Oh, yes, it brought a lasting effect, my 1% therapy last Sunday. The first consequence of the new stance is that you see your old self deeper down, that's logic. I've been throwing some of my old papers and notes, shamefully, and I still have to remove some older, weaker papers from this page. They make my image very improper indeed; nothing to boost about in the fact that I've written them. And the note on the cover of my new book -- mentioning that I've published 200 items or so -- is certainly a part of the ironic device of the whole. I've contributed -- oh, how generously -- to the 99% of shit.
I've been trying to recuperate and consolidate some valuable part of my past production, translating some things into English. But the operation only reveals my nakedness, and the distance that was separating me from authentic international scholarship when I was writing those things. Sure enough, a gecko growing up to become a dragon cannot find the matter to foster this growth in the fat reserve of her own tail.
And I've been facing problems with finishing the paper for Dublin I promised two months ago. Perhaps it should be the proper essay, well, after my therapy, the proper essays are the only things that really count. Today I'm busy, got to go to Orleans, but I do hope Friday and Saturday the things will arrange themselves somehow. On a crystal pinnacle, the only way left is up; the descent would be even more vertiginous and disastrous than climbing.
Oh yes, the 1% is not a funny thing. It brings me nightmares. This night I dreamed that I was in Poland, wearing a kind of dress of coarse linen, half an Arabic djellaba, half a clothe of poverty, clear brown colour and dirty. And I went to inquire how far my last degree was. The secretary of some dusty place showed me a big handwritten book, where my name stood, awaiting a couple of signatures. She said it will take a long time, a year or two, hard to say. And my mother had no such patience.
Clearly enough, I've got many decisions to take, and many things to leave behind. Step by step, I withdraw my attachments and my engagement. And I enter the wilderness, in this coarse dress of Arabs, or perhaps of early Christian eremites, which essentially means the same.
And perhaps the difference between my 1 proper % and those 99 shitty ones is precisely this. The fact that my 200 publications are literally pulverised in my hands. I imagine many other people would be proud and consider themselves big professors, enormously distinguished. Wow, I've just had my 7th book, and 2nd this year, and it is five hundred fourteen standard pages, as my peer-reviewer stressed. And yet I'm naked, facing the desert thorns tearing my very flesh apart. Naked to my rattling bones.
The intensive therapy I've offered to myself this Sunday seems to have some lasting effect; not just that of admitting easier that what I see in Professor's Apter Verso volume are effectively Dutch words misspelled and Arabic words without ligature, just letters printed separately. I know why, of course. They tend to disarrange while processing the text flow, and need to be re-collocated manually, one by one, after the page layout is ready. I wonder if my own Verso volumes, one day, would be perfect and flawless from this point of view. I know how hard it is to keep the right spelling across a variety of languages. I was about to have comunità spelled with double m in my own Coming Humanities. Perhaps the peevishness of my peripheral mental formation preserves me from many such mistakes. Or perhaps I do know more about languages of the world than my highly reputed American colleague, and it is silly to be surprised and amazed at this, as I am now. Well, I still keep the desire of seeing yet another colleague of mine reading Greek, but this is by sheer malignancy (over the last decade, he deserved it well, because of his habit of humiliating people by pointing out to their lack of Greek, or any other language; this is why I wish one day I have him read Anabasis in front of a sufficiently numerous public).
But these are my peevish mind's last resorts, and I stopped comparing to enjoy what Apter actually says on Auerbach in Istanbul. Must have been an interesting adventure indeed, the 11 years of Auerbach in Istanbul. I wish I could know more about it, by immediate personal interest. Curiosity of other people's exiles, just like a young girl might have a curiosity of other people's weddings. Expectant. They are great, the exiles. And certainly contribute immensely for a multilingual library. But did I understand correctly that Auerbach wrote some papers in Turkish?! I'm the one truly to admire such things.
Anyway, yes, it's not just about polyglotism of course, even if I should find time to return to my Arabic and my Hindi. I wish I met the Pakistani colleague this Thursday at the Institute. I wonder if I could have him recite any verses in Urdu during the cocktail party (even if he is a scientist working with medicinal plants or something of the kind, but even though; would be nice to hear it).
These are digressions. What I want to say is that I've accepted it. Now I'm on the crystal mountain, climbing the pinnacle. Human being is such an adaptable animal, ready to live on anything, including a glass surface; between a gecko and a dragon. A gecko that takes the taste of climbing crystal mountains slowly grows up to become a dragon.
I've stayed all day on this blog, all the writing and proof-reading waiting to be done. Perhaps I needed to talk myself into becoming, somehow, into inhabiting this damned 1%, to feel at home with it.
There is a work waiting me, more than any paper or proof-reading. I should revise and clarify all the book projects and reschedule them so I might submit the applications in a way that fits my real plans and progress. And yes, design my books in such a way that they stand a chance to fit at least my understanding of the 1%. The Dutch 1%, the one in front, not the one behind.
There is a great deal of rescheduling indeed, and a big step to be done. Only now, when the Portuguese literature is done, I've really closed this period in my life. The two decades. I wanted to write my "mid-career report", yet perhaps I leave it for another occasion. We will see.
Twenty years of academic work are not truly that many. Only two or three years ago, I had the feeling of underachievement, comparing myself to such people as Agata or Michał Paweł Markowski. But these things are far behind, and I feel that my frustration, that have been keeping strong only just yesterday, starts to release its grip. Yes, I would like to see myself mentally freed from Warsaw. I haven't been. Make myself a home somewhere else, I mean mentally. How? Where?
Perhaps at the crossroad of many places, well, in a bubble, in a new dimension, perpendicular to the European map. Haven't I written about it?
Yes, I should clarify my projects and approach Verso again. Having no home, I could at least have an editor. To start an adult life. To see an open space in front of me.
Yes, I've climbed into this great vertical space, where every further step may represent a lifetime achievement of a scholar. And now I have to live up to this.
Perhaps many of those plans and ideas I had are obsolete already. Yes, that's crazy, yet it is like this. New things are about to be born, more mature, more convincing, more able to stand up in this vertical space.
