I'm standing before the Wall, this very Wall against which so many colleagues of mine have crashed. I'm tired of my obscurity. Determined to jump the Wall.
The Wall is built of the sense of insignificance. I recon it is very easy (OK, I speak from my own perspective) to become a participant of the international academia. It is enough to write in English and have some minimal amount of things to say; an access to a research library (like the one I have in Leiden) helps a great deal. And that's it. It's enough to write fully international texts such as my chapter on Mia Couto that will soon appear in a volume edited by a Dutch guy, or the book review that I've recently submitted to a Brill-edited journal.
But there is still a Wall, even if one gets this sort of participation. Certainly, I'm very much above ambitious scholars of my country, such as, let's say, Marta S., living a dream of professorial importance in their peripheral universities. I recon that, from the point of view of affects experienced, such people must be enormously better-off than myself. But my target is not to be better-off than Marta S.; there is no legitimate comparison to be drawn. When I think about the Wall, I think about the reasons why our best people, like Agata Bielik-Robson, or Michał Paweł Markowski (well, he is the best in making a creative use of his crass mediocrity laid bare in such books as Dzień na ziemi, I should recon this) never truly became international scholars. I mean, they went abroad but continued to publish quite significantly in Poland (thing I decided not to do or stop doing). I suppose the Wall against which they crashed was the void, the rarefied air of international contexts. This characteristic anonymity of big international conference in which every speaker's value is the same (except the handful of key-note stars that, if they are 4 or 5 in a thousand of common participants, form a minority of how many? a fraction of one percent). David Damrosch commented on this phenomenon, satirically, in his unforgettable novel Meetings of the Mind.
Those who went abroad, --even the best ones, especially the best ones--, must miss bitterly the visibility they could enjoy in Poland, in their time. Their English-speaking books seem to fall into bottomless pits, abysses; don't make them such stars as they used to be in Poland.
I suppose my ERC, if it's finally accepted, won't make of me such a star as Justyna Olko was, in her time, in Warsaw. Because it's quite common to have an ERC grant in Leiden, it is very normal. Well, a colleague from here, one specialised in Chad, if I'm not mistaken, always tells me that in fact it is quite difficult to get those grants. But for sure, no one will make an interview with me on such an occasion, nor give me a state commendation for such a reason. It will only give me just enough ground to stand with my both feet for five years, nothing more. Well, and the privilege of enjoying a really good salary for five years, something I never experienced in my life. Certainly, I would enjoy it much more than any Polish commendation or a place in the Council of Research Excellence in a country without research excellence to speak of. Well, basically, this is why I'm here, not there, accepting the discomfort of being confronted with the rough surface of the Wall that makes my fingers bleed.
How to jump the Wall, then? And what is on the other side?
On the other side are books that remain. I can recognise them quite easily by the sensation they leave in my mind after reading them for half an hour, one hour, two hours. The sensation is revitalising, refreshing; quite the contrary of the sensation of having eaten gravel that even apparently brilliant Polish books, such as those of Tadeusz Sławek (let alone Markowski's Dzień na ziemi), leave in me. Those are books to remove, without which I would respire better at home.
I want to write books that remain. This is why I'm in Leiden, camping around the library, and go on publishing papers in the four corners of the planet; papers that will not bring me visibility, but serve me as a daily exercise in my art. Each one is different, not to say better than the previous one, but they lead me all the way up toward excellent writing.
I have too many articles already, the novelty and the step upward consists in expanding my field worldwide (currently I muse what kind of paper I could send to a comparative literature journal published in Shiraz; I'm thinking about the presence of Omar Khayyam).
On the other side of the Wall are my own books, in hard cover, written in decent English and published by decent editors. And me, at the fireplace, in my home in Leiden or in Oxford (oh, I wake up one day and the brexit story is no more) or in Heidelberg (I consider it for such an eventuality I don't get my ERC in Leiden; a plan B to be put in practice this spring).
Whatever it takes, I shall climb the Wall. Because I am this kind of tough, uncompromising woman who will never sit on her bottom in any council of research excellence in a country without any excellent research to speak of, or put her travels into books for people suffering from congenital world blindness.