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.