I spent most of my Christmas thinking about my crooked career, and comparing. I really don't know if I'm still thinking about returning to Poland, about claiming my place at any of its universities. Patiently, year after year, Christmas after Christmas, I still need to convince myself it is not possible.
So I was reading the CVs and the long lists of publications of those who died, and of those who are alive. What did they manage to achieve, when I was flying around among all those different planets of France, Netherlands, etc. In some moments, I just felt my breath cut; I have no name for the emotion, just its physiological translation. My breath cut, like a computer that suddenly froze. It is such an unnamed sensation to see how they reached the peak of their careers: profesor z tytułem honorowym zwyczajnego, that's what I read on the official website of my old institute. This is what I could have been. Profesor z tytułem honorowym zwyczajnego.
And what about those who had been removed, discyplinarnie, without any honour?
This is why my breath is cut.
This is mostly about those colleagues who are older than me. But there are also those younger. It is sad to see those boys, professors' sons, reputed so talented in their youth. I catch myself still thinking about one of them as "the boy", eternally hemmed in his Gombrowiczean synostwo, for he was not even ashamed to claim that he was there to "replace his father" ("w zastępstwie ojca", he was telling this quite overtly, in full letters - at the time, my breath was cut as well, for this is very far from the rules and usages of modern universities, and sounds much more medieval than an imam from a North-African madrasa coming to Leiden to discuss the styles of Quranic recitation). "The boy", I say, but the years go by, and he must be almost 38 now, and I wonder if he will ever be a professor like his father. Or he will remain stuck.
I see them stuck, at the Jagiellonian University. On different stages of their careers, but it is as if something went wrong with the institution, as if the triage stopped, and a sort of false equality were established. This is why, in my old institute, I can see eight professors.
So where is my place in all that? I don't see myself as the ninth als ob professor, paid less than the minimum wage in western Europe, and eternally condemned to that hostel on the Leidseplein, to those travels on Flixbus. For I will be old one day, and that day is not as far as I would like it to be.
I gather all the insight I can about the lives of those who are dead. Like Bauman, like Kołakowski. Those people like me, pushed out of the same university, the same country, under circumstances that are only apparently different. I've read Walicki's autobiography already, some time ago. I try to understand their strategy, their secret and their luck. They didn't make such great careers as many people believe. Kołakowski was senior research fellow till the end of his life in Oxford, sort of collateral staff.
But still, among different miseries of the old age, better to be senior research fellow in Oxford than professor z tytułem honorowym zwyczajnego in Kraków.
And I remember that old Polish series, "Alternatywy 4", where there was that funny docent, the hunter, searching for the way of becoming a professor. "No właśnie nadzwyczajnego chciałem przeskoczyć", he was explaining to a lady looking at him in admiration and awe. I was employed as nadzwyczajny for 12 years. What I would like to przeskoczyć is "z tytułem honorowym"; I would prescind the honour, and go direct to the meritum.
Searching so desperately for the way, he became a hunter; in those old times, hunting with the party officials and other important people of the kind might have effectively been The Way. I think auto-ironically about my own falconer episode. But of course...
Is it all but a circus? An eternal "Alternatywy 4", that in spite of History, and in spite of the European Union, we still inhabit? Also myself, as much as my colleagues?
This is perhaps the first reason why I search for a way out. A way out, first of all, of my own mental maze, out of my own attachment to this structure in which I have no place to claim.
I desperately search for something real, serious, for hard facts, hard achievements and hard recognition, for anything at all that would be outside this sphere of illusion. I would like to find a way to my hard seriousness.