How delightful it is to be here. I woke up early, when the stained-glass windows were covered with fog, and now it is a splendid morning. I contemplate the bunch of white lilies on my table; since I came to the Netherlands, I've never failed to buy flowers, this is a secret deal that I've made with the country.
Now I will go to the market to buy fresh fish and vegetables and cry, as I walk through bridges and narrow passageways, over the exquisite, excruciating beauty of my Paradise. In the meanwhile, I'm thinking about the books that will be written these coming years. They are roughly the books I have planned since a long time, but now it is time to give them thickness and existence. Tesserae, a little essay in Mediterranean studies, about the circulation of ideas, Eroticism of Trace, Poetics of the Void as announced in my project, a book on Morocco I proposed to Ossolineum, but that I might eventually write in English, Intrusive Spirit of the Desert, about Islamic intellectuals in Europe, and Eremos, a culminating volume, perhaps a collection of essays on transgression and extra-cultural becoming that may go beyond the Mediterranean or Andalusian focus to give the account of my idea in rougher, more daring brushstrokes. These coming years I may have time and I may have money. My part of the deal is to make sure that the whole thing doesn't run short of novel concepts and insights.
I feel a need of concentrating; no more dispersion that was tempting me only some weeks ago. I need to create a clear, recognisable outcome with which I might identify completely, something to give a definition of me just in one striking sentence.
I need to have these things ready, ahead of the schedule. And as soon as money and opportunities come, I will be able to throw these things on the market. And yes, to occupy the place that will become empty at the death of Giorgio Agamben.
And the Paradise smiled back to me.
I got it, I did it, the only way it can be done, by assiduous work, word by word, sentence by sentence. I managed to put it right. And I went out, and my garden smiled back to me, the water in the channels smiled back to me, the water lilies smiled back to me, the while lilies I have on my table smiled back to me.
I am one with my country, one with my language, one with my work. Me, the scholar, the Orientalist in Leiden. On the top of the planet. Optimal. The very way I should be.
I have earned my Paradise with this hard work, unyielding. The work done, first of all, upon myself, upon the things I have left behind. And here I am, on the top of the planet.
I went to Hema, but I felt I needed nothing, no more pens, no more notebooks. Or perhaps I needed them, and I will go back there on Saturday, bring the whole lot. Like always, every end of August of my life. That's what God says, I've made the man greedy.
I also went to the Siebold House and saw an exposition of Japanese photography. From all things I have left behind, I only miss my books on Japan.
Let's recapitulate. What I have here. I live in a high room full of light, at five-minute walk from the library. Library collection is exhaustive, for Arabic, and sufficient for many other things. I have everything to keep my competence up-to-date. Leiden is like a garden, full of trees and flowers. Its university is on the strict top of the planet. People are smiling and relaxed. My diet, based on fresh fish, vegetables and fruits, costs me less than it would cost in Kraków. A good international airport is at a distance of fifteen minutes by train. Everything is convenient, reasonable, well designed. Optimal.
Why do I still look back? Is it an addiction to the past, a persistent fear of the future, fear of success, fear of those things that are too good for me? I would really like to forget, to leave those past things behind. Return to Poland? How, where, to work with whom? For what money? And my private library? My mahogany shelves? They cannot squeeze under the low ceiling of my Cracovian apartment. Why does the idea of absurd, suicidal return stick so strong to the back of my head?
How can I accept my Paradise, start to feel one with it? Assume my intellectual destiny, the work I have to do on the top of the planet?
Still hesitating, still uncertain, still unable to accept the reality, the luminous world around me.
There is a hidden aspect in learned helplessness most people do not comprehend. The helpless dog does not lie passive on the floor of his cage. He does not have the presence of mind to jump the divide, because he is so busy coping with pain. All his mind is focused on it. I lived like this for so many years, all my muscles tense in resistance, swimming in ignorance, constantly opposing contempt and hostility. When all these adverse factors are no more, I feel a great confusion, as if I was out of my flux, of my proper context. It is so hard to refocus on my targets, on my new home and mahogany shelves, and my ERC project on which I propose myself to work from the day one, every day. Without constantly running away from my leading concept into collateral, accidental topics.
