My trajectory in Portuguese Studies reflects the profundity of the crisis in Polish academe. Shortly speaking, I was removed, by means of mobbing, from the field in order to make sufficient space for an incompetent colleague, who, more than fifteen years later, still remains the director of the Câtedra Vergílio Ferreira created at the Jagiellonian University under the auspices of the Portuguese ministry. Without ever losing any amount of time on such trivialities as research in Portuguese studies.
Some colleagues admit, even quite openly, that I am the best at the national level; other try to grin or make dismissive gestures; in any case, I am the only titular (i.e. officially nominated by the President of the Republic) full professor properly specialised in Portuguese literature that currently exists in the country. But I should use a past tense here. I was - I would be, if I did not emigrate from Poland to seek my academic glory elsewhere. Be that as it may, during more than a decade of my presence in Poland, I was ousted from any duties related to Portuguese studies. I haven't taught Portuguese literature culture since 2006, in spite of intense, often publicly financed research activities and numerous publications in the field.
Although it is only a fraction of my overall output, my track record in Lusophone Studies is composed of six major books and some ninety research papers dedicated to literature and cultural matters in Portugal, Brazil and Lusophone Africa, without counting other contributions (translations, language manuals, etc.) that would be otherwise missing among the resources available in Polish. Arguably, I make quite an appreciable figure, at least in the national context. My successful colleague hardly spoke any Portuguese at all at the time. Fifteen years later, he still didn't publish any serious work in the area. Yet who cares! He was very determined to "be someone" (być kimś), namely the head of that newly created chair, and the institution was more interested in making this kind of career possible than in having a genuine scholar working in such a marginal area as Portuguese studies. Till the present day, in spite of my professorial nomination, no one from the Jagiellonian University, and no Portuguese representative took any initiative in order to rectify this abnormal situation.
Certainly, as I became an excellence-level international scholar based in western Europe, no academic post in Poland attracts me any longer. It is purely the question of missed opportunities, of maintaining deliberately the whole area of studies in an underperforming condition over the span of almost two decades. My peculiar case is to be kept as a mere historical notice in the annals of Polish academia. What remains to wonder is how great Polish universities must be, if they can afford squandering competence, instead of capitalising it. And on the other hand, how rich the Portuguese must be, if they continued supporting a chair that was created by means of getting rid of the specialists in their culture... In a way, it is a paradox, because if they did not interfere, at a given moment, with their offers of cheap international prestige, if they did not created temptations for some incompetent people who urgently needed to "be someone", I would probably continue teaching Portuguese studies quite undisturbed up to the present day. But in a vain attempt of granting an international projection to their culture, "a filha ilegitima da cultura universal" in the definition of Eduardo Lourenço, they came with honours and decorations. I have never received any. Other people did, and the Portuguese diplomacy was easily contented, I suppose, since no one seriously expected any original ideas on Portuguese culture to be born in Kraków.
I never taught any topic connected to Portuguese culture again; on the other hand, also the admission of new students to the newly created curriculum in Portuguese studies was temporarily suspended due to lack of qualified professors. I continued producing excellent, often publicly financed research and publications in Portuguese studies along all those years. Later on, as I saw that no research achievement whatsoever would bring me back to a teaching post in Portuguese Studies at any university in Poland, I switched my attention to the domain of Mediterranean and Oriental studies.
But let's see my Lusitanist story in some details. I started learning Portuguese in 1992, during my studies in Romance philology at the University Maria Curie-Skłodowska in Lublin. Soon I got several opportunities of travelling to Portugal, namely in the institutional framework of the TEMPUS and Instituto Camões programs. I participated in the summer school organised at the University of Lisbon (1993), and later on I followed the regular curriculum in Portuguese Studies (three semesters in total). That gave me a chance of learning under the best Portuguese professors of the time, such as Fernando Martinho (Pessoan studies) or Margarida Vieira Mendes (Portuguese Baroque and the work of P.e António Vieira). I also had classes of African literature with Inocência Mata, who in the late 1990s became one of the most recognisable intellectuals of Lusophone Africa.
