I recon it is not the wrong mountain that I climbed; I climbed the mountain that was there to be climbed, given my biographical circumstances. I climbed it to the top, and I came all the way down to climb this other mountain that is here.
Yesterday I talked to an old Dutch guy who taught Arabic at Oxford for the best part of his life. I asked him what choices he made when he was young. There was no wrong mountain. I studied Palestinian poets in the 1970s, he said, and then I felt attracted by the old stories of Baghdad. This is something that would happen to anybody, I think. I would probably go very similar way. Overall, his story was, to my mind, striking with simplicity. He used to translate, including my favourite untranslatable, Ibn al-Farid. He was competent, very competent, I presume, and made an acknowledgeable part of the academic corporation.
As I think about it, my own life appears to me as desperately filled with overcompensation. I try to find similar academic biographies, people who went the same way as mine. Certainly, there are: Mircea Eliade, Umberto Eco, Giorgio Agamben. People who started studying medieval poetry and ended up writing theories of the Holocaust and teaching seminars on Paul's apostolic letters. That seems truly my style, in a way. The only difference, perhaps, is that he taught it in Greek, I mean, based on a close reading of the Greek source text. But after all, it is this way that I'm coming. This is why I'm in Leiden, and I asked to participate in Arabic close reading sessions. Never pretended to buy it cheap.
Overall, when I observe those biographies and lifestyles of the top of the planet, I notice one crucial difference: they respire simplicity, clarity and order where my life seems to be chaotic and overloaded. It is like the difference between my own space and the interiors of the houses that I penetrate with the glance during my evening wanderings through Leiden. As rich as they are, they seem to have little stuff. The richer they are, the emptier the rooms where they live, less stuff they appear to possess. I feel it myself. That I have more than enough, even if I hardly brought to the Netherlands a half, or a third of all my possessions. Also intellectually, I start to feel less omnivorous. Hard to explain. I don't mean I've lost my love for all the tribes of the world. I start to feel that I can do with less. But probably, in reality, it doesn't mean less items, it only means neater order. It is like having a library instead of a profusion of books. This is what I missed since my underclass childhood; this is the Gewimmel, perhaps, that I really must see.