But after all, comparing myself with Emily Apter is yet another diversion. I indulge in this, certainly, because she has many things I might fancy, in the manner of distinction, and I would like to see myself in her world, rather than remaining in the enchanted sphere of the University of Warsaw. I'm seeing her CV right now (it has 41 pages like my own, see, it's not true that CVs are not supposed to have this size). Strangely enough, I've taken her too much for an equal, in various aspects, while she is not. Just to give an example, I was persuaded she is about my own age. She makes a slender and youthful impression, at least at a distance and with poor eyesight like mine. While clearly, she is not, she's got her first teaching position in 1982 (assistant professor in Romance Languages, yes, this does sound familiar). Between 1982 and 1997, when I started, there is a distance of fifteen years (even seventeen, if we compare the dates of our masters), without mentioning the distance between Princeton, where she studied, and... well, let's skip this. On the other hand, the linguistic competences -- as listed in her CV -- are not as broad as I've imagined. There is no Arabic mentioned, only the fluency in French, which is spotless, as I could verify myself (I've heard her speaking). The remaining are quite current, and described as "reading knowledge": German, Spanish, Italian, Latin. Who does ignore any of those?! The only outstanding thing is Tzotzil (I've never known there is a language like this), described as a Mayan language studied for anthropological field work, I imagine in her remote youth.
Certainly, there are no intellectual twins in the real world, and any term of comparison is an ad hoc and deficient tool. But I was heading toward further musings on the Proper Writing. As I said, I see things above the polyjuice potion of her book I've been reading throughout my nights (taking it for a work in progress of a becoming, not quite experienced scholar, while the volume is in fact the accumulation of writings produced along a way!). Books that are on just one topic, but elaborated in such a way that most people who read them, read them for other reason than just the interest in the topic. For how many people actually read Agamben's Altissima povertà to learn things about the Franciscans? The book is clearly beyond its topic, becomes more important than its topic. Perhaps if I truly succeeded in writing my book on the Portuguese literature, it might be something of the kind. A reading for those who care the least about Portuguese poems or novels of any kind. But might learn something from the Portuguese adventure of immobility and dejection. This would be the real Proper Writing. Who knows, perhaps I wasn't so very desperately far from this.
Perhaps I will never know. While I was discussing the expected results of my ERC project, the adviser told me they simply expect it to be in the top 1% of the things published. Apparently, it's very simple and easy to understand. They want my book to be better than 99 in every 100 books that leave the printing press. But what does it mean to me? There is up to 900 books published yearly by the people employed at the University of Warsaw; it means that mine would be expected among 8 or 9 best ones in my home university (of course provisionally speaking, because in Amsterdam the numbers are greater and certainly harder to beat them). Just to begin with something, is a book like The Coming Humanities better than 99 other books published by DiG? I might believe this, but in fact nobody knows, and the adviser also told me, perhaps in a guise of consolation, that the ERC has no means of verifying this. There is a small icon of a cup on Academia.edu, where you can see in how many top % your paper is, but of course it's a long time ago that I'd noticed that the top achievements of Polish humanities, according to those standards, are the things Emanuel Kulczycki writes about measuring the [in]efficiency of the academic system in Poland. Especially when it comes to calculating the famous "points".
In the first place, it would be very hard to make this estimation by counting anything. Perhaps if I searched for arguments, trying to tell for what reason my book might be better than the remaining ones. As for example telling that it opens a new field of experimentation. But who can decide or prove it does? That the opening, I mean, is effective, not just another stupid thing a little Weibchen like me has imagined? One of the main hindrances in all the "Transylvanian" systems is the absolute lack of clues to distinguish between something that is really important and something that is not, something that really counts as an innovation and something that is just another ad hoc configuration suspended in the vacuum. Since the reality beyond the words has vanished? In absence of those criteria, I have no doubt that, if they had to chose the best book even in the micro-scale of my faculty, they would never pay attention to my books. They would either follow the weight and chose one of the massive experiments of my colleague, or simply stick to what they can understand the easiest, and chose the Greek mythology for autistic children of that another colleague of mine. By any standards, I lose.
Another problem is that you will probably never see some 80% of the books published, at least in Poland. Including 80% of those made at the University of Warsaw. Those 900 books never lay on any shelf or table together. My Coming Humanities will never enter any bookshop. It may be found online and bought, if somehow you know about its existence, and search specifically for it. Which of course most people will never do. What worries me is that Agata told me similar thing about her book in English, published by any of those editors who are perhaps the equivalent of DiG in the West, and offered at any exorbitant price. Perhaps several tens of copies might reach the main libraries, and that's all. And of course, there is one final thing in this. Were these books perfectly available to everybody, what use would people make of them?
But there is a reverse of all this story. This top 1% of all the books published probably corresponds, in the limits of statistical error, to the pile that lies on my table right now as I write, or at least to the part of this pile that I actually appreciate and never truly care to remove. This top 1% is the most familiar reality, and I'm only asked to stick to it. Not the gelid pinnacle of unseen achievement, but the very air I breathe and strive for. And I'm only asked to write as properly as I see things written. Just like in a civilised toilet. Leave the things as proper as you've found them. 99% of people who write, don't. But this is their problem. The 1% always sticks out, bright and unspoiled, and the ERC, contrary to Emanuel Kulczycki, doesn't seem so very much preoccupied with measuring it. Yes, it does stick out of -- technically speaking -- the shit.
Concluding, all these things concerning writing books are not as simple as most people imagine, and by any set of criteria, I'm done. The only thing I can possibly do in the matter of Proper Writing is just leave those 900 publications of the University of Warsaw alone, no matter where they are to be found. And Professor Apter as well. I only wonder why they never invite Giorgio to speak at those conferences. Perhaps he is done, too.