I do read The Bridge on the Drina. There is no connection of course, but the shock caused by this powerful narration pushes me somehow to rethink my whole projected work, reshape it.
And yes, I am myself among the constructors of the devil's bridge, and I am myself crossing it, and I am Nietzsche's tightrope walker over an abyss.
And I see even more clearly the urge of getting out of the prison-house of culture, the importance of my task, and the intellectual legitimacy of the Poetics of the Void.
And the necessity of giving it consistency, filling it with matter, arguing about it.
It is also a strange sensation to see parts of my project fall down, discarded as supernumerary embryos, turned obsolete before they actually took shape. And something in the middle crystallizes, does take shape, clearness, importance.
I should reformulate my project, write it down again, in a new form. Clear, convincing, compelling. I should create a file for it, give it materiality.
By the way, the free storage space for this website run down as I started to remake it over and over again and upload massively the materials from all my previous travels. The simple act of buying a professional package becomes a sort of threshold. Now I would be able to upload audio and video clips, and to do something I planned long ago: register lectures. I suppose this might lead me to a new quality. I have never been good at it, I suppose I'm giving rather a woeful performance: gammel is the word for it, rather than shabby. But I'm tired of my own shabbiness, and I miss a kind of cultured proficiency of a great scholar. And when I truly miss, sooner or later I do take.
I'm also in suspense for the news from Vienna. As I have already received the confirmation from Lisbon, my next year's bread is safeguarded. But I wonder what they would do with my Eremos, exposed as sincerely as I did for them. Would they postpone it too, offer the money to someone else, consider someone else better and worthier than myself, marginalizing me, as the University of Warsaw did?
And that's the devil's bridge, the only way is to cross it without glancing to the abyss. There is no return on the tightrope stretched between nothing and everything. And every day I regret less what I leave behind. That's a double course, a blessing of a new aurora, as if I never achieved, never gained, never possessed. Empty-handed, on the tightrope.
I've finished as I could my text for Going Digital. Once again, at 3 am, I saw no solution than to come back to Deleuze, the solver of all difficulties.
The perspective of this new trip makes me feel in a generalized travelling mood, even if I stay only two days after the conference, just to see the botanic garden and the few museums that are open according to my guide. I've visited Serbia in 2013, on the occasion of my Balkan round-trip, yet the country left me with an impression of a singular emptiness. Probably I didn't go to the right places, didn't read enough... Unfortunately, this time I don't have much time to read, either. I would like to read at least my old copy of the Bridge on the Drina, or any other forgotten Serbian book that must exist somewhere in a dusty corner of my dismal library... Is there David Albahari in this room? I'm vaguely under the impression there used to be.
I've always cherished the idea that I travel in search of rare books, that I gather my own private world library. David Damrosch once said, here in Kraków, that after all, in world literature, you are always down to rely on the supplies of the bookshop round the corner. And I cherished the thought that it is like this, perhaps, in Harvard. BUT I TRAVEL IN SEARCH OF MY OWN BOOKS!
Yes I do, but what about the books I brought from the Caucasus last summer? How many times could I open them?... And what the hell do I rely on for my notions in the latest Armenian literature?
I have been working a bit for the Academy and "Prace Komisji Neofilologicznej". I struggle to finish an article in French, about the "topology of the Mediterranean": continuous and discontinuous properties of space between Maghreb and the European shore. This (dis)continuity had been a problem since late colonial times. Already in the opening sequences of Le Passé simple, the problem of duality of East and West, with which the young hero couldn't put up, had been in the limelight. The continuity had been claimed again in Civilisation, ma mère!..., and over and over again. I try to lead my analysis to Meddeb's Printemps de Tunis, where continuity of history, between Bastille and the fall of the Mauer and the Arab Spring had been deliberately accentuated. They are very Gallic, those Maghrebians, they strive to be.
On the other hand, what I personally believe is that the persistence of the French language and the illusion of participating in the French history is one of the multiple disgraces of the Arabs. In Amsterdam, I talked to a very clever young Egyptian, studying in Netherlands and interested in the digital dimension of the Arab revolution. I advised him to read Meddeb immediately. Yet obviously, he knew no French, and any of his readings was conditioned by the existence of an English translation. Or Arabic, and I hope it exists against all the Maghrebian claims of sticking up to French...