In October 1997, after the completion of my studies at the University Maria Curie-Skłodowska, I was employed as a lecturer of Portuguese in the Institute of Romance Philology, Jagiellonian University. My further studies at the University of Lisbon, in the program of Mestrado em Literatura Comparada, were financed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (1998/1999). This is how I could build up my comparativist competences in such a sense as comparative literature was understood at that time: I was moving between different national literatures of Europe, as well as exploring intermodal connections between literature and visual arts. The topic of my research project at the time was Orient and Orientalism in Portuguese and French literature. At the same time, I worked on my doctoral dissertation L'architecture de la demeure imaginaire dans la prose narrative portugaise des années 1960-1996, defended at the Jagiellonian University in June 1999. In this work, I discussed the imaginary configurations of the domestic space in recent Portuguese literature, taking for methodological basis the poetics of Gaston Bachelard and the universalist pattern of reflection established by Mircea Eliade; the imaginary homes that I analysed acquired thus a microcosmic and sacred character. At the same time, the dissertation established a basis for my subsequent criticism of contemporary Portuguese literature that filled a considerable part of my Lusitanist outcome. The most immediate result was a book projected as a concise presentation of the recent decades of Portuguese literature that at the time was still very little known or translated in Poland. This is how Współczesna proza portugalska (1939-1999). Tematy problemy, obsesje, published by Universitas in 2000, was born.
After my PhD, I got a full-time position of assistant professor, which was especially important due to the creation of a new curriculum in Portuguese philology in the Institute of Romance Philology of the Jagiellonian University. It was a novel area of studies, with very little tradition in Polish academic context; no wonder that during the initial period of my academic career, I contributed with several publications related to Portuguese studies that were missing in the Polish-speaking context: namely, I wrote a practical grammar of Portuguese (Język portugalski od A do Z. Repetytorium), to which I added later on another little volume of exercises (Język portugalski od A do Z. Testy), and I translated a history of Portugal (Krótka historia Portugalii) by José Hermano Saraiva (2000). Later on, I also translated some Portuguese books for the Catholic editing house WAM, but for sure this is of minor importance.
Soon after the publication of Współczesna proza portugalska, in September and October 2000, I realised a short-term stay in Lisbon with yet another research grant offered by the Instituto Camões. I used this opportunity to initiate my preliminary studies on José Saramago, at that time recently distinguished with the Nobel Prize. The result of that research was presented during a meeting of the Modern Language Commission of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences and published in the volume of Proceedings of this Commission; it also served me as a preliminary mapping of the research problems that would be fully developed in my subsequent, extensive monograph on Saramago, Pokusa pustyni, published in 2005.
Meanwhile, in my post-doctoral dissertation (habilitation), Terytorium a świat. Wyobrażeniowe konfiguracje przestrzeni w literaturze portugalskiej od schyłku średniowiecza do współczesności published in 2003, I wandered out of the domain of the contemporary Portuguese novel. Working on this book, I developed my early-modern competences to show the evolution of Portuguese spatial imagination in a large chronological perspective. Having gained the prestigious START fellowship offered by the Foundation for Polish Science (2002-2003), I enjoyed quite propitious conditions for the realisation of such an ambitious project. As the result, in October 2003, I passed the customary habilitation colloquium.
During the period that followed, my aspiration was to transgress the limitations of Portuguese studies as a closed sub-discipline of literary studies. Initially, I fulfilled this aspiration in the context of the philological circles of the Jagiellonian University (2004-2006), fostering a comparativist research project Wyspa – wyspowość – wyspiarskość w kręgu cywilizacji romańskiej, financed by the Committee of Scientific Research (KBN). I coordinated the work of a group of 11 colleagues that analysed the literary images of island, not only in the major Romance literature, such as French, but also in their regional variants, such as Catalan and Sicilian. As the outcome of this project, I edited the volume Archipelagi wyobraźni. Z dziejów toposu wyspy w kręgu literatur romańskich (Kraków 2007). Among the texts authored by other members of the research group, the book also contains my own contribution: a chapter concerning the images of an island of women or of love in Portuguese epic texts written in the 16th and 17th c. Overall, since my habilitation, I worked more often on early-modern topics, interpreting the great Portuguese authors, Camões and António Vieira. Nonetheless, I also studied such 20th and 21st c. Portuguese authors as Fernando Pessoa, Jorge de Sena, Urbano Tavares Rodrigues, Vergílio Ferreira, David Mourão-Ferreira, Sophia de Mello Breyner, Teolinda Gersão and others.
By the time Archipelagi wyobraźni left the printing press, I was already mobbed out of the Jagiellonian University and only too keen to abandon the working environment that proved highly toxic. I hoped for a better future at the University of Warsaw, where I taught literally everything (I even gave a course on falconry and oriented a PhD dissertation on Buryat poetry) - everything except Portuguese studies.
No wonder that the year 2006/2007 introduced a relative downward trend in my activity as an academic author writing about Portugal, although I published some papers and chapters on Lusophone Africa. Yet another, parallel endeavour was the elaboration of the chapters concerning Brazilian literature for the compendium Historia literatur iberoamerykańskich, published by Ossolineum in 2010. Over some 150 pages or so, these chapters present quite extensively the development of the Brazilian literature from the European discovery of this country to the date.
Nonetheless, my most important work produced after the habilitation remained Pokusa pustyni. Nomadyzm jako wyjście z kryzysu współczesności w pisarstwie José Saramago, an extensive monograph published by Universitas in 2005. In contrast with my former works, the aim of this book was not to remain in the context of the Portuguese problems, but to inscribe the literary discourse of the Nobel Prize winner in the broader context of the reflection in humanities, as it is required not only due to his criticism of the Judeo-Christian tradition (visible in the scandalizing novel The Gospel according to Jesus Christ), but also of the tradition of historical materialism, with which the writer, a late communist, identified. Nonetheless, I treated it as a case of disturbed, ambiguous, ironic identification, hiding a deep criticism of the Marxism as an alternative to Judeo-Christianism. As a consequence, the book presents the vision of an agonistic clash between the “post-Christian” man and God who is jealous of the human creative potential. Its outcome is the loss of the sensation of inhabiting the world, a nomadic condition, man's failure in his desperate search for order.
This book presented all Saramago's novels published till the date of its elaboration. Nonetheless in the following years the writer still produced several more; this fact justified the continuation of the research on his work. Such was the aim of the project financed by the National Science Center, „Styl późny” w twórczości José Saramago (“Late style” in the writings of José Saramago) that I realised in 2013-2015. In its framework, I got an opportunity of two 3-week research stays in the National Library in Lisbon (in 2014 and 2015). The outcome is the book Imperium i nostalgia. „Styl późny” w kulturze portugalskiej (Warszawa 2015). Its most important aim was to trace the full extent of Saramago's criticism in Cain, the last novel published by the writer in his lifetime. I read this novel as a form of rupture with the project of global hegemony initiated by the Portuguese at the beginning of the modern era, originating in the biblical exhortation to “subdue the earth”. It justifies the necessity of returning to the beginnings of the mankind in the Book of Genesis; without such a return the utmost deconstruction of the colonizing narrations is impossible. I argued that the deconstructive potential of the post-colonial school proved to be insufficient in Portuguese case; this is why I used yet another analytical tool proposed by Edward Said, namely his concept of “late style” associated with the old age. The individual old age of the writer, but also the eclipse of the cultural formation bring a chance of an final adjustment of the accounts in the project of global hegemony that finds its expression in the Portuguese dream of the universal state, the Fifth Empire, that was supposed to unite all humanity. In the book, I also employed my own concept of transcultural condition. The long history of the Portuguese search for a universalism that ended in a fiasco, as I claimed, provoked the critical intervention of Saramago.
As the outcome of my extensive research on Saramago, I should also mention several papers and chapters. Two most important ones are included in the only collective volume dedicated to this writer in Poland (Świat powieści José Saramago, Wojciech Charchalis ed., Poznań 2013); other were disseminated in various journals. I also presented my outcomes in various national and international conferences. But who was I trying to convince with all that? My "better qualified" colleague, by the time a self-made Presidente da Associação Polaca de Lusitanistas, continued producing diverse "histories of Portuguese studies in Poland", that in themselves made the substantial part of his overall research outcome in the area. In his insightful article Estudos Portugueses na Universidade Jaguelónica, published in Studia Iberystyczne, no 10 (2011), I was mentioned as an obscure person who, quite inexplicably, "had left"; in an actualised version, Estudos Portugueses na Polónia, included in the 2015 issue of HispanismeS, the bulletin of the French Société des Hispanistes, neither me as a person nor any of my publications were mentioned at all. Apparently, as I continued my research, I was becoming progressively even more absent in Polish academic landscape. Portuguese studies in Poland were made by my "better qualified" colleague himself, as he explained with due pathos and in due historical perspective (although in a rather lame syntactic sequence): Foi precisamente neste ano 2002 que se estreou com o apoio do Instituto Camões e graças à obtenção pelo signatário do título de professor catedrático, a Lusitanística na Universidade de Cracóvia, a mais antiga do país, fundada em 1364. Which is unfortunately false, since neste ano 2002 he did not obtain the title of catedraticus, which would be profesor zwyczajny in Polish; he merely got his habilitation (by a single vote that prevailed) after a disastrous colloquium at the Faculty of Philology of the Jagiellonian University. Just a few months later, I obtained a much better score at my own habilitation, that the University's administration postponed on purpose, in order to grant the precedence to my colleague. The only difference is that I failed to reach his level of effrontery.
It may thus be regarded as a considerable surprise that my exhaustive interpretation of Saramago's work was recognised as the achievement leading to my title of full professor, officially conferred by the President of Poland in June 2018. Apparently, it popped out of nothing. My favourite anecdote illustrating my place in Polish academia is about a student of Portuguese studies who once approached me after my Andalusian class (I was teaching at the time in the curriculum of Mediterranean studies at the Faculty "Artes Liberales", University of Warsaw). She asked me if by chance I was somehow related to Ewa Łukaszyk the author of all those books about Portugal; she assumed I might be her daughter. In her home Lusophone department located right at the opposite end of the street, she only got hearsay or allusive information about that mythical professor Łukaszyk who "had left" or in any case, "was no more". Not quite such an idiot as she might seem, the student deduced that professor Łukaszyk must have passed away. This is how I became the only undead Lusitanist of Europe.
Meanwhile, I came back to Portugal in 2016/2017 with another Calouste Gulbenian Foundation's fellowship, this time with a project aiming at the elaboration of an innovative formula of presenting Portuguese literary history to a foreign public. The result is an extensive monograph, Mgławica Pessoa. Literatura portugalska od romantyzmu do współczesności, published by Ossolineum in 2019. It is a hybrid literary history presented as a travel memoir in which I resumed my Portuguese experience and adventures across nearly a quarter of a century. The chapters called Lectures, filled with more systematic scholarly discourse, are intertwined with personally sounding, essayist Interludes, where I offer an insight in a choice of topics that I considered as particularly relevant and fostering in-depth understanding of Portuguese culture. No need to say that the first readers of my book enjoyed those sections much more than the Lectures.
In many ways, this thick volume of nearly 500 pages is a culmination and a close of my studies on the 19th, 20th and 21st century Portuguese literature. My recent and forthcoming publications deal much more often with African Lusophone literature than exactly the metropolitan one. Nonetheless, I'm still thinking - although with constantly decreasing enthusiasm - about a vintage English-speaking edition, Seductor's Old Age. José Saramago at the end of life and other essays, resuming and presenting to the international public some of my dispersed research outcomes.
Certainly, all those bibliographical items that I produced along the years are only a shadow of what a proper Lusitanist career might have been, were I given full institutional acknowledgement and support in Polish academic context. Texts on Portuguese topics are only a fraction, although not inconsiderable, of my overall academic outcome, and I often wrote them and gave them to print as if unwillingly, not entirely convinced that it was the right thing I actually wanted to do. Certainly, as I am abroad right now, I might think about a full scale international career in this area. But perhaps there are too many bad memories connected to it.
During the summer 2018, at the end of my Marie-Curie fellowship, I thought about relaunching my Lusitanist career in Germany. I made a survey of the universities where Portuguese and Lusophone studies used to be taught, tried to contact some colleagues, even travelled to talk to one of them. But what I saw were, as a rule, not quite excellent scholars, rather insecure about their positions, unwilling to usher a strong competitor, that I would become in the predictable future, into their own departments. This is how I ended up in Leiden, determined to consolidate at all costs my not fully professional Orientalist competence, rather than risk the repetition of the Cracovian scenario in any shrinking department of Portuguese studies.
The part of my Lusitanist expertise that remains in the focus of my current research is the early-modern one. In 2017-2018, Portuguese reflection on universal language, legacy of such authors as João de Barros, appeared in the framework of my Marie-Curie project dedicated to the medieval and early-modern search for Adamic language. (João de Barros believed that the words of the perfect language spoken before the fall of the tower of Babel were still remembered, although dispersed among various peoples of the world; Portuguese maritime expansion, as the humanist believed, might thus permit to bring them together, in such a way that man could speak the language of angels once again).
Chances are that the same strand of reflection will resurface again in the margin of my current project dedicated to mysticism and cultural transgression. Its title, Poetics of the Void: Mystical insight and transultural transgression in the Mediterranean, may sound both cryptic and distant from my Portuguese experience. But it is not entirely so, since the pivotal figures that I plan to study belong to the Islamic Andalusian heritage. Although the most famous of them, such as Ibn Arabi, were connected to major urban centres located in today's Spain, they built up their spiritual adventure on the teachings of obscure, rural, often illiterate Sufi masters, such as Abu Jafar al-Uryani from Loulé, that had once trodden the Portuguese soil. This project may thus contribute to bring into the limelight the survival and fertility of a message transgressing the cultural frontiers that can still help us today to work out new “poetics” in the void resulting from the collapse of the dominant structures of meaning. A message that, at its primaeval source, may be seen as so strikingly “Portuguese” even before Portugal came into a definite, political and cultural existence.
But that is a nice way of speaking, of course. Overall, the continuation of my inglorious Lusitanist career, that till now has made of me the only unemployed -as well as undead- titular professor in Europe, is under quite a bold interrogation mark. Certainly, this is not due to a shortage of new ideas, but to the regrettable state of Lusitanist affairs in which academic excellence is not always the key that opens all the doors.