I was once a professor in Poland.
I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills.
وَأَينَ ما حازَهُ قارونُ من ذَهَبٍ
وَأَينَ عادٌ وَشدّادٌ وَقَحطانُ
-- Frisch weht der Wind der Heimat zu
Mein Irisch Kind, wo weilest du?
-- En orien vei l´estella creguda
qu´eu l´ai ben coneguda.
There is nothing more common in world literature than loss, an end, and exile, and widening gyre, and way of no return; such things have been expressed in all languages of the humanity, those that I know and those that I ignore. Whoever had, whoever achieved, must be prepared for composing his or her own lament. On the fall of a city, on the loss of a country, on a farm in Africa, on books that burned, on black suns, on enemy armies that blocked the way home. Maybe simply on time passing by; because the time of enjoying is short, no matter the exact duration. We had thirty years. And we put an end to those thirty years with our own hands, because we could not stand that time any longer. Perhaps simply because everything decays after reaching perfection. The golden apple does not remain fresh forever. And the eastern avengers only come when the time of decay is ripe, when the apple already slips out of our own hands.
Everything that happens to me had happened to others before me. Almost to every intellectual that I can think of. To Eliade and to Cioran, and to Miłosz, and to Gombrowicz, and to Cassirer, and to Zweig, and to Auerbach, who would perhaps never become comparativist if he did not have to go to Istanbul. And to Porębowicz, about whom they say that every time he remembered his library abandoned to oriental avengers, he cried.
What does Marcus Aurelius say about such things? Is the cucumber bitter? Throw it away. Are there briars in your path? Turn aside. The paths of exile are winning solutions not for everybody, but nonetheless they are for most. They lead to many a garden of earthly delights, as I know one myself.
And here I am, to chew the bitterness of my homeland, to compose my lament, to fear the armies of the black sun, or to conclude: Et ades sera l'alba.
Many years ago, I had a Palestinian friend. I don't remember any longer what peace talks were going on at the time. But he knew, painfully, that it was a mirage. And that mirages appear precisely when we are in the middle of the most unforgiving deserts.
Apparently, the things seem to wake up in Poland. The turning of the tide, for which I was waiting a year ago, more than a year ago, seems to be nigh. But on the other hand, I see the apocalyptic rider Mendacity even prouder, more arrogant than ever, sitting so high on her red horse. I see the results of that long, patient campaign of indoctrination becoming something obvious, something people get used to, a kind of discourse in which they are almost ready to recognize some sort of essential truthfulness. Those things sank in already. Is not the woman born to suffering and subservience and humiliation? They have never truly left that enchanted sphere.
Is a normalcy still possible in Poland? We have been normal only in relative terms and only for a short span of several years. And then things recovered their usual balance.
And now they are about to quit the European Union where they never belonged. I don't read this in the official declarations, I read this in the distribution of the concepts of "here" and "there", in the implicit construction of space. I am speaking about the society in which the mere fact that someone speaks German may be used as a tool of propaganda, is used as a tool of propaganda, efficiently, because it corresponds to mental structures in people's heads. Because speaking German has a determined place in the implicit axiological constructs. Some years ago, a colleague of mine from the University of Warsaw got his face badly hit in a tramway, because he spoke German to a foreign professor. I imagine that the aggressor, a simple, but honest man, was persuaded of having done something deeply right, something eminently just. Because speaking German is bad, ungodly, it should not be tolerated. Because foreigners, aliens should not be tolerated. Difference should not be tolerated. Millions share this persuasion right now as I write these words. A patient, surreptitious work has been done to shape such persuasions, and they are hidden so deep in people's minds that it will be almost impossible to deracinate them. Such constructs are the land mines of the regime. Those lethal devices will go on exploding long after the regime is no more.
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine unify their efforts to join the EU. A flight over endless earth, my dream. But how may the European Union stand up after such a disaster, after such a negative experience as that what happened in Poland. How there might ever be trust again? How long would it take for the Moldovans to come back to their rogue leaders again? It is a work of infinite patience, like helping an abused woman who loves tenderly her oppressor, seeks for oppression in any new man she might meet.
