On April, 28th, the Transcultural Humanities project will be presented during yet another PhD seminar existing at the Faculty "Artes Liberales", the one coordinated by prof. Alina Nowicka-Jeżowa. Together with Rafał Zawisza and Ewa Niedziałek, we will present the general concept of transculture in its many assertions and we will try to explain how our own ideas, and thus the project "Towards Transcultural Humanities", differs from other scholarly endeavors currently conduced in Europe and worldwide.
What has been sent to the participants as an introductory material is the article by Arianna Dagnino, Transcultural Literature and Contemporary World Literature(s) - a good traversal presentation of what is currently understood under the term of "transcultural", mainly in literary studies. I want to treat this text as a starting point to show how my own assertion of this term is peculiar and - hopefully - innovative in relation to the state of the art in this research field. First of all, my transculture is much broader and so to say "metaphysical" term, plunging deep into history of human attempts of breaking through the cultured condition. That's something else than the "down-to-earth" understanding of transcultural literature as a post-migrant or neo-nomadian kind of writing, produced by people immersed in the globalized conditions, such as - just to come back to the often cited example - Hanif Kuraishi.
As I wrote in one of the previous posts, I was about to stick to this shallow chronological perspective, cutting down much of the historical research I'd been planning. Yet the project took a new lease of life after my conversation with Rafał Zawisza, who suggested, against my incredulity, we might drag Agata Bielik-Robson into the adventure. It is certainly a great honor and enormous stimulation for me that prof. Bielik-Robson agreed to participate, or at least to talk about this project. It means not only that we would get the complete perspective upon the tripartite monotheistic tradition (my idea is to speak about transcultural religion / spirituality as much or more than about transcultural literature), but also it pushes the whole project deeper into the time, as we might get a lot of original research concerning the heterodox thought forming a non-obvious traditio that needs to be considered rather in terms of a search for isomorphisms and coincidence of ideas rather than the usual paradigms of influence and historical continuity.
Shortly speaking, this is an approach towards the transcultural writing that starts from Llull and Luria rather than from Hanif Kuraishi. And if I can form any clear idea on what does it mean to go beyond the state of the art and to give an original contribution to research, well, that's the originality and that's the innovation.
Actually I shouldn't think about writing loose papers right now, but the reading of Machinic Eros, a small volume recuperating, in English translation, some of the writings by Felix Guatari on Japan (Univocal, Minneapolis, 2015), provoked me to do so. Namely to write a small essay for the next issue of "Anthropos?", dedicated to the city.
Is city a place? - ask the editors of "Anthropos?" - if such a simple translation reflects specifically Polish idiomatic matrix of our local geopoetical thinking ("Czy miasto jest miejscem?" - city and place in Polish share the same etymology). I translate it in Arabic, recording a reading of Banat Su'ad I once did in very similar terms. The desert, amorphous expanse, as non-place (non-makan), the talal (the remains of a camp, a "ruinous abode") as place (makan). Place as a fragment of space defined by the act of dwelling. Dwelling gone by and remembered, reenacted through memory in the current trip (rihlah). Is city a talal in a rihlah? A re-visited place in which seeing and remembering overlap?
I consider the city not as a place to live; I think about a foreign, an alien city we arrive at. The overlapping languages and multiple acts of translation are supposed to bring about or textualize the transcultural condition of a traveler.
The essay is thus on nomads and city-dwellers. Its quadruple construction will take a short narration by Kafka for a starting point: the arrival of the nomads at a city. And then I should come back to Guattari and his editors, who brought me the whole idea. In an essay published at the closure of the volume, Jay Hetrick explores the concept of "critical nomadism", putting in relevance the effort of dis-europocentrism that can be seen in Guattari. At the beginning of the volume, there is his text on a Japanese city, on Tokyo, that perhaps is not Tokyo after all, as the footnote explains. Perhaps it is Osaka or just another Japanese city. Did Guattari get confused in his rihlah, taking one place for another, deterritorializing and reterritorializing what he could actually remember from his trip?
This jet-lagged, spatially and temporarily confused experience of the world is characteristic for our times. In our intercontinental trips, we get easily confused about the cities we arrive at - destinations that only recently were supposed to pinpoint the configuration of the world. Cities are signs, like in the biblical narration of Babel, signs made by men to prevent them from dispersing ("uczyńmy sobie znak, abyśmy się nie rozproszyli po całej ziemi"). This is why there are towers in the centers of the cities, Petronas Towers, Burj Dubai, Pałac Kultury... I dlatego też miasto jest miejscem pomieszania języków.
As signs, they infallibly attract the nomads. Cities are established by the Desert (the risk of dispersion it represents) and they establish the Desert. The nomad make the city-dweller, the city-dweller the nomad. Transcultural dispatriations of our times are only a variation on the immemorial scheme of qasidah: between talal and rihlah, and the final qasd that attracts.
There is a jet-lag in Banat Su'ad, a temporal fissure between too early and too late. Between the erotic promise and the erotic disappearance, between yes and no. This text is so important as a source in my eyes, because it establishes the eroticism of absence, this eroticism of trace from my book-to-come. Yet is Su'ad's eros machinic, as her figure is traced on mere superposition of yes and no, as a pure absence in a temporal lapse? She has no body, there are only djins who yank and tug at her dress. The only shape actually given is concave: the trace of her foot in the sand. A concave without convex, perhaps.
What is concave without convex about a city? Czy miasto jest miejscem po czymś?