More words, margins and the journey to silence

A recent exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, Joshua Neustein: Margins drew on the work of Edmond Jabes to engage in ‘a poetic, visual reflection on writing, religion and archaeology’.

Jabes speaks often of what happens beyond the text, that which exists in the margins beyond the margins. . .

Wide, the margin between carte blanche and the white page. Nevertheless it is not in the margin that you can find me, but in the yet whiter one that separates the word-strewn sheet from the transparent, the written page from the one to be written in the infinite space where the eye turns back to the eye, and the hand to the pen, where all we write is erased, even as you write it. For the book imperceptibly takes shape within the book we will never finish.

There is my desert.

Edmond Jabes

In Neustein’s installation, words spill from transparent acrylic sheets onto walls and floors, text shimmering as the light both reveals and confuses.  The words enlighten as light is shed on their narrative. Scripts escape from the page. . .

Through drawing, sculptural and textual elements, Neustein’s piece re-enacts the emergence of the word piercing the silence with luminous presence. . . Writing pushes at the edge of silence to bring forth the unsaid.

Program notes from the ROM Exhibition

One of the limitations of words is that one can’t convey the nuances of a multi-sensory experience. In this small space I found the presence of joy. Joy was in the words but also in the acknowledgement of that space beyond the words. Joy was in the beauty of light, in the challenge of ideas, in a sense of spirit that transcends ‘thought’ and ‘knowledge’. Joy was. . .

The writer can get free of his writing only by using it, that is, by reading oneself.  As if the aim of writing were to use what is already written as a launching pad for reading the writing to come.

Moreover, what he has written is read in the process, hence constantly modified by his reading.

Edmond Jabes

Each of us is our own book, whether we transcribe the words or not. But we have to engage with the words if we are not to become mired by them. At a simple level, this describes the necessity of remaining connected to our own narrative. At a deeper level, it seems to me, we need words to move beyond the margins in any exploration of spirit.

It is very hard to live with silence. The real silence is death and this is terrible. To approach this silence, it is necessary to journey to the desert. You do not go to the desert to find identity, but to lose it, to lose your personality, to be anonymous. You make yourself void. You become silence. You become more silent than the silence around you. And then something extraordinary happens: you hear silence speak.

Edmond Jabes

Silence, by implication, is what existed before the Word. We could not but be fearful of the journey to the desert. Yet it is also at some level the ‘home’ we long for. We use words to light our way, they are en essential part of our enlightenment. But, ultimately, we have to set aside their light and step willingly into the darkness . . .

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