Certainly, there is the lure of welfare, of abundance. The same lure that attracts people from Guinea, from all across the Sub-Saharan Africa, that motivates them to take up great risks and almost superhuman efforts. The same lure of beautiful life that once attracted the Poles. But in just a few years they collapsed into their old habits. Contempt, Mendacity, Delusion. This is to what the tide turns, shall turn again and again and again. For the reminder of my life and long after my death. This is the sun that shall rise over my grave.
The country is on its way to Polexit. Well, I cannot say I did not see it coming. It's time to pack the rest of my belongings, close all affaires and go. This time it is really the foghorn of Cassirer's last ship out of Sweden. Time to leave, live that life that I saw in front of me since the very beginning, since the 1980s and 1990s. The Kingsajz.
It is striking how I recognize Poland and the deepest, the most essential Polishness in everything that happens. Their leader exclaiming "we have our own laws", how similar to my old dean, who used to claim that our faculty had its own laws. The same passion for building singularities (what we were, in Warsaw? - I think unikatowy was the adjective, for some time at least). A little fiefdom with our own little laws.
And if it happened, kept happening for years, at the best university of the country, how easy to expect to find a repercussion of the same way of thinking in a macroscale of political life.
Here, in this place. Ale czy tutaj. Bo gdzie indziej, ale tutaj. Tutaj jest inaczej. Tutaj my mamy. I had this spectacle in front of my own eyes for a decade.
Tutaj prawa nie obowiązywały. Obowiązywała wola dziekana. Kiedy chciał, wszystko mógł zmienić, nagiąć. Powszechność wyjątku. I wonder what Agamben might say about it. A permanent state of exception.
That was my faculty. That was my country. And I saw how much people were glad with it. How much they were ready to put up. They felt honoured to put up with that sort of things, with such a state of lawless exception. And if something works good enough for university professors, how could it not work for simple people? How many times I heard: to taki inteligentny człowiek. They never saw anyone more intelligent than him. The tyrant was thus legitimized. The rule of him was taken for the rule of intelligence.
Meanwhile, we were sinking in ignorance and delusion, deeply persuaded we were promoting excellent scholarship. The best in the world. The only in the world. Unikatowy. Anything similar to us was nowhere to be found.
It was unreal, like a dream. On the news, I saw a European commissaire trying to explain, and telling they will ask our government again. They will send a letter. But I know from my experience that the dean used not to open his emails. What could possibly come into his closed fiefdom from the outside world? This is why I deduce those guys won't read the letter. Not even if it were a letter in a bottle, thrown on the stormy waves of History.
I saw the European commissaire like talking behind a glass pane. Jakiś dziwny człowiek dobijał się przez szybę. Like a voice from a different reality, a different dimension, across the wall of a space bubble.
And I know there is no hope. Because the current regime is a fulfilment. They simply want to live in a permanent state of exception. People like Polish university professors. Because it gives them some sort of delusional power, some sense of control over the reality, perhaps. Że można załatwić. Że zawsze można nagiąć. That they won't be obliged to play fair in relation to those beneath them; they will be able to create dependence of those beneath, have their own subalterns. It is a system of power distribution, offering the supreme satisfaction of stepping on other people's faces, unknown to those who always lived in democracies, in partnerships, in respect.
The day when the Polexit was to be voted, I spent a lot of time reading whatever I found as a source of information from the old country. But it was not about our fate that I knew nothing.
I knew nothing about love, relationship, and crucially, I knew nothing about being a woman.
On Onet.pl I found a curious material: "What does your partner forbids you to do?" That was curious. You think that, after 15 years of marriage, I must know a lot on the topic? By Jove, I was like an innocent child till I opened the Onet. Some, as I discovered, forbid using tampons during the period, "because my masculinity is the sole object that may penetrate you". Wallah, we don't have this quality of ideas in Saudi Arabia.
But of course, the best is the national debate on female virtues (the famous formula "ugruntowanie dziewcząt do cnót niewieścich") that are to be taught at national schools from the coming month of September on. The sheer style, linguistically speaking, in which those maxims are expressed cuts my breath.
I have laughed a lot today, but properly speaking, that's not funny.
अर्थ, ἀρετή, they get lost in the maze of archaic style, classical allusions, pagan and biblical wisdom. Poor people... It is so sad to see them discussing virtue as they drift away, spitting lies like frantic prairie dogs, lying away the ground beneath their own feet...