So how on earth those damned books are done? They must be done somehow, if my only dream is to spend the rest of my life in an armchair covered with genuine leather, under a library ladder sliding eastwards and westwards on little wheels, a flute of 1664 in my hand. There must be a professional approach to this.
There are very few beautiful books in the humanities, and each of them has puzzled me in its own way. Often by the extreme simplicity of their making. This was the impression when I read Ranciere's Aesthesis. As if you just cannot tell why it is good, but you fancy you keep this book. Such obvious things he says, apparently, but there is some kind of ordinatio and dispositio in them that just make the book a delightful property. A kind of rhythm. By the way, I've never finished reading it, but I stayed with this impression of clarity, lucidity.
Most books are insufficient in their way. Steiner's Lessons of masters, for example. At the given moment, they grow shallow. So you keep them, but as if conditionally, out of the 1% that is not that of the ERC, but that of what? Some kind of philosophia perennis, I would say. By the way, in Amsterdam I would like to have a copy of Huxley's Perennial philosophy, even if I have a Polish translation that was one of my most prised possessions since early nineties, and there is a free PDF online. And Corbin's Imagination creatrice.
Perhaps this multilingual library of mine is the starting point and the source of all the answers concerning Proper Writing. Perhaps the first reason why you write these kind of books is their connection to something living, something that does exist beyond the words. Something that makes you the chosen one, the guardian, the preserver. And it's often 2 am, and 3 am, and 4 am, and you stay with your things, and your only worry is the fog and humidity lifting from the channels.
And it is not at all about any ERC grants or millions of euros. If they give you nothing, next year you will go to Africa and live a very simple life, with your only worry to write all the things that need to be written, and to find the way to be in the 1% of the perennial. Not to make yourself immortal, on the contrary, to make those things live.
And the proficiency? Had they been proficient, when they wrote these things? Certainly, in a way. You seek and find the mastery you need, against your insufficiency just as the swimmer swims and leans against the water.
And yes, returning to the 1% that the ERC legitimately requires in exchange of money and privilege, I have an idea of how I pretend to justify the excellence of my books to come; certainly, not by any impact factors or visibility that might convince the people I leave behind. But the proficient books I have in mind do have something in common that distinguish them clearly enough from the remaining 99. They are fluid and elegantly written, and highly readable, that's sure. They present a synthesis implying a larger perspective of phenomena, times or rhythms, not just an analysis of a part without a whole. They bring about the material that is non-obvious in the time and space of their publication. They are well informed and based on genuine competence, yet engage a darkness. And the genuine in them truly communicates with a living force that makes their author the chosen one, the guardian, the preserver of things living beyond the mortality; there is passion in them.
In fact, I've been seeing various clusters of publications right now; I've spend all day in those musings. And as I see it's rather easy to find a 100 leaving the printing press without the one that might fulfil the criteria stated above.
There are further criteria as well, such as those of a foundational text, opening a new field, a new current of thought, that apply perhaps to one in a thousand. Yet I do believe it is possible to distinguish, to tell where the thing is and why it is truly good, better than tens and hundreds of apparently similar items.
In the meeting with my ERC adviser, I've asked if there is an official definition of what the excellence is, if they have it written somewhere in their documents (of course they have assessment criteria where they break such things down over 13 pages full of sub-clauses and charts; mostly out of scope in the humanities). It took me enormous time to construe it, perhaps years, comparing CVs, and books, and rankings, and distinctions of various kind. Yet possibly now I can claim I'm able to fathom what actually happens among people, publications and ideas in the top 5%. These 5% make an enormous vertical space, going from what is simply good to what is perennial. It starts just beyond the usual frontier of a decent achievement, like 5 reasonable and well informed books plus 150 or 160 papers in a lifetime of a scholar. It reaches the exceptional and the epoch-shaping, like the 40 books of Giorgio Agamben. I don't really mean the numbers for their own sake, but these things tend to grow exponentially. The more you have properly written, the easier it becomes to you to write even more properly. This is why the difference between the upper 2% and the upper 1% may signify a progress more significant than many a scholar's entire lifetime achievement.
Nonetheless you never find the books pre-ranked, even if people would prefer to rely on an indicator, such at least as the recognised editor or any specialised opinion accompanying them. Essentially you receive such things one by one, and they are quite normal-looking, small, often strange, or on the contrary, quite simply written and readable. Certainly, I failed to recognise them many times in the past, I'm sure, when I wasn't told in advance what they were. But mostly I kept them instinctively, without being told. For my multilingual library.
But after all, comparing myself with Emily Apter is yet another diversion. I indulge in this, certainly, because she has many things I might fancy, in the manner of distinction, and I would like to see myself in her world, rather than remaining in the enchanted sphere of the University of Warsaw. I'm seeing her CV right now (it has 41 pages like my own, see, it's not true that CVs are not supposed to have this size). Strangely enough, I've taken her too much for an equal, in various aspects, while she is not. Just to give an example, I was persuaded she is about my own age. She makes a slender and youthful impression, at least at a distance and with poor eyesight like mine. While clearly, she is not, she's got her first teaching position in 1982 (assistant professor in Romance Languages, yes, this does sound familiar). Between 1982 and 1997, when I started, there is a distance of fifteen years (even seventeen, if we compare the dates of our masters), without mentioning the distance between Princeton, where she studied, and... well, let's skip this. On the other hand, the linguistic competences -- as listed in her CV -- are not as broad as I've imagined. There is no Arabic mentioned, only the fluency in French, which is spotless, as I could verify myself (I've heard her speaking). The remaining are quite current, and described as "reading knowledge": German, Spanish, Italian, Latin. Who does ignore any of those?! The only outstanding thing is Tzotzil (I've never known there is a language like this), described as a Mayan language studied for anthropological field work, I imagine in her remote youth.
