The days passing by, and me still throwing papers. It's late, I know, I should be working, solving practical tasks, at least improving my French, but instead, I'm still among my books. I pack them into a bag, and when the bag is full, I take them to the public library. At the same time, I'm still slowly rambling across my Arberry, and I hear the classical Persian poet Rudyār commenting wisely upon my packing: Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet...
It takes so long, because I'm crying over my books in order not to cry later on every time I remember them, as Zielinski allegedly did. I cry now to get all the crying done before I go. Or rather, I understand now to get all the understanding done, of what happened to me. Largely beyond expression; the metaphors block our way, Nietzsche said, and all wisdom is in him (not Shakespeare).
As I throw all these books and papers now, the real question, the real matter that requires understanding is to know why I had never read all those things in their due time.
There had been some obscure psychological mechanism that prevented me. My apartment is full of accumulated things that I didn't dare to open, to look; books I copied because I didn't dare to read them. I translated intellectual appropriation into material possession. I postponed insight, because I didn't dare. Even now, clearly there is something I don't dare. Perhaps I don't dare to face my international career (a short name for something bigger and much more complicated).
Does it matter now to understand? Or do I rather get rid of the answers, of books carrying those answers. I remove the problem together with its answers. One of the books I pack in my bag was written by my colleague, another professor here at the old university. It is a short story about a student, one of those students in cultural studies, getting that woeful, 3rd class education we impart to them. The story is about old letters the student gets from her grandmother: an insight into the human condition she has in her hand as she reads them in a train. And her blindness. She reads, but she doesn't understand; she misses the meaning, because it's not the kind of thing she is after. She seeks something else, ignoring what is the essential to be sought. In cultural studies, in life. And in the meanwhile, the darkness is falling. At the end of the tale, she comes to her room, and tries to read again. There is no electricity, the battery in her phone is low, she switches a candle. And she tries to read something under the title "Memory, space and identity in the light of cultural anthropology". But the words are too long, the letters too small, the flame blinking...*
There has always been the light of cultural anthropology, and philosophy, and literatures of East and West burning bright on my table. And what have I done all those years?
I didn't dare to read and to see. I accumulated. I strive to read it all now as a punishment, as a compensation. But what's the tragedy, if I saw at the end?
I remove all those books and papers from my possession, in a frenzy, as I excrete the toxin of resignation, of blindness, of being minor. Of memory, space and identity in the light of cultural anthropology.
*Agata Sobczyk, Opowiadania o pogodzie, Nowa Ruda: Mamiko, 2012. The short story's title: "Metafizyczne śmieci", pp. 129-150.
Among all those accumulate papers I've been reading and throwing to the recycling bin, I've also found one about Thaddeus Zielinski and the library he "had left in the hands of the Bolsheviks". It was said that every time he remembered it, he cried.
I wonder what books he had. The longer I look to my own ones, the lesser is the value that I attach to them. I don't know where my love of knowledge has gone; or better say, in what it is deposited now. I suppose there is a great technical difference between thence and now, in terms of epoch; this is why the books don't mean to me what they might have meant to Zielinski. Certainly. Or perhaps, somehow, he also had better books.
I've a growing sensation of their insufficiency, as if I'd got so very few books truly at my level, good enough for me. Sooner would I repeat with Aquinas: mihi videtur ut palea... All what I've learned, all what has been passing for knowledge and wisdom where I've been... So deeply insufficient that I have no choice but to start everything anew. Collecting books, reading, writing, thinking.
This is why I'm craving for emptiness, to start building upon it. Ich hab' Mein' Sach' auf Nichts gestellt... - that's Max Stirner, but it could be Nietzsche as well, and perhaps it could be me.
In fact, as I go on making order in my papers, I start to feel the emptiness, das Unheimliche the sudden absence of chaos brings about. Perhaps I was accumulating all this stuff during all this years just to avoid the confrontation with this creative openness, the possibility of such a new beginning, of maturity.
And the new beginning is upon me, and I conform and accept it.
