an adventure of a romanist
I consider my work in medieval and early-modern studies as the very gist of my disciplinary identity as a Romanist (although there is also an Orientalist and Mediterranean counterpart of whatever is medieval and early-modern; those things are intimately close in my optics).
My attention to the pre-modern started quite early, during my studies in Lublin and Lisbon. It was the lure of comparative literature that led me out of this area; comparative literature conceived, in the first place, as modern criticism. Nonetheless, I felt tempted by these two competing ways of being a scholar for the same reason: due to their complexity, difficulty, the expertise they required. Certainly, there was no such expertise in my poor, mediocre university at Lublin. But in Lisbon I participated in the medieval class of João Dionísio, that gave me some taste of textual criticism. I always felt attracted by Occitan poetry, but I had no opportunity of studying it either in Poland or in Portugal. For a long time I remained with the Provencal turns of Portuguese troubadours. On the other hand, I also got an interest in Catalan literature quite early (although I published on it for the first time in 2014).
Overall, whatever I could get as a student was still quite a modest background. The fact contributed to what I held for a reasonable decision: sticking to the modern period as a research area that I am able to keep under control; I changed my mind about this only much, much later. And I think that, even if I have all the official credentials as a Romanist, I am an autodidact in the domain of Romance medieval and early-modern studies as much as in the Oriental ones. What can I do about it now, in Leiden, moving among people who got the best formation available, often at Oxford and other leading universities? Only shut my mouth and try to cope with whatever challenge comes in my way.
Nonetheless, in spite of all those doubts and tergiversations, I do have a relatively consistent track record in Romance medieval and early-modern studies across all the years of my academic career, although it is not as dense as I would wish it to be. Initially, I became quite well versed in Portuguese maritime expansion. I wrote papers about it (incidentally, one of my earliest papers on this topic was published in France), and actually it remains one of my strong points till the present day. I studied Portuguese Renaissance more in depth at the time of writing my post-doctoral book (Terrytorium a świat, 2003); but more than a decade later, Imperium i nostalgia (2015) still contains extensive criticism in reference to early modernity. In fact, the typical trait of my writing on pre-modern periods consists, since a long time, in building essayistic, cross-historical approaches. My old paper on political correctness, mixing Montaine and Damião de Góis into the affair, may be an example. Also the research project in 2003-2006, focused on the topic of island, had such a transversal character. Imperium i nostalgia still remains quite in the same vain. Later on, my passion for Giorgio Agamben (as a medievalist, not the theoretician of the state of exception) certainly contributes to these intellectual habits.
My interest in medieval and early-modern studies reached quite a new stage with the Marie-Curie fellowship spent in the Renaissance studies centre in Tours. The search for Adamic language, the topic on which I am still working, has a separate page. Meanwhile, this period of research brought to me quite a new lease of ideas.
extracultural becoming in the middle ages and early modernity
My involvement in medieval and early modern studies appears as absolutely central for my work on extracultural becoming of man, because I believe that transhistorical existence of the phenomenon is even more persuasive for my argumentation that whatever might issue out of the contemporary cultural criticism. It is a matter of mysticisms and heterodox ideas much more than a product of globalisation.
As an initial hypothesis, I admitted that it is in al-Andalus that one should seek for the origins of many things that are important for my project. Yet the penetration of such ideas into the Christian world, the undercurrents of thought they become, often in secrecy imposed by the dominant orthodoxies, makes yet another, fascinating story. The idea of unity of the Abrahamic tradition is by no means an obvious thing across the Middle Ages, that saw the Saracen world as something essentially alien. It is obvious to us that the diverse monotheistic religions originated from the same stem over the span of early, mature, late and very late Antiquity (the idea of considering Islam as a product of Antiquity that lingers in the desert peripheries of the Mediterranean world is not quite novel). But in the Middle Ages such a historical perspective was obviously lacking. The trans-denominational truth about God was a revolution for which one man, Ramon Llull, was greatly responsible. And even, he stopped in the middle of the way, never daring to draw the utmost consequences of his own revolutionary idea. At the time of Postel, it was still a highly controversial intellectual problem, as it went against the divergence founding the very existence of religions as separate symbolic spheres and the Church as an exclusive institution.
With our present, transcultural stance, in a Europe that is half Christian, half-Muslim, we are back to the Cordoban context of the first half of the 13th century. Perhaps the truncated story of al-Andalus contributes to the solution of our contemporary problems. But there is no use in reflecting on where we would be now if the history had taken a different turn...