Certainly, there are no intellectual twins in the real world, and any term of comparison is an ad hoc and deficient tool. But I was heading toward further musings on the Proper Writing. As I said, I see things above the polyjuice potion of her book I've been reading throughout my nights (taking it for a work in progress of a becoming, not quite experienced scholar, while the volume is in fact the accumulation of writings produced along a way!). Books that are on just one topic, but elaborated in such a way that most people who read them, read them for other reason than just the interest in the topic. For how many people actually read Agamben's Altissima povertà to learn things about the Franciscans? The book is clearly beyond its topic, becomes more important than its topic. Perhaps if I truly succeeded in writing my book on the Portuguese literature, it might be something of the kind. A reading for those who care the least about Portuguese poems or novels of any kind. But might learn something from the Portuguese adventure of immobility and dejection. This would be the real Proper Writing. Who knows, perhaps I wasn't so very desperately far from this.
Perhaps I will never know. While I was discussing the expected results of my ERC project, the adviser told me they simply expect it to be in the top 1% of the things published. Apparently, it's very simple and easy to understand. They want my book to be better than 99 in every 100 books that leave the printing press. But what does it mean to me? There is up to 900 books published yearly by the people employed at the University of Warsaw; it means that mine would be expected among 8 or 9 best ones in my home university (of course provisionally speaking, because in Amsterdam the numbers are greater and certainly harder to beat them). Just to begin with something, is a book like The Coming Humanities better than 99 other books published by DiG? I might believe this, but in fact nobody knows, and the adviser also told me, perhaps in a guise of consolation, that the ERC has no means of verifying this. There is a small icon of a cup on Academia.edu, where you can see in how many top % your paper is, but of course it's a long time ago that I'd noticed that the top achievements of Polish humanities, according to those standards, are the things Emanuel Kulczycki writes about measuring the [in]efficiency of the academic system in Poland. Especially when it comes to calculating the famous "points".
In the first place, it would be very hard to make this estimation by counting anything. Perhaps if I searched for arguments, trying to tell for what reason my book might be better than the remaining ones. As for example telling that it opens a new field of experimentation. But who can decide or prove it does? That the opening, I mean, is effective, not just another stupid thing a little Weibchen like me has imagined? One of the main hindrances in all the "Transylvanian" systems is the absolute lack of clues to distinguish between something that is really important and something that is not, something that really counts as an innovation and something that is just another ad hoc configuration suspended in the vacuum. Since the reality beyond the words has vanished? In absence of those criteria, I have no doubt that, if they had to chose the best book even in the micro-scale of my faculty, they would never pay attention to my books. They would either follow the weight and chose one of the massive experiments of my colleague, or simply stick to what they can understand the easiest, and chose the Greek mythology for autistic children of that another colleague of mine. By any standards, I lose.
Another problem is that you will probably never see some 80% of the books published, at least in Poland. Including 80% of those made at the University of Warsaw. Those 900 books never lay on any shelf or table together. My Coming Humanities will never enter any bookshop. It may be found online and bought, if somehow you know about its existence, and search specifically for it. Which of course most people will never do. What worries me is that Agata told me similar thing about her book in English, published by any of those editors who are perhaps the equivalent of DiG in the West, and offered at any exorbitant price. Perhaps several tens of copies might reach the main libraries, and that's all. And of course, there is one final thing in this. Were these books perfectly available to everybody, what use would people make of them?
But there is a reverse of all this story. This top 1% of all the books published probably corresponds, in the limits of statistical error, to the pile that lies on my table right now as I write, or at least to the part of this pile that I actually appreciate and never truly care to remove. This top 1% is the most familiar reality, and I'm only asked to stick to it. Not the gelid pinnacle of unseen achievement, but the very air I breathe and strive for. And I'm only asked to write as properly as I see things written. Just like in a civilised toilet. Leave the things as proper as you've found them. 99% of people who write, don't. But this is their problem. The 1% always sticks out, bright and unspoiled, and the ERC, contrary to Emanuel Kulczycki, doesn't seem so very much preoccupied with measuring it. Yes, it does stick out of -- technically speaking -- the shit.
Concluding, all these things concerning writing books are not as simple as most people imagine, and by any set of criteria, I'm done. The only thing I can possibly do in the matter of Proper Writing is just leave those 900 publications of the University of Warsaw alone, no matter where they are to be found. And Professor Apter as well. I only wonder why they never invite Giorgio to speak at those conferences. Perhaps he is done, too.
I've been trying hard to penetrate the secrets of the proper writing.
I recapitulate the problem: as I said in one of my previous posts, the Proper Writing (PW) is what takes you wherever you want to go. Not any other thing. (I've been scolding my PhD student for his typically Polish belief that in Germany they offer a lifelong professorship for having "brought a grant in" to the faculty; yes, one of those believes of ours that money cries louder than achievement -- or that money is the achievement --; essentially, rather a primitive way of thinking, and yet I'm astonished how difficult it is to combat this kind of absurdities).
Yes, my story necessarily begins in Poland, and perhaps this is what I should be scolded for, because evidently this is not what matters right now. Yet perhaps the belief -- or hope -- of being able to compensate the lack of the Proper Writing by anything else is universal.
Anyway, I'm still delving in some paradoxes connected to publishing books. One of them is the case of an older colleague of mine who had publish between twenty and thirty books, only to verify, at the end of life, he had never been read as he wished to be. Certainly, younger people finished by overshadowing him with the instantaneous fame of their grants. But the problem here is even more paradoxical than this. What puzzles me is that this man authored this amount of books without actually knowing how to write. Yes, by my standards, I mean, and I think not only by mine. The question was not that of writing in English, although he also came to this; it was the question of writing at all. Of the discursive consistency.
Once I mentioned this case in a conversation with an American colleague, and he told me I should be more tolerant, intellectually. He just couldn't construe such as situation -- someone getting published, twenty books and more, without knowing how to write. But I see this as a larger problem of this generation. I think something had happened with language in their time. Something essential. And I think it might be an aspect of the historical becoming of the nation, of what we Poles were in the 70ties. Muddy writing was just an epiphenomenon of some deeper problem of manipulation, untruthfulness and some kind of derealisation in the general cultural landscape of the time. Somehow, this is reflected in that characteristic absence of lucidity I can observe in their writings. As if the reality beyond the words had vanished. They'd got used to build intricate structures of ideas in a vacuum, corresponding to no thing whatsoever. Just like my ex-dean, illustrating the same generational spirit, used to build intricate, yet completely virtual "structures" of his institute, with no attention paid to the real competences of men (this was how I failed to become the manager responsible for human-animal studies, as it is easy to observe, the last thing that might be regarded as my field of expertise). As if the reality was an infinitely elastic matter to shape. He failed to notice either its weight and resistance, or the fact that things were constantly collapsing in his very hands. And evidently, failed to procure a truly engineering solution to whatever he attempted, because long ago, they had created their comfort zone of glory and self-satisfaction in the derealisation.
