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Peter Cockelbergh


On Pierre Joris Justifying


Pavlov was fascinated with “ideas of the opposite.” Call it a cluster of cells, somewhere on the cortex of the brain. Helping to distinguish pleasure from pain, light from dark, dominance from submission. . . . But when, somehow — starve them, traumatize, shock, castrate them, send them over into one of the transmarginal phases, past borders of their waking selves, past “equivalent” and “paradoxical” phases — you weaken this idea of the opposite, and here all at once is the paranoid patient who would be master, yet now feels himself a slave . . . who would be loved, but suffers his world’s indifference, and, “I think,” Pavlov writing to Janet, “it is precisely the ultraparadoxical phase which is the base of the weakening idea of the opposite in our patients.” Our madmen, our paranoid, maniac, schizoid, morally imbecile —
[… ] this transmarginal leap, this surrender. Where ideas of the opposite have come together, and lost their oppositeness.
[… ] But in the domain of zero to one, not-something to something, Pointsman can only possess the zero and the one. He cannot, like Mexico, survive anyplace in the between. [… ] But to Mexico belongs the domain between zero and one — the middle Pointsman has excluded from his persuasions — the probabilities.

 — Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Occasional writing?!


There is more than meets the eye to the online blurb Jed Rasula wrote for Pierre Joris’s latest book of essays, Justifying the Margins (Summer 2009, SALT publishing). When Rasula says of “so-called occasional writing” — the kind of writing Justifying supposedly collects — that its perennial challenge is “living up to the occasion,” one might, indeed, first think of how Joris’s “brew-pot book” appears to be simply culled from the many miscellaneous essays, lectures, articles and obits the author must have had lying about. True enough, yet at the same time one is sorely mistaken: much more is at stake here. To continue the “brew-pot” metaphor: Joris’s chowder is not merely a hodgepodge of materials he happened to find in his kitchen or at a local Price Chopper. Rather, this book is the outcome of having cooked with products and components he came across en route earlier, and carefully put in his satchel precisely with the intention of finding out what could be made with such an appealing and appetizing mix. Alter the dosage, leave out or replace an ingredient — any one ingredient  — , and you obtain not only a different dish, but also a different genealogy, i.e.: a different journey that lead to the dish in the first place. In short, Rasula’s insistence on the “brew-pot” quality of Justifying has, I think, less to do with the book being made up of seemingly aleatory essays, articles and so on, as with the understanding that if all writing is not already, per force occasional, Joris’s seems occasional par excellence.



Or, approaching these prandial matters from a slightly different angle, one could say there is a poetics operative throughout Justifying the Margins; a poetics of which the “occasional writings” collected in Joris’s latest book are an instance or an “expression.” These texts are therefore not so much occasional in being a lecture, or an obit, as an occasion for Joris to encounter the moment, indeed, “to live up to” and explore both the occasion and his poetics. It is, furthermore, important to note that, whenever speaking of Joris’s poetics, one spontaneously thinks of “a nomad poetics,” outlined in a collection of essays by the same name: A Nomad Poetics (2003, Wesleyan University Press). Yet “nomadics” is only one dimension of Joris’s vaster oeuvre or poetics, and, moreover, one that exceeds the homonymous book by far. This double excess in turn provides for an excellent starting point from which to discuss Justifying the Margins (and the “occasional”), because the links between both essay books, as part of a larger “nomad” poetics, are manifold and all-pervasive. But before looking into some of these more encompassing “nomad” dérives, I want to present Justifying’s first section as a location where an “active” overlapping and interlacing — where, if you will, excess — is most clearly at work (and signalled in several respects) [1].


Joris’s new book literally opens in medias res, as it continues to explore a number of major Nomad Poetics and, by extension, “nomad poetics” concerns. This “in the middle of things” is, to begin with, marked on a basic textual level by the opening paragraph of the very first essay, which actually smoothly quotes a key-passage from “St/range: An uncertain range” (JtM, 7; ANP, 20). In a way, Justifying is thus presented as a seamless Nomad Poetics offshoot — as though the earlier essay and book bifurcate into the first section of Justifying the Margins. Because one single junction or graft would still be far too linear for Joris, the second essay is more outspoken and directly quotes no less than three fragments from A Nomad Poetics: his intro to the Picasso translations (JtM, 27-28; ANP, 115-116), “Collage and post-collage” (JtM, 28; ANP, 89-90) and the Rough Trades review (JtM, 29-30; ANP, 96). This fourfold connection is, furthermore, clearly flagged by the mention of “nomadics” in the titles of the first two essays of Justifying (and only those), and by the topics they announce: “On the Nomadic Circulation of Contemporary Poetics,” more specifically contemporary literature from the Maghreb (roughly Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia), and “The Seamlessly Nomadic Future of Collage,” which revisits seems/seams topographies (cf. the already mentioned review of Charles Bernstein’s Rough Trades and the Mottram essay in Poetics). The third and final text of the first section is, in addition, the sole interview of the book (mirroring, as per chance, the single, Samizdat interview that Poetics features). Sure enough, by means of Deleuze, the Maghreb, travels/travails, 4 x 1 and other topics discussed, the conversation with ReadySteadyBlog’s Mark Thwaite clearly cuts across both A Nomad Poetics and Justifying the Margins as well.


More importantly, and beyond mere titular matters, there is what one could call “thematic” (or material) excess as well. Let’s have, for instance, a look at the opening essay, which combines contemporary writing from the Maghreb with “nomadics.” Justifying thereby remarkably picks up where A Nomad Poetics left off, for such a contemporary dimension was, after all, somewhat lacking from the latter: North African literature played a crucial role on a conceptual plane, where it got mixed in with Deleuze and Guattari (cf. “noet,” D/G’s nomadism, “poasis,” “minor literatures,” “line of flight”… ), yet at the same time appeared mostly in its elder guises — think of 10th century Iraqi Sufi mystic Al Niffari’s Mawâqif, and the pre-Islamic Mu’Allaqat, like Tarafah/Al Khirniq’s ode translated nomadically in the Manifesto. Apart from a mere nominal presence (the “nomad manifesto” lists Kateb Yacine and Abdelwahab Meddeb), it is literally towards the end of Poetics, in the penultimate text only that the impact of current North African culture on Joris’s poetics is brought up: the crucial 1966 encounter with Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine in Paris, Habib Tengour’s “genre-breaking narrative” The Old Man of the Mountain, and Meddeb’s [2] ‘allographic’ Talismano, all three tying in with the (m)other tongue. Considering Joris’s poetry and poetics, and his expertise in these matters as a translator, editor and anthologist [3] in particular, the absence of actual readings of contemporary North African writing tel quel would seem even more flagrant. From this contemporary point of view it is, in short, as though the Nomad Poetics caravan was brought to an abrupt halt, mid-travel, and mid-reflection: contemporary Maghrebian literature has come to serve as one horizon against which one constantly treks (in section V especially), but nowhere quite attains.


This, too, is part of a “nomad poetics:” present-day writing from the Maghreb is not a final destination (or horizon) to be reached anywhere, but a stopping place one calls in at. Surprisingly, perhaps, the Poetics caravan didn’t halt there; it took Justifying to reach that “poasis.” For in “On the Nomadic Circulation of Contemporary Poetics,” Joris finally meanders through the diasporic practices of four major contemporary Maghrebian writers: Driss Chraïbi, Abdelwahab Meddeb, Habib Tengour and Abdelkebir Khatibi [4]. Four authors whose works ‘contribute to a radical subversion of traditional cultural patterns in both writing and translating’ (JtM, 9). Or, in Nomad terms, Joris claims to posit ‘a few markers to witness this contemporary complexity,’ of ‘the growing nomadicity of our languages, the dissemination of minor-literature modes’ and so on (JtM, 8-9). Indeed, in this essay the reader is finally presented with nomadic writing — think, for instance, of Poetics’ Picasso — that loops back (in)to the Maghreb. And again in the essay which opens section II and fully explores Joris’s already mentioned Paris encounter with Khaïr-Eddine, or the Adonis piece in the final, fourth section.


In fact, thematic excess is not quite the accurate adjective, because the opening section of Justifying doesn’t merely supplement A Nomad Poetics in terms of a topic or focus or theme — it is, rather, as though the margins of the latter did not suffice, could not contain the writing, which simply continues, overflows (has to overflow), into the next book. As such, the entire first section, consisting of said two essays and an interview, is not so much an epilogue (or prologue) — too traditional, and static structural parts  — , but functions in many ways as a sort of transit zone where both books can exchange and store their goods, to travel along in either direction, as part of a patchwork, an intricate intersection or crossroads. For indeed, this “débordement” — with the full semantic sweep of the word — works/unworks either direction: Justifying firmly starts off in the margins of A Nomad Poetics, which is, for instance, haunted by 20th and 21st century North African writing, and which itself, consequently, takes off in Justifying’s first essay(s), dealing more explicitly with the contemporary Maghreb.


The concept of “un/working” is crucial here, and needs further elaboration. The word itself is Joris’s translation of “désoeuvrer” / “désoeuvrement,” and goes back to his 1988 translation of Maurice Blanchot’s La communauté inavouable [5]. ‘Désoeuvrer, -é, -ement’ has been translated variously as ‘inoperable,’ ‘worklessness’ and ‘uneventfulness;’ Joris, however, opted for ‘unworking’ so as to maintain the ‘semantic range’ (UC, xxii-xxiii) as much as possible. The literal meaning of ‘être désoeuvré(e)’ is to be idle, to be at a loose end, unemployed, unoccupied, yet Blanchot expands the term tremendously, turning it into an active philosophical and literary concept. Crucial to that concept is the notion of ‘oeuvre:’ a literary or artistic work, both in the sense of a single book or work, and of the collective works or oeuvre of an author. In the preface to his translation, Joris quotes a passage from Blanchot’s L’entretien infini that gives a good sense of what is at stake in the former’s essay books as well:


To write is to produce absence of the work (worklessness) [désoeuvrement]. Or: writing is the absence of the work as it produces itself through the work and throughout the work. Writing as worklessness [désoeuvrement] (in the active sense of the work) is the insane game, the indeterminacy that lies between reason and unreason.

What happens to the book during this “game,” in which worklessness [désoeuvrement] is set loose during the operation of writing? The book: the passage of an infinite moment, a movement that goes from writing as an operation to writing as worklessness [désoeuvrement]; a passage that immediately impedes. Writing passes through the book, but the book is not that to which it is destined (its destiny). Writing passes through the book, completing itself there even as it disappears in the book; and yet, we do not write for the book. The book: a ruse by which writing goes towards the absence of the book. (Blanchot, translated by Lydia Davis, quoted in UC, xxiii-xxiv) [6]


The “débordement” that characterizes a certain interplay between A Nomad Poetics and Justifying the Margins is, precisely, an instance of a vaster un/working of a book or oeuvre, i.e. of writing, in Blanchot’s sense (and Joris’s translation). “Déborder,” to overflow, to spill, to go beyond, to outwit, to be overwhelmed or swamped, contains the word “bord,” “edge” or “border,” and plays upon and with related barriers, boundaries, limits, frontiers, fringes and margins that are un/done, confused. Book boundaries are literally not drawn, permeated, obfuscated even, which allows the final and first sections of Poetics and Justifying, respectively, to function, as said, as a sort of “transit zone,” expanding and un/working the material “territories” of both books. Going towards the absence of both books, too. The more one reads Joris’s essays, poems and translations, the more one notices how margins are merged: formally, but also on the level of content, as so-called “thematic” margins of individual works display and displace greater concerns of the book in question. The Maghreb is such a concern, a first margin displayed and justified in Margins, and at the same time displaced, and displacing Margins as it passes through the book only, and goes beyond the margins of Margins, and A Nomad Poetics alike. I will turn to the concept of “justifying margins” shortly, but want to add two more notes to Joris’s poetics of “débordement,” of “expansiveness” and “overlapping.”


