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Pierre Joris

A short good-bye for Jacques Derrida

Opened the book at random & started to read what here, now, below I translate:

       “Because every time, and every time singularly, every time irreplaceably, every time infinitely, death is nothing less than an end of the world. Not just only one end among others, the end of someone or something in the world, the end of a life or of something living. Death does not put an end — a term, un terme — to someone in the world, not to one world among others; it marks each time, each time in defiance of arithmetic, the absolute end of the sole and same world, of what each one opens as a sole and same world, the end of the unique world, the end of the totality of what is or can present itself as the origin of the world for this or that unique living being, be it human or not.
       “Then the survivor remains alone. Beyond the world of the other, he is also in some way beyond or before/ below the world itself. In the world outside the world and deprived of world. He at least feels alone responsible, assigned to carry both the other and his world, the other and the world that have disappeared, responsible without a world (weltlos), without the ground (sol) of any world, henceforth, in a world without world, as if without earth beyond the end of the world.”

Now let me read the preceding page:

       “The melancholic certitude of which I speak, thus begins, as always, during the friend’s very lifetime. Not only through an interruption, but through a word of interruption. A cogito of the good-bye, this salutation (salut) without return, signs the very breath (respiration) of the dialogue, of the dialogue in the world or of the most interior dialogue. Mourning thus waits no longer. From the very first meeting on, the interruption steps ahead of death, it precedes it, it en-mourns (endeuille) each one with an implacable future perfect. One of us two will have had to remain alone; we both knew it in advance. And since always. One of the two will have been destined, since the beginning, to carry by himself, in himself, both the dialogue he has to carry on beyond the interruption, and the memory of the first interruption.
       And, I would say, eschewing the ease of hyperbole, the world of the other. The world after the end of the world.”
       In Paul Celan: Selections, I include an essay by our common friend Edmond Jabès, in which Jabès speaks of the disappearance of Paul Celan thus:

“To whom to speak when the other no longer is?
The place is empty when emptiness occupies all of the place.”

       The question remains. To whom do I speak when you I address is no longer there. How to address the emptiness, how to make it sound, how to make it echo in the dialogue that needs to be carried on beyond the end of that world, this world?
    To summon the shared friends who have preceded you. Other worlds gone now, to be set in polylogue. To let them speak to us and to you. Jabès on Celan. And now you citing a line by Celan, someone we shared from the start, someone who always stood between us as the possible link, the medium of our dialogue. Paul Celan, who wrote a line you quote and I quote now again:

       “Die Welt is fort, ich muss dich tragen.”
       “The world is gone, I have to carry you.”

       The last time I saw him — Derrida — not Celan, whom I never saw despite walking besides and with him for forty years now, in a dialogue condemned from the start to be exactly as Derrida has just defined it. The last time, then, that I saw Derrida, we talked — one form, no doubt, a dialogue can take — we talked of Celan. We talked here in these States of Paul Celan, his work, of a certain, well-known line from one of his poems — not the one just cited by JD, but another one, the one that says:

“Niemand zeugt für den Zeugen.”

       I said how much his (JD’s) readings of this and other lines of Celan had helped me in translating the latter’s poetry into English. How, after a number of versions, I had — temporarily, temporarily: as is the nature of all translation — settled for a version that did not read “Niemand” as “nobody,” i.e. not any one, not anybody was witnessing for the witness (keeping the polysemy of “zeugen” in abeyance for the moment, here now, and in our conversation back that day) but as the “Niemand” of the title “Die Niemandsrose” who is a nobody who is a someone even if not anyone. In translation this “Nobody” becomes a “no one” but a “no one” in one word, a single “noone,” not a no and a one. A noone, who becomes the person “Noone,” the name that way back Odysseus used to fool the enemy, the pursuer, certain death. In English “noone” in one word — the elision of that empty space (the emptiness absence leaves?) is visible in the writing, but undetectable to the ear (of the other, who listens) and in this not unrelated to one of your (I was talking to him then — as now — the dialogue needs to be kept up) I mean his, basic moves in the reading/ writing process, for example the “a” for an “e” in différance: a written trace, unheard, inaudible. JD nodded agreement as he pulled out his pipe which he started to light. It wouldn’t take. Too much ash on top, I thought. Ashes — another shared word, substance, word-substance, — sustenance: Ashglory, wrote Celan, Feu la Cendre, you wrote, you, polysemically “feu” now indeed. And in a recent interview I spoke of the translator’s ash, ash as the nigredo of the alchemical process of translation any writing is. Jacques took the pipe and hit it against the side of his shoe in order to loosen and expel the accumulated ash. He must have hit it a bit too hard: the pipe fell in two pieces to the ground. I bent down and gathered up the pieces. I tried to put them back together hoping they had come apart at their natural juncture, there where you pull them apart for cleaning purposes. They seemed to fit, or I wanted them to, and as I handed the pipe back I said, “Jacques, il ne faut pas casser sa pipe.” Untranslatable image, but the meaning is “do not kick the bucket.” He put the pipe back into his pocket, and I would never be sure if that was because we approached the door above which was written “Humanities” or because he didn’t want to test the pipe’s solidity. Later that day, as he was readying to leave, he looked very tired; as we parted and embraced, I said: “Jacques, prenez bien soin de vous” — this a sentence, easily translatable, literally, word for word: “Jacques take good care of yourself.”

       He did, as well as one can take care of oneself, as well as anyone is allowed to do that, especially someone who also has the care of others and of the world at heart. The world, unique, that is gone now, that is no longer, that is now in someone else’s care — yours, mine, ours. Take good care of it, and when that is especially difficult, which is often, try to think it with and through him, I mean, Jacques Derrida.

Albany 10/11/04

Pierre Joris photo

Pierre Joris

Poet, translator & essayist Pierre Joris left Luxembourg at age 19 & has since lived in the U.S., Great Britain, North Africa, and France. Rain Taxi praised his 2001 collection, Poasis: Selected Poems 1986–1999, for “its physical, philosophical delight in words and their reverberations.” Since then he has published two chapbooks of poetry: Permanent Diaspora (Duration Press) and most recently The Rothenberg Variations (Wild Honey Press, Ireland).

In 2003 Wesleyan U.P. brought out his collection of essays A Nomad Poetics. Recent translations include 4x1: Work by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey & Habib Tengour and Abdelwahab Meddeb’s The Malady of Islam.With Jerome Rothenberg he edited the award-winning anthologies Poems for the Millennium and, just out from Exact Change, Pablo Picasso, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz & Other Poems. In late 2004 Green Integer will reissue three volumes of his translations of Paul Celan: Breathturn, Threadsuns and Lightduress and University of California Press will bring out his Paul Celan: Selections.

Pierre Joris often performs his work in collaboration with vocalist & visual artist Nicole Peyrafitte, most recently touring their multimedia show SumericaBachbones throughout Europe & the US. He teaches poetry and poetics at University in Albany, NY where he lives with Nicole Peyrafitte & their son Miles. During fall 2003 he was Berlin Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. Visit Pierre Joris’s website at .

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