E. JABÈS: […] What does that mean? Maybe nothing. Only that we are full of contradictions, that there is no definitive answer, no truth.
LIBÉRATION: No truth? And yet you’ve spoken of subversion in your books, or of revolt by the Jews against injustice. So for you, as a writer living in his writing, inhabiting it, what does it mean to say there’s no truth? On the plane of social reality? On the plane of politics, ideology?
E. JABÈS: I don’t any longer believe that there is any (single) truth there. On the political plane, the answer is always very dangerous. The totalitarian regimes, which live the answer, which impose the answer, cannot tolerate the question. It’s necessary to denounce that, and one can only do that by allowing the question, by a critical attitude.
But I believe that many people realize this, these days. We have been so disappointed by everything we’ve tried to defend that we are obliged to rethink the struggle, to make it less blind. When I was young, I militated a good deal. It was easy then.
On the one hand, you had what was called fascism and on the other what was called democracy. I was eleven years old in 1923 when Mussolini came to power. It was therefore very clear to me: it was necessary to crush fascism. But today it’s not always clear what is fascist and what is not.
So even if one believes in a cause, if one sides with a party, it is always necessary to protect the possibility of criticizing–even in a way that’s very violent sometimes. We find ourselves confronting a totally open situation that it behooves us to preserve. It’s necessary I believe to get used to living with this idea. It is for me, in any event, the only possible certainty, the only one an intellectual can have.
That doesn’t mean that at certain moments one shouldn’t act within a party, or a group, for a well defined, specific mission that demands attention. But to unconditionally adhere to a “truth” is to renounce one’s responsibility as an intellectual. True subversion today is questioning. […]
We are able to commit ourselves only if we start from what we know, which means always in a limited way. One avoids thereby that rendering experienced by those who’ve staked everything on a party and suddenly feel themselves betrayed. You can’t bet on history, once and for all. Perhaps it’s that we’re not made for thinking about tomorrow. Every day can put everything back into question. We aren’t able to define ourselves in long-rage terms.
Besides, what is identity? It’s something that’s developed every day. If I ask you: who are you, what are you going to say? That you’re called so-and-so, that you’re the son of so-and-so. But that’s not an origin. There is no origin, no identity given once and for all. It’s necessary to understand that we only commit ourselves to what we hope to discover.
We have seen intellectuals for example who, after having left the Communist Party, have felt the need to display the reasons for their decision in all the newspapers: as if that departure were dramatic. But it is normal. You’ve militated for ten years for whatever party and you leave it. And so? You could have lived for ten years in a country and left it. That’s what life’s about. What I think attracts young people to my books is the large place that has been given to questioning and that has led me to learn to live with my contradictions and the contradictions of others.
The question nevertheless allows us to remain vigilant, to assume responsibility for our actions fully. How necessary this vigilance is every instant today! The question remains our greatest trump card.