Of course, not only proper writing, but also proper competence is absolutely invisible and unessential, as it is out of the dominant logic, in this context. Younger generation, taking those people for masters, is equally ready to understand the academic life as the domain in which the rule of the game is to create a persuasive illusion. Tragically, the European grants apparently come in to legitimise their fiction. Who will ever doubt that the thing bolstered by 2,5 million euro is real? They win.
But this is only a large detour, and I was to comment on the Proper Writing. Yes, there is no communication between the universe I described above and that of the Proper Writing. If by a miracle anyone published, there in Warsaw, a Properly Written book, it would be completely transparent and thus invisible. They wouldn't even notice if the book was slapped in their faces. No wonder that one of my colleagues experimented with particularly massive books, which seems to have more sense given the circumstances, but to no lasting avail; the shock was extremely short-lived.
The Proper Writing is essentially something else somewhere else, in relation to my old university and, as I suppose, a great deal of other "Transylvanian" systems. I've been studying Emily Apter throughout my nights, and I've got my personal reasons. We seem to have many things in common, Emily and me. We share similar extent of multilingual erudition, incorporating French and Arabic worlds. We both happen to like Morocco and appreciate Abdelfattah Kilito (she does more than myself); she's even got a chapter on saudade in her book, and I've got in mine. The only difference is that she is published by Verso and invited as a keynote speaker in international conferences, while I'm not. Why is this so?
Clearly, she's got a couple of things I'm still aspiring to. In the first place, her books have actually been written, while mine are only ideas of books, things to say, and there is an obvious difficulty for any editor, including Verso, in publishing things to say. Editors work with existing manuscripts, not concepts. That seems obvious, yet it is an essential point. The Proper Writing is what actually takes place. Not a mirage on the horizon.
As I read Emily Apter, I can see many shortcomings, the superficiality of various things. But if she's been so vastly recognised in the international comparativism, it is, in the first place, for the complexity of her discourse. What she concocts is clearly a polyjuice potion, a dish of thousand ingredients, that, as for my standards, could be harmonised in much more perfect and accomplished way. She is still far from the top, but she is good enough for those things I would like to have, and on a way of progress. I look to this and I see room for improvement, and I also see I can offer a better product, be it called my Book of the World.
What is actually the difference between, say, her Against World Literature and my Coming Humanities? Is that her book is written in English and published in Verso, while mine is written in Polish and published in DiG? Certainly, this is an essential difference, because it means that people can actually read her book, and they cannot read mine. Suppose the very same book is written in English and presented to Verso. Would they be happy to publish it? The hypothesis leads nowhere unless it is verified. I should actually write something like this and submit it to the editors, otherwise we will never move beyond this point.
Besides, her book is about thrice as thick as mine. Is this equally important? Can I write The Coming Humanities thrice as thick? Of course, the book as it is, is a kind of bitter-sweet good bye joke, dedicated to an institution that does not happen to be either Harvard or Princeton or Columbia. This humorous aspect should probably be obliterated; and then yes, I see no reason why this book couldn't be thrice as thick. I did write thrice as thick on Portuguese literature. Of course, this doesn't count, because it is clearly not the same level of complexity. Yet it was far too simple for my present stage, this is the reason why I couldn't finish it for so long; it was too boring to write.
As I said, her book is shallow in many places, and mine is as well. There are many things to be studied in depth, read more carefully, with more attention to details, more complete information. Mine is still a sketch of a book. In both, there is a leading idea, a conceptual progress across a collection of heterogeneous essays. I would say mine is slightly more consistent than hers, perhaps simply because I know my own text much better, keep it in mind more fully. I should take this bias into the account. Perhaps if I developed the very same ideas to their full extent, and wrote it in English and submitted it to Verso, it might eventually count as the Proper Writing. There are three "if" that require to be solved. And if I triplicated the volume, not by word count, but by complexity. Well, a duplication would do; this is not supposed to be an Amazonian forest in a glasshouse. So it would make a total of four "if".
Plus obliterating the University of Warsaw -- five.
The book submitted to the editor, and everything on the best way, I've been participating in the feast of the sales. In my own tiny way, of course, but the sensation is there. Sharing the lot of abundance, on the top of the planet. Yeah, the Scandinavian countries and a couple of Arabian beauties are notoriously the richest according to the indexes, but it is here, in the smooth plains and valleys of western Europe that life is on the top of its quality. Even now in January, there is at least one sunny, warm day a week, as well as sweet smelling bushes in bloom, and I can't imagine what it will be in a month or two.
Less than five months here, and against all my ascetic habits, the flat is full of all kinds of delightful property (things, at least, that delight someone like me, including a porcelain bowl that delights me by its exquisite simplicity, purchased at the price of solely one euro), and I can't really fathom what my life might be, one day, in Amsterdam. A life, so sorry indeed to say, I've seen at just one step away, before it vanished. But of course, there are new deadlines ahead, and I do not doubt I will be there, with all the terrible passion and perseverance that there is in me. I've developed a remarkable attachment to the Low Countries, and I miss them here in France, as if, culturally, the country was not enough for me. La France, she is sweet, of course, but I live her as a countryside, not sufficiently stuffed with culture. Even if I can touch flamboyant sculptures as I pass in the streets, here in Tours, and even taste the Middle Ages (this morning, as I was enjoying myself strolling through Auchan, conscientiously filling a plastic basket on little wheels with all kinds of delightful property, I saw a big kettle of fuming aligot on a stand, and I ate a bowl of this dish once served to the pilgrims on the way to Compostela). They also have a splendid choice of Orientalist and Africanist stuff, gathered in their colonial times. But on the other hand, it is sometimes hard to find a book in English in the library, as if they were living their intellectual life a bit apart, in their own universalism that is not the one of other people's. The Dutch also had colonies, and they do have their pride today, but they've got English books for everyday use as well... They are resuming the world much better than the French do. But in the meanwhile, I'm glad I've stopped here on my way, to lick the cream from both sides. And I had a moment of silliness, this morning in the kitchen, when I've suddenly burst into tears at the thought that indeed I'd been so lucky and wise to make myself a Romanist. I've always thought it was a mere circumstantial choice, a path that just happened to be available in my modest beginnings, but sometimes I do fathom how much I might actually identify with this, deep down. Even if I have to be much more than a Romanist in my everyday work. It is something that perhaps I see as a kind of root, or an origin. Hard to explain. But somehow I am as much a Romanist as Edward Porębowicz, -- as a kind of root, or an origin, so to speak.