First, the “excess” that un/works both collections of essays is also reflected in their shared genealogy. Joris has been toying around with the Justifying the Margins book and concept at least since 1992-1993, when in an unpublished note he introduces a short selection of essays as taken from “a book in progress tentatively titled Justifying the Margins.” An early draft of a full-blown table of contents dates back to a 1998 Justifying, this time bearing a subtitle [7] (‘proses, manifestos, essays, interviews’) and containing no less than six lengthy and titled sections [8]. These early plans are interesting in several respects. Suffice it, however, to say that in terms of Joris’s conception of ‘books,’ they once more show us how A Nomad Poetics and Justifying the Margins inherently overlap and merge: a fair amount of essays that wound up in Poetics, was originally planned for inclusion in the ur-Justifying (‘Statement for Tyuonyi,’ ‘Towards a Nomad Poetics,’ ‘The Case of the Missing M,’ the reviews of Rough Trades and The Politics of Poetic Form, the essays on Robin Blaser and Eric Mottram).


Secondly, it is important to understand how just such a “débordement” and “désoeuvrement” relate to the already mentioned “occasional” in Joris’s writing. Take, for instance, the book covers of A Nomad Poetics and Justifying the Margins, both adorned with an Irving Petlin painting: the former with “The Desert, Paris” (1994), and the latter with “All is less, than it is, all is more (The White Door)” (2001). This is an important detail, because Joris tends to his book covers himself: “The Desert, Paris,” for instance, does not start on the Poetics front cover, advancing over the spine to the back cover, but unconventionally starts on the left border of the front cover, bridges the edge and finishes partway through the back cover. Opening the book, you literally also open the painting, or Paris, or the desert… And, although Petlin and his painting are left unmentioned in A Nomad Poetics, one can readily see why “The Desert, Paris [9]’ appealed to Joris — shared locales (notably Paris), a complex understanding of the ‘desert’ that perfectly fits a nomad poetics (one can even think of details like a wandering Tarafah/Rimbaud), and foremost Edmond Jabès as medium [10].


“(The White Door),” on the other hand, plainly relates to a text in the third section of Justifying the Margins, and was originally published in 2002 as a catalogue essay entitled “Irving Petlin’s World of Paul Celan” — the appeal again is clear enough, although the medium now is Celan’s work. So, it is once more in Justifying only that Petlin and his work are brought to the fore, and that there is, in retrospect, possibly more to Joris’s persistent choice for that painter’s work. Is his choice part of a grand, organic master plan? No. Is it just happenstance, then? merely the “occasional” playing up? Yes, but not in the sense of simple coincidence; as indicated above, the occasional is an operative element in Joris’s poetics, in the sense that the travelling poet hit upon these paintings, put them in that proverbial satchel of his, and did something with them. As such, the covers link both books, and beyond that literal, surface link, they also connect the poetics and texts these volumes contain. The choice was not predestined, but is not effectless either! It functions as a signpost for the attentive reader, who may or may not pick up on them. Similarly, the opening paragraph of Justifying’s first essay, which seamlessly quotes A Nomad Poetics, is not part of some greater design either: possibly the text simply began that way to situate and introduce the talk. Nevertheless, the quote cannot be dismissed as coincidence or carelessness either: most of Joris’s writing is marked by one or more “occasions,” and he clearly chooses not to undo his texts of them. On the contrary, Joris emphasizes these marks, trails and traces, positions them, charges them, thereby rendering such details strangely meaningful. Here, we finally hit upon that cluster of more encompassing nomadic “dérives” — the noet’s travel/travails, Celan, “poases,” the occasional…  — , which I would now like to connect to a “nomad poetics” properly speaking.


Parle-t-on jamais d’une date ? Mais parle-t-on jamais sans parler d’une date ?
D’elle et depuis elle ?
 — Jacques Derrida, Schibboleth. Pour Paul Celan

Paul Celan… another key figure in Joris’s poetry and poetics. We read in the “ReadySteadyBlog Interview” how, in high school, a peripatetic scholar/actor first read Todesfuge to the fourteen or fifteen-year-old Pierre Joris. Struck by its “clear disembowelling power,” (JtM, 38) Joris has been working on Celan ever since. Disregarding a brief, translated anthology of a number of German poets in the 1960s, Joris’s first in-depth reading of Celan resulted in a Senior Project at Bard College in 1968, consisting of a translation of Atemwende. More translations followed: Zeitgehöft for Eshleman’s Sulfur number 11 (1983/1984); a selection from Schneepart in the late 1980s; a Ph.D. thesis on the later poetry of Paul Celan, namely, Atemwende, Fadensonnen and Lichtzwang, which were, in turn, published separately by Sun and Moon Press, and Green Integer Press, as Breathturn (1995), Threadsuns (2000) and Lightduress (2005) (the latter having become, unfortunately, an absolute rarity today); a generous selection in an instalment of the Poets for the Millennium series; and, most recently, a translation of the monstrous Meridian dossier (The Meridian. Final Version – Drafts – Materials), complete with all drafts, typescripts, variants, notes and materials, to be published by Stanford University Press early in 2011 (and of which a sample selection has been added to this feature!). Inevitably, Celan also found his way in Joris’s poetry, think of The Book of Luap Nalec (1982) or “the voices fade” (P, 64-65), and in his prose writings, readings and essays which could easily fill a standalone book-length study (cf. the essay on Celan and Bachmann, or Celan and France, the many prefaces and introductions to translations, and so on).


Against this background of extensive Celan studies, one notices an intriguing difference between A Nomad Poetics and Justifying the Margins. Much like Joris’s dealings with contemporary North African writing, Celan is not quite absent from, but rather looming in the background of Poetics. In Justifying, however, the entire third section consists of Celan essays: a first one on the “zeugen” or witnessing/testifying complex in Celan’s poetry, the second essay an intense reading of “Todtnauberg,” i.e.: the Celan – Heidegger encounter, and a final one on Irving Petlin and Celan. In that sense, the latter’s appearance in Justifying is the vindication of at least another internal fringe or border as well. For, again like the Maghreb, Celan in many ways forms yet another horizon for Justifying’s travels/travails, way beyond the “thematic” third section. Apart from his spectral presence in the cover painting, Celan appears, for instance, on those palimpsest-like first pages of the opening essay — die Sekunde, diese Kunde (JtM, 7; ANP, 20)  — , then again in the interview, and on and off like that throughout the book. By the by, Jacques Derrida joins Celan on the second page of that same opening essay (JtM, 8); an amuse-bouche, perhaps, to “A Short Good-Bye for Jacques Derrida” in which Joris in turn joins the company of Celan and Derrida [11]? Passons, to get a better understanding of some of the larger nomadic dérives I mentioned above, I would like to travel down this ‘line of flight’ which traverses or spreads across Justifying the Margins: Joris – Celan – Derrida.


Always a locus worth revisiting in this context is Schibboleth. Pour Paul Celan (1986), published by Derrida as an extended, translated version of an English talk he pronounced at the International Paul Celan Symposium (1984) in Washington, Seattle [12]. While Schibboleth brings up limits, borders, singularity and repetition, translation, resistance, readability, the other, witnessing, encounters, the to come et cetera, I am particularly interested in Derrida’s thinking through dates in Celan’s poetry and poetics. Obviously, the importance of dates in Celan’s work can hardly be underestimated: so many of his poems speak of, about, from, through, to, in dates… (SQ, 7-8; Sch, 21) They show us, as Derrida says, ‘the enigma of the date’ (SQ, 5) [13], and do so poetically, ‘by a mise-en-oeuvre of the date.’ (SQ, 5) [14]. Der Meridian is a case in point, also in its most apparent form: given at the Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung in Darmstadt, it is dated as a ‘Rede anlässlich der Verleihung des Georg-Büchner-Preises, am 22. Oktober 1960.’ Even if that October 22nd is multiplied — for instance by 1909, May 23rd and 24th 1792, and, of course, January 20th (SQ, 5; Sch, 17)  — , Der Meridian is decidedly dated, occasional, inscribed in or by a certain place and time. (Dating, according to Derrida, always marks a ‘here’ and a ‘now’ (SQ, 13; Sch, 29-30).)


This opens a perspective on Justifying the Margins as well, for here, too, each text is dated or occasional in a similar sense. In a draft version of Justifying, for instance, most of the essays, obits and talks were still marked at the bottom by their specific dates and locales (while they are now tucked away in a glass “acknowledgements” cabinet at the beginning of the book, with only some remaining explicit (JtM, 57, 71, 129, 142)). In fact, moments of the day, months, hours, years, dates, as well as countries, spaces, places and locations abound in Joris’s writing at large, appearing in the texts themselves (cf. SQ, 16; Sch, 34): think of “Lemur Mornings,” “December Work,” the Poetics essay “From the Summer 1995 Notebooks,” or the dated journal entries of “The Tea-Brown Light of Kindness” in Justifying. Beyond such still rather straightforward or direct markings, however, Joris’s poems often bear much more intricate or seamless imprints and marks of time and space as well. Take the on-going Canto Diurno series, for example, in which Joris uses the constraint of a 24-hour space of time to write a poem in, and thereby literally “measures his days” by “the act of writing itself” (ANP, 17-18). “Canto Diurno #1,” which opens Poasis, thus has a detailed timeline inscribed and de-scribed in the text (and, via a “second attempt at translating ‘Todtnauberg’” (P, 17-18) interestingly overlaps with the “Translation at the Mountain of Death” essay from Justifying). These, what I would like to call complex “chronographies” and “geographies” can again be approached in Derridean terms as well: they are “a non-conventional, non-calendrical form of dating, one that would merge entirely, without remainder, with the general organization of the poetic text.” (SQ, 16) [15]. The plethora of genres deployed in Justifying is, moreover, another example of this more complex way of dating: lectures, obits, journal entries, talks, liner notes, interviews, memoirs, good-byes, are generic traces and trails of the occasional and local at work in Joris’s poetics. And, incidentally, do not similar dating practices hold for much of Derrida’s writing also? The bulk of his texts were first pronounced as speeches, readings, talks or seminars, to be expanded and reworked into essays at a later date (but still bearing multiple traces of other languages, times and spaces). His Celan texts are, moreover, a fine example of this.


But let us traverse the “occasional” in these authors along different lines as well, and push for a different hearing of “dates” and their effects in poetry.


How can one date what does not repeat if dating also calls for some form of return, if it recalls in the readability of a repetition? But how can one date anything other than that which never repeats itself? (SQ, 2) [16]


This is one set of questions Derrida addresses in Schibboleth, and one he keeps approaching and exploring from continuously shifting angles. Why not stick (for now) close to the quote above, and look at the date as double [17]? Or, the date as always already radically twofold, as moving between singularity and repeatability, as ‘ce qui revient à se marquer comme l’unique’ (Sch, 13), i.e.: ‘what comes down to marking [or returns to mark] itself as the once-and-only time [as the unique]” (SQ, 2). Take, for instance, Celan’s January 20th in the Meridian speech. That specific date marks, is marked by (and as) a singular and unique event: an unrecoverable, unrepeatable moment in time, that 20th of January, lost. And yet, at the same time the inscription of this date, its incision in Celan’s language and texts, commemorates, marks a return, a repetition of the unrepeatable, the singular 20th of January. I.e.: through the date’s inscription, at once (“à la fois,” as Derrida says), “this absolute property [the event’s once-and-only time] can also be transcribed, exported, deported, expropriated, reappropriated, repeated in its absolute singularity.” (SQ, 5; Sch 18). The date must become repeatable — that is, “readable, audible, intelligible” (Sch, 23)  — , in order to commemorate and inscribe, beyond the utter silence and singularity of the event it marks: in order for Celan to be able to talk about and speak to the date. Un/writable and un/readable, caught between a singular event, and an impossible but inescapable repetition or return, that is the mentioned “enigma of the date.”