As a convalescent, I've lived as slow and repetitive life; yet now I see it close to an end. The French colleagues start sending me not only forms to fill, but also planning for speeches and activities. In a few days, my summer, as hard as it may actually have been, and in more than one way, will be finished. And the research and writing I've got in front of me is much more serious than I've ever attempted. There is no way of messing it up now.
I wonder what kind of answer I will get from Amsterdam in October; it would free me from the necessity of providing for my next year's sustenance. Hopefully it can be safeguarded at a distance of many months; it would give me a kind of lightness to go on attempting what I really want, to be choosy.
Overall, it costs me little. There's no sound or fury about leaving the safety, what an illusory safety!, of my employment and my academic small world. There is a certain bravery on display, I presume, but I'm still very far from my limits. Nonetheless, I can imagine many people might feel uneasy in my place, just for stepping into that other erudition and that other art of writing; not mentioning money, credits, buying apartments, hearing other tongues. I'm beyond those many kinds and ways of stress. On the contrary, the decision I've taken gives me certitude and clearness of target, and as a consequence, greater comfort. Even if I were not reading Maalouf's Léon l'Africain, as in fact I did.
It is after all such a natural destiny, or such a cultured one, should I say, with so many roots, examples, paradigms and wisdom left behind. I'm just marching on such a safely trodden path.
These are exhausting days. Not for research or writing; on the contrary, I look forward to serious things as a respite. This is the labour of digging a gap, and ufff, after these breaking months of travel and recollection, my gap is hopefully quite advanced.
I talked to a guy from a relocation enterprise, they say they can take my stuff to Amsterdam for 1000 euro or a bit more, depending on quantity. And the quantity tends to be less and less. I get rid of things. Perhaps in a year, having finished my French research, I might land on Schiphol with a mere hand-luggage.
I've been so much preoccupied with all sorts of material possessions; books are the last section perhaps. Certainly the most difficult. I see my library more clearly now, the ideal library, made of travels and many languages, and perennial things. The vision has little to do with the reality of my dusty shelves. Well, the perennial things are there, but they need to be isolated, put in relief, enlivened with many more illustrious acquisitions.
There are moments, at the end of the day, that I feel like an Oxbridge scholar, with all my erudite readings. A respite after so much digging, in the evening. From dawn to dusk, I'm reading (and getting rid of) so many not-so-erudite things, conference proceedings, journals, articles, interviews with Agata Bielik-Robson. That's the small world. Over hundreds and hundreds of pages of the Polish academic publications, one can find many things, but not going further outside than Gayatri Spivak, and (rarely) a lonely mention of Edouard Glissant. There is no more horizon than this, and also no more history than this. The great bulk of humanity lays beyond. I myself lay beyond, and I look upon myself and across those twenty years of my own career as if I were looking into a doll house, from without and from a different scale.
But also digging gaps is childish; I wish I could get through quicker, and see myself free of all these things.
... men en af dem, som var god, sendte ham en gammel kuffert og sagde: “Pak ind!”
Hans Christian Andersen, Den flyvende koffert
I'm packing. Not only clothes, that's easy now; also books and papers, and that's not easy yet. But I brought several carton boxes and sheets of bubble wrap, and I go on slowly, lingering on books and reading the journals before I get them down to the recycling bin. There're lots of things accumulated, practically since the beginning of my academic career, and even earlier in the 90ties. A final insight into a becoming. Their becoming, not mine. I'm feeling my difference, my non-belonging, so intensely.
There is an old Armenian song of exquisite and lacerating beauty; it's called Our Es Mayr Im; this is what I listen to as I pack. It fits this kind of intellectual epic, bitter, inglorious and sublime.
How childish it was to believe myself minor in the humanities, in bondage to the margins! I'm in the major thing now, very far away, and packing for a far journey. It tastes smoothly melancholic to throw dusty papers into the recycling bin. The other that stay, in person and in their writings, while I'm taken higher up and away on a Caucasian tune, in my flyvende koffert. Feels like a kind of lonely Christmas. A kind of proud sadness, and being happy and glad of being, finally, alone.
Wonder what the neighbours think of me, as they hear me playing Our Es Mayr Im over and over again through the open windows. But nothing is strange at a time like the one that is upon us.
