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?
Perhaps I could make my own manual, better than Čolić (of course, his is in fact an anti-manual, because his exile proves to be disastrous). Coming back to Adorno's Minima moralia, and the duty of feeling not at home in one's own home. But there is more to exiles than just the morality. There is the mastery of time, as crucial as the mastery of language. The time of exile tends to be particularly unsubstantial, it flows between one's fingers easier than any other time, and harder to control, to pinpoint, to capitalise. The time of nomads, eternally lost, meandering between not yet and no more like in the old qasidah Banat Su'ad, is certainly not like the time of sedentary people.
I think about Proust, and growing up to write. There is still something blocked in me, a decision to take. To dedicate myself to the proper writing. The missing commitment that the nomads know not.
It is an obvious shortcoming of my imagination to comprehend the Dutch as sedentary people, just because I saw them so well established in their brick houses. But they rely on solidified exile, just like these walls are build on timber thrust into the mud. On nomadic time that had coagulated. On what de Vliegende Hollander managed, through the squall, to bring home.
I remember so vividly Marinus Boezem's installation last winter in de Oude Kerk. The sound of the wind in the gelid temple of an obsolete religion, and this vision of what this very church might have been, hallucinated through the squall. As well as the smell of the Chinese witch-hazel, in its full late-January blossom, behind the Rijksmuseum. If I had nothing earthly to grasp any more, that witch-hazel blossom would remain with me.
But it is so silent and sunny here in the Loire Valley, and a collared dove coos smoothly on the tree in front of my window. Just as it used to coo when I was a child squeezed on half a square meter of a communal flat somewhere in eastern Poland. And I wonder why anyone would sculpt an avalanche of pocket watches on the wall of his house, and what does it actually mean in Dutch: alle tijd. Altijd? All of them are time? Ter é tardar? There is time for everything, I believe they want to say. They are so rich they even have time.
There was also a Dutch painting in the museum in Prague. A stilleven accumulating many objects of aesthetic and intellectual appreciation, and a rose petal captured just as it was falling from the bloom. Not a vanitas. I believe this painting speaks of savouring the time, as it flows between our fingers. Not the time of Su'ad lover, gone astray, but the mature time of a sedentary man, finally found, capitalised, and conscientiously possessed at the end of many exiles.
Yesterday I listened to a couple of papers in a small conference here in Tours. In the way how I understand those things, it was boring, too boring to assist any more. It was the philological kind, just checking up words. Without any loftier intellectual ambitions.
But it made me think about what does it mean small and unassuming in the West. Certainly, here we are completely out of the ranking; this university doesn't even appear among the 700 best ones. But is it the equivalent of being in a small conference in, let's say, Akademia Pomorska, or any other "humanities-and-sciences-and-technology" Akademia in Bielsko-Biała, Częstochowa or wherever?
I see the difference, this slight, tiny difference that may pass unnoticed and nonetheless pads the whole big difference. This conference here in Tours was very modest, very modest indeed, as to my standards, but precise. They were talking about their tiny topics with precision, and this is why they were heading, even if it was by baby steps, towards something that was essentially true, based on something, linked to a reality. This is what my colleagues in the old country miss, even in much greater and more ambitious endeavours. Connection to a reality. They have ideas, and persuasions, and world-views ("poglądy"), and they stick to them. While they know the basic bibliography only by the word of mouth, seeing no real need to know it precisely -- otherwise they would possibly read the books, which are translated into Polish and available. (Here I think about some material that has fallen into my lap recently; someone heard about the community of no-matter-which individuals, yet this idea, although still recognisable, was by no means related to the name of Giorgio Agamben nor linked to a book title in the bibliography; by the way, in this case, the notion has been presented as false, and rejected, because in contradiction with a world-view. In other cases, I saw such barely recognisable notions migrate from one name to another, from Hegel to Freud, creating quiproquos endowed with considerable hilarious potential. Expressions out of their original context, transformed into mere figures of speech, like the Nietzschean "marching army of metaphors" that became a marching army of I no longer remember what -- cultures, I guess -- it was the marching army of cultures...). They have no precise concepts of a given provenience, only vague notions open to any permutation; with them, they build castles in the air. Missing entirely not only the absurdity, but also the random hilariousness of their constructs. Bitter laughter it is, still, for me.
Certainly, coming to castles in the air, I'm not free from this flaw myself. This is why I stick to these western ways, to these small paths of truthful examination. This attitude is the missing link of my chain. This is how I build the ground below my castles, hopefully.
Shall I build my castles on the ground, and of solid stone? Perhaps one day the awareness will dawn in me that it is precisely what I've always done. Otherwise I would have never come to this.
In Amsterdam, they say they are not yet klaar with all the evaluation, and they will answer me in six weeks from now.