Ugruntowanie dziewcząt do cnót niewieścich!... I suppose the expression is translatable; it may sound so strange precisely because it is a literal translation - probably from Church Latin. I try to imagine the original sentence... virtus feminarum exerceant... crescant de virtute in virtutem... Disce, puer, virtutem ex me, verumque laborem... no, it's not that. Nothing comes to my mind. Oh yes, I found, it's 1 Timothy 2:9-15, here is the virtus feminarum: "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. / I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; / she must be quiet."
The meaning of the original passage is even more strident than any of the hypothesis made by our feminists. It is a strict prohibition of teaching or assuming authority; the prohibition that, long before it came to Poland, would be translated by the murder of Hypatia. A direct prohibition of such careers as my own. I can imagine very easily how attractive is the idea for many Polish men, indeed for most. To remove women from their professional paths, in universities, in corporations - in fact, anywhere where they get into the way.
Be that as it may, it is a great void, a broken chain of cultural transmission, a jump into an abyss, like stepping onto a bridge that collapsed centuries ago. A great, self-inflicted catastrophe of a nation. Like lemmings, my God, just like lemmings...
I start thinking what I could offer myself for my anniversary. In less than three weeks, I will be 49. And even more importantly, how I can mark the quarter of a century of my academic work, in the autumn 2022. 1997-2022, twenty-five years... of what? Ćwierćwiecze pracy naukowej. Sounds better in Polish, somehow.
I could buy myself an expensive pen.
Expensive notebook to write down my academic memories (uhhhhh!..).
I already possess all these things.
Expensive dressing gown, for this winter my flat may not be as well heated as it was in France, so I won't be able to go on writing naked like an Amazonian Indian.
I could order a special cake, with the words 25 LAT PRACY NAUKOWEJ written with sweet chocolate paste.
I could write something special. I'm finishing an essay on Manet that I started as a student, a quarter of a century ago. I already did such things for the 20th anniversary of my academic work (this is when I finished and published an old essay on androgyny). This one about Olympia is, as far as I can see it, the last of those old ideas, or at least those old texts.
In my old university (I mean the Jagiellonian one), they were masters of commemoration. They were organizing sweetie parties, publishing collective volumes, etc. They loved anniversaries of academic work.
Yeah, for the 25th anniversary of my academic work, I should publish something. Perhaps on art. I always wanted to write about art. I could write an essay on Van Gogh.
I could translate into English the translatable part of the abundant writings I produced along these 25 years.
Inexorably, my contract comes to an end. I had good time indeed, I did not appreciate it fully. Oh, especially this car trip around the north and the Loire Valley was cute. With my husband and his steady Arabian love. We always appreciate things as soon as they are gone.
I think about packing, remove my old clothing, books, etc. It is a time of a great removal indeed, a time of simplifying things. Of getting rid. And I am happy to say that in this work, I am clearly on the opposite shore.
They say Tusk is back, the hope is back for my country. I don't believe in such things. Would a single man, coming back from Brussels, change the civilizational belonging of an entire nation? (oh, that ugly Huntington is back, too). History is more complex than that. My dear ex-colleague from University of Warsaw, prof. Środa, says that we should not put up with it, this return of the patriarch. Not to put up? I wonder how she imagines it, this "not putting up". Well, in fact, I did not put up. I am the best example. When they are in all that, I'm just having sex. I've had a lot of good quality sex lately. I'm just reading books, writing my things, and last but not least, a very great deal of musing. Of just being here. Enjoying my last days in Paris. Putting my French right, finally.
Meanwhile, as I see glimpses and reminiscences of the people I left on the other shore, it becomes even more clear to me to what a degree the present regime is consubstantial with them, to what a degree all what happened is a fulfilment of their way of thinking, of their innermost mental order, of the deepest, the most hidden desires of their hearts. Perhaps if an entire invasion of Tusken raiders... Only such things can effectively change the course of History. But not just a solitary old man coming back from Brussels, mentally standing out so clearly in relation to the rest, speaking as if beyond what is their cursory logic. They say he is not coming back riding a white horse; I say he would better come back riding a bantha.
My Moroccan lover asks me what I will do next. I don't know. I feel big trust, like in Star Wars, when Obi-Wan Kenobi says, with such an infinite trust: Another solution will present itself.