I indulge in erudition, literally biting at the old Arberry's volume of Classical Persian Literature. All those things that I'd unconsciously denied to myself when I still believed in being minor. They lay open to me now like a plain lays open to a nomad conqueror; that's only a question of time.
And all the languages of humanity whispering so temptingly to my ear! I just can't stand not knowing Farsi to enjoy more fully those examples that Arberry brings forth to enliven his argument. But only a week ago I've spent over 80 reckless euro in La Valletta, on Maltese books. Not mentioning that new Bengali grammar because it was on sale. Nor the method of Turkish, because I said myself I need it for my research on Postel. Nor the package of materials for Japanese, because I said myself I need it for my research on Jesuits.
Anyway, I think there is a bilingual volume of Rumi somewhere among my papers. And the immortal story of Dominic Matei that I printed from the internet months ago, when I understood that now I'm in my own tinerețe fără de tinerețe.
... Ochiul roşu se stinse, şi în clipa următoare îl orbi, zguduindu-l, explozia luminii albe, incandescente. Parcă ar fi fost aspirat de un ciclon fierbinte izbucnit, în chip neînţeles, chiar în creştetul capului. „A trăsnit pe aproape", îşi spuse clipind cu greu ca să-şi dezlipească pleoapele. Nu înţelegea de ce strânge cu atâta putere mânerul umbrelei...
This is just a metaphor, I know it now. Or perhaps it is indeed so literal. Truth is but ein bewegliches Heer von Metaphern, it had been said. Be as it may, you don't hear any thunder, when it comes for you, you feel nothing, absolutely nothing. Only later on you realize.
The thunder came to me and I missed it totally. I have no idea whatsoever when and where it was. In Bucharest, at Easter, near the Orthodox church? In Warsaw? In Kraków? In Lisbon? In Amsterdam? Have I been in Amsterdam at Easter?
I wake up in my new skin and I slowly start to realize what happened. "A trăsnit pe aproape", I say, still grasping the useless handle of my umbrella.
Dominic Matei had striven to write a book, all-encompassing kind of book, but he couldn't break through the first chapter, down to the origins. In the reality it is the History of the Religious Ideas, in three volumes. It actually exists, I have it on the shelf near my bed as I write. The first chapter is remarkably weak, as if make-shift. Added in the last moment before handling the book to the editor, I presume. Just to make it round and feasible, as it otherwise shouldn't have been.
After the thunder, he needs it no more. Even if he had completed and published it, with the make-shift first chapter, it doesn't actually matter any more.
Yes, exactly as a number of my own first chapters matter no more.
I've told my student today it's like the final undressing to lie down in the coffin. With the difference of the thunder. An old age without being old, as much as a youth without youth. Lost in time, ahead of my time, anticipating myself, coming to be, and yet simply being.
There is one crucial thing I believe have discovered recently. The close articulation between two things I used to see as separate: research and what I call theory-making. I saw the necessity of coming back to systematic research on a single topic as a circumstantial and relatively unlucky requirement (they don't give you grants for theory-making, at least as far as I know; they give you grants for predictable research; yes, even if they claim to finance high-risk intellectual endeavors). But now the research in itself has a new appeal for me.
Certainly it gives a sense of mastery that the moving ground of emergent ideas rarely provides. I'd been fighting against what I used to call "being minor in humanities", and I won. No need to write any more about it, it's just another achievement the Tribal Wife brought home from her stay among the natives. Anyway, I'm completely thuis in humanities right now; I cannot claim any kind of minor condition in it, not even that of Kafka in Deleuze. At least not in function of my geographically and mentally locatable origins.
But here comes the research. I'm preparing a project revolving around the Adamic language and its early-modern becoming. And this is how I came to the figure of Guillaume Postel, a missing link between Llull and Vieira. An obvious discovery that the man is one of mine, and his idea of restitutio omnium fits in for many things. There is still a long shadow of Agamben close nearby.
So I go on thinking about it right now. I should have the project ready for Monday, and I want to stay for a year with it. It might squeeze in nicely before my main ERC project proposal on which I will toil this summer.
A long time since I've written on this blog, time of crisis, of agony. A dark tunnel, and now I slowly emerge at the opposite end, still crawling. Like a hedgehog under a highway, I wrote months ago. What is the world?, I asked months ago.