Zigzagging along this Derrida – Celan – Joris “line of flight,” we can discern a similar doubleness or enigma in a key concept of the latter’s nomad poetics: the mawqif. Mawqif (plural, mawâqif) in Arabic literally means a stopping place or stopover, a provisional halt, such as nomad caravans have when trekking across the desert. Or, in Joris’s words (via Meddeb [18]):


The mawqif is the pause, the stop-over, the rest, the stay of the wanderer between two moments of movement, two runs, two sites, two places, two states. (ANP, 47)


On a more biographical note one can again see why the nomadic notion of the mawqif appeals to Joris, who has lived across three continents. As a concept and as a literary form, the mawqif was, however, invented by a 10th century Sufi poet and mystic, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Jabbar Niffari, to be subsequently theorized by the major, 13th century Sufi master, Ibn Arabi [19] (SY, [44]). Three elements of Niffari/Arabi’s mawqif seem to me important in the present context. First, Niffari’s concept is invested with a spiritual and religious meaning: his Kitab al-Mawâqif, or Book of Halts/Standings, is a collection of visionary prose-poems, the long of which the author enters in a dialogue with the Absolute, i.e.: with God — each poem being a “halt” on the poet’s lifelong path towards the One. Secondly, in Niffari and Arabi’s sense, a mawqif is not simply any station, or stopping place, but a medial, in-between point between two, more stable spiritual stations or dwellings on the (life-)path of the traveller [20]. And, thirdly, through the Book of Standings the mawqif becomes a unique ‘genre’ or ‘form’ as well. A genre, moreover, endowed with a particular textual and poetic quality. In Sami-Ali’s words:


Words coming up in the midst of spoken language, but which arrest the latter, immobilize it around a term, around a phrase, to become, in that experience where all is centred on the Absolute, the supreme word. The halt is a stop in language itself, a cut in rational discourse, a suspension of all of the being of reason merging with the being of language.” (NH, 13, my translation) [21]


So, the halt or stopover literally or, rather, absolutely cuts — as a caesura (or breathturn!) — in familiar, everyday language, speech and life, for in it, in and through the halt’s language, Niffari encounters and dialogues with the Absolute.


des arrêts / disarray

This brings me to Joris’s use of mawâqif, which, interestingly, strips the concept of all religiosity: of God, the One, the “Absolute,” Christian Stations of the Cross, in short, of the “transcendental parking lot, above or below” (ANP, 47). Put differently, he undoes Niffari’s concept and genre of all transcendental dimensions, whilst retaining the routes into, or techniques of the sacred. What remains is a complex concept that literally permeates all layers and aspects of Joris’s oeuvre: his poetry and poetics, his words, writing and nomadizing. It furthermore permeates the Joris – Celan – Derrida “line of flight,” too. In what follows, I would like to highlight these various dimensions of Joris’s mawâqif by formulating different, though always related answers to a basic question Joris raises himself. A question, moreover, that already calls to mind Derrida as well: “But if it is all flux, all nomad wandering, when & how to write. How not to stop & yet do the poem? (ANP, 46). Throughout A Nomad Poetics, Joris plays “off” “rest/stop” and “movement/flux” against each other as two extreme ends of a dichotomy. Yet neither one is ever proposed, let alone reached as “ultimate term:” Joris always moves between them, here inclining toward one, only to deviate toward the other in a later passage, by shifting perspectives and recontextualising, by hinting at different aspects of one or the other, or by bringing out new and unexpected nuances that mutually affect both terms.


In this constant attempt to eschew “binary oppositions” (ANP, 65) — “movement” versus “rest” — Joris implicitly picks up on Niffari’s conception of the mawqif as a medial point. Not simply a stop, or a stay — still too fixed and static  — , but merely a caesura, an in-between moment or locus of pause, between stops or stays:


In-between. I was indeed born between languages, and it is more & more this sense of between-ness that interests me, & that I want to inhabit. Which of course let’s the other back in, though this time maybe no longer as the abstract term of a dual on/off opposition, but as something richer, smellier, crazier. (ANP, 69)


The concept of the mawqif thus derived by Joris is inherently “double,” “multiple” even: never stasis, rest or stop, but nevertheless a momentary cut of/en route, or relay/delay of movement, for nowhere entirely flux either.


The mawqif has to be conceived of as a tension, a movement of a peculiar kind, & not as some static resting point — it is a momentary, moving placement on a smooth space [… ]. It is a (momentary) stance in relation to & with space, the horizontal, thus active, in motion, even if of a different motion than that before or after. (ANP, 47-48, emphasis in original)


Disregarding easy oppositions, Joris brilliantly presents his mawqif as a hybrid “moment of movement-in-rest, of movement on another plane or plateau, between today’s & tomorrow’s lines of flight” (ANP, 49). He does not conceive of the mawqif, therefore, as a stopping point on a linear trajectory, but as a dérive, a rupture of one movement, as it deploys (from the Latin deplicare, “to unfold”) into another movement, of an other kind. Thus the mawqif as the place, the moment, the short or longer halt where and when the poem is written, but not as stasis, for writing simply is an other trek, a different movement, literally an offshoot, in and through the mawqif, on a different plane, or into different spaces. The mawqif is not a moment to catch one’s breath, but a breathturn — not “motion” nor “pause,” but both, in-between and beyond.


Which is where we come across the doubleness of Derridean dates: their moving between singularity and its impossible, but ineluctable repetitions, is what also marks Joris’s mawâqif. Indeed, “between-ness as essential nomadic condition” (ANP, 29, emphasis in original) is being “on the move from one other to another other” (ANP, 29). Sure enough, Celan in turn joins them as well: between-ness is being unterwegs, “underway” and “under the way” (ANP, 29). To be “on the way” as well, “an ever more displaced drifting,” “in & of the drift (dérive)” (ANP, 26). The mawqif is being underway, it is a singular stopover, a necessary, but impossible halt where the poem is written and read, again and again and again…


As indicated, the mawqif thus permeates, or makes halts all over Joris’s oeuvre: as a medial, in-between, and always provisional stop-over, it seamlessly joins other poetics concepts like “isthmus,” the middle voice, “betweenness” or “Barzakh [22]’ — a fascinating Sufi concept, drawn from Ibn Arabi (cf. JtM, 110). But the mawqif also marks the still unfinished cycle of poems Meditations on the Stations [mawâqif] of Mansour Al-Hallaj (another 10th century Soufi mystic, poet and martyr). And one should not be surprised when Joris adds yet another dimension to this hybrid notion or topos: ‘The word, the mawqif.’ Incidentally, this poem literally shows how Joris’s nomadically writing mawâqif again counters the notion of an ‘oeuvre’ through débordement and overlapping: with minor changes only, this brief text appears as a poem in Aljibar (and Permanent Diaspora (2003)) and as a prose bit in the ‘Nomad manifesto:’


The word as/is the mawqif, the station, the oasis, the momentary resting place.

The caravan of syntax discovers it, the new word, as it, the sentence pushes into the not-yet-written, the word comes, or is given — becomes itself, as may be, however it happens.

And I stop, and if the word is new or renewed, I will be surprised & delighted & will rest in it, for a moment, for the briefest of pauses, then push on, then the push of ta’wil will get the sentence or line or caravan on trek again, into the great desert ahead, in time, in search of another oasis-word, resting place, station. (ANP, 49-50) [23]


Cutting across planes, the mawqif appears as poetics, as concept, genre, locus/moment of writing and reading, and now as language or word, too.


The full impact of this further twist appears most clearly when one takes a detour first, passing by a fragment of Derrida’s Écriture et différence (1967). Early on in the first essay, “Force et signification,” the notion of angustia enters the text:


If the anguish of writing is not and must not be a determined pathos, it is because this anguish is not an empirical modification or state of the writer, but is the responsibility of angustia: the necessarily restricted passageway of speech against which all possible meanings push each other, preventing each other’s emergence. Preventing, but calling upon each other, provoking each other too, unforeseeably and as if despite oneself, in a kind of autonomous overassemblage of meanings, a power of pure equivocality that makes the creativity of the classical God appear all too poor. Speaking frightens me because, by never saying enough, I also say too much. And if the necessity of becoming breath or speech restricts meaning — and our responsibility for it — writing restricts and constrains speech further still. (WD, 9) [24]


The plural of angustus, angustia in Latin means both “anguish, distress” and “straits” or “narrowness.” On the one hand, it can be understood as the wringing or wrenching that each mawqif involves, and which Joris described in Poetics:


Yet even that station, that mawqif [the oasis or amen corner into which the space traveler tries to write himself] is never a given, but always a wrestling so as to expulse the slag, to burn the dead wood and rearrange the stones in the ruins of the old camp. For all poetry rewrites language against itself. (ANP, 60)


But on the other hand, it also is the narrowness of meaning: the stretto of the word that meaning has to pass through in order to open up again and become meaningful for both writer and reader. In that latter sense, it shares with the mawqif a moving between the word as moment of pause and rest, and the word onward! Needless to say that against the background of Écriture et différence, the mawqif’s “rest” inevitably and through false etymological “misfirings” (JtM, 2) — the Latin restare, instead of the Old English ræstan  — , brings to mind such other Derridean notions as “rest,” “restance,” “trace” and “ash,” too.


Whether or not Celan actually looms large behind Derrida’s notion of angustia, his company in the present essay is unavoidable. Not simply because his poem “Engführung” is fascinating in this context (for both Derrida and Joris (JtM, 83)). Not because the “date” as shibboleth or no pasarán comes into play here, nor because the tension between speech and (written) language is particularly important to all three (cf. sprechen and Sprache in “An E for an A”), nor even through the breath and “pneumonology, the science of pneuma, spiritus or logos” Derrida mentions a couple of lines below, but through the “autonomous overassemblage of meanings” and the “power of pure equivocality.”


What is more, Joris comments on this phenomenon several times in Justifying the Margins, and always in relation to Celan. In “The Celan Ledge” — where the notions of ledge, gate and threshold, indeed of “straightening,” acquire new meanings against the background of angustia, and lead past Celan’s works, back to Celan’s words — Joris calls this phenomenon Celan’s “fearful polysemy:”


an insistence on and a quarrying of the word itself, of the single word and the numerous new semantic formations Celan’s characteristic telescoping of words creates. The poems become richly — at times dizzyingly — polysemic and in the process shed all facile representational and symbolizing functions. There is a directness, a literalness, perceptible in even the most abstract sounding of his constructs that forces us to take Celan at his word. (JtM, 104)


Or again when he digs deep in the “semantic geological stratifications” Celan’s choice for Wasen instead of Wiesen in “Todtnauberg” entails — “stratifications” in which


the poem opens up from the restricted economy of a containable and constrainable structure (the simple, tight network of traditional poetic surface devices as exemplified here by the rhymes of the “a’s”) to the movement of a more general economy, a mise-en-abîme, where “meaning”, “reference” etc. begin to leak, to “bleed” into an unconstrainable chain. (JtM, 98)


Should it surprise us that this losing an “a” for a long “ie” ties in with Joris’s Celan lecture “An E for an A”? Or that Derrida makes his appearance in the very next line as well: “This movement, by the way, is not identical, though related to what Derrida’s play on the “a” of différance entails” (JtM, 98)?


