. Lyrical passages give way to more sober meditations upon the uses, and the fate, of literature as a cultural practice. Evocations of the man and evocations of the work question each other productively on the page, ultimately suggesting that -- in this case at least -- it is impossible to understand the one without the other." - Warren Motte, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Rosmarie Waldrop is Edmond Jabès' translator, the person most responsible for so much of his work appearing in English. Lavish Absence is an homage to the man and writer, an examination of his life and work, and a meditation on translating Jabès' work.
       Edmond Jabès had an unusual biography: an Egyptian Jew, writing in French (though he only left Egypt in the 1950s), with an Italian passport. Though he started out in the thrall of surrealism, he soon went his own very distinctive way. Waldrop first met him only in 1971 (after she had started translating The Book of Questions (immediately turned down by twenty American publishers she submitted it to)), but a close personal and working relationship developed.
       Lavish Absence is a book of memories and anecdotes and odds and ends about Jabès' life and work. The material is presented much like a typical book of Jabès: short sections, much that seems fragmentary, extensive quotes. Descriptions of what is in each brief section -- chapter-titles, as it were -- are not found in the text itself, but the table of contents does provide them, making for (relatively) easy reference.
       Bit by bit, Waldrop both gives a sense of Jabès' own writing, as well as the difficulties posed by translation. For example: Jabès is an author who revels in wordplay and ambiguity, and Waldrop notes:

     Whenever I ask Edmond Jabès:
     "Which of the two (or more) meanings of this word is more important ?"
     he answers: "Both."
       Lavish Absence is far from straightforward biography, but it does give a good, if very personal, impression of the man. Limited to when Jabès: was relatively old (and an established literary figure in the Paris-scene), and offering only a doubly distorted picture of what his younger -- and specifically his Egyptian -- years might have been like, one does miss the development of the author: he stands almost entirely finished. (Among the most amusing vignettes is a description of an awestruck Paul Auster meeting Jabès; but he appears venerable throughout the book, and one is left largely to imagine how he reached that state.)
       Waldrop conveys Jabès' literary philosophy, if one can call it that, very well -- especially his fascination with the concept of 'the book' (pervasive throughout his work) and the role of the writer. So, for example:
     The writer's task is to lure the words onto the page. And they are willing and even eager to go there, but on their own terms. They have their own order and fight their own battles. They use the page to make love and to leave again. The writer is the catalyst. The words use him/her to come into existence, but once the elements have come together he is eliminated.
       In this age of author-glorification and press (and critical) focus of the cult of the personality, it's refreshing to find an author acknowledging such a different position -- and Jabès certainly, emphatically always did that.
       Jabès' vision -- with a focus on the book as an object in its entirety, not merely the text -- isn't always immediately apparent to his readers, but fortunately Waldrop is a valiant defender of getting everything across even in the English editions:
     I always have to fight for Jabès's blank spaces with the American publishers. the spaces always get whittled down, end up less generous than in the French editions. University of Chicago Press wants to eliminate them altogether.
     "They don't change the meaning."
     "They change the rhythm," I counter. "And that does change the meaning."
       Jabès is a writer who probably does need an introduction, so different are his books from almost any general fare, and Lavish Absence is probably a good place to start. Quoting extensively, discussing the translation-issues that the reader of the English versions will face, it gives a good sense of Jabès' work. Still, it is probably the reader already familiar with Jabès who will enjoy Lavish Absence most, opening new perspectives on the man and work as it does.
       A must for anyone who has or wants to read Jabès.

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Lavish Absence: Reviews: Edmond Jabès: Rosmarie Waldrop: Books by Edmond Jabès under review: Other books by Rosmarie Waldrop under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Rosmarie Waldrop was born in Germany in 1935 and has lived in the United States since 1958. A well-known translator, she is also, along with her husband Keith Waldrop, the publisher of Burning Deck Press.

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