And I've crossed the tunnel, crawling on my belly, half human, half worm, and I've emerged at the opposite end. And here am I, frenetically completing my research proposals and ready to rewrite all my intellectual agenda, again. Now I'm conscious of all the burden of originality, and the traps and the dangers of it. What it does cost and mean and involve to dare to be original, and to follow untrodden paths.
And my new agenda. I have my drawing with me, my secret map. It's full of unnamed trees; each tree represents an unwritten book, and the forest represents consistence, significance, becoming an important intellectual. Now I am at the very beginning of the path, at the zero level, and empty-handed. Yes, all my experience just served me to reach this forest and to cross the frontier of its shadow. I do not belittle myself. That's more than most people achieve in a lifetime of academic career. Anyway, I've left them behind, and I'm alone, even if I know I need new friends, new allies.
I've crossed the stage of emptiness, these last weeks, and I'm not sure if it is the end of it or not yet. But I am stripped bare. There is the famous triple metaphor in Nietzsche. The camel kneels down and wants to be well laden. “Was ist das Schwerste, ihr Helden? so fragt der tragsame Geist, dass ich es auf mich nehme und meiner Stärke froh werde.” Yet thank God I've been able to abandon all my burden, stop rejoicing and being froh and proud of it. Where are my papers now, 200 of them? Here comes the lion, and it cannot neither count nor calculate weights; no way of asking him how many papers he had written, in how many conferences. Countless, or so few, or none. What the lion wants and cares about is the desert, und Herr sein in seiner eignen Wüste.
And nonetheless, I saw how little the desert is, and to own it, and feind werden to one's last men and gods. "Du-sollst" liegt ihm am Wege, goldfunkelnd. This is how the Drache blocks the way. It says, Du sollst, and the lion says, Ich will. This is enough to stop and freeze the lion in his heilige Nein, and make him never come to the sacred yes, to the self-propelling wheel.
There was a moment when I was seeing the disjunction between study and creation, research and theory-making, merging with the background and sticking my own thing out. But certainly it's not like this, Agamben is the best author to see how the new things are actually done, the continuity between humus and blossom. And I also froze to confront my last men. Their limitations were shimmering, hypnotizing, their hate danced in the moonlight, goldfunkelnd. I saw them as opposed to what I am, I was in my heilige Nein. And I thought I should do something about them; for them was even more dangerous than against them. This is the dragon of "Du-sollst": our universities so low in the rankings, our culture so impoverished, so parochial, our academic journals so thin and far between. Auf jeder Schuppe glänzt golden: You can save them.
And what emerges at the opposite end is aus sich rollendes Rad. A scholar and a thinker that is there not to save or preserve or cultivate, but zu schaffen, having forgotten the meek nobility of the tiny and wee, and the decency of the modest. Ein aus sich rollendes Rad.
Só despojados é que somos livres
Vergílio Ferreira, Na tua face, 1993.
The book is not ready yet. There is the most difficult part missing. To get rid of myself, my youth, things accumulated in 1993, in 1996, in 1998, in 2003.
I think about fat people, how difficult for them to get slim; and even if by any miracle they manage, how their empty skin falls helplessly down to their knees. Have I been a fat girl, intellectually, with all my Portuguese studies? Or just anorexic, staring to distorted shadow?
Be as it may, what matters now is to get rid, and be light and ready for new things to come. And nonetheless, I linger.
It is not like when I was writing Pokusa pustyni, but by no means lighter.
I linger, unable to detach from myself, my old self. And I know there is no future without it, and there is no time left any more. I should be searching for my new life now, buying new apartment in either Amsterdam or Berlin, all my stuff packed and ready to go. The worst option is to linger now.
And I'm like Ricardo Reis in Lisbon, in Saramago. Falling asleep over my own verses.
La belle au bois dormant. Sleeping in the palace where she had never been. I pace the National Library of Portugal up and down, that's a proud name, and I think I might just leave and never come back to this again. My work is done, and this might be the core of the problem. E agora?