This is perhaps the most problematic discontinuity of the Mediterranean, but I'm not sure if I develop this point in the text for my Polish academy. We also stick up to French, and to the idea of civilization, of Civilisation, ma mère...
VAN GOGH MUSEUM, Amsterdam.
Few hours left before the flight, what I actually planned was to see bookshops for the latest in humanities. Yet somehow my legs brought me to the open field of the Museumkwartier and I fancied to join the crowd of tourists to see Van Gogh.
The invisible and unspeakable painter. Multiplied in thousands of gadgets, on screens, on shopping bags, on silk scarves, on ball-pens, on t-shirts, reflected in the tourist's empty glance. The central margin, developing perpendicularly to the written page. Would I dare to speak about Van Gogh, comment on his painting?
I tried, two years ago. And I tried now, once again, writing on a free plattegrond I'd picked up somewhere, propelled by invisible force of the crab returned on its back, in the middle of a vibrant, cobalt green background. Symbol of an intellectual, the helpless precision of its pincers. Plant-like, flame-like hinter legs, struggling convulsively against the cobalt green, vibrating with tension. These characteristic short, rhythmic strokes of the brush, like tensors. The space surrounding the object belongs to it, communicates with it; the void is organized into a force field accompanying the helplessness of the animal.
The Zouave, eyes of a tiger, as the painter himself commented on him. Not for vividness or wildness, but for their yellow, inhuman absence of any affect. Staring still, staring blankly into the space. Together with the crab on its back, they form a pair in this museum, the margin of the supreme humanity of the potato eaters, of their boots, of their bibles, of their work. They both represent inefficiency.
And the stuffed flying fox, to complete the triangle with an inverted Christian image. The outstretched arms, even the convulsed toes of the animal connote the Crucifixion. The warm, interior light in the darkness, the light of the penitent Magdalena, mark the resurrection of the animal that the painter must have seen stuffed and dried. It isn't a Dutch bat for sure, it must be a flying fox from Indonesia, mirroring Rembrandt's love of oversea mirabilia. But there is nothing pagan about it any more. The nocturnal power of the animal is that of a pious recollection during the hours of darkness; the space, contrary to most of Van Gogh's paintings, remains still, smooth and quiet. The animal's flight is impossible, without flapping, suspended in eternity.
Here they are, strangers from other worlds, the crab, the zouave and the flying fox, marking the encounter of the painter with the unspeakable.
On the upper floor, there was the wheat field with the crows. The summit of the mountain, the most accomplished, the most complete painting ever painted. The end of the road.
I wonder why the modern painters are so much unable to face their "late style". I saw the old Rembrandt in the Rijksmuseum, unpaid, but in any other way in painter's complete mental health. Just too heavily in advance in relation to his own times, anticipating what art would become in its due time. But facing it bravely, stoically, as Van Gogh was unable to do. He was also vividly concerned with the "art of the future", working at a prodigious speed to reach it, yet unable to stand up to it, scared with the utmost consummation of the wheat field. How could he have forgotten the flying fox?
"MACHINIC ECOLOGIES", the 5th Annual Deleuzian Conference, ASCA, University of Amsterdam.
I can't say anything bad about the conference itself. It was perfectly organized by the local doctoral students, without any "grown-ups" intervening at any moment. Is this a university without staff, a kind of anarchic commune where the students rule and live all by themselves?
Smooth is the term to render it. All too smooth, I would say, too much pervaded by a kind of thoughtless, unmeditated excellence. They are good at it and, between their late 20ties and early 30ties, they seek no more, they achieve.
Those kids have been born rich; except for those who come from outside: Turks, Egyptians, East-Europeans. For the latter, the status of late comers is the direct reflection of their marginalized origins. Yet there is a striking and paradoxical confluence of those two origins: marginality of the margins and marginality of the centre, the epigonism of rich kids. I've seen it on two old portraits in the Rijksmuseum: a Dutch burgomaster, the great achiever dressing black, and his showy, fashionable son, overfed and obese before the time. That is a story that repeats itself, to be found in Ibn Khaldun: mere four generations between rise and fall...