I am digging into this matter because Celan’s “fearful polysemy” — and, why not, Derrida’s disseminating “différance” — is of crucial importance to Joris’s own writing, where the phenomenon appears as an instance (a mawqif) of what he calls “a material flux of language matter” (ANP, 5, 38). On a conceptual level, Joris approaches this matter against Kristeva’s chora, namely as “a temporary articulation, essentially mobile, constituted of movements and their ephemeral stases” (Kristeva quoted in ANP, 5). He continues:


And then to follow this flux of ruptures and articulations, of rhythm, moving in & out of semantic & non-semantic spaces, moving around & through the features accreting as poem [… ], that is no longer an ‘explosante fixe’ (Breton) but an ‘explosante mouvante.’ (ANP, 5-6)


In the poem as mawqif, and even more so in the word as mawqif, angustia appears as “the hinge that articulates the move from the one the other, the in-between-ness which we find ourselves in” (JtM, 110), and again brings out the fundamental doubleness of a restriction, a compression or narrowness of the word as a resting place, and of the accompanying “overassemblage” or surcharge of the “explosante mouvante” of that same word (ANP, 6). A magnificent example of such “fearful polysemy” is Winnetou Old, which is also commented upon by Joris in A Nomad Poetics. Indeed, it was the “totally heterogenous language-matter” (ANP, 70 and P, 84) of Karl May’s Reise-Erzählungen, read by Joris when he was a young boy, that ignited Winnetou Old — a cycle where Joris comes back “to this matter, this language matter, matrix, the dura mater brain skin of my word-world” [25] (ANP, 70). In this long poem sequence, angustia appears as both ‘anguish’ [26] (P, 85), and as a language ‘magma’ that, once passed the mawqif’s narrowness, explodes again into new spaces and onto multiple, moving planes.


Discussing Winnetou Old’s intricate “magma” would require a full essay in itself, and more. Suffice it therefore to mention here in passing only some of its upsurges: 1) an Olsonian, or Projective take on breath and line to which Joris also adds a Celanian “breathturn.” The result is a unique and striking use of line breaks that creates vast surcharges of meaning (think of the much-quoted line from “Ode, or nearly there:” “Enjambment saves / another day, caravans // atoms into lines of flight” (HJR, 5)). Whereas Joris frequently works his line breaks with great finesse into long, vertical poems, Winnetou Old’s sections have a strange, “mass-like” stanzaic form (printed in bold, moreover), as though poured onto the page in dense clusters of words that both constitute the lines of the sections and undo them through ambiguous sentence patterns, ellipsis and apokoinous. Needless to say the syntax is affected by these jolting line breaks, too: while the syntactic patterns at first often appear straightforward, upon closer inspection they drift off between their constitutive “clusters” and “lines.” 2) multilingual punning and wordplay, as well as a rhizomatic semantics, marked by “fearful polysemy” and radical indeterminacy that shoot off meaning in all directions and cut across languages, poems and book covers. 3) a seems/seams use of reference and allusion: these are, consequently, no longer marked by seams — presenting the reference as “reference”  — , but seamlessly disseminate and spread, 4) a musicality that is reminiscent of jazz improvisations and both dissolves and constructs meaning, 5) a complicated undoing of the “book:” the poems spread across several volumes of poetry (Turbulence, for instance, can in many ways be read as a first instalment of Winnetou Old), 6) an intricate play with genre (I come back to this in section VII of the present essay): in 1995, Winnetou Old was turned into a dance and reading performance, Frozen Shadows, by Ellen Sinopoli and her dance company, and was premiered in “The Egg” (Albany, NY) in April 1995. Neither “dance performance” nor poetry reading, Frozen Shadows mixes and merges voice, performance, dance, song and poetry into a hybrid and heterogeneous “poem-as-a-happening.”

dates — data — dattes


But it does not end here. One could listen in or eavesdrop on this three-way conversation between Celan, Derrida and Joris with a slightly different ear still. A conversation in which dates assume a different sense. A conversation in which Joris does most of the talking, too. One can best listen in on them when Joris mentions Robert Kelly, as was the case, for instance, in a 2008 interview I conducted for the Belgian magazine Yang (now nY). At one point, Joris refers to Robert Kelly’s brilliant booklet In Time, and makes “the arrogant claim that the poet is possibly the last, in Robert Kelly’s words, ‘scientist of the whole… to whom all data whatsoever are of use.’” Even if Joris is talking about “Theory” and Deleuze, this passage curiously recalls Kelly’s own perspicacious review of Poasis, which starts off:


I used to carry on a lot about the Poetics of Information, seeing it as the one possibility for the poet, that practitioner of the science of the whole as I insisted on calling the craft, to sum, summon, sum up the world around the place of his practice. Make a summa poetica of the space and time that spawned that practice. [27]


Along with, say, Pound, Olson, Creeley, Lansing, and Celan — each in their own ways  — , Kelly also positions Joris squarely within that “Poetics of Information,” and rightly so: reading these poets indeed means “knowing more, bearing more information [… ] than you did before.” As to Joris in the Yang interview, he in turn continues as follows:


As I started out to say, I am a poet, not a theoretician, and as such I scan nomadically as wide a range of thinking and writing I am able to cover, looking for some ‘feeding for the intelletto’ I can appropriate and incorporate in both my poems and my thinking about poems. The prerogative of the poet is to steal directly whatever is of use, without needing to theoretically kowtow via analysis, explicatio, critical cloning or proof of pc allegiance. [28]


“The nomad carries his world with him, and travels through ours,” says Kelly in his review. Indeed, a great possibility identified by Joris, and one that involves rethinking not only the poem, oeuvre and book, word and genre, but the very role and position of the poet himself: an “I” who has gone and is going places, who is “multiple” and “scattered,” but who stands smack in the middle (nel mezzo) of the poems, whose unmistakable voice resounds in and through them. And so the conversation comes back to dates.


Because, approached against this double train of thought, the notion of the date as proposed by Derrida starts to glide interestingly [29]: ‘date,’ via the Latin data and datum, two past participles of dare, ‘to give’. Data, as in data epistola, a letter given (or received) — recording a particular place or time. But also data: information, facts, knowledge — ‘something given.’ As both Kelly and Joris himself indicate, data play a powerful role in the latter’s (and the former’s) writing. As Joris says of Pound’s Cantos, elsewhere in that same interview: ‘The range of his work was liberating. Everything from everywhere could enter the field of writing, to be energized into that multifaceted, multilayered construct called a poem.’ This goes for the poem, the poem sequence and the book of poems — think of titles like Breccia (layered, fragmented deposit, via the Italian) or Aljibar (store or storage, via the Arabic): they all accumulate, store and give information, data.


Here, the mawqif once more enters the discussion. Data, in Joris’s poetry and poetics, go hand in hand with dates: his data are nearly always dated, they seemly and seamlessly connect in complex ways to a particular place or time, to an occasion and a locus. To the mawqif. Take, for instance, a collection like Tanith Flies: written in Algeria, Eric Mottram aptly remarks that “This time the local myth to be regarded is Tanit, great goddess of North Africa and Phoenicia and her signs” (B, 9). Haunted by the occasional and the local, the mawqif is often dubbed poasis as well. “The poem as poasis, an poem-oasis [sic]” (ANP, 46-47), a replenishing moment or place of pause when and where the poem is written, whence, perhaps, the pun on the Greek ποίησις (poiesis), too. These poases ‘last a night or a day, the time of a poem, & then move on.’ (ANP, 26) (Note again how a space of time, a day or night as ‘measure,’ are mentioned explicitly [30].) The mawqif as a ‘refueling halt’ or ‘stop in the moving along the nomad line-of-flight’ (ANP, 47), as an ‘oasis corner’ (ANP, 60) inescapably dates the poiesis, the writing process and field. What is at hand in the mawqif  — data, or as Kelly says ‘real stuff, names, places, dates, theories, events, attitudes, works and days’ — enters the field of writing as a valuable gift, to be shared and passed on. The ‘date’ of the data epistola becomes ‘data;’ or, in a further glide, ‘dates.’ Dates the nomad poet plucks from a gorgeous date palm discovered in his current poasis. Dates he fills his satchel with. In French, this glide does not go unmarked: from date to data to datte — the deliciously sweet, dark brown oblong fruit the poet struggles to get his fingers around: datte or date, not data (Latin, ‘given’), but from δάκτυλος (Greek, daktylos), if not after the poet’s struggling fingers, then after the fingerlike shape of the leaves that shake hands with the poet in a singular encounter — to be repeated.

… Paris, we saw, drowned in
the Seine. Whatever will happen there will come
 — as always — from elsewhere. But elsewhere goes elsewhere now. […]

 — Pierre Joris. “Ruislip Visitation”


Justifying the Margins… When a title travels with you for over seventeen or eighteen years, there is more to it than simply a “name” for a “book.” And so a quick survey of its building blocks seems in place. If anything, Joris’s “margins” should certainly not be taken in the common sense of the word. An outright rejection of such conventional “margins” can be understood from, for instance, an aside in the “Nomad Manifesto:”


ET [in NOET, or nomad-poet] stands for et cetera, the always ongoing process, the no closure: it stands for ExtraTerritorial, for the continuous state of being outside (not a margin that would be always definable as the margin of something called the real (territory)). (ANP, 31)


Joris clearly is not interested in the more traditional, straightforward meaning of the word, where “margins” surreptitiously remain posited vis-à-vis a centre or capital or main body of text(s), from which the margin(al) depends, as the former still rules the page, or governs the territory. Put differently, Joris sets out to understand “margins” beyond the binary sense: as opposed to and existing because of a controlling, static centre that, by labelling something “margin” or “outskirt,” includes and fixes the latter as a remote “out there,” while with the same gesture obliterating all that is extra muros: “outside.” Instead of conceiving of the “margin” as a security or buffer zone installed to preserve the centre — any centre: traditional Western philosophy, a dialect with guns, “official verse culture,” the imperial capital etc.  — , Joris recognizes “margins” for what they are, and starts off from that understanding: a provisional border or boundary, erected to keep extant what already is (think of the verb “to margin,” i.e.: to provide with an edge or border), but at the same time inevitably permeated by the “outside.”


By way of a “false etymology,” I have always read the other component of Joris’s title, “justifying,” as implicitly connecting with the Poundian (/Flaubertian) mot juste, where “juste” can be understood as relating to justesse, “accuracy, precision,” or to justice, “justice,” what is “just and fair” (and which is present in justesse, too: “correctness”). A doubleness that Joris furthermore contrasts with the notion of “judgement,” and the stasis, lack of justice, and social/institutional terror the latter implies (JtM, 121). Tying these different meanings together, “justifying” is a matter of getting at the precise spot of gestation — never the centre, but the margins’ wild growth spreading, expanding, débordant  — , as well as of doing justice to the margins — instead of paying them lip service, or putting them “at the service of.” Accordingly, “justifying” is not solely making it (a)new, but making it right (or left, or another direction, to stick with the margin metaphor), and therefore entails a political, indeed even ethical stance (cf. Joris’s writings on witnessing and responsibility). In this sense, “justifying the margins” is, and always has been, a core element in Joris’s poetics — right from the start.