It is so hard that, as I try to work these days, things flow through my brain like through a colander. I would swear that Arabs are the most boring race, and that I never really wanted to become an Orientalist. Just because that damned learned behaviour of turning my back to my dreams is so deep in me.
Nee, nee, I don't want to be the dog from some ethically questionable experiment!!! Get me out of this parallel reality immediately!!!
And what if everything is OK?
I mean, as much OK that Poland doesn't quit the European Union before I get my Dutch passport. As much OK that I get my project financed. And if I do, I will settle smoothly, buy one of these little housies, put my books inside. The rest, planting ivy and roses, will be so simple. And that's it. Perhaps I'm not that far from getting my life just right.
And then I will just go on, writing my books and articles, studying Sufism and Arabic calligraphy, travelling to Amsterdam from time to time for museums and concerts. Or I will buy a piano and play it on Saturday mornings, just as I listen people do. Sit barefoot in my little garden.
I am the dog from that famous experiment on learned helplessness. I have jumped the divide and I lay on the safe floor of the right side of the cage, still too traumatised to become fully aware of my safety. But the idea progressively bores into my awareness: I am in Leiden, 68th university in the global raking, and among the strict three or so of the very best in the matters I am here to investigate. For another year at least, nothing forces me to leave its safety or to enter the danger zone. Chances are I could stay here for the rest of my life. I try to move my head, stand up on the trembling paws and assume my destiny.
My brain is no longer like a candy floss. It feels like one of the trees in the Botanical Garden, remarkable for the particular density of its branches. I adopted it as my special symbolic possession. It is a safe tree precisely for the little distance from one branch to another that makes climbing easy and secure.
I wake up from a long and uneasy slumber, and here I am, on the top of the planet, nearly eight months now. I try to clarify my ideas, design the books to write, assume myself as a leading international scholar against the memory of being minor and marginalised. There, on the other side of the divide, in the zone of no return. Who cares what I was there. Whatever that was there, either said or silenced, is completely void for what regards the top of the planet.
I got a Christian education as a child. Which was a loss of time for most of the time, of course, but still, there have been some rare glimpses of thought in it. Once a priest tried to explain to me what God must feel when man chooses to sin. Some sort of helpless love.
I'm not sure if I participate in the divine feelings, as my country prepares to vote itself out of the civilised world, once again. For many months, I remained in a state of suspension, between hope and certitude of doom. I became tired of it. And I started to feel that opening Gazeta Wyborcza's site several times a day (such is the rhythm of developments in Polish scandals) is a sort of emotional addiction. I went on intoxicated, wishing I could forget Poland once and for all, stop this emotional teeter-totter. Finally, I've made the salutary decision of cutting down Gazeta Wyborcza, and consult Al-Jazeera instead, keeping The Guardian as an alternative reference. Poland has appeared in those media very rarely these days, which helps to reduce my tragedy to its right proportions. If it appears, it is for rather hilarious news, such as some sort of qui pro quo involving rainbow badges. Not as serious as - let's say - Albania.
Not worth of world's attention. The universal tragedy of suicidal maniacs is exactly this, no one pays attention to them, till it is too late. For how to pay attention to a mere mania, when people die by thousands a day in Ebola outbreaks and wage desperate wars with live ammunition? Even God only feels that sort of helpless love for suicidal maniacs. When men decide - and decide so resolutely, against all the odds - to put collectively an end to themselves, even the divine mercy has no place to act. They make use of their inalienable freedom.
I won't get back, it is clear, and I become progressively aware that it is not for politics' sake that I'm beyond all chances of return. There is something more important than homelands and nations, and this thing is scholarship. My becoming a scholar, my intellectual work, that needs to find its proper place and inscription on the top of the planet.