Anyway this project implies a return to the peculiarity of western Mediterranean thinkers. The adjectival expression "western Mediterranean" is more than just an accident of speech. The expanse of a sea dictates the basic coordinates, forming a matrix for subsequent processes, such as the (in)communicability of Latin and Greek worlds, and the space of mediation, filled through the Arabic. The stake, the conclusion to which I look forward concerns the consciousness of Europe looking back to its Mediterranean past to see a unity of civilisation. The perspective is to reconsider the West in terms of a "western Mediterranean". This return to the pre-modern presupposes thus a closing of the Atlantic expansion initiated in the 15th century. Only the final exhaustion of a late, very late modernity presupposes such a move. Nonetheless, I believe the time is nigh.
open topics and their medieval and early-modern protagonists
The medievalist work to be done in my extracultural project consists in bringing back to light a continuity of minor, heterodox traditions in which some traces of such experiences might be found. This is once again rather a Mediterranean than strictly Romance field of research, yet I suppose there is a point of convergence here. If the distinctness of orthodoxies breaks the monotheistic unity, the plurality of mystical heterodoxies blurs the frontiers and advocates for the return of convergence. Just as it will be visible in my research on Guillaume Postel.
A variety of Andalusian thinkers may be contemplated in this research, just as their fame crosses the denominational frontier already in the Middle Ages. Ibn Arabi is evidently a closing key figure, but there is a longer thread of tradition coming from behind. It includes Ibn Bajja and Ibn Tufail, and the Andalusian reflection on social and communitarian condition of man. The origins of the elitist though, distinguishing between the illuminated and the mass of common believers may be translated in terms of coexistence between the extracultural insight of the illuminated few and the cultural existence of the vast majorities of the faithful.
What I'm equally interested in, is the collapse of the idea of unity, such as it can be observed in Ramon Llull. Ars lulliana, as a universalist tool of discovering and communicating truth, falls short of its own universalism. The project of conversion degenerates into a project of crusade. The personal failure of the Mallorcan thinker is at the same time a failure of Europe that, thence as now, falls short of its own aspiration of universalism.
The advocate of the universal concordia is an important figure in my gallery of the restitutors of the broken unity.
Another figure in this gallery, a late comer, is the Portuguese Jesuit priest António Vieira. Once again, its all about universalism, yet perhaps a deficient vision of it. Working as a missionary in the Brazilian province of Maranhão, Vieira gained a very deep insight into the cultural difference. In Clavis Profetarum, his monumental work on the history of the missions, he established an interesting vision of a struggle between a supposedly universal symbolic system (Christianity) and the cultured condition of man.
EROTICISM OF TRACE
Yet another of my transversal projects that imply the Romance area as well as the Mediterranean is about love. The core of this book, that undoubtedly will be very beautiful when I finally give birth to it, is composed by some chosen moments of the Arabic erotic poetry, starting with the lyrical introitus to Banat Su'ad, and continues with a selection of juicy Romance examples, such as the famous sextain Lo ferm voler by Arnaut Daniel.
The question of enlarging the scope of this book is still open. My rather serendipitous proceedings, such as a paper on aporetic eroticism of Ausiàs March or the considerations on the figure of Wallada bint al-Mustakfi as a poetic and erotic subject of a new type are clearly contributing for this study. Those threads of reflection cross-pollinate each other, and the final outcome will probably lead right to our time. Perhaps in a way announced in my essay on the posterity of Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya under the pen of Fatema Mernissi.
the search for Adamic language
and the emergence of transcultural aspiration
in the Middle Ages and early modernity
Marie-Curie fellowship 2017-2018
my papers in medieval and early-modern studies
“W poszukiwaniu kondycji transkulturowej. António Vieira i Giorgio Agamben jako czytelnicy Listów Pawłowych” [“In search of the transcultural condition. António Vieira and Giorgio Agamben as the readers of Paul's Epistle to the Romans”], Nowy Człowiek: wizje, projekty, języki, Stanisław Jasionowicz (ed.), Kraków, Wydawnictwo UNUM, 2017, p. 47-59. ISBN 978-83-7643-142-0, e-ISBN 978-83-7643-143-7
António Vieira, a seventeenth-century Portuguese Jesuit, heterodox thinker persecuted by the Inquisition, and missionary working in the Brazilian province of Maranhão, stands comparison with Giorgio Agamben as a reader of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. In spite of dissimilar historical circumstances, both ask the crucial questions concerning universalism and may be regarded as theoreticians of the transcultural condition, understood in this essay as a state of naked, prelapsarian humanity beyond any cultural distinction. This primordial undressed condition – Unbekleidetheit that Agamben found in the theology of Erik Peterson – might become available again due to the passage into the eschatological time, the kairós of Paul. As one can imagine, Vieira might have lacked sufficient intellectual freedom to fully verbalize all the implications of his vision of the spiritual Fifth Empire unifying mankind. These silenced views that the inquisitorial archives failed to transmit to our times may be recuperated, at least as a hypothesis, through the confrontation of the two readers of Paul and the reflection on the possible transcultural horizons as well as shortcomings of Vieira’s visionary thought.