Of course, Joris’s “margins” link up with other marges as well: Edouard Glissant’s or René Depestre’s postcolonial theories, and that charged book of Jacques Derrida’s, Marges de la philosophie (1967) — a philosopher (or “writer”? (JtM, 43)) we encounter several times in Justifying, and one who therefore dates the book as well. Yet, having seen how Justifying the Margins and A Nomad Poetics interweave in “material” and “thematic” terms, one is probably most tempted to connect “justifying the margins” with Deleuze/Guattari’s concept of “minor literatures.” Take, for instance, D/G’s first characteristic: the language of a minor literature is “affected by a strong coefficient of deterritorialisation” (K, 29), after which they give the example of Kafka and German-speaking Jews in Prague in the 1900s and 1910s [31]. Such ‘deterritorialisation’ can be traced literally in Joris, too, whose poetry, essays, proses and translations cut across American, French, English, Luxemburgish, German and Maghrebian margins, spaces and traditions. Furthermore, some of the contemporary texts Joris reads in Justifying can be easily approached against this first D/G characteristic, too: the langue fourchue or ‘forked tongue’ of Driss Chraïbi (JtM, 9-11), Abdelwahab Meddeb’s ‘allography’ (JtM, 13-16) and so on.


But there are crucial differences as well. In the already quoted 2008 interview I conducted for Yang, Joris said the following about the concrete impact of Deleuze/Guattari on his work:


Deleuzian and other critical concepts give me a way to think through what happens in my poetry and in that of a range of other poets. My work was ‘nomadic’ in terms of its concerns and language techniques from the beginning, even before I ever read Deleuze & Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Their theoretical work came much more as a kind of vindication for my (and others’) practice in poetry. [32]


Joris indeed reads “the books of theorists for a poetics, i.e. for the use they can be for the practice of writing rather than as ‘theory’” (JtM, 43, my emphasis). Similarly, I think, the D/G concept of “minor literatures” is a theoretical overlay of a practice of “justifying the margins” that was already happening in different ways in Joris’s work, and well before he set out to read Kafka. Pour une literature mineure (1975). Interestingly, both remarks call to mind a crucial passage from A Nomad Poetics, where Joris writes in “Community of Translation & Translation of Community in Robin Blaser:”


In Blaser’s poetry and translations, a work which deliberately deconstructs the very distinction between those terms, a “quodlibet” ground for what is common to poem & translation emerges — & this is where a thinking of community again becomes possible. His “practice of outside” is what can enable us to get beyond the problematic of trying to think community theoretically as raised by someone like Jean-Luc Nancy in The Inoperative Community, [… ] & back of him, Blanchot & Bataille. [… ] And that “praxis of discourse” [33] is indeed the practice of writing & of / or as translation — of specifically the kind of poetry Blaser proposes. (ANP, 106-107)


This passage at once ties in with D/G’s third characteristic of “minor literatures” (community, collectiveness, a becoming revolutionary) (K, 31-33, 105-109, 149-154), and it shows how and wherein “justifying the margins” exceeds D/G’s theoretical notion.


Much like A Nomad Poetics is an instance, a particular happening of Joris’s more incisive, overall poetics (nomad and beyond), Justifying the Margins is an instance or locus of a more extensive, homonymous “concept” as well. One can, furthermore, approach this concept’s palimpsest-like qualities in terms of the mawqif, too: margins, and their justification, as so many stopovers (or date palms) Joris visits and revisits, or encounters time and again en route, in Justifying and elsewhere. Indeed, the very concept of “justifying the margins” can, in fact, only be conceived of by connecting and reconnecting, again and again, multiple, specific mawâqif into an always shifting line of flight through Joris’s poetry, poetics and translations. Foregrounded by the name of Joris’s latest book, this title-concept spreads — has, in retrospect, always been spreading — all over his oeuvre in different ways, degrees and guises.


So, certainly, “justifying the margins” can be approached as a conceptual line of flight, as a concept’s itinerary through Joris’s work that leads us to a series of mawâqif. And in doing so, a theoretical overlay with “minor literatures” (or with, say, “postcolonial” notions, or Marges) is possible and valuable. But such overlays fail to show us how Joris’s “justifying the margins” (like his “nomad poetics”) is not simply a “concept,” but a concept adrift, a “concept-dérive” in and from and through a practice, a happening, an “eventfulness.” In that sense, Joris does not theorize or reflect on “community” either; he thinks and writes through the notion as an active communard, in his translations, in his essays, in his anthologies and foremost in his poems (e.g.: “from Notes toward a nomadic community”). Borne out by the use of a transitive verb in the present participle, “justifying” is an action, something one does or performs — words and/as acts, or deeds, collected in Justifying the Margins, for instance, where the -ing form consequently becomes gerund as well. But not a noun, not a static “justification.”


In that sense, Joris’s complex concept-on-the-move is not at all a theoretical given, but takes on a concrete form, for example in his highly ambivalent relation to France/Paris, the UK/London, and the US — and his ensuing inclination towards their peripheries. Having lived for years in each of these countries, Joris literally knows what he is talking about when in an unpublished lecture called “Translation/Transmission Lines of Flight beyond Mallarmé and Pound” he observes:


Sick, dying or dead empires, lose their centripetal pull & the energies remain, are allowed to, or do so under their steam, to remain in or on, or return to, the margins. Come to think of it isn’t that exactly where the most vital energies have always been located anyway — empire in fact nothing more than the sucking vortex that pulls the best inward, to Rome, Beijing, Paris, London, New York.


After which he goes on to quote Li Po and Ovid, but also Pound and Eliot in their early London years, Bunting, David Jones and MacDiarmid after them, and Breton stumbling upon Aimé Césaire’s work, all as examples of energies located in the margins, spreading, and disrupting the centre(s).


Although today London no longer features as prominently in Joris’s work as it once did, a book like Matières d’Angleterre (1984) offers several crucial insights into the practice of “justifying the margins.” This bilingual anthology was compiled by Joris and Paul Buck in London, and (could have) unleashed the booming, but still marginal 1960s and 1970s “British poetry revival” onto the sorry and unimaginative writings of a conservative in-crowd that ruled London and its letters. Its French preface, “Made in England,” was written by Joris alone, and basically reads as an early manifesto for “justifying the margins.” Furthermore, the remarkable composition of this anthology can, in retrospect, also be read in D/G-like terms as a map of the “British Poetry Revival” — and thus as another example of how Joris’s work was “‘nomadic’ in terms of its concerns and language techniques from the beginning.” Matières’ four sections, interspersed with a swarm of international poetics quotes, form an assemblage (“agencement”) constructed around four “lines of force” (“lignes de force”) emanating from the vast range of the new English poetry itself. These four axes — “process” / “language” and “body” / “location,” with the “poem” at their junction, and orality and materiality as possible offshoots or supplements  — , intersect, share the road, and are interchangeable: “What is important, then, is to imagine these axes as whirling and touching one after the other the four poles, which themselves, persistent as they may be, do not stop changing roles.” Such multiple and continuously shifting “lines of force” (or lines of flight) create a vortex (or map) that is a first statement of this new poetry’s “multidimensional and multidirectional dynamics,” indeed, in both its concerns and language techniques.


Yet the London in-crowd was to get the upper hand: Matières d’Angleterre was not to be published in the UK, but in France. And even there it was not printed as a book in Christian Bourgeois’s change sauvage series, but as an instalment of Jacques Darras’s in’hui magazine [34]. In short, Matières d’Angleterre quickly turned into a ghost anthology, and its (non-)publication is an indication of how ‘justifying the margins’ never comes easy: one could add Global Interference (1981) to the list as a lost manuscript, or, more recently, Abdelwahab Meddeb’s The Malady of Islam (2003), translated into English by Joris and Charlotte Mandell. As well as Joris’s first selected poems, Breccia (1987) — which was never distributed in the US, and thus turns Poasis into the second instalment of a book that now spans two or more continents. In this respect, the passages from ‘Made in England’ castigating the ‘official verse culture’s’ absolute printing and large press monopoly sadly prove as topical and contemporary as can be. Such non-publications are, of course, to a certain extent also a corollary of Joris’s nomadism: having been constantly on the move, his work often slipped through the mazes of German, American, British, French, Maghrebian, or Luxemburgish centralized, and usually only nationally oriented institutions and instances, such as large publishers or ‘secondary literature.’ These and other books are thus (turned into) margins in Joris’s oeuvre that need justifying too.


But Matières is interesting in another respect as well: it is a concrete example of how this anthology (and its poems) is part of a complex war machine against centralizing mother tongues and fatherlands, without getting stuck in an easy opposition or reversal “margin/centre.” A juxtaposition with Pound [35], whose presence opens ‘Made in England,’ is again illuminating. Both Pound and Joris were drawn to the great London vortex, precisely as it is deterritorialized by (and deterritorializes!) the vital energies of the margins — e.g.: the English poetry renaissance(s)  — , while London is at the same time a frustrating imperial centre that pushes these energies away, diluting or reterritotorializing them — e.g.: the non-publication of Matières, and the non-acceptance of the revival poets. Read against the background of ‘justifying the margins,’ different instances of this push/pull can be traced in Joris’s poetry as well, most notably in a sequence of poems that runs across Turbulence and Winnetou Old. Both volumes were written in the late 1980s in the UK, but published in the US in 1991 and 1994 respectively, thus marking another Kehre or détournement in Joris’s work. Turbulence and Winnetou Old contain intense series of images and language manipulations that cruelly (JtM, 121) bear witness to the struggle against a stultifying European stasis and London ossification, frozenness and tetanised rigidity — doubled by a drift/desire for turbulence, inclination, breath, space [36]. As Joris says in ‘An E for an A:’ the US beckons.


But let’s come closer again to Justifying the Margins, and have a look at two of its essays that strike me as especially important in this context: opening the fourth and final section, “Letters and Dolls: The Cruel Syntax of Zürn & Bellmer” followed directly by “Toward A Performance of Cruelty.” In the first essay, Joris reads Zürn’s anagrams [37] and proses (as well as Artaud) on the one hand against the ‘neo-rimbaldian & aesthetico-surrealist desire for a sexy ‘dérèglement de tous les sens,’’ (JtM, 116) of Breton (and even Bellmer!), and on the other hand against ‘the oh so manly phallo-centric & -cratic visions of both Surrealists and their nominal opponents, Bataille, Blanchot and their followers.’ (JtM, 117). In short, both Zürn and Artaud are presented as going ‘way beyond Surrealism.’ Here, the ‘justifying of margins’ clearly happens counter to traditional, canonical approaches inherent in literary studies: Joris’s essays push the question of what is referred to when labelling something ‘Surrealism?’ Is that strictly and solely Breton’s Parisian cenacle — as is, unfortunately, still too often assumed in French letters? I.e.: the Surrealist canon hardly ever includes ‘dissident’ oeuvres like Georges Bataille’s or Artaud’s — two important, albeit double figures in Joris’s work. Even if, for example, the former’s Histoire de l’Oeil is much more radical as a Surrealist machine of writing, in its staging ‘eros’ and ‘thanatos,’ and in the psychoanalytical context from which it (biographically) sprang, than Breton’s naughty Nadja could ever be  — simply consider its opening pages, written in a classical French of the highest order. And what about geography? Does ‘Surrealism’ include Belgian/Brussels writers and artists like Scutenaire, Mesens, Nougé, Goemans and many more? The already mentioned ‘first stapled magazine & chapbook by Aimé Césaire,’ stumbled upon by Breton in Martinique? Or Habib Tengour’s manifesto, Maghrebi Surrealism? And how to deal with further chronological delays and influences: a movement like CoBrA, which is in many ways a belated version of Surrealism? Or the Surrealist impact on Deep Image? Certainly nationality cannot be a valid criterion, considering the following artists: Picasso, Dalí, and Miró were Spanish, Matta was born in Chile, Bellmer in Katowice, Magritte was Belgian and Max Ernst and Unica Zürn German. This does not leave much room for ‘French’ Surrealist painters, except for, for example, Tanguy or Masson (who left Surrealism relatively early on, and was branded ‘dissident’ for doing so). And what about women Surrealists, like Unica Zürn, Meret Oppenheim, Gisèle Prassinos or Leonora Carrington? Joris’s essay bears witness to how Surrealism’s energies remain undeniably located in and drawn from the margins — even the more centralized and domesticated versions of the movement still cultivated in literary studies today cannot ignore this.