Meanwhile my brain feels like a sort of candy floss inside my skull. I try to read good books and nothing but good books, but I feel lost. These are years now that I feel lost as I face the top of the planet. In some cases, I personally know those people whose books I read, also the good ones. Many have been friendly and humane to me. I try to think about them as my tribe.
All I know is that I have to remain - here, on the top of the planet. There is no other homeland, nowhere else to go, as if the rest of earth were on fire. To put it shortly, there is nothing triumphal about being on the top of the planet. It is sheer desperation, the last refuge of those who are, as their mental condition, on the side of maniacal self-preservation.
I entered the Paradise and I closed the door.
I've just spent three weeks with my husband in Norway. We were curious to see the richest country of the world (according to HDI; other rankings say that the richest country of the world is Qatar, but of course we have sufficient Bedouin wisdom to dismiss such misleading news). In any case, I have no ambition to become neither a Norwegian nor a Qatari. Now I'm back in Leiden, in the Netherlands, the country of my choice, le pays qui me ressemble, which is, if my statistics are correct, only the tenth richest country of the world (or, according to alternative ranking, a country poorer than Saudi Arabia). But I know what I know: the Netherlands are fabulously rich, since I carefully add the value of books and universities, and advanced expertise, and art collections, and luxe and calme and volupté.
My mourning finished; I prepare myself to settle on the top of the planet, i.e. between Leiden and some occasional stays in Oxford. I spend long hours finding home library pictures on Google. I still have a preference for heavy, radically conservative, mahogany bookshelves. But perhaps I'm gradually coming closer to complete acceptance of white walls and anthracite curtains, assorted to the leaden frames of my stained-glass windows. I also meditate on my library as a collection, I try to catalogue it (LibraryThing is much better an app than Libib). A past is gradually removed from my life, and that also implies books - I'm coming to the essentials. Even books I've written myself. Books in Polish. Perhaps only one author will utterly remain: Czesław Miłosz. Right now, between my Arabic reading, I boggle my mind over two Polish books epitomising the very thing to be removed. Both offered to me by their authors: Tadeusz Sławek and Ryszard Nycz, which makes my mind-boggling such a personal affair. But I regret to say that neither of them, Nie bez reszty and Kultura jako czasownik, belongs to the top of the planet. They are to be left behind. As much as all the other, Markowski, Agata... Those people I admired in my youth. Certainly, they constitute the best of the country. Nonetheless, they transpire the very limitation that makes the country's misery, the narrowness of its horizon. And that's what makes them unfitting the crispy air of my Himalayan heights.
I look to the IBL product right in front of me, as if it were yet another exotic book from the pocket of a traveller. I look to the list of names associated with it: Ewa Domańska, Tomasz Majewski... Oh, those people, that fabulous خَصّة to which I never belonged. -- The deepest, the most pervading of satisfactions: I've never been one of them. There has never been equality between me and them, only those anecdotes, memories that make me laugh and that I shall soon forget. They sink into the void together with the country that is no more.
The deepest, the most perverse of satisfactions. They are no more, swept into the void, and here am I, the proud survivor, gathering my stuff to camp on the top of the planet.
Now, having left behind all those years of marginalisation, of being minor, of not participating in those people's local greatness, the remaining task is to accept the crispy air of the heights. To accept that I'm here to stay, me, my toothbrush, my Estee Lauder fluid, my books, my notebooks, my Damascene bookstand, my porcelain cups, my African masks, my farwa (i.e. desert coat), my incense and my perfumes, my Moroccan bag, my colour pens, all my remaining paraphernalia.
I will have to change all such texts as the landing page of my Travel & Literature section, where once I wrote: "Be that as it may, it is all about experiencing the world, being one with it. All the drama of such an endeavour comes from the fact that I am someone who comes from such a marginal, closed space, where books of the world arrive late, if ever. The reading notes and essays that I gather in this section must thus be seen as a self-analysis of an ignorant, fighting to get out of darkness." This is not valid any longer, of course. Now I'm living on the top of the planet, where all books arrive timely and from where all countries are perfectly visible, permanently flooded in a dazzling noon.