Was I seven or eight at the time? If we travelled so far north, there must have been no martial state in my country yet; History was giving us respite. I had warm clothes and solid shoes for the last time in many years that winter. It was February, the frost was strong; my irresponsible father took me for a walk across a frozen lake; a little girl I was, I knew better than him that such a thing should never be done. The ice might give away under our feet at any moment, since some parts of the lake might have swells of warmer water from the bottom. I had to be more reasonable than my parents very early in my life, but on that occasion I put no objection. I believe to have walked an enormous distance like that, but probably it is only a distortion of memory; in reality, the experience might have been short and insignificant; it grew larger than life through the thrill of danger, of unreasonable risk, of beauty. There was dark green depth under the ice, and immaculate snow, and the dusk coming early.
Nothing happened. There was no price to pay, no splash of icy water. Only the darkness closing slowly, velvety, friendly, uncoiling my fear. What else can I say about that fleeting moment in which everything that matters had truly begun? It is easier to linger on painful stories than to give a complete account of the sublime, the beauty and spiritual depth of one's own existence. Resentment makes us verbose, the sublime imposes reticence. It is hard to give a full account of silence and dusk, or the shade of dark green under the ice. Nonetheless, step by step, returning to my past with sufficient assiduity, I might rebuild my story not as I did in The Four Riders, but the other way around, as a journey of enlightenment.
I return to my narration in 2020, in Lisbon, during the pandemic. I regained the city of my youth on the last flight out of Poland before the closure of its borders, haunted by the phantoms of the country's history. Soon, I bitterly regretted the comfort and safety of my home in Kraków. Yet the news from Hungary persuaded me that my caution might not be as exaggerated as I thought in some moments; the contagion wasn't the only thing to worry about; Middle Europe accelerated its march toward authoritarian regimes. Not all the borders that had been closed for the pandemic might reopen, and my last flight from Kraków might prove to be as crucial as Cassirer's last ship out of Sweden. The future was too uncertain to take on any further risks.
I decided to close my eyes on dismal reality and envision the scenario of my choice, make projects for a world after. To use the pandemic as a springboard. The world that crumbled might release my energy, launch me onto a new path. The consummation of the Apocalypse might set me free from the realm of the Four Riders. If I set my mind quickly enough to face another destiny, prevent my world from relapsing into the old pattern. For the Apocalypse won't last; I barely have weeks of this suspended time to create all the details of the new configuration. This is why I collect all the brainpower I can master to envision mahogany bookcases to host my library to be, containing books that are still to be written.
And here I am, more aware than ever how important it is to cultivate spiritual freedom, the sublime, eroticism as the innermost sanctum of human autonomy. Among all those multiple attempts at the reversal of democratic progress, submerging our bodies in darkness and silence was the most revolting and abject to me. Yet as I write, the domestic trouble is farther behind with every line. The memories I bring back are neutral, free from resentment, as if they happened in another person's life. The Nepali owners of the place where I stay offer me their native beverage, sort of tea with milk, spiced with cardamon. I hear them speaking their distant tongue and laughing loudly behind the wooden door of my room, as if a sudden gush of wind brought to my doorstep a handful of Himalayan snow. In Lisbon, among the pandemic that puts everything so close at hand, makes the global inscription of our individual destinies explicit and patent. Yet the intensity of this cardamon flavour, its strict localisation and present tense reduce everything else to the status of a mere shadow. Of all reality, only the cardamon is truly real. It brings me down to the embodied experience of breathing, that has been stripped of all its obviousness by the virus, and an acute sense of immediate consequences of every choice I make in this suspended, apocalyptic time, in the kairós. Just like that decision of meeting my destiny in the West rather than in the East.
Risk calculation, stepping on thin ice. A splash of icy water, or a velvety darkness uncoiling my fear. The choice of solidity, of things that remain, darkened with age. Mahogany bookcases that are my anchor in solitude and isolation. I prefer dark colours, warm and intense: velvety black and deep blue, and even more than this, deep red and brown, as well as vibrating orange on the heights of intensity. When the pandemic is over, I will need a place to settle down, my definite home. Just a couple of days before I left Kraków, I put new things in my apartment, framed the prints I brought from Cairo. I put fresh roses on the table. The moment of my depart, it looked just as I always wanted it to be, an apartment of a scholar, full of books and framed prints from Cairo on the walls. But clearly, the wallpaper was old and needing repair, making it patent that the flat belonged to a past. The books I intended to donate to a public library remained on the little console by the entrance.