I might leave right now just as I stay, and never come back to this place again. I've collected all my materials, read all the books that were missing. Hardly a couple of pages is missing to complete my work. Or in any case I might leave in two weeks, and never come back to this place again.
As I stay, the sensation that I'm back to 1998 is more and more consistent. There is the same mirror in the bathroom where I was admiring my slim body in 1998. Perhaps the secret of the country's misery is the way how things conserve themselves, not the way how they decay. No thing requires to be substituted. The matter is inert, and confers the same quality to people and ideas.
I'm sitting on my old chair, N14, and the sheets of paper in front of me are literally the same, I mean my original notes made in 1998. I only forgot to bring the same fountain pen. I must still have it, it is somewhere at home.
There was no Afonso Cruz at that time yet. But Afonso Cruz is essentially the same story. I feel the same smell of it, falling down to the same bottom of the hole, in Flores, 2015. With his golem of the revolution, that his Ulme didn't manage to make alive. All Saramago must be essentially about the same thing. Perhaps this is the only progress I achieved, they achieved. Now we are a little bit higher up to look down over the very same thing that mattered thence as it matters now. Perhaps I could write it down in my new book.
Yes I need a new book, all my new books. To get through to myself before it's too late. Otherwise my empty skin will always pend down to my knees, even if by any miracle I manage to get through later on. This is the price of lingering.
comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et d'un paraplui
The day I met Eduardo Lourenço, then. I didn't really expect it. It was a surprise he came to our meeting at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, just because one of the project was to study & translate his Labirinto da Saudade.
At the first moment, I was just looking, not sure how to take the case on. I've been having those awful encounters with famous intellectuals, full of pretence and American habits, as it was with Markowski and others. But this one was completely Portuguese, shy and modest, and tiny in his manners, as if nothing. At the end I would say he was a charming person, as an intellectual should be, and clever to recognise his equal, as those Polish ones never are.
I talked to him quite a lot later on, during the lunch, but at the meeting, as I was sitting near him, I was staring with the corner of my eye, calculating silently and making a balance in my head. How much is Eduardo Lourenço? Certainly, as I write my book now, cutting down the footnotes, he is the last to remain, as a scholar. His vision of Portugal has been shaping mine; it's only quite recently that I've started to get rid of the repetitive aspect of this influence. And there is more than this. In the Empire and Nostalgia, he is one of the three heroes, the three dispatriants: it is Sena, Saramago and Lourenço. The tiniest, the shiest, the most localised of them, but necessary to make the balance and the triangulation. My topic would never exist without the three of them; between themselves, they make a country.
I waved the hand that triangulated a country, between empire and nostalgia. Should I rather have kissed it?
Today there is something to celebrate, at least that's what I believed for a moment. No, not the book, it's not finished yet. But something else did finish.
I finished publishing the articles from the black file. OK, I still have about 30 texts to finish, but they are something else, papers presented in recent conferences or ongoing projects, such things. But I finished the black file; I've just sent the corrections for the last, tiny paper concerning Verlaine for Romanica Silesiana. he book also helped me, it absorbed some semi-papers that simply disappeared in the flow of the literary history.
And then I saw it.
The last paper.
The one that cannot be absorbed, and the one that was missing.
Apparently it's just another tiny paper, dating back from the time of beginnings, written in 1998 I think. Just a reading of two tiny poems.
And suddenly all the puzzle composed itself. As peças todas a encaixar. Making sense. In illo tempore.
But what are the poems?, you would ask. Oh, that's the old Sena, just two poems from Metamorfoses, one about the mosque of Córdoba, and the other about Cistercian cloister of Alcobaça, and something about the the reconstruction of theologies that Sena does, and such things. There is nothing particularly original in all this, neither from my side, nor Sena's. He is just working over Malraux, Les metamorphoses des dieux, he is just commenting on it, poetically, and I'm commenting on him. But this is something that lays beyond the words, and beyond the ideas, and beyond the stones. Beyond originality, in fact. It is just excessus purae mentis in Deum, as Bernard de Clairvaux would call it.
I shall not publish this paper as a paper. I shall make it a starting point for my "mid-career balance", Garden and Desert. Yes, I'm still thinking about offering this small gift to myself, in 2017, for the 20th anniversary of my academic work. I will delve deep in this time of the origins to get something that might stay with me, the source of sense, the primordial moment of actually choosing this, as my life.
The anniversary strikes wrong, by the way. Nothing happened in 1997. It is something that comes from behind, something that had been born when I was still at school, and studying art history. I thought my choice was to be an artist, not a scholar. But now I see what it really was. It doesn't matter, by the way.
Et ego in illo, and I'm back to the original moment, and I see why, and what is the way in front of me. Suddenly the clouds break apart, and I see where the summit is. And I feel a great safety.
do espírito provável
da expectação tranquila
mortal da eternidade
I've been writing my book. If I did only this, it wouldn't take so long. I've been doing something else as well. I've been reading through my old papers and across my life, since the very beginning. Yes it's taking all the things since the beginning, since 1993, to write this book. And I try to fathom how much I've been mistaken in all my ideas about how books are actually written.
I start to feel I should have learned something about it by now. I did something like 11 of them, I'm puzzled in counting them again and again. And diverse translations, more than 30.
The good thing is that I've forgotten the articles totally; all my plans in writing are nothing but books from now on. And I'm stepping into learning how to actually write them.
When I was young, it was a kind of exhausting ordeal, a struggle at the end of my nerves. I shall never forget the state in which Pokusa pustyni was written. Or rather not written, how it was emerging from chaos.
I've started it several times, I've seen all the stages right now (believe it or not, I've been keeping every single sheet of paper related to this book for over 10 years...). And I can see and feel how I toiled against the mediocrity, against writing like I saw things written in that time, in Poland. It was like several layers of discourse, trying to get out of dullness. The result was not as bad as it had started, I think.
And I should write another book on Saramago now, in English. This is what I want to do this month of November. I will make it small. I will speak only about Cain, and the tanatopower of Intermitencias da Morte, and yet something, but just 4 novels, not more. And I will make it a pretext for just an essay. About the "late style", yes, and about the Desert, as it is in Cain, and about emptiness.
And yes, I do believe I will finish the first book next week, even if there is still work to be done. I've been going so slow not because of writing, but because of all this work of learning how to write, how to work, and cleaning my working space.
I do need order, and habits, and more careful, smarter planning. And to see more clearly where I want to arrive. But I have this very peculiar feeling now my life will be just this, writing books. Till I reach 60 or 80 volumes, like Derrida. Yes, I do take it seriously. Even the whole affair of living long enough to finish these 60 or 80 books. This is why I speak about habits. I need to make it sustainable.
Pokusa pustyni wasn't a sustainable kind of writing. I could make it like an extreme adventure, a passagium, but I couldn't make it as the usual way of working. And now I want to write day by day, book by book. I want to finish this one, and make the one about Saramago during the month of November, and then to travel on Chrismas, and then to make other books with my new editor, perhaps the African one, or the Poetics of the Void he is interested in, or to make other book proposals in English. And I want to make the essay on emptiness in Pessoa, and the transcultural research about Vieira as I was thinking about it before. And I want to make order in the Intrusive spirit. I'm thinking I could make at least a short essay out of it, for Miscellanea Orientalia, an initiative of our Oriental Society, and develop some parts for my Moroccan book, that would be next in the queue. It would be the last patch of chaos in my papers, I cant believe this. I look forward to this. Having no patches of chaos in my papers.
It took me about 4 years to clean up all the unfinished articles I had. Now I clean up the unfinished books, that seems harder to manage, but I'm doing all right, I think.
Yes I do love my books, and I want to learn the job of writing them as they should be written.
Having been here for a month, one morning I could barely climb my way in Entrecampos. There was a moment I felt I would stand it no more, this sight of the polished marble cubes under my feet. But my feet knew more.
After all, the crisis brought me inspiration - sinking down down down makes sense of the depth.
What is the world, I ask, over an enormous plate of basmati rice, my shoulders covered by the finest pashmina shawl I bought for 4 euros from a real Hindustani trader in Mouraria, my favourite shopping mall in Lisbon, where Portuguese never dare to enter. I always do, but I've never had such a feeling of being the only, conspicuously white woman in the mall, nowhere in the world. Not even in the inner Marrakesh, on the other side of the limes, and far from the touristic route had I such an experience of my whiteness as I did in this centro comercial - yes, it is one, big letters across the modernist, colonial facade announce so, even if inside it only vaguely resemble some humble places of the kind in Malaysia, crowded as it is with big packs of goods stored in the corridors. Scarcely 2 minutes walk from Rossio and Praça da Figueira where the yellow tram collects the crowd of tourists to Belém. That's what remains from this city, the gate of India, this shopping mall caiado de branco.
And that's my pashmina. The category of gammel doesn't exist any more in my aesthetics. The cloth is smooth, but humanly imperfect, dense at touch. I think now I could have bought one for my PhD student. But what a mature woman may attempt with PhD students? Paszminę ci kupiłam, synu, bo zima.
And the world. Indeed I'm searching for the world, and the world's humanities, apophatically, I can only say what the world is not. The world is not the same as making contacts abroad. This is why I keep cautiously apart from the Portuguese colleagues; I expect no particular blessing from them. The world is not making fincapé in other national humanities. The world is not the annual meeting, neither of ICLA nor ACLA. I see it now, especially as I've attempted to organise a session myself. These are mere illusions of worldliness, seeking refuge in the crowd, and less genuine than my plate of basmati rice.
The world is not this. Beyond the negation, I only expect it might come to me certain moments of inspiration, when I would feel what I'm doing is just right, with a sense of completeness. And I would see the veins of the wood, and the pen, and the sheets of paper in front of me, and I would say: indeed it is inside this clay jug.
All seven oceans are inside and
hundreds of millions of stars
The acid that tests gold is there and
the one who judges jewels...
World humanities have neither visibility nor prestige, only the feeling of being in it, of it, like those birds who flied to God.
The basmati rice on the plate in front of me is perfect and sublime. Every grain of it is over a centimetre long, and slightly curved. It's cooked with absolute mastery, with two single dry fruits of cardamom, by a Nepalese refugee. Every grain of this rice is ready to fly to God.
And they are served in such an abundance as to overwhelm the guest, and I see them with the eyes that can fathom their value historically, before our times.
Two days ago, when I climbed in the direction of the Graça, I literally cried over the ruinous state in which I found the city, crunched into dust by its mildews. Is this Europe?! did I exclaim. Oh, how precarious, how barely remediados are we, if this is our Europe of today! And yet this supreme plate of basmati rice that costs me just these two round euros of mine... That's what it does mean, to be European.
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers.
As he rose and fell
He passes the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
The Indian-Nepalese restaurant where the grains of rice fly to God is situated between Anjos and Intendente metro stations, do lado do bairro colonial, or this side of the street where you climb Rua do Forno do Tijolo towards Graça, next door with the shop open late in the night, by the same refugee owners.
I'm back to myself. I'm back to Martim Muniz. I left the room I rented in Telheiras for a hostel in Rua do Forno do Tijolo. I've been missing a shower. Literally, I mean it. In the Portuguese middle class apartment like the one I've been living in Telheiras you hardly have the space of a half a meter to take shower. More like 40 cm, to be exact, but I don't want to be peevish. So I left the home of Dona Fernanda for a hostel in Martim Moniz, that is at least adapted to northern size.
Finally I feel at home. I took my shower and I ate a frango no churrasco in the very same place, at the exit of the Intendente metro station, where I used to dine when I was writing Empire and Nostalgia. When I was already half drunk with Santo Isidoro wine, an athan surprised me, it didn't exist before, and it's a long time indeed I didn't hear athan in any of my travels. They must have created a masalla here recently. But overall, the Indian and the Pakistanis, and the foreigners in general are much less numerous now. I suppose that's a sign of the country's economic decadence.
But Martim Muniz had always been decadent. This is why it has an exotic touch I've been missing in the middle-class Lisbon. One feels at ease here, like in the medinah of any Moroccan city. I came to the restaurant wearing the same clothes I intended to sleep with. I could have come with the plastic shoes I used under the shower, but somehow the prejudice of a "civilised" one stopped me. But I would be comfortable with them. With German shoes on my feet, nonetheless, I play the role of a northern tourist. They are surprised to hear me speaking this totally immersed, high-pitched Portuguese, and they treat me por "senhora" , while they treat the African fellows next table por "tu". In this place, where the retornados settled after 1975, the empire never ended, it merely took a different shape. And that's a luxury place where I payed 11 euro 25 cents, leaving lordly a gorjeta of 40 cents. I know a place nearby where I eat for one euro or two, and hallal.
The empires never end, they are immortal, with a history prone to repeat itself. Now my seat in the National Library of Portugal is not N14 any more, it's N16. There is a young black guy sitting there, from the Cap Vert, I presume. He arrives every morning even before me and we leave together at the hour they close. That's new, and I wish him the best. He is fully entitled to inherit this historical place where I used to sit since I was been writing my PhD dissertation in 1998. I wish he could inherit all my aspirations and, yes, all my worldliness. If there is still any excellence of a white scholar to be left behind as inheritance, I wish it to be upon him. It is a Draculean inheritance: the eternal thirst of the living blood that only some chosen ones can find in dry and sterile books. Anyway I've been reading African books, and they have been enlivening me these sterile days, that's blood that returns to blood.
There is a continuity of civilisation, a secret renovatio imperii they, the Portuguese, neither guess nor expect. There is this vital encounter and this circulation of the living blood. That's Apophrades, the return of the dead, and a long expected fulfilment of the living, the end of adventure that comes when no one expects any more to hear an athan over Martim Muniz that had once been al-Ushbuna, and had long ceased to be.
Certainly it's a much better place to be, rather than squeeze under the 40-cm-wide shower in the post-Salazarian, middle-class Lisbon I've just left behind. Perhaps it's not the end yet, after all. I'd repudiated this city and this country. But here I am, again, as Noor's itinerant scholar. And I can say, as he did in Zanzibar, or wherever it was: I love this country.
Yesterday I sent a new proposal to my editor, to make yet another book after this one, about African literature written in Portuguese. He answered me by a kind of conditional yes. I think I could do it.
I've been reading Mia Couto all day, a confissão da leoa. I never had excessive respect for the writer, before, but the book is hallucinatory, sticking to mind, like Chraibi, years ago, or more. It is a recent book, published in 2012, free from irritating habits of the constant passivum in Mia Couto's earlier books, that I've always judged to be just the cheapest way to make things sound African. Here he enters quite a different game, introducing the kind of soulless bombastic colonial Portuguese in some parts of the text: os caçadores deslocaram-se da capital, etc. porque começaram a ocorrer ataques de leões a pessoas. Many things are reused in a new configuration, such as the emergence of literacy, and a kind of native intellectual that keeps the memory of those who have been taken to São Tomé. I´ve written about it already, and I could write about it again. But I can have no doubt about the power of this narration, I feel it on me, with all the universal value of the fable on men and lions, or rather, the women and lionesses.
I wonder where does this power come from, is it the earth, or it resides on the frontiers of humanity, where nothing is left to run short of? This guy is as Portuguese as those here, just the same as Lobo Antunes, trying, after all, to speak about the very same problem of women. Oh, I was clever with Lobo Antunes, I gave him such a great excuse in my book... I wrote about his novel Da natureza dos deuses, that I literally couldn't read, that he returns to the problem of reading, just like Cortázar in La Rayuela: the confession of the Lady cannot be read, neither written nor spoken, nobody can get through it, and the phrase Diz que és a minha cabra and Diz que es a minha cadela must reappear several hundred times just to make the reader think how many times those things must have been pronounced over the 38 years the Lady was married, and this is and anti-psychoanalytical work, because the speech is demised of its curative powers, and after those 500 dismal pages nothing is said, nothing done, and... And this is the great advancement and great discovery, and in the 90ties people talked Lobo Antunes might have the Nobel that finally was given to Saramago.
Gosh, the hell be upon me.
And here is the confession of the lioness, and I could also write about this literature, a real literature, the living one, even if I don't have excessive respect for this writer in particular. But there is the voice of the earth, and the extremes of humanity, and this is the least I could do...