Eremos has quite a history now. Book project rejected by Verso (this is what we call falling from a high horse), and now Vienna. But that's nothing. I always tell myself that prof. R., at my age, was a persona non grata in nine countries (nine is of course used here in its symbolic value of "worldwide"), and that proved to be just his bumpy ride to Oxford. Surely there is also a decent highway leading there, and people arriving by this highway, but I simply got no reference of them...
Well, this is just a joke, but the serious question is how far should I stick to my absurd idea of transcultural condition instead of doing so called normal science like everyone else.
Yeah, I know the answer. Those who do normal science obtain their local recompense. They get money, and they become grant managers, and they are greatly admired in such a place as the University of Warsaw, where many people use the mere quantity of research money, especially if it comes from the European Union, to gauge the value of ideas. Grants seem to have the advantage of being "objective" criteria and save the effort of understanding what the whole thing is about. By the way, it also explains the great popularity of big, cumbersome budget projects that all my colleagues dream about, and the relative lack of interest in individual fellowships, that are much easier, lighter, and offer comfort to advance with a real intellectual work. But the kind of prestige they bring doesn't fit our customs and usages.
I don't imagine our grant managers to last long in the history of humanities... yet few people here would really care. This is not the perspective one usually has in mind.
Sometimes I think those great books that stay in the history of humanities are not financed from public money in any case. They are private venture, and the fabulous advantage they utterly offer assures that unsupported individuals shall try over and over again to make them, no need to channel it through any public financing system. On the other hand, as I often say, emergence is out of control, so no one can reasonably take the responsibility that such a book will actually be written during a given period of time counter the payment of a stipulated amount of money. Institutions such as highly ambitious universities may nonetheless be keen to host such initiatives, accepting the risk, to bask in the glory of having such things born on their lap. And this is how the things are done, semi-privately and as discretely as possible, away from the big European machine of research financing, advertising loudly the money that is to be spent before a single item of valuable research is actually achieved. And this is roughly what stands behind this enigmatic formula: "exclusively on invitation". It used to make me discard such fellowships immediately, but now I start to feel I should be keenly interested precisely in those places where I see the word "invitation" written in bright red on the entrance door.
Oh, those hyper-privatised manners of the upper class, translated into academic reality... I start to understand how deeply the social skills are implied in the intellectual work, in building the so called academic excellence. It follows the universal rules of prestige and symbolic advantage, widely exemplified in elites and aristocracies of the world...
I've been away of this logic, dull and hard-working, and remaining in the shadow, and caring quite little about self-promotion (the existence of this website is a counter-example; the mess to be found on it reinforces the above-stated observation). But if I want my things done in the shape they should be done, my messy nature must be controlled. Someone, a younger colleague, told me quite bluntly: "This is just a misunderstanding that this book [Empire and Nostalgia] has been published in Polish, on grey paper, by an nonexistent editor". The girl went straight to the point.
No more grey paper, thus. I do consider replacing my cheapest, Chinese-made notebooks and pens. Small steps for a big change. And making better friends.
I love exquisite stationary, by the way.
The annual session of the Interdepartmental Comparative Literature Group was better this year than last year. More people has come, not only the speakers, but also distinguished scholars from the Faculty, including prof. Nowicka-Jeżowa. The topic, "Cultures of Reading", was broader that last year ("Translingualism"), and it probably helped to attract more attention.
I presented my fresh research, mostly the few things I've gathered in SOAS earlier in June. It was about Sufism and the "cultured readings" of Ibn al-Farid (Grangeret de Lagrange, Nicholson, etc.). The question of transcultural reading, on the other hand, was merely posed, and I recalled some intuitions of the former "perennialist" scholars pointing in this direction. Enough for a small paper in Polish, but this is just to mark a starting point.
I just can't tell how much I appreciate the short glimpses in which I manage to exchange just a few words in anyone who, in the bureaucratic language of ERC, might be called an "excellence level scholar". Neither the topic nor he discipline matters. It is just the proximity of the pics, the logic of a Himalayan skyline.
So today this privilege that for scarce several minutes has been mine was to exchange a couple of ideas with Caroline Humphrey, perhaps Siberia's most famous living anthropologist. The topic was taken from the lecture she gave yesterday here at the University of Warsaw, and it was about Zomia.
Zomia is a relatively recent term, coined by a Dutch scholar, Willem van Schendel, and it is essentially about certain territories that function transhistorically as refuge zones. Originally, it was supposed to be the land of zomis, south-Asian highlanders, but it could be more. Altai mountains, for example, or the swamps in Bissau's hinterland, or Najd, or the mountain ranges in the Maghreb. Some examples are for sure better than others, illustrating perhaps different problems or phenomena: resistance to state, pressure of other peoples. In any case, it is about the margin of all the margins, the earth's utmost outskirts, where rejected, dispossessed and vanquished accumulate across history, layer after layer, mixing their languages and rituals. Zones of interference, where unusual creativity might sprout, unpredictable forms of symbolization might emerge.
It might: we agree on the conditional, prof. Humphrey and I. Yet we couldn't think out a single example of such an innovation. Politically, zomias seem doomed to fail. Yet there might be any other plane on which they triumph. There might be...
Pure potentiality at the intersection of cultures. The promise of transcultural condition... The "might" of an experienced anthropologist. But how to get there...
The library of the SOAS is a labyrinth, and I didn't even approach its centre. I tried to remain concentrated on the shelves 37 and 37a on the level B. Sufism, the complete collection, or about it. I still don't know nothing about Vienna and the final sort of my proposal concerning Eremos. But I try to advance just a little bit to have the ground cleared up for anything that might come. I didn't find nothing particular concerning Titus Burckhardt, except his books, of course, and some translations that might eventually be of a more limited circulation. But I manage to get clearer image of the Western invention of Sufism, since the 19th century till its exhaustion in a kind of global theosophy.
I must admit I wasn't fully conscious of the complex resonance of the word, specially in the British context. I'm much more of Germanic mind in this domain, taking the matter a part of erudite, exclusive, purely intellectually-historical context. Of course, I'd noticed and perused all those Colin Bark's editions of Rumi for every single day of the year. But I simply never attached any special importance to it, not to the point of thinking that this might change significantly the perception of my hyper-sophisticated, Germanly-philological matter. But there is obviously more than this, and I can't ignore it totally.
Curiously, even if I'd laboriously read through Doris Lessing's Shikasta (at least a half of it), trying in vain to fathom what this book is really about, it never crossed my mind there might be any connection with Sufism.
But there's been even more. A rather embarrassing element of the summer school in which I participated brought to my consciousness the existence of a kind of "minor Bengal", the Sufi Sylhet, considered, according to what I read in the Wikipedia, as a "spiritual capital" of Bangladesh. The region has a particular language, and even a particular alphabet derived from the Bengali script. The embarrassment comes from a very specific actions taken by two linguists/activists and self-proclaimed saviours of the Sylhetian. I saw them pitifully reducing their "native informant" to the function of an ostensible specimen, in a show that required urgent decolonization.
Or am I just overacting my recent endowment as the chairperson of our own Research Ethics commission at the University of Warsaw?