I suffered from persistent nostalgia of that apartment over the last years. Never missed people or country as a whole, just that little space of mine, a bubble of ideal world. My books. Heavy albums on painting, Romanesque abbeys, Islamic art. Odd volumes I brought from my travels. The only thing I regret is that I didn't organise their transport to the Netherlands when I still had time, that only a part of my belongings is preserved in a self-storage in Leiden. But in fact, I had nothing particularly precious at home. It is just the pointless nostalgia of a scholar that, of all things in the world, gets attached to books. Unreasonably, like a maniac. The miracle of print is precisely that we can always recover the books we had lost, get new copies.
Nonetheless, I wish I could have them back, when the order is restored. When I find my place to settle, a home with mahogany bookcases to receive them. What will be the feeling? Vanity of all our earthly possessions. Probably, I would reject most of them, because by that time, I would have better books, just like a child who gets new toys severs her attachment to an old teddy bear. I miss my old Philosophia perennis, but by the time things get better, I will certainly have the English original, and I will despise my Polish translation published in 1987 by Pusty Obłok, a tiny editorial house producing the kind of metaphysical books that appeared so attractive, so enlivening at the time. Yet how many memories and affects attached to that old copy!
Right before the onset of the pandemic, I was busy precisely with a work of deconstruction of memories and affects, removing those Polish books from my library that I miss so dearly. I was donating them or throwing pitilessly to the blue recycling container. Just like that tiny copy of Thomas a Kampis' De imitatione Christi that I received on my 17th birthday, in 1989. When I read the book at the time, I only retained the truth that Thomas a Kempis took from Seneca: Quoties inter homines fui, minor homo redii. And as I take this retrospective of my life, I am still so glad of having taken from De imitatione Christi just that. I managed to screen myself from the influence of other people, from alien, imposed affects and attachments, from the desperation of the quest for other people. I only wished to be alone. To close the door and remain inside; to open another door and get out onto my inner landscapes. To speak to myself in interwoven languages that I am the only one to disentangle. Alone with things, in a purely material world, alone with matter open to my shaping. Alone with my own emotions, autonomous and undisturbed by the irruption of faces.
I was very far from being an obedient Christian when that little De imitatione was given to me; certainly, I was a keener reader of Philosophia perennis. My relationship with Christianity ended very early. I experienced it at the time of my first communion, as I was 9 years old. It was in May of the year 1981, the high noon of religious fervour mixed with political aspirations. A time of intense, yet alien affects, penetrating massively my young soul. It is essentially from that period that I might keep a tender recollection of the smell of incense and the plebeian aura of a Polish church. Yet it was barely a year in my early life. Later on, I was still forced to participate in the collective frenzy of varied rituals that had such an importance in Polish life all along the 1980s, but the dominant recollection I kept from that period is boredom and deepening sensation of non-belonging, of being profoundly alien in relation to those unsophisticated, yet fervent congregations. Quite to the contrary, if Christianity had any significance in the subsequent years of my life, it was exclusively in terms of intellectual content; I abhorred the emotional taste of it, at least such affects as I associated with it in my home country. Yet it was my first way of being European; I conceptualised Europe as something connected to Benedictine abbeys.
But already around that time, 1989, I was interested in Buddhism; once or twice I even joined the sanggha that gathered in Falenica (a suburb of Warsaw) for zazen sessions. Zen, like punk rock, was a great novelty of the time in Poland, the synonym of the country's opening to the world. Also Islam, less conspicuous, was like a low, constant note in the background. I have no clear recollection when I became seriously interested in it, it was nothing of a sudden discovery. It had always been there. I remember to have started learning Arabic very early, perhaps when I was 16 or even 15, and wished to study Oriental philology. It was yet another, less obvious way of being European.