In the meanwhile, I try hard to fathom what my life might be, at the end of a year or two, if I go like this gaining 3 or 4 thousand euros a month, thinking about nothing but my books and research. This multilingual library I dream about, with its armchair covered with genuine leather and its ladder sliding on little wheels, would be bursting at the end of nine or ten months, because I would have no heart to spend on anything else. As soon as I would see myself back to the sedentary life, I would probably even cut down food and alcohol, and buy nothing but books, books, books. And as soon as my apartment would be paid, and no need to think about savings any more, the world would be too small for all my travels.
All these dreams are just one step away, just one more deadline away. There is a couple of things I need to solve, and I'm heading so clearly towards the solution. ERC, of course, but I'm on the way to it, and to find a good editor that might serve me for the entire lot. Verso would be my number one, and I need to approach them again. And then, what else, to choose the flat, to acquire the nationality, to join the friends of Rijks Museum, to plant my tulips, to switch the candles, to put my African masks and extravagant ethnic clothes on display. And then, what my dream shall be? To be and continue being this extravagant scholar, author of insightful books, on the top of the planet. And to keep my place on the shelf in all the decent libraries, East and West.
That's such a simple life. Takes time to get there, but after all, has there ever been any doubt?
I finished my long overdue volume on Portuguese literature two days ago. And I've spend this time half taking rest, as far as I'm still able of such thing, half thinking about more books to come. There are still things overdue, but I try -- finally! -- to talk myself into writing them in English. That's such an obvious solution, and yet there is an inertia, there is something without a name that stops me.
Yes, I'm on the other side already, and very unwilling to come back to Warsaw. I'm really so sorry there is no Amsterdam waiting for me in September; all my problems were so near from being solved... But I'm fantasising that I could even spend this year somewhere in Africa, making field research and writing more books. This year, I mean, because I will apply for several things for 2019, the EURIAS fellowship as well as the ERC Advanced Grant. I've talked to a Horizon adviser and I see quite clearly how I should proceed with this. But this will stay a year processing.
More books... The idea got inside like a splinter, especially when I saw I did manage to make two of them. There is no such force as to prevent me from making a third one, and in English. I want to write down the very story that finished up by being rejected in Amsterdam. Make it real.
Total there are three or even four books to be considered. I should still finish one heavily overdue project on Saramago, but this seems quick and easy, and it will serve me as a trampoline again, for more daring things. The other one is that Amsterdam project, and the first part of the book is just this research on Adamic language I'm doing right now, so there is a strong reason to make it. And then another overdue project, the Intrusive Spirit, that gets a new lease of life when I saw all those handsome intellectuals here in France. And finally, there is a particularly nice and attractive project, the Book of the World, makings sense of all this planetary literature I've been travelling for: in Bissau, Casablanca, Kuala Lumpur, Caucasus, and many other places I've never been, but brought books... like Djibouti. I'm also reading a serious monograph on Afar literature right now. The French have a nice bundle of such things. Pity there is so little time left (well, it's not yet a half of my stay... but so little time left in proportion to what I would still like to do). But it is so clear I sink into this life and solve many internal problems. I start loving it more and more, even if it is a hard life, not even de sol a sol, but well beyond. I've been reading Emily Apter at 5 am and any other hour around the clock.
On the other hand, I've been looking to the permanent professorships offered in Vienna. One day I will have to get down to something like this. Perhaps after my ERC. This nomad life will have to have an end. Anyway, I think nothing will be like Warsaw again. Funny feeling, now with my 7 books, I'm really in front of most people there; but of course I don't expect they would stop calling me "pani Ewa" (that's a kind of semi-formal treatment in Polish, usually given to subaltern or technical staff). Even my Buryat PhD students never call me other thing. When they send me an email, they start with "Dear Pani Ewa"... It might be my destiny. Hopefully I don't stuck in Morocco one day, being called Lalla Hawaa...
It is sometimes hard to avoid the overwhelming sensation of preternatural guidance on the path of God. It is not me who make myself an intellectual, an intellectual is made of me whether I want it or not. The universe contributes to put my things right.
I might be modest and weiblich and write articles in Polish, but an invisible hand will disarrange my freshly printed pages and remove the red carpet from under my feet. And from all the year's effort of a hamster running in her wheel I will get only THREE articles published (that's a fourth or a fifth of the actual production), one of them my tiny old paper from Lublin (sic!) that I found on the bottom of a drawer. And even if I wanted to stay in my comfort zone, the comfort zone fell into pieces right above my head, leaving me naked and exposed and homeless, and forced to find a solution.
For some reason, I didn't make any papers for the "major international multidisciplinary journals", even if I seriously contemplated this necessity three years ago. For some reason, in three years, I did nothing about it. I wasn't rejected; also i wasn't the fear of being rejected that stopped me. Somehow I failed to find a meaning in it, contrary to the meaning (oh, illusions!) that I used to find in "enriching our domestic humanities" and "being with the people". The mere perspective of fame or recognition or material gain (if the grants are conditioned by these publications) failed to put me on the move.
And yet I do crave for recognition. I'm overflowing with anger and frustration, and isolation, against those years of working "to be with the people". Those people need me for nothing and would rather get rid of me. It was always like this. Maybe this is the reason why there was such a strong drive in me to gain a place among them.
But the anger and frustration liberates my individualism, burns down that primary instinct of being in a group, that tribalism the ERC supports not. I fail to put publishing "in the major international multidisciplinary journals" as my aim; perhaps I'm tired of journals of any kind. Yet I wish I had an editor. I wish I could write books, real books, in such a way anyone could find them in that Athenaeum bookshop near the Begijnhof in Amsterdam. I wish I could enter the bookshop and find myself on the shelves in the second room on the left.
I'm surprised to discover that in 2017 I've actually reached the bottom. It was the nadir of my achievement, it never happened since 2006, and only happened twice in my entire career, in 2001 and 2006. But this time I didn't actually have the sensation of being in crisis of any kind (yeah, I know perhaps the posts on this blog tell a different story). But I was working, never stopped to work. As if the crisis came from outside, was bestowed upon me. As if I was thrown out of my old ways onto a new path.
I still cannot construe myself in those major international Taylor & Francis, etc. journals. But I can construe myself as an author. Author of books of essays, like Steiner or Agamben or those I value in my own library. It is to this library that I want to add. Clearly, their writings, in terms of genre, are not identical with Taylor & Francis excellent papers. And in their career, as far as I know or can imagine, there was no such a stage as publishing this kind of papers. They were always writing books, even clumsy and not so excellent books, like that on the idea of pose that Agamben did when he was not Agamben yet. My excess and chaos are materials for this kind of writing, as much as they are hindrance on the way to Taylor & Francis.
These are the things that remain. Books, essays, insight. While Taylor & Francis merely represent the passage of time and illusion of glory. Their promise is to be quoted and forgotten by those in constant search of the newest references. This is not my race, not my idea of scholarship. Never was.
In three years, I've never moved my small finger to publish in major international multidisciplinary journals. But I sent two or three book proposals, to Verso and I don't remember to what other leading editor. They didn't accept it, but I don't feel it as a rejection. I recognise our negotiations were somehow unserious and unsubstantial, because there was still a long way to go to the real book at that moment. But this is what I really want to do and these are the key people in my business.
And there is also another thing. I don't resign myself to the minor or marginal status, not even that of a crazy, interestingly obscure thinker to be discovered one day. I do not fancy this idea. I want recognition, and a recognition far beyond the usual academic framework, beyond being quoted, offered grants, admitted as a part of the system. What I really want is to stand on the shelf between Steiner and Agamben in the library. Every decent library East and West.
I've never imagined it would be like this, yet it was obvious since the very beginning. Perhaps I even knew it, without knowing. That it would be like this. Anticipated it, without actually construing it... I didn't know I would have to take it so literally. First 20 years of my career gone, and beyond the magical frontier of 200 publications, I would face the Desert. Yes I spoke a great deal about the Desert, but I never took it LITERALLY...
And yet the Desert is upon me, literally, not as the absolute necessity of a new beginning, but as an ACTUAL BEGINNING. Among my 200 publications, it is hard to find 10 that would fill the ERC criteria. There are many honest, even good, sometimes even brilliant ones, as far as I can evaluate it, but there is none published in a "major international multidisciplinary journal". What's more, the most important ones are still written in Polish, that means nobody can read them, even if there was a real interest and a great deal of good will. I am naked, in the first day of creation, without even knowing I should collect greenery to cover my shame.
And I have no excuse. I cannot blame my context any longer. I've got my chance to be "in the West", this is my 2nd year already, and if mentally I'm still interwoven with such situations as the one mentioned in my last post, this is entirely my own responsibility and limitation.
Somehow it stroke me hard that I've actually got only 3 (three!!!) published papers in 2017 -- one of them just a souvenir, dating back from the times of my studies; two of them just souvenirs, because another one was the result of delving in my notes from 2003, even if I added a great deal to them). Only one, on the Portuguese-speaking literature after the end of Lusophony, including some results of my research on Guinea-Bissau, actually dates from 2016/2017. That is strange and striking for someone who apparently spends 12 hours a day, 7 days a week on proofreading mounts of freshly printed sheets of paper. Seriously, should reflect on it.
What happened? There is a dozen of papers scheduled for 2018 (as well as a book and an edited volume in press), and we are still in January. It promises to be some kind of annus mirabilis. So many things have been just shifted. But on the other hand, there was a couple of "mysterious disappearances" in 2017, one text rejected, one conditionally accepted in a way that I found scandalous (see the last post), one lost or forgotten by the editors (not again?!!). In fact, a great part of The coming humanities is composed by texts that apparently never reached the editors to whom they had been submitted (clearly, Google has to work on a more reliable e-mailing procedure). Right now, I'm waiting in vain for the confirmation concerning a text on Guinea I've submitted, even if I was explicitly asked to contribute it... The fact my problems often involve academic friends or people with whom I've collaborated for years makes me think that, somehow, the way I write repeatedly causes surprise and puts people, as they feel, in awkward situation.
It makes me think that the only practical solution is to collect my writings in a volume each year, even if I had to publish it on my own expense in Poland or anywhere. Anyway, this great bulk of work does cost money in a thousand different ways, and after all the Horizon 2020 does finance me, at least for a while; what's the problem, if I produce easily up to 15 papers? It would give a decent, timely volume every year, and even leave space for one well placed contribution or two, if I wanted to befriend any journal editor. At least it would help me to keep pace with myself, avoiding this great cloud of chaos revolving around my intellectual production and the eternal accumulation of dusty, unpublished papers, their ideas getting old and yellow. Especially now, when the things start to complicate (I'd hardly had any text rejected when I was young; problems with publishing my articles in Poland clearly multiplied when I started to grow better, and it means the end of a red carpet, if I want it or not).
But what is this Transylvania, do you mean a real country?! (allusion to an anecdote concerning a Romanian colleague of mine, whence in Oxford). It is only phantasmal to speak about my problems in Poland while I'm here and facing the ERC. A mental shadow on the bright screen of my future, that can only be European, because there is no alternative (I don't even fantasise any longer I might go and teach at the Ibn Tufail University in Kenitra, or anywhere else, as long as it's seashore; shameful to say, I did have such ideas when I was young).
Clearly, I'm undervalued, and I've proven unable to launch myself. I can't count any more the years I've spent on making order in my career, and the cloud of chaos is still slowly revolving around everything.
Perhaps it is due to some incurable excess of myself. I'm someone who just has to have these 200 shitty publications, while just 10 -- up to 10 proper ones -- are required by the ERC. I'm someone who just has to speak those twenty languages and more, instead of writing proper English. One day I might grow to be some kind of strange intellectual, some crazy Aby Warburg or anyone. I do believe I'm outstanding, in my own way. But how should I become an excellence level European scholar, this is by no means clear to anyone. Including myself. And in the meanwhile, even if it is shameful to say, I do fancy to be in the Academia Europaea one day. Perhaps it is only the Kenitra of my mid-40ties, to be tenderly laughed at in my mid-50ties and mid-60ties. Unless I finally manage to put my things right.
I'm finishing a small book made with various writings and pieces of conference papers that cover these last five years and that may serve as a conclusion of my Varsovian period. The title, "coming humanities", stupidly post-Agambenian, is auto-ironic. I cannot stop being ironic about myself, especially about me in Warsaw: the most useless member of the Faculty "Artes Liberales". They should give me any distinction or award for the courage of eliminating myself.
But well, the book. The book is divided in four parts: "Emergence", "Desert", "Circulation" and "Topologies", and collects various pieces of writing around some key concepts. That of transculture, of course, taken as an emergence of complexity, as well as several other topics crucial for those years: the desert, the void, the legacy of postmodernism.
Together with the history of the Portuguese literature that I really want to finish and submit to the editor before the end of the year, the Coming Humanities book will be the last one I publish in Polish. Thence the melancholy of departure. And the melancholy of those mere 100 pages, that will be printed cheaply, and of course, entirely ignored.
These things I leave behind...
One learns more than just Dutch by studying the Dutch wikipedia. For example, I've learned that de Vliegende Hollander got damned while refusing to get into de Tafelbaai, a bay called like this because situated near Tafelberg, or Table Mountain, also called Hoerikwaggo in the languages of the Hottentots (it is no longer politically correct to call them like this, they are Nama now, and their language is Khoikhoi).
Hoerikwaggo is an extremely useful Nama term to name a particular state of the mind or a particular existential circumstance in my academic adventures.
Climbing Hoerikwaggo is again a metaphor of something I've left behind, thus also a term to name a stage of mourning.
Hoerikwaggo is a mountain of skulls without the crystal pinnacle. A mountain that is flat on the top!
I spent my Sunday concluding on my Tribal Wife experience. Who is who in scholarship, and what makes the real difference. I looked once more into various pages of Polish universities, things I've read thousands of times before. But now I have this moment codified in the classical Indian philosophy. Among pramāṇa, or the "knowledge sources", they also used to define the concept of non-perception, the illuminating moment of awareness that something is not there. This is what I realised, unfortunately only at the moment of looking back at the stages of my academic journey that are already behind... Human knowledge is very much like this, retroactive.
अभाव, the non-existence... and my freshly acquired perception of it...
What I saw behind me, in a lightning, was a mountain, and people climbing it in their more or less clumsy ways. But the mountain was flat on the top. There was no pinnacle. Only a flat surface of individuals among which none was standing higher than any other by stronger argument than just honours or founding. There was no pinnacle of achievement.
This is why there was no way to go for me, no track to climb.
Now, when I look at the idea I've just pinned down, it seems to me I must have observed it before, I knew it. It even seems so obvious. I even vaguely remember have read about it in issue of "Niezbędnik inteligenta" dedicated to elites. Perhaps I only did not know it is called Hoerikwaggo in Khoikhoi.
But how the other stage is called? Is it simply the question of getting to a different type of geological formation? One gets down from the wrong mountain, makes a bit of the way across the lowlands, and then starts climbing again, this time the right mountain? Or there is a secret shortcut to the pinnacle? Perhaps there is a topological secret here I still believe to ignore.
And perhaps it is only a sign of my childishness to believe that the phenomenon of table mountains is typical for Poland and the Cape region, but not for countries like Netherlands and Germany. Perhaps the flat mountains of many skulls are completely different realities, not to be confused with the crystal pinnacles of living intelligence? Perhaps the vertical is the only common denominator? Or perhaps you don't even climb the crystal mountains? Perhaps they are not even mountains? Perhaps they are inverted abysses in which one falls? Attractors emerging out of chaos? Certainly they are something else somewhere else, beyond the horizon of the people inhabiting flat mountains.
Looking back to Warsaw, I remember two moments of supreme silliness. One was the encounter with Nina Witoszek, who was supposed to tell us what topic would be just great for us to study, a kind of brilliant, miraculous idea or key(word) opening the ways in the West. The other one was my encounter in the Polish contact point of the Horizon 2020 programme. When I arrived there and tried to get some illumination about the ways of climbing pinnacles. And the guy looked to me and sighed, and asked me to explain him why the leading scholars were not interested in those grants, never coming to him to take them. It was an encounter of two people just imagining non-existent crystal pinnacles in two different ways... sparkler of crystalline absurdity shining bright...
Même si ça m'arrive chaque année en novembre, j'ai toujours la tendence à confondre les symptômes physiques avec ceux de quelque mal mental. Et je pense sérieusement qu'il s'agit bien d'une dépression clinique jusqu'au moment oü une fièvre légère me retourne à la réalité. Il n'y a pas de maladie mentale qui donne de la fièvre...
Je suis en train de lire Manuel d'exil. Comment réussir son exil en trente-cinq lessons, de Velibor Čolić. Tout d'abord, je l'ai vu dans une livrerie et j'ai pensé que c'est juste un livre qu'il me faut absolument, mais ensuite j'ai décidé de l'emprunter à la bibliothèque. Pas pour faire l'économie de ces huit euros cinquante, mais pour ne pas traîner le poids de ce livre tout le chemin d'ici à Amsterdam; en fait, ça s'est révélé très correct comme intuition.
Enfin, exile, je n'ai peut-être pas le droit d'utiliser ce mot. Pas comme Čolić, en tout cas. Pas "trop d'accent, trop de guerre pour me voir en vrai Européen". Ai-je de l'accent? Je ne me suis jamais vue comme ça. Par contre... oui... comme si une espèce d'hypercompétence. Je connais la plupart des langues de l'Europe. Quelquefois ça me fait même plaisir de lire quelques paragraphes d'Andersen en danois...
J'ai commencé à lire et à écrire en français, parce que je me suis sentie mal en vivant dans une boule néerlandaise en tant que je suis ici. Et peut-être c'est vraiment ma dernière chance de parler français sans accent, même en doutant si je reviens à l'écrire comme avant, quand nous nous faisions des illusions à Cracovie... Civilisation, ma mère! -- et ce n'était pas le titre du roman de Driss Chraïbi, pour la plupart du temps...
Mon néerlandais passe de B2 à C1, tranquillement. Cette longue soirée de novembre, je l'ai passée en apprenant des noms des animaux sur Vikipédia; ceux des Pays-Bas, et ceux d'Indonésie, comme het schubdier en de waterbuffel, et même het spookdiertje... Et après, il ne me restait que la botanique: mossen, korstmossen, wolfsklauw, paardenstaart... Je n'ai quand même pas d'idée trop précise comment ça serait en français... Probablement parce que je n'ai jamais imaginé France comme patrie. Je me refais une enfance néerlandaise.
There was frost in the morning, some days ago. A colleague looked to me with compassion, en me demandant minus combien de degrées faisait en Pologne à ce moment-là. I didn't know what to answer, I never know, this is the reason why they think I don't speak French, and they switch to their clumsy English. Et si l'on peut vraiment avoir trop d'accent pour se voir en vrai Européen... Bon, en tout cas c'est pas moi.
Autant d'enfances refaites en langues d'Europe... Revamped childhoods: Andersen's fairy tales in Danish, German lullabies played on music boxes hidden in the stuffed toys from Rossmann, onderdelen of the kingdom of plants in Dutch... Even the ghost stories I bought in Prague -- and avidly read on my way -- in bilingual, English-Czech edition... The yellow giraffe I bought in Hema last weekend, making me think about that Georgian naif painter, Pirosmani. This is but my native shore of departure for even greater travels...
It is a privilege to sit in the circle of light under this civilised French lamp in genuine alabaster. I also read Zeidan's Azazel, finally. In the French translation, it tastes so Flaubertian, telle une nouvelle Tentation de Saint Antoine... I promise myself one day I will read it in its original Arabic.
Perhaps I should mention this: yesterday I started to write a new book, destined to make some order in my former articles published in Polish and all those serendipitous readings in world literature. Its title, unsurprisingly, is The Book of the World.
I've been out this morning to attend a conference on Blasius of Parma, a medieval mathematician who brought down to Italy some of the ideas of the so called Oxford calculators. But when I arrived at the faculty building, I found the amphitheatre empty. Perhaps the session had been moved somewhere else, but there was no notice. So I went shopping in the main street.
Over the last quarter of a century, we used to think, in the East, that we could buy everything, a great plenty of everything imaginable, as long as we had money. But there is still a difference. I've been mentally choosing some curtains for my Amsterdam home; I've opted for a fine linen, pearl-grey textile with a cobalt blue pattern resembling the porcelain from Delft. And an expensive armchair covered with genuine leather. I've contemplated the price. The equivalent of what? Something like 5 days of my exile, if I'm not mistaken in my calculus. And I saw in the internet that a full professor in Germany, rather unsurprisingly, gains more than this. He or she would only have to work a day, and then again, perhaps staying a little longer the next afternoon, to buy this armchair.
I still have my reading of the Oxford calculators in front of me. In the meanwhile, I cannot get through reading "The Guardian".
I saw the pictures. An army of crusaders, sixty thousand men in their prime, just passing, as the photographer's lens caught them, in front of the very train station where I used to get down every week, over the last decade, to give my classes at the University of Warsaw. They hoist "Deus vult" in big letters. And that's only true, since what God wants, is.
This is the reason why I no longer have a home. I only have an apartment to sell. I cannot complain. There are people who only have ruins.
Moreover, I might be glad and thankful to God who had bestowed His crusaders upon me. Otherwise I might have spent the rest of my life catching the train at 5 am to come up from Kraków to give classes in Warsaw. Never to own an armchair covered with genuine leather.
So I'm giving up on yesterdays, according to an American book I've found here. The number of things I would like to bring along with me is lesser and lesser every day. Nonetheless I still have my attachments. Perhaps mostly to things that should have been in my childhood, but there was no place for them.
A pair of curtains from IKEA stamped with diverse organisms like a biology manual; they are still hanging in my old balcony window.
A collection of several hundred ball and jelly pens.
A considerable number of notebooks and exercise books.
Several hundred books.
About 30 pairs of used socks.
A ceramic sheep bought in Zakopane.
An extensive collection of maps.
A sizeable globe.
A desk lamp, just like the ones in the SOAS library.
A bed cover with an exquisite pattern in various shades of gold.
A nearly complete set of "Fryderyka" porcelain tableware (imitation of Rosenthal); a lonely coffee cup of the same type was the only piece of porcelain that ever existed in my childhood; it had been inherited.
One day these things will appear as worthless to me, I have no doubt. I will have better porcelain, better books, a better globe. Actualised maps, brought home from even more fabulous travels. And I will not miss my apartment. As I certainly don't miss the half square meter of the communal flat where I passed my childhood. Nor my family's apartment later on, in Lublin. Nor the shared room in the so called assistant professors' "hotel" where I lived in my first years in Kraków.
An aged colleague has written to me, commenting that I'm missing in Warsaw. It is certainly nice to say, but I cannot seriously believe this. Not after having been ignored for a decade. And I hardly find any serious reason to look back, beyond the melancholy of departure. Anyway, if Deus vult?