„Lignum aquilaria, mirra i olibanum jako «substancje pogranicza». Uwagi o węchu w dawnej kulturze” ["Lignum aquilaria, myrrh and olibanum as "liminal substances". Notes on the sense of smell in Medieval and Early Modern culture"], Pharmacopea. Uzależnienia, obsesje, konflikty, pod red. Mai Pawłowskiej i Tomasza Wysłobockiego, Wrocław, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 2013, p. 65-72. Seria Acta Universitatis Wratislaviensis 3475. ISBN 978-83-229-3365-7; ISSN 0239-6661
“Eschatology and politics. The dream of imperial justice in the writings of António Vieira”, La cultura del barroco español e iberoamericano y su contexto europeo, Kazimierz Sabik, Karolina Kumor (ed.), Varsovia, Instituto de Estudios Ibéricos e Iberoamericanos de la Universidad de Varsovia, 2010, p. 221-227. ISBN 978-83-60875-84-1
“Wyprawa zamorska jako zdrada i wyzwolenie w doświadczeniach iberyjskich między XV a XVII wiekiem” [“The sea-far expedition as betrayal and liberation in Iberian experiences from 15th to 17th century”], Litteraria Copernicana, no 2(6)/2010, p. 24-31. ISSN 1899-315x
„Ryzyko «myślenia próbnego». Montaigne nad przepaścią heterodoksji” ["The risk of 'probing thinking'. Montaigne on the brink of heterodoxy"], Niebezpieczeństwo w literaturze dawnej, Anna Loba, Mirosław Loba (eds), Poznań, Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM, 2007, p. 41-49. ISBN 978-83-232175-1-0
"Luís Vaz de Camões, Os Lusíadas: transgresja i poznanie" ["Luís Vaz de Camões, Os Lusíadas: transgression and knowledge"], Prace Komisji Neofilologicznej, t. V, Kraków, Polska Akademia Umiejętności, 2005, p. 105-122. ISSN 1731-8491
"O tempo, a transgressão e o conhecimento na História do Futuro do Padre António Vieira” ["The time, the transgression and the knowledge in História do Futuro, by Padre António Vieira"], Romanica Cracoviensia, nr 4/2004, p. 83-93. ISSN 1732-8705; ISBN 83-233-1854-9
„Przemówić głosem obcego: humaniści piszący w imieniu autochtonów” ["To speak for the strangers: the humanists writing in the name of the natives"], Głos kobiecy, głos męski. Obcy w dawnych literaturach romańskich, pod red. Mai Pawłowskiej, Wrocław, Dolnośląskie Wydawnictwo Edukacyjne, 2004, p. 222-232. ISBN 83-7125-124-6
„La Europa antropófaga: sobre la oportunidad de (trans)misiones” ["The cannibal Europe. On the opportune of the (trans)missions"], Europa como espacio cultural: Entre progreso y destrucción, Christian Wentzlaff-Eggebert (ed.), Köln, Universität zu Köln – Arbeitkreis Spanien-Portugal-Lateinamerika, 2004, p. 45-56. ISSN 1438-6887
„Humanista jako homo viator: nowe cele i sensy podróży w XVI w. (Francja i Portugalia)” [„The humanist as homo viator: new destinations and meanings of the voyage in the 16th c. (France and Portugal)”], Dawne literatury romańskie. Specyfika – związki – dziedzictwo, Lublin, Redakcja Wydawnictw katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego, 2002, p. 202-209. ISBN 83-228-0909-3
"Claramente se mostra ser falso o que escreveram. A dupla aletheia dos Descobrimentos" ["'Clearly proven that what had been written was wrong'. The double alethea of the Portuguese Discoveries"], Taíra. Revue du Centre d'Etudes Lusophones, Université Stendhal - Grenoble III, nr 10 (1998-1999), p. 61-75. ISSN 1145-3559