In some of them the pretence is almost palpable. At the same time, I felt a severe crisis of academic prestige that haunts them. All those people seek for something that might make "a real difference" in their CVs. And nonetheless there is no "real difference", the structure of prestige had crumbled long ago. But still they disparately try to get editors, the editors that might "make a real difference", to publish their dissertations. Forgetting, all this time, that the books differ significantly by their content, no matter how prestigiously or shabbily are they published... But who am I, a professor of the University of Warsaw, where pretence reigns and stakes higher than perhaps anywhere else in the world, to tell them such things...
I do not regret having come; the travel gave me insight into the shallowness that lurks at the interior of a brilliant institution, the cheap and deceitful sort of creativity that is sold to those young people. Yet the advantage is even more important, as if scales suddenly fell off my eyes. I realized how ridiculous, how misplacing it is to use any open Deleuzian reference today. How mistakenly it locates me. I still think I should finish the Battlements, give it the full shape and publish it somewhere. But this work done, I should give them both, Deleuze and Guattari, a long-deserved requiescat in pace. And I swear, from that day on, I will think twice before I ever use the verb "become"...
I'm going to Amsterdam next week. I should be preparing my presentation for "Machinic Ecologies", as well as reading through the materials for the workshop with Jeffrey Bell on Thursday.
Yet I'm still in bed, writing on my blog, and adding bits of an article in Polish for a volume on Mia Couto. I read in a popular psychology review this is called "taking coffee on the edge", procrastinating at the moment when the radical and long desired change is close at hand. Indeed, the thought slowly bores through my head that these days might be my last in Warsaw, and last at home in Kraków, before I leave for Brasil, hopefully this month of September, and then either for Portugal or Austria. That in fact won't be that from home at all. There is a train, another train, that might take me up and down again.
So many things to finish, to clean up before I go. This is why perhaps I stick to this paper on Couto, even if I know nothing I could write in Polish now will make any change whatsoever. I stick to a kind of nostalgia of insufficiency, as if there was a poetry in fighting battles that are not only lost, but also of no strategical avail. Yet I know the only way to finish it up is to get through it, exhaust it, let it consume it completely.
As I'd promised myself, I finished the article based on my recent conference paper about al-Andalus and I sent it to "Przegląd Orientalistyczny". Little thing as it is, the very process of writing gave me pleasure. It was enjoyable to delve in the qasida by al-Rundi that has been my favourite since many years. Yet I feel I still didn't reach the point, didn't manage to explain the lasting importance of al-Andalus as persuasively as it should be done. The Andalusian essence that should stay with us and that my duty is to preserve. So immeasurably beyond just writing yet another stupid article.
I think about Titus Burckardt and the Eremos book again. Yesterday, as I strolled through the University Library, I was trying to make my ideas crystallize. Indeed, over the last weeks, Portugal was present in my mind much more than the proposal I've made for Vienna. Gulbenkian's fellowship simply seems much more realistic, and somehow I couldn't charm myself into believing I might ever get the other opportunity. Even if more than one person I know got it before. Yet, as I have said, my thing is to fail while others succeed. Nonetheless, the gist of the problem remains. What to do about the Eremos, wherever I go or stay, how to push the whole thing through. And I start to feel I should do it, I must do it, no matter the support is given or denied to me.
In the Library, I read a bit through the three enormous volumes of Malraux's The Metamorphosis of the Gods. It felt as if I'm back home, back to my intellectual origins, back to something that is deeply mine, beyond doubt or hesitation. My kind of things. Perhaps I'm anachronistic - the Agambenian kind of anachronism, letting me see straight into the darkness of my time.
Perhaps I should write on Malraux and The Metamorphosis, and Metamorfoses by Jorge de Sena, and his poem about Cordoba, and al-Andalus, and the two concepts of universalism that had been there, at that time. The colonial one, that of "civilização portuguesa", and, on the other hand, the erudite one, the incessant communion of thinkers, the Andalusian one.
The one that survives in me and in my own Eremos.