The second essay, “Toward a Performance of Cruelty,” picks up on Artaud again, but not to continue along those same lines against “literary studies” and its papal notions of Surrealism. Joris first positions Artaud (and Celan) [38] against the static, judging and ‘exhausted Europe’ he left in the 1980s — notice again the images of stasis, of disease and rigidity, of being found guilty. Indeed, Joris turned to America(n poetry) for its energies, its open (smooth) spaces and live breath, its optimism and strength to resist. One can, incidentally, also bring in ‘An E for an A’ here (as well ‘Where is Olson Now?,’ (JtM, 144-145)), in which Joris does not focus on Artaud/Celan, but on Celan/Olson and the move from language (Sprache) to voice (sprechen), onward to the present/future, not the putrid quagmire of the past. However, ‘thirty years later this is no longer so — & the US had caught up with Europe [etc] — and that means there is no more justice for the world.’ (JtM, 120-121). Indeed, the once beckoning US poetry scene now also suffers an imperial stranglehold, which Joris commented on as early as ‘Made in England:’ ‘American poetry, so vibrant during the past thirty years, seems to suffocate.’


This inextricable mix of poetry and politics, of advancing and looking ahead allows for an interesting parallel with Deleuze/Guattari’s second and third characteristic of “minor literatures:” everything in minor literatures is political (K, 30), and everything takes a collective (and even revolutionary) value (K, 31). Collective and revolutionary, because what the “sole and individual writer says, already constitutes a communal action” and is necessarily political (K, 31). As such, (a minor) literature produces an active solidarity (K, 31), or is able to “express a potentially other community” (K, 32). Which means that “the literary machine thus takes over from a revolutionary machine to come” (K, 32). “Minor” in this context, D/G specify, no longer necessarily “qualifies certain literatures, but the revolutionary conditions of each literature within the one we call major (or established)” (K, 33).


It should not, then, surprise that Joris actually examined how the US caught up with Europe in an extraordinary 1981 political pamphlet, entitled Global Interference. The Consistent Pattern of American Foreign Policy. In this booklet, Joris targets the US’s ambitions and strategies for a rabid imperialist expansionism, and does so through a minute [39] exploration of the global political-economic effects of a foreign policy — in casu Carter’s and Reagan’s foreign policies  — , backed by a ‘military-industrial complex’ that literally anchors itself all over the world, and in Third World countries especially. In a very rare side remark of that same booklet, Joris notes that ‘Any effective counter-strategy has therefore also to be global’ (GI, 9), which, in retrospect, brings yet another dimension to the magnificent two-volume anthology Joris edited with Jerome Rothenberg, Poems for the Millennium­ — cf. its ‘Preamble & Statement for a Council on Counterpoetics’ that closes the ‘manifesto’ section (M2, 451ff.), and resurfaces in A Nomad Poetics (ANP, 10).


Interestingly, the Mediterranean and the Middle East are presented in the fifth chapter of Global Interference as “the eye of the storm.” Taking our cue from this remark, we immediately enter another foxhole (or Deleuzian terrier) in Joris’s oeuvre: the North African margins that run across three continents, with Europe to the north, and America to its west. The Northern connection Paris/Maghreb is actively unworked in a complex, rhizomatic move all over Justifying the Margins. Appropriately quoted in the blurb, the following passage is clear enough:


In fact the most interesting and explorative literary writing in French of the last fifty years has not come from Paris, but from the periphery of the old colonial empire — the Maghreb and the Antilles. (JtM, 43)


I have already discussed how the Maghreb appears as a “margin,” as an other tradition or alternate strain in (and beyond) French letters in several essays of Justifying the Margins (notably the opening essay, and the texts devoted to Khaïr-Eddine and Adonis). But I would like to note in passing that Joris does not stop there:


The Maghreb is the frying pan, and what gets fried in there goes up to Europe and filled the European nostrils, but the real matter was what happened in North Africa, and it’s only smoke and mirrors that were going down in Europe. [40]


In Charles Bernstein’s brief Video Portrait from which this quote is taken, Joris is not talking about his essays or poetry, but about yet another trek through Maghrebian margins: his work with Habib Tengour on a full-blown fourth volume of Poems for the Millennium anthologizing North African writings (including work from Latin, Berber, Arabic and French language sources). And this is forgetting about a new 4 x 1 (2002) offshoot: Exile is my Trade: The Habib Tengour Reader, to be published by Black Widow Press in 2011.


But the North African “eye of the storm” also leads us back “with a renewed intensity in the post-9/11 American empire days” (JtM, 122, 124). Still apart from poems like Aljibar’s “9/11/01,” the preface to that same 4 x 1 ends with a note relevant here as well:


And there is a further thread that begins to reveal itself in the tapestry all of sudden. Though compiled in early 2001, now, as I write this preface in these post-911 days, the book feels like a psycho-topography that leads from matters involving late 19th century colonialism all the way through the long and torturous 20th century to leave us exactly there where we have to start to think a new cultural constellation that will, finally, have to include the heritage of the excluded third — Islam & Arab culture. (4x1, 8-9; ANP, 114)


4 x 1, as a mini-anthology, as a book of translations, and as a “poetic map of the 20th century” (4x1, 7; ANP, 113) most clearly picks up the operative link between a politics and poetics of “justifying the margins.” In his review of 4 x 1, Tony Baker also observed this link:


Reading 4 x 1 I became aware that translation, in the nomadizing sense that Joris gives it, is a political gesture; whilst English may be the near universal language of international relations, Joris uses it precisely to decentralise its place in the world, to resist, if you will, colonisation by the word. [… ] His deep resistance is to an English whose centre of gravity pulls towards its immobile centre the visions and understandings that other languages will always propose. He translates to set moving all those human particularities, of time and place and language, that are distinctive in a piece of writing — to avoid corruption by a static centre. Paradoxically he translates into English so the reader can move away from it. [41]


Joris’s “eye of the storm” finally brings us back full circle to the Maghreb itself, and the necessity felt by him and other translators, Charlotte Mandell in this case, to translate books like Abdelwahab Meddeb’s The Malady of Islam (2003).


But even if such practices of writing can never be more than a guerrilla attack or happening, always already s/mothered (“reterritorialized”) in one way or the other, they are, again, most certainly not without effect either! On the contrary, they are crucial and a crucial aspect of the “Zeugen-complex” Joris discerns in Celan’s work (JtM, 79-86), and disseminates in and through his own poetry and poetics (cf. “An E for an A” and JtM, 132-133, 144-145). It is the responsibility of the poet, the contribution of the translator to witness, to “justify” again and again: poetry as a question of truth, that “when it bears witness, when it tells the truth, helps to live.” This is how Joris responds to “Wozu Dichter in Dürftiger Zeit?” — Hölderlin’s repeatedly quoted question in A Nomad Poetics. In his poems, essays, translations and anthologies, Joris tries to measure up and testify to the complexity of present-day life [42], and, beyond, ‘to create a worthwhile vision of a vita nuova’ (JtM, 120). Always to come. Always avanti

Merging Margins


It is precisely through such a conception of plural, spreading margins, of manifold and unfolding margins which in their plications move (in on) the centre, that Joris goes beyond a plain, binary opposition margin/centre. Contrary to a simple reversal, “justifying the margins” means blurring that opposition entirely, by locating margins in the centre, or centres in margins. London is always both the empire’s “Kapital” and a capital city, which turns “justifying” into a complex act that undoes “margins” and “centre,” and diplays/displaces them as becoming, as merged, as betweenness — between and beyond “margin/centre.” “Justifying the margins,” therefore, consists in moving outside of the margins, for the page does not end with a margin: one crosses the border — just pick one or more of the four directions — onto and into a new page, a new book, new writing. In short, “justifying” does not mean formatting all text in nicely conformational blocks, but rather undoing the conformity, merging and multiplying margins, blurring borders and activating boundaries, infringing, unfringing, unworking the margins.


Approached from this point of view, Justifying the Margins is, I think, in many ways a strange book — and justly so. So far, I have systematically presented “On the Nomadic Circulation of Contemporary Poetics” as the opening essay of the book, which is, of course, incorrect: the opening piece is “Nimrod in Hell.” This short text was first published in Permanent Diaspora (2003), a book that is itself “undone” and incorporated in the bilingual volumes Aljibar (2007) and Aljibar II (2008), where “Nimrod in Hell” in turn opens the second book. Here is what Joris says about his text in the Close Listening conversation with Charles Bernstein:


[… ] to me “Nimrod” is already nomadic in the sense of its “inter-genre thing,” because it’s not a line poem, it is not an essay, it is not an autobiographical piece, it is not Dantean criticism, but it is a kind of writing through, a moving through all of those possibilities. So I will call it a poem and put it in a book, won’t call it anything and put it inside a book of poems, and let it function as such. Let it leaven what is left and right of it, and let the question arise: “why is that text here?”… [43]


So, why is “Nimrod in Hell” in here? And why does it spread nomadically across four books — that might in turn also be only two books (Justifying the Margins and one, all-devouring Aljibar [44])? Here are few possibilities:


“Nimrod in Hell” is important for its use of allusion (bringing together Nimrod, Hubertus, Dante, Bataille, Rimbaud, Agamben and others), for the figure of the healer/hunter (which goes back to A Single-minded Bestiary (1974) and Antlers (1975)), for its poetics of translation and so on. There is, however, another aspect of its presence here that I would like to focus on in particular. I have already noted how all of the texts in Justifying are dated, i.e.: how the lectures, obits, journal entries, talks, liner notes, interviews, memoirs, good-byes et cetera bear generic traces of the occasional and local at work in Joris’s poetics. But this wide range of genres is more than an indication of dates and traces, especially because the impressive enumeration does not in the least qualify all texts: what Joris says about “Nimrod in Hell” — multiple genres being applicable to one text — also holds for Justifying. “Where is Olson Now?”, which closes Margins, is an excellent example: about two pages into what appears to be an essay, the text is suddenly cut up by a poem called “The Sanctuary of Hands” (JtM, 145). This poem then reappears on and off throughout the “essay,” without being framed or “con-textualized” directly. And further down the text, the traditional layout can no longer hold either, as the poem itself gets cut up by a fragment of an article (JtM, 148): even if a single sentence interrupts the poem to date this quote — and is consequently in a slightly larger, “essay” typeset  — , it is not at all clear whether the quote itself belongs to the poem, or to the essay. Especially since the quotation is in “poem/quote” typeset, and, moreover, simply runs on in the poem, typographically unmarked (except for a quotation mark indicating that Joris again takes over his text).


Such merging of quotation, essay and poem margins in “Where is Olson Now?” catapults us back to Justifying’s first section and “The Seamlessly Nomadic Future of Collage” in particular — itself A Nomad Poetics offshoot, as it happens. By erasing and transgressing such boundaries, texts like “Where is Olson Now?” can be read as seamless generic “collages,” rhizomatically expanding beyond the single genre and its fixations, into the multiple. What happens, then, in the very writing and language of poems like Joris’s Canto Diurno #4 (discussed in JtM, 30-32), or in the syntax and “atactic” use of conjunctive particles in Picasso (ANP, 115-118), happens in “Where is Olson Now?” through the rhizomatic spreading across and justifying of genres. Like Meddeb’s, Joris’s own writing also is “nomadically located between genres, or is, to coin a phrase, genre-diasporic” (JtM, 16). One aspect of “Nimrod in Hell’s” presence would therefore be to draw the reader into the radical “inter-genre” praxis of Justifying the Margins. “Inter” being a key word in more than way:


The essential quality of the rhizome [… ] is that the rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. (JtM, 32)


Betweenness, the middle voice, barzakh (cf. JtM, 110, 143), these are by now known elements of Joris’s poetics, travelled/travailed by “Nimrod’s” literally being between genres.


Secondly, “Nimrod in Hell” mentions the lemma bave (French for “spittle” or “drool”) from George Bataille’s Encyclopaedia Acephalica, but the active or live saliva that accompanies language and breath also leads to another lemma: informe or “formlessness,” which Bataille rendered as follows:


A dictionary would begin as of the moment when it no longer provided the meanings of words but their tasks. In this was formless is not only an adjective having such and such a meaning, but a term serving to declassify, requiring in general that every thing should have a form. What it designates does not, in any sense whatever, possess rights, and everywhere gets crushed like a spider or an earthworm. For academics to be satisfied, it would be necessary, in effect, for the universe to take on a form. The whole of philosophy has no other aim; it is a question of fitting what exists into a frock-coat [sic], a mathematical frock-coat. To affirm on the contrary that the universe resembles nothing at all and is only formless, amounts to saying that the universe is something akin to a spider or a gob of spittle. (EA, 51-52) [45]


The “spit” at the end is clear enough, as are the links between “formlessness,” rhizomaticity and betweenness. What interests me here, then, is the “frock coat” of fixed and transparent form, needed to make academia (and philosophy [46]) happy; a persistent academic longing for formal stasis that is, precisely, countered by Justifying’s play with genre boundaries and expectations. Joris’s texts often testify to his brilliant scholarship, and offer the reader ‘outstanding and characteristically intense readings’ as the blurb says. Nevertheless his essays — the texts collected in Justifying the Margins, for instance — hardly ever qualify as ‘academic papers,’ or ‘scholarly essays.’ The third/‘Celan’ section of Justifying is particularly revealing in this context, because it begs the question of how come Joris — a notable Celan expert, and professor of poetry and poetics at the University of Albany — has never published a book that collects all his writings on and around Celan? While such a book must have been ‘institutionally’ worthwhile, Joris never pursued the traditional, typically academic paths, and instead chose to disperse his Celan materials — a dispersal or nomadism that in turn affects the ‘formal’ construction of his books and ‘oeuvre.’


Few texts in Justifying the Margins are as explicit on this matter as the already mentioned “Letters and Dolls: the Cruel Syntax of Zürn and Bellmer.” Asked to give a paper about Zürn for the Associated Writing Progams, Joris recounts how he first set out to write a closely argued theoretical paper. However, reading and rereading Zürn and Bellmer, Joris said “Goodbye theory, goodbye talking-about. I rather tell of confusions, delights, jolts of my reading, pure and simple.” (JtM, 114). In short, out with the academic frock coat of strict and formal papers, and in comes a writing the pleasure of reading (and translating). The result is a strange, but fascinating nomadic text, that travels between dazzling scholarship, manifesto, personal reading notes, lecture/talk, historiography and poetics. A bit further on, in “An Epic Without History,” Joris again announces that he will read Ronald Johnson’s Ark, not as a scholar, but as a reader — i.e.: for pleasure and insight. Again the result is a marvellously heterogeneous and hybrid text, which in many ways mirrors the idiosyncratic overflowing (débordement) of Poetics and Justifying discussed in section II of the present essay. Actually, Joris comments on the overflowing of books — specifically from the viewpoint of genre — in relation to Kateb Yacine’s novel Nedjma, a novel that should


be seen as but one moment (what I have elsewhere called a “mawqif,” a station, a momentary stopping point) of a vast katebian “écriture” that constantly and radically subverts the Western “law of genre” and moves nomadically between poem, novel and play, the latter genres being but ways of extracting specific moments of the writing. (JtM, 11-12)


Such nomadically moving and subverting is precisely what happens at the very level of writing in the texts of Justifying, too, and ties in, moreover, with the conception of the mawqif as betweenness, as word, as date, and as poem.


It should, however, be noted in passing that generic margin merging not only happens on the level of writing and technique (as in “Nimrod in Hell,” and the texts on Olson, Zürn or Johnson). Certain “genres” also appear as a specific margin to be justified, i.e.: as a concern or “topic/topos” in Justifying — “genre” is thus added to the already discussed poetic, literary theoretical, canonical, political, imperial, geographical and other margins in Justifying’s compound landscape. Take, for instance, Joris’s persistent defence of the long poem in “An Epic Without History” (JtM, 130-138), or his sweeping aside of the traditional “hackademic” approach to so-called French “Theory.” Wholly against the “official” grain, Joris reads Blanchot, Derrida, Barthes, Foucault or Lyotard not as examples of “Theory,” but as poetics, and because they are


“… among the best writers in French in the second part of the last century, while most poets and prosists (with some notable exceptions such as Deguy or Roubaud, Guyotat or Sollers) are pisspoor writers” (JtM, 43).


(Derrida, Barthes, Foucault, Lyotard, Cixous having, furthermore, intense ties to the Maghreb, as they lived or taught there — like Joris himself  — , or were born there.) In that sense, “Nimrod” functions as an “abandon all hope, you who enter here:” through me, no single, fixed form, no generic “coat hangers,” no academic stasis.


Finally, “Nimrod’s” spittle or bave, his babil, his child “speak” or “babble” brings us to the Greek verb λαλεῖν (lalein) and the feminine noun derived from it, λαλιά (lalia): 1) speech, a story, but also 2) a dialect, and 3) babble, incoherent, disordered forms of speech. For Deleuze/Guattari, a so-called ‘minor literature’ is not produced by a ‘minor language’, but is, rather, written from minor or marginalized positions in a major language (K, 29). Although this holds for Joris’s ‘justifying’ as well, he inevitably pushes D/G over the ‘l/edge’ (cf. JtM, 105) in his own writing by radically multiplying languages and margins: through his four-plus multilingualism, and through the ensuing translations — that prime ‘justifying’ act. In short, through his babble or lalein, through his lallen, too. Indeed, Dante’s Inferno and its stammering figures reappear in Justifying:


In a poem from the volume Die Niemandsrose, Celan suggests that if a prophet or visionary (he has the figure of Hölderlin in mind) were born today, such a figure, trying to speak about our times, could only “lallen und lallen,” could only stammer repeatedly, “always, always, / agagain.” We no longer can afford the certainly of the singular, the unique, any once-and-for all truth — to speak true now is to stammer, to fragment. (JtM, 106)


And a bit further on we read how stammering “also is the life force itself speaking,” is the life-giving circulation or movement of breath and blood, and is therefore connected to the breathturn, “that moment in between” (JtM, 108-109). Lalein, to speak true — to testify or witness — is what happens “always, always agagain” in Joris’s multilingual poetry, in his translations, anthologies and essays, of which the “marginalalia” collected in Justifying the Margins are life-giving examples…



Bataille, George. Encyclopedia Acephalica. Edited by Robert Lebel and Isabelle Waldberg. London: Atlas Press, 1995. (EA)

———. Oeuvres complètes. I. Premiers écrits: 1922-1940. Paris: Gallimard, 1970, p.217. (OCI)

Blanchot, Maurice. L’entretien infini. Paris: Gallimard, 1969. (EI)

———. The Unavowable Community. Translated by Pierre Joris. Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1988. (UC)

Deleuze Gilles and Félix Guattari. Kafka. Pour une littérature mineure. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1975. (K)

Derrida, Jacques. Écriture et difference. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1967. (ED)

———. Sovereignities in Question. The Poetics of Paul Celan. Edited by Thomas Dutoit and Outi Pasanen. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005. (SQ)

———. Schibboleth. Pour Paul Celan. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1986. (Sch)

———. Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1978. (WD)

Joris, Pierre. 4 x 1. Tzara, Rilke, Duprey, Tengour. Translated by Pierre Joris. Albany: Inconundrum Press, 2002. (4x1)

———. Aljibar I. Luxembourg: Éditions Phi, 2007. (ALJ I)

———. A Nomad Poetics. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2003. (ANP)

———. Breccia. Selected Poems 1972-1986. Luxembourg: Éditions Phi, 1987. (B)

———. Global Interference. London: Liberation Press, 1981. (GI)

———. H.J.R. Ann Arbor: Otherwind Press, 1999. (HJR)

———. Justifying the Margins. London: Salt Publishing, 2009. (JtM)

———. Matières d’Angleterre. In: In’hui/Trois Cailloux, Number 19, 1984. (M)

———. Poasis. Selected Poems 1986-1999. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001. (P)

 and Jerome Rothenberg (eds.). Poems for the Millennium. Volume 2: From Postwar to Millennium. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. (M2)

Meddeb, Abdelwahab. Les 99 stations de Yale. Paris: Fata Morgana, 1995. (SY)

Niffari. Les Haltes. Traduit par Sami Ali. Paris: Actes Sud, 2007. (NH)


[1] We will come across other such “excesses” or overlaps along the way.

[2] In a way, Abdelwahab Meddeb also haunts the “mawqif” via Niffari and Abd el-Qadir, for it was in a late hour discussion with Meddeb that Joris’s attention was drawn to the concept.

[3] Think of Tanith Flies, H.J.R., the Mansur al Hallaj series, think of Joris’s translations of Tengour, Meddeb, Nabile Farès and many more, and of his plans for a fourth, Maghrebian Poems for the Millennium volume.

[4] The excursions to Kateb Yacine, the Mu’allaqat, Tarafah and the Qasida reinforce the bonds between Justifying and Poetics, whereas the digression into Pound and Troubadour poetry (“trobar,” vida… ) expanded in 2008 into an as yet unpublished French essay-talk.

[5] Maurice Blanchot. The Unavowable Community. Translated by Pierre Joris. Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1988.

[6] “Écrire, c’est produire l’absence d’oeuvre (le désoeuvrement). Ou encore : écrire, c’est l’absence d’oeuvre telle qu’elle se produit à travers l’oeuvre et la traversant. Ecrire comme désoeuvrement (au sens actif de ce mot), c’est le jeu insensé, l’aléa entre raison et déraison.

Qu’en est-il du livre dans ce ‘jeu’ où le désoeuvrement se libère dans l’opération d’écrire? Le livre : passage d’un mouvement infini, allant de l’écriture comme opération à l’écriture comem désoeuvrement; passage qui aussitôt empêche. Par le livre passe l’écriture, mais le livre n’est pas ce à quoi elle se destine (sa destinée). Par le livre passe l’écriture qui s’y accomplit tout en y disparaissant; toutefois, on n’écrit pas pour le livre. Le livre : ruse par laquelle l’écriture va vers l’absence de livre.” (EI, 622-623)

[7] Part of that subtitle survived in an early 2008 plan for Justifying the Margins, too, as that version still had “proses, essays, interviews” appended to it.

[8] The second section, “Poetics,” moreover includes “An E for an A,” and the preface to Matières d’Angleterre, both translated from the French for the first time and added to this feature, saluting this early Justifying plan.

[9] For excellent discussions of Petlin’s 1994 series, see Michael Palmer. Active Boundaries, and Rosmarie Waldrop. Lavish Absence.

[10] For instance, “Writing / Reading #13,” “The Dream of the Desert in the Book,” or Joris’s Jabès translation, From the Desert to the Book (1990).

[11] In a way they had met before. We again read in the “ReadySteadyBlog Interview:” coming to the US to study at Bard college, Joris brought along Atemwende (1967), and two other books — Foucault’s Les mots et les choses (1966) and Derrida’s De la grammatologie (1967) — with the intention of translating all three.

[12] A fascinating booklet inaugurating a series of several more in which Celan and Derrida cross paths (think of Poétique et politique du témoignane (2000, 2005), Béliers. Le dialogue ininterrompu : entre deux infinis, le poème (2003) and a handful of interviews in which Derrida hears out Celan). In 2003, the French, extended edition of The Work of Mourning was published with a preface by Derrida, in which he proposed Béliers as a prologue. Although it falls beyond the scope of this essay, there’s a curious coming back full circle to these references: from Joris’s short good-bye to Derrida, via Celan, the work of mourning…

[13] “l’enigme de la date” (Sch, 17)

[14] “par la mise en oeuvre de la date.” (Sch, 17)

[15] “une datation de forme non conventionnelle, non calendaire, qui se confondrait, sans reste, avec l’organisation générale du texte poétique.” (Sch, 34)

[16] “Comment dater ce qui ne se répète pas si la datation fait aussi appel à quelque forme de retour, si elle rappelle dans la lisibilité d’une répétition? Mais comment dater autre chose que cela même qui jamais ne se répète?” (Sch, 13).

[17] For a more extensive and detailed reading of the Celan, Joris, Derrida, involving the latters other books on Celan, I refer to my essay in Pierre Joris — Cartographies of the in-between (Litteraria Pragensia Books, later 2011).

[18] cf. “Writes Meddeb: ‘It enjoys a rest, raises itself upright; between two durations it scrutinizes briefly the instant when from its height it confronts the vision or the word exteriorizing itself.’” (ANP,), with both quotes referring to the postface, “entre deux demeures,” of Abdelwahab Meddeb’s Les 99 stations de Yale: “Le cheminant marque une pause entre deux séjours, deux sites, deux demeures, deux états; il jouit d’un arrêt, se dresse debout; entre deux temps, il scrute l’instant bref où il confronte de toute sa taille la vision ou la parole qui s’extériorise.” (SY, [43]).

[19] To be picked up again, for example, in 19th century by the Sufi poet and revolutionary Abd el-Qadir, in the 20th century by Adonis (who co-edited a little magazine called Mawâqif), or more recently by the Tunisian poet Abdelwahab Meddeb (cf. the already mentioned Les 99 stations de Yale (1995)).

[20] Think of the between in Joris’s circumscription above: “between two moments of movement, two runs, two sites, two places, two states.” (ANP, 47, my emphasis).

[21] “Parole survenant au milieu de la langue parlée mais qui l’arrête, l’immobilise autour d’un mot, autour d’une phrase, pour devenir, dans cette expérience où tout est centré sur l’Absolu, la parole suprême. La halte est un arrêt dans le langage lui-même, une coupure dans le discours rationnel, une suspension de tout l’être de la raison se confondant avec l’être du langage.” (NH,13)

[22] “a word / concept that names the connecting link, the ‘between’ of something, such as different spheres of existence. As a temporal concept it can be, and historically was, considered an interval of time — say, the time between death and Resurrection in the Qu’ran, similar to the Bardo Thödol of the Tibetans, or the travel between life and death as the Egyptians imagined it. The Arabic word has the literal meaning of ‘barrier,’ ‘veil,’ ‘curtain.’ Thus traditionally seen as a separator, it is however also and more interestingly thinkable as a “between” that links, and in that sense can be translated as ‘isthmus.’” And: ‘The idea of the Barzakh is thus not to map a territory but to travel along boundaries, crisscrossing always-to-be-redefined regions, in the process creating rhizomatic assemblages, de- and re-territorializing language-intensities as shifting fields of forces.’ (Url: < >)

[23] Or, in Aljibar: “The word as/is the mâwqif, the station, the oasis, the momentary resting place. / The caravan of syntax discovers it, the new word, as it, the sentence pushes into the not-yet-written, the word comes, or is given — however this happens, found, given, stolen or made up? And I stop, and if the word is new or re-newed, I will be surprised & delighted & will rest in it — for a moment, then the push of ta’wil will get the sentence or line or caravan on track, no, on trek again, into the desert ahead, in search of another oasis-word, resting place, station.” (ALJ I, 82)

[24] “Si l’angoisse de l’écriture n’est pas, ne doit pas être un pathos déterminé, c’est qu’elle n’est pas essentiellement un modification ou un affect empiriques de l’écrivain, mais la responsabilité de cette angustia, de ce passage nécessairement resserré de la parole contre lequel se poussent et s’entr’empêchent les significations possibles. S’entr’empêchent mais s’appellent, se provoquent aussi, imprévisiblement et comme malgré moi, en une sorte de sur-compossibilité autonome des significations, puissance d’équivocité pure au regard de laquelle la créativité du Dieu classique paraît encore trop pauvre. Parler me fait peur parce que ne disant jamais assez, je dis aussi toujours trop.” (ED, 18)

[25] It is furthermore interesting to note a striking similarity in wording: “the dura mater brain skin of [Joris’s] word-world” is echoed in Petlin’s initial terror to enter “Celan’s universe,” i.e.: his “fearful polysemy” (literally his “word-world”) — a terror “related to Celan’s ‘willingness to descend into the deepest recesses of the brain cavity’.” (Petlin quotes in JtM, 101) The connection mater/matrix/matter/manner, and brain/body is one that appears frequently in Joris, notably in Hearth-Work (1977).

[26] Joris’s description of the genesis of the Winnetou Old cycle is particularly relevant here: “The drag of the early eighties had cornered me back in South London after years of traveling & living in North Africa & America. Cornered, or run to earth, in fox hunting parlance, because this was no longer the restful oasis-space I could leave and return to at will & leisure, but a coercion, a diminution where the stasis of the cultural & political orders of Europe & the Reagan States were reflected in personal stagnation in both love and work. My fox, my fire, run to earth: I could see the animal itself getting used to Thatcherite city life, eating garbage on Tooting Common, dodging the wheels of the commuters, dying from tetanus given that rage was not available in Narrowland. Nel mezzo, & no Virgil. Only a dark vigil of depression & — or so it seemed — ever fewer ways (because less energy available both in- & outside) to try & make it yield in the writing life & in the life writing. In anger & near-desperation I borrowed information on basic meditation techniques from a friend, & spent several months reconcentrating the diluted energies.” (P, 86)

[27] Url: < >

[28] Url: < >

[29] For a more detailed exploration of this glide from date to data, involving Derrida’s sense of dates as “spectre/ghost,” as “constellation,” as “door,” as “trace,” as “effacement,” “incision,” as “encounter” et cetera, I again refer to my essay in Pierre Joris — Cartographies of the in-between (Litteraria Pragensia Books, later 2011).

[30] This relative “measure” of a day or night again points, perhaps, to a Beat legacy of some of Joris’s writings, more particularly to his preference of writing the poem more or less in “one go.”

[31] Kafka and, by extension, German-speaking Jews in Prague had been barred an access to writing. As a result their literature was an impossible one, as it was “impossible not to write [with a national conscience at stake], impossible to write in German [Jews in Prague were not part of the German upper social echelons], impossible to write differently [as the “primitive” Czech language was not an option]” (K, 29), turning the German language in Prague into a “deterritorialized language, proper to strange minor usages” (K, 30).

[32] Url: < >

[33] Cf. Nancy’s remark that “Perhaps we should not seek a word or concept for it, but rather recognize in the thought of community a theoretical excess (or more precisely, an excess in relation to the theoretical) that would oblige us to adopt another praxis of discourse and community.” (Nancy quoted in ANP, 107, my footnote)

[34] For more details, I refer to the brief introduction to “Made in England” which is part of this feature.

[35] Indeed, when one subtracts from English avant-garde and Modernist poetry, both “high” and “low,” those poets who came from the margins of the British empire — Yeats, Madox Hueffer, Pound, Joyce, Eliot, Lewis or later on Bunting and Beckett  — , what remains is Bloomsbury, or Auden.

[36] These series can also be approached against the “language matter” mentioned before, and again overlap or exceed the books that were supposes to “contain” them: Turbulence, Winnetou Old, and a handful of individual poems.

[37] Joris’s translations of the anagrams have been posted by Jerome Rothenberg on his Poems and Poetics blog (July 31st, 2009) at < >.

[38] The letter to Clayton Eshleman mentioned by Joris at the opening this text is picked up by the former in a 1977 essay “A Luxembourg Creature,” published in Oasis number 18, 1977.

[39] Joris discusses in detail the implications of the US foreign policy on nearly all of the Third World countries that are relevant in this context: from El Salvador, Japan and Pakistan, to Saudi Arabia and Angola.

[40] Pierre Joris in conversation with Charles Bernstein, as part of the latter’s Portraits: Series 2, October 22nd, 2006 (

[41] Tony Baker. Review of 4 x 1: Tzara, Rilke, Duprey, Tengour. Translated by Pierre Joris. and Poasis. Selected Poems 1986-1999, published in: David Kennedy (ed.). The Paper, number 8, September 2004.

[42] Cf. “Made in England.”

[43] Close Listening: Readings and Conversations, New York, June 21, 2005, url: < >.

[44] Which is plausible, given that Aljibar I & II were distributed by Éditions Phi in Europe only, and will normally be published as a still further expanded Aljibar America in the US in 2011 by Black Widow Press.

[45] “Un dictionnaire commencerait à partir du moment où il ne donnerait plus le sens mais les besognes des mots. Ainsi informe n’est pas seulement un adjectif ayant tel sens mais un terme servant à déclasser, exigeant généralement que chaque chose ait sa forme. Ce qu’il désigne n’a ses droits dans aucun sens et se fait écraser partout comme une araignée ou un ver de terre. Il faudrait en effet, pour que les hommes académiques soient contents, que l’univers prenne forme. La philosophie entière n’a pas d’autre but: il s’agit de donner une redingote à ce qui est, une redingote mathématique. Par contre affirmer que l’univers ne ressemble à rien et n’est qu’informe revient à dire que l’univers est quelque chose comme un araignée ou un crachat.” George Bataille. “Informe.” In: Documents, number 7, December 1929, p.382 (OCI, 217).

[46] Joris has already commented on philosophy’s goals in a much-quoted fragment of his “Nomad Manifesto:” “philosophy is the enemy of the nomad because, as Novalis knew, philosophy is only a sort of home sickness, a need to feel everywhere at home. Poetry is the opposite: a desire to feel everywhere estranged, in touch with or at least reaching for the other, out of house & home. Poetry is to be out of house & home. In a tent, maybe, in the text, maybe, intent on the texture underhand, underfoot. The basic desire of poetry is therefore nomadic.” (ANP, 46)