Although rejecting those familiar affects of Polish Catholicism, I am nonetheless very well acknowledged with Church history and various Christian doctrines. Better, in any case, than most people, including a number of my academic colleagues. And of course, I still have Bach and Campra, not to mention Hildegard von Bingen, in my music collection, a variety of Christian treatises in my library. Even today, I enjoy reading Augustine for the quality of his Latin. I have never been actively hostile to Christianity in any way. I regularly visit churches in western Europe for their silence, for the company of their stones, although I might find it natural to address God in Arabic while I'm there. Once, in Amsterdam, I even participated in a sort of trans-denominational congregation chanting hymns on duisternis helder than licht in the Oude Kerk. I like this particular church precisely for its location in the middle of the Red Light District. Symbolically, it stands in my eyes for pluralism, freedom and the virtue of moderation. Meanwhile, any visit in a church in Poland that I might have attempted late in the decade of 2010 only made a cold sweat run down my spine; every time I ventured to enter a church, feeling increasingly unwelcome, I experienced the deepening sensation of stepping upon hostile territory from which people like me were excluded. Perhaps precisely for my acute sense of Church history, for my awareness of what Christianity actually was. Something, in the first place, that never belonged to Poland alone.
It had not always been like that. A decade ago, I was working, as a translator, for an editorial connected to the Catholic Church; I did not consider it below me to translate into Polish Christian spirituality books, even if personally, I believed they contained sheer nonsense. They were making sense, I thought, to other people; it was my duty, I believed, to contribute also to their world in the spirit of tolerance and generosity (incidentally, those translations were not very well paid). Now, I am ashamed of having put my hand and my name to those books. A number of poisoned chocolates have been placed on teenagers' desks with my name on them. As far as print is concerned, those publications constitute my greatest mistake. I do regret it.
Be that as it may, those translations have no importance whatsoever, just as anything I had ever written and published in Polish. I presume we have to get used to the idea of a narrow Europe. I do regret the vastness that may be lost in this crisis; its future is uncertain as I write; I only make my private geopolitical conjecture. Alas! I would gladly see the European Union from Lisbon to Kiev, in one constant flight of endless earth. It was a beautiful dream. But it is perhaps the time to come back to the Mediterranean, think about the South again, the links to rebuild, the wars to end.
For now, I bend my mind to remain roughly in the lozenge between Paris, Amsterdam, Oxford and Heidelberg, to make myself at home in this narrow stretch of earth. Oh, how narrow, if compared to the expanse I used to live in, exploring Belgrade and Bucharest, and Sofia, and Lviv! Intellectually, it is a passage from a vast world of void, low quality, open horizons, opportunities, and easy flights of creative imagination into a world that is intense and saturated. Intensity and saturation force their laws upon me. I need to condense as well, learn how to swim instead of flying.
अर्थ, مُنَايَ مِنَ الدُّنْيا. Tongues and faiths of the humanity speak to me, their vowels darkened with millennia. They speak of things greater than home and origin, mere blotch of ink on the palimpsest of the earth. And homeless, but not enslaved, I return to my papers, my studies, my writings, my garden and my desert.
And this is where serious scholarship begins, much more down to earth than the uwaysi power of those tongues and faiths of the humanity that used to speak to me. But it is a better, higher life, understanding more clearly whatever they say to me. I'm looking forward to discover how it might feel like, in Oxford, to meet Khidr.
The Crimson Angel (Karminowy anioł) was the title of a blog dedicated to Oriental eroticism that I used to have many years ago, around 2006-2007, when such things were still thinkable in Poland. But my predominantly historical discourse, referring alternately to Abbasid mujun and the noble shades of Andalusian love was, in spite of considerable popularity, without a real audience. It was the time when Polish women were exploring Arabian eros, reduced, most unfortunately, to special services for which certain Egyptian and Tunisian hotels were reputed. Meanwhile, the real adventure remained more than elitist, improbable and incredible. And who would believe that, in the age in which pornography is commonly seen in high resolution, it is still the Tawq al-hamama, the least fiery of Arabian texts, that puts fire in my veins? Certainly, it might be regarded as a perversion, if it were not held, first of all, for improbable and utterly incredible. I prefer to keep it this way.
By the way, very little of the heritage that means so much to me may be regarded as a living culture; Arabs are far less Arabian than I wish them to be. Tawq al-hamama is mostly read by freaks like myself, in western universities much more often than in deserts. Global pornography, in high resolution, prevails universally, both in the West and in the East, while ancient verses fall into oblivion. And yes, the true adventure is so elitist that it becomes improbable, incredible, unreal.
As a teenager, I lived a life that must be seen as strikingly alien to my own spiritual standards, a life that was imposed upon me by my social context, by the culture in which I was immersed; since that time, I have never ceased to search for ways of transcending it. The sheer possibility of being sexually worthy, as well as pure, was a novel idea that dawned on me when I was well in my mid-thirties. This is when I got rid of a man with whom I lived and who, although not a Pole, shared a lot of those zero-illusion views. I considered myself a convert and got a religious marriage with a solid set of coordinates concerning sexual purity. Certainly, my husband and I always tended toward sexual excess and over-performance that for most people in my old country would have no possible articulation with any kind of religious outlook. Yet it has an articulation; among all religious dogmas, I believe most firmly in the ajr that comes from marital intercourse; I rely on it for my salvation. This is precisely a secret of faith that has been forgotten. Unfortunately, not only among Christians.
Whatever I missed, I missed for my own good. Eminently.
There was also something else coming with the idea of mediocrity and worthlessness of my body; it was the lack of care in my appearance that, in the long run, proved impossible to cure (later on, I even tried to pay coaching sessions in order to train myself into becoming an elegant woman; I believed it would also boost my academic career; yet all the effort in vain). I never got used to makeup, nail varnish or a daily use of jewellery. My husband failed in this domain just the same as my coach. For many years, he provided me generously with expensive jewels and perfumes that slowly volatilised in their flasks. Later on, he gave up, and now he gives me just shoes and Levi's trousers; still, the latter often spend long seasons on the bottom of my wardrobe while I wear the plainest no logo clothes. Curiously, I consider this lack of sophistication unreligious; it is the last reason why I would still attempt to fight my untidiness. It may seem strange if I say the last emissaries of the elegance cause, the last style gurus that still catch my eye and get my attention are the imams of the great mosques I sometimes see on YouTube and certain religious persons that I meet at Leiden University or the SOAS when advanced aspects of sharia law are debated. Such people are, as a rule, well-groomed males that in other contexts might easily fall into the category of "metrosexual". Somehow, their presence inspires me more toward elegance than the glossy pages of fashion magazines, the envy of female colleagues or the impulse to imitate any woman I might eventually find well-dressed and attractive. Nonetheless, the whole thing usually ends up with a few drops of sandal oil I rub on my hands.
I only mention the sandal oil because it helps to elucidate my peculiar trans-gender, androgynous identity. Although I'm not in conflict with my femininity, I have had, since my youth, a certain propensity to think of myself as male, in terms of the peculiar construct that gender is in its strict, culturologist definition. As a teenager, I loved to wear working-class flannel shirts and refused to internalise many of those messages that, as I've mentioned, make a person behave like a female, adopt that kind of posture in life. Later on, also my Oriental adventures were a form of encountering and experiencing the male side. Such things are not unheard of. Once I even published a learned paper on the adventure of "becoming the Orient" lived by early female explorers. Coming from their Victorian England, they were keen on riding camels and wearing male attires. Although all the abayas in my wardrobe have been clearly designed for a feminine use, I still experience the Orient just as they did, as the escape from an oppressive culture through a novel gender construct. Curiously, a construct that is located and anchored in the Orient, but has no Oriental equivalent.
I have never been zealous in my religion, and as little a mosque-goer as I might have been a church-goer, were I a Christian. I did not have witnesses of my conversion except God, no written record of belonging to any community whatsoever except a marriage contract made in Milan, on our way to the universal honeymoon destination, Venice. As a child of modernity, I preferred to keep those things strictly private. Intellectual work, exchange of ideas, insightful writing is the only reason to get out of that private sphere, to reveal anything from its content. For we must, after all, sometimes write to grant our survival, to keep the angel flying.
No wonder that those few intrusive people who ever felt curiosity to enquire about my private life were drawn to the conclusion that my husband must be a mere literary creation, a fictional character appearing in the spare internet writings that I used to put online over the years. I never wished to build a family, rise children. Since the manifold traumas of my teenage years, I carefully avoided Polish male as a category; they also avoided me, even before I came out of my very first youth; my intellectual ambitions must have scared them away. Later on, I also developed a strange prejudice against making love to an unbeliever; more than a sin of fornication, it would be demeaning and disgusting. I shiver at the sole idea of engaging in any such situation. I suppose it has less to do with religion as such and of course, the disgust is not related directly to circumcision as a physical feature; it has more to do with the very concept of eroticism; someone outside my peculiar spiritual sphere wouldn't share it.
It was thus on mutual agreement that, for the greater part of my life, I used to leave Polish males alone and used to be left alone by them in return. Unexpectedly, episodic problems reappeared later on, when a couple of colleagues of mine, usually much older than me and with professorial titles, seemed prone to the belief that it might boost their image, academic stance or whatever, if they had me as their lover. The sheer idea that I might possibly engage into any sort of sexual activity, not to say intercourse, with any of them was deeply traumatic. Yet they tended to interpret my refusal as the sign that I was already engaged in a relationship with some other professor, probably someone higher up in the academic hierarchy. A truly mind-boggling delusion!... Yet I see how they got into such ideas. It is often argued that power attracts females; yet not the kind of power that a dean or even a rector of a Polish university might have, at least not in my case. Be that as it may, for many years in between, I could live a perfectly tranquil and undisturbed existence, entirely forgotten in the world of my private angels.
And this is how I've religiously maintained, for nearly fourteen years till now as I write these words, a strict sexual fidelity to my husband, whom I also appreciate for his constancy and stability of affects. Nonetheless, physical attractiveness is probably the key to my heart. Arguably, it is yet another male trait of my personality; I look to the appearance, to the body. Yet I'm not much of a conqueror. The beautiful Oriental males I occasionally meet in university libraries across the western Europe usually represent only a fleeting temptation, a vague possibility rising on my horizon. Not enough to cause more than an hour of reverie. Perhaps no one is Arabian enough to spur me into action; yet to be honest, neither is my husband, a genuine Najdi Arab from the Quda'a tribe. I'm an incurable.
This is why I remain so down-to-earth in the fourteenth year of my marriage; I suppose it is quite a long time for the current standards. My husband used to be quite a handsome male, at least as for my standards. He also has the advantage of equanimity, those stable and constant affections of a genuine desert mind. But he is not an intellectual; and according to the opinions predominating in his country, he looks rather sceptical upon my spiritual aspirations. Neither has he a refined aesthetic sensitivity; as the years go by, he has lesser and lesser patience for museums, operas and philharmonic concerts. This is probably why I sometimes had the disloyal idea of substituting him with someone more up to my intellectual level, without actually planning to put it into practice. For what would be different then? Would we discuss the stages of our tariqa at the breakfast table?
We are two very different persons united, as far as I can pierce the secret of our happiness, by a strange link of shared constancy, of sheer fidelity to each other as the embodiment of a sort of elitist adventure that each of us can call distinctive and unique. For it is unique and distinctive for a Najdi Arab to have a European scholar for a wife; something that great ameers may have, perhaps some people from the royal family, but certainly not the common folk. Quite symmetrically, it is a sweet secret for a humble Polish professor, judged so plain, unpicturesque and unattractive in her native context, a secret that gives her coloris and character, at least in her own eyes. This is how we represent to one another a fleeting ideal or an aspiration of some sort. Or simply enjoy each other's company, find it relaxing, reliable and supportive throughout our quite dissimilar lives.
We lived many great adventures together, and for so long that the world had time to revolve under our feet. It is hard to rank them, since they were so different in style, purpose and content. I appreciated our journey to Iceland for its taste of void, melancholy and solitude; but we were also happy in the north of Scotland, on the Isle of Skye, and also had a great time in Greece, among the ruins and the strange landscapes of Meteora. Al-Andalus was a long desired travel in search of roots. Our Malaysian trip was a high point, with a ride across the Cameron Highlands. In Kuala Lumpur, we walked at night and ate durians in a the street. But it was also great to take a kayak and explore the Biebrza swamps in Poland. There were countries, like Italy and the Netherlands, that we visited over and over again. There were countries like Norway that we hated for the meanness of their inhabitants.
I had my fair share of the world, and I enjoyed it fully, tried hard to study it and to say a couple of meaningful things about it. I contributed to the global warming with several intercontinental flights. Yet as a rule, I have been parsimonious in my travels, as well as my general, everyday consumption; it is a habit that comes from my childhood and youth; my finances have always been in a perfect balance, at the lowest comfortable level. I might have aspired for more, especially in all the material domains of life. But if I had a second youth, like Faust, to love all over again, would I make it differently? Certainly, there are things I missed. I could have paid more attention to myself; I could have been more attractive, better dressed, better looking, getting more. More money, more luxury, more social stance, more prestige. I spent the best years of my life at Polish university, squandering my talent and energy. I do regret it now. More attractive male bodies? More interesting partners, perhaps. But love itself has a beauty that is not in the person of the beloved.
I may have my private preferences and persuasions concerning men, most of them, to be honest, quite judgemental, unproved and conjectural. I claim that there is no more constant, dedicