Tractatus Exilium: the Subject of Exile and the Problem of Being: an Examination of the Work of Edmond Jabès and EM Cioran




Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



In the simplest terms: What is exile? This work explores exile through an examination of the writing of E.M. Cioran and Edmond Jabès. The twentieth century was notably a time of great violence—the use of nuclear weapons, world wars, and the most terrible murder of millions of Jews during the Shoah. The violence forced thinking people to reconsider the problem of existence. Camus, Ionesco, and Beckett seemed to best express what it means to be human— loneliness, fear, and despair—while Sartre, Levinas, and Heidegger responded as philosophers to the disaster they saw everywhere. Questions of being again came to the fore with Heidegger’s most important: What is the meaning of being? Edmond Jabès and E.M. Cioran, somewhat obscure exiled writers in Paris, responded with their own brand of philosophy, what we may refer to as Existential Mysticism. The aphorist and the philosopher seemed to develop an outline for a twenty-first century mysticism based on the premise that to be born is to be in exile. While exile is often explored as a political or historical phenomenon, even as an exception, here exile is problematized as an existential and ontological question: Exile is a mode of being in the world. Bound up in Jabès’s and Cioran’s experience of exile as absence were questions of being. Of the absence experienced in exile by Jabès, he unfolds in The Book of Questions—while the same absence for Cioran emerges in his paragraphs, maxims, and aphorisms as the nothingness of exile. In this nothingness are their experiences of exile and being. As two of the most celebrated twentieth century French writers, it is impossible to understand their work without understanding the influence of exile on their thinking. It was quintessentially the experience of absence and nothingness, which becomes for them the mechanism for a deep exploration of being. Cioran and Jabès ask questions of nothingness and of exile exploring exile more as philosophers than as a poet and an aphorist. They come to similar conclusions while exiled to Paris. Every birth is an expulsion—an exile of sorts. To exist is to have left our homeland—nothingness.



Philosophy, Literature, Modern, Theology