born to be an orientalist
If any part of my intellectual life were regarded as my destiny, this part would certainly be the Oriental one. I started learning Arabic on my own as a teenager, but initially I had no possibility of matriculating in Oriental studies; I studied Romance philology instead, because that was what existed in the minor university of Lublin, the city where I was born. My family couldn't afford to send me anywhere else, much less to study such a contemptible matter (at the time, in the early 1990s, the levels of Islamophobia were already high in Polish society). New horizons opened later on, when I moved to Kraków to teach Portuguese. Finally, I've made my first steps in Oriental studies at the Jagiellonian University in 2000-2001; those studies thus happened, quite irregularly, after I already got a PhD in Romance literatures and the fact clashed against the academic usages of the time. It partially explains why I started to publish in Oriental studies so timidly and so late in my academic career.
In 2006, I abandoned my work at the Romance department in Kraków to find a new employment. Formally, I was supposed to teach Mediterranean studies at the University of Warsaw, but once again, Islamofobia strongly interfered with that academic practice. In 2010, Andalusian legacy was supposed to be researched in the project of Mediterranean Humanism financed by the Foundation for Polish Science; but once again, according to specifically Polish dynamics, nothing came out of it. Since 2013, I've been a member of Polish Oriental Society, participating in various conferences and initiatives fostered in that academic circle. Certainly, I have not a bad word to say about my Arabist colleagues from Toruń, Łódź, Warsaw, Kraków, or other East-European centres, such as Kiev. Yet serious Oriental studies started only after I moved to the Netherlands as a guest researcher at Leiden University in 2018-2019. I could access, for the first time, specialised bibliographic resources, and even more importantly, I could participate in a non-Islamophobic sphere of discourse, where I didn't need any longer to search for an excuse or circumvention to speak about Arabs and Islam in positive terms.
Initially, I used my Orientalist competences mostly to enlarge my comparative insight concerning the Mediterranean cultural crossroad, both in the Middle Ages and in our times. In 2013-2018, the main focus of my research in Islamic studies was on the emergence of the Islamic intellectual and the fusion of modern and modernising instance with the religious aspect that is quite alien to the secularised, Western figure. In such a way, an area of post-secular Islamic studies might be defined. To do so, I tried to follow the interaction between contemporary European and Islamic thinkers, publishing several papers and chapters, such as Intelektualista jako homo religiosus and Nowa geografia teorii; I also included these ideas as an important part of my book Humanistyka, która nadchodzi (2018). In parallel, I was also interested in the European penetration of Arabia, and more precisely, in the hajj performed by the European converts, treating it as a transcultural experience crossing the boundaries of late colonial identities (Friendships of the Desert, Stawanie się Orientem). More recently, I focus on the study of al-Andalus as an early laboratory of cultural transgression and transreligious ideas (A transforming minority).
papers, chapters, essays
(submitted:) "A transforming minority. The search for transreligious universalism on the margins of religious division in the medieval al-Andalus", 2020.
In 1267, Abu al-Baqāʻ al-Rundī composed an elegy, Rithāʻ al-Andalus, giving an example of the poetics of loss that, although adopted from a former, Middle Eastern tradition, resulted in a perpetuation of the vision of al-Andalus as a mythical land of perfection. Nonetheless, people who actually lived in al-Andalus did not face the world around them as perfect; on the contrary, there is a consistent line of contestation directed against the urban life and the social order established by the Islamic state. Attitudes of contestation may be identified across the divide between Christians and Muslims: in the case of the so called Cordoban martyrs, but also in the anachoresis of Ibn Masarra, military action of Ibn Qasī and the philosophy of solitude debated by Ibn Bajja and Ibn Tufail.
The author argues that the renovation of the Mediterranean tradition of esoteric, elitist knowledge that could be communicated only to a narrow circle of the initiated, not the society as a whole, opened the way of transreligious development, since the syncretistic content of the secret doctrine could transcend the divisions between the religious denominations according which the secular life of the City was structured. No wonder that the teaching of the greatest representative of Andalusian mysticism, Ibn Arabī gave rise to the modern vision of religious universalism. Nonteheless, a recent book of Gregory Lipton, Rethinking Ibn Arabī (2018), reopens the debate on the proper historical inscription of the Andalusian ideas of trans-denominational community.
(submitted:) “Todd Lawson, Tafsir as Mystical Experience: Intimacy and Ecstasy in Quran Commentary”, Arabica, 2020. (Book review)
“Gregory A. Lipton, Rethinking Ibn 'Arabi”, Przegląd Orientalistyczny, no 1/2019, p. 75-77. ISSN 0033-2283 (Book review)
“Tony K. Stewart. Witness to Marvels. Sufism and Literary Imagination”, Kervan. International Journal of Afro-Asiatic Studies, no 23/2(2019), p. 273-277. ISSN 1825-263X (book review)
“Stawanie się Orientem. Wyprawy Europejczyków do Mekki jako doświadczenie transkulturowe późnej epoki kolonialnej” [“Becoming the Orient. European travels to Mecca as a transcultural experience of the late colonial period”], Litteraria Copernicana, no 1(29)/2019, p. 111-119. ISSN 1899-315X; DOI: http://dx.doi.org/1 0.12775/LC.2019.009 http://apcz.umk.pl/czasopisma/index.php/LC/article/view/LC.2019.009
The aim of this paper is to reflect on the European hajj (travel to Mecca) as a transcultural experience in the context of the late colonial period. The interpretation of the case of Lawrence of Arabia, proposed in the Orientalism by Edward Said, is taken for the starting point. This classical diagnosis is confronted with the narrations speaking about the travel into the heart of Arabia as a spiritual journey, read as a testimony of a progressive overcoming of the orientalization as a condition limiting, in the first place, the Western subject, unable of experiencing fully the orientalized reality. After the exploration of Richard Burton, the figures of the converts from the first half of the 20th century, such as Harry St. John Bridger Philby, Evelyn Cobbold and Muhammad Asad gradually achieve a deepened transcultural experience on the road to Mecca.
"Cyrkulacja" ["Circulation"], in: Ewa Łukaszyk, Humanistyka, która nadchodzi, Warszawa, DiG, 2018, p. 56-109.
In this chapter, I develop the idea of a new Mediterranenan circulation of ideas that progressively takes the place of the previous, Atlantic system of intellectual exchange.
“Al-Andalus: transkulturowa przestrzeń pamięci” [“Al-Andalus: transcultural space of memory”], Przegląd Orientalistyczny, no 1-2/2016, p. 131-140. ISSN 0033-2283
Al-Andalus becomes a deterritorialized space of memory in which the notions of past cultural and intellectual excellence are used as a legitimization for contemporary aspirations of new societies, such as that of the United Arab Emirates. Andalusian texts and figures, such as the Lament for the Fall of Seville by Abu'l-Baqa' al-Rundi or the legendary “aviator” Abbas Ibn Firnas are digitalized in new interpretations made accessible in the Internet and reinvented in the consumerist culture. The memory of Al-Andalus forms a basis for a non-Western formulation of new universalism, fostering, at the same time, the necessity of reintroducing the term in the discourse of the contemporary humanities.
“Wokół Wallady. Poezja i miłość w Al-Andalus w XI wieku” [“Around Wallada. Poetry and love in Al-Andalus in the 11th c.”], Nie tylko salon. Wspólnotowe formy życia literackiego, Ewa Łukaszyk, Krystyna Wierzbicka-Trwoga (ed.), Warszawa, DiG, 2016, p. 23-32. ISBN 978-83-286-0002-7
"Friendships of the Desert. The Europeans in Arabia", De Amicitia. Transdisciplinary Studies in Friendship, Katarzyna Marciniak, Elżbieta Olechowska (eds.), Warsaw, Faculty of „Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, 2016, p. 189-199. ISBN 978-83-63636-58-6
"Od Ogrodu kochanków Ibn Kajjima al-Dżauzijji do arabszczyzny transkulturowej. Projekt restytucji języka intymnego w pisarstwie Fatemy Mernissi i jego kontynuacje" ["From Riyad al-Muhibbin by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya to transcultural Arabic. The project of restoring the language of intimacy by Fatema Mernissi and its continuations"], Literatury Azji i Afryki wobec problemów współczesności. Materiały XXXV Zjazdu Orientalistów Polskich, Warszawa, 16-17 XI 2015, Marek M. Dziekan, Agata Bareja Starzyńska (eds.), Warszawa, Dom Wydawniczy Elipsa, 2015, p. 175-188. ISBN 978-83-934631-5-2
"Nowa geografia teorii. Francja i jej partnerzy w debacie postsekularnej" ["New geography of theory. France and its partners in the post-secular debate"], Sensus Historiae, vol. XX, nr 3/2015, p. 149-160. ISSN 2082-0860.
As the main thesis of this article, we claim that the Atlantic circuit of ideas, in which the classical postmodernism took its definite shape, has been replaced by a Mediterranean one. In this new “geography of theory,” France, Italy and Maghreb are the main partners of the post-secular debate. The seminar on Capri in 1994, where Derrida met several Italian thinkers to pose the emergent problem of the “return of the religion” is considered as a symbolic breakthrough in this domain. The participation of the Islamic thinkers has been thence posted as a requirement. Nonetheless, the essential point to be taken into the account is the symptomatic turnover: the Maghrebian thinkers speak the language of the Enlightenment, while the European ones tend to incarnate the “spirit of the Desert.” The scheme identifying “knowledge” with Europe and “faith” with the Maghrebian counterpart is no longer valid. The new circuit of ideas is put into practice on account of the lack of synchronisation between the theoretical approaches, which oscillate between “too late” and “too early,” “not yet” and “no more.” The deconstruction of religion is realised through the dismantling of the theology (and of the concept of community based on theological consensus); its place is taken by the individual mystical experience. Due to this process, the metaphor of the “automaton chess player” proposed by Walter Benjamin is no longer valid; breaking the circle of revolution and terror, forming the catastrophic paradigm of the modernity, becomes possible. In ultimate terms, the utmost challenge of the deconstruction epitomised by the “spectre of Derrida” is to support yet another translation and to carry out a crucial mediation in the Mediterranean.
“Intelektualista jako homo religiosus. Tradycje europejskiej nowoczesności i myśliciele islamu” [“Intellectual as homo religiosus. Traditions of European modernity and Islamic thinkers”], Islam w Europie. Nowe kierunki badań. Księga ku czci Profesor Anny Parzymies, Marta Widy-Behiesse, Konrad Zasztowt (eds.), Warszawa, Wydawnictwo Akademickie Dialog, 2015, p. 67-78. ISBN 978-83-8002-201-0
„Marek Dziekan, Złote stolice Arabów. Szkice o współczesnej myśli arabskiej”, Przegląd Orientalistyczny, nr 3-4/2012, p. 217-221. ISSN 0033-2283 (Book review)
“Granice sacrum – granice języka. Mówić i milczeć o doświadczeniu mistycznym w średniowiecznym kontekście iberyjskim” [“Frontiers of the sacred – frontiers of language. Speaking and silencing the mystical experience in medieval Iberian contexts”], Zwyczajny człowiek w niezwyczajnej sytuacji. Próba przekazania doświadczenia nieposiadającego wzoru opisywalności, Hanna Gosk (ed.), Warszawa, Dom Wydawniczy Elipsa, 2009, p. 13-25. ISBN 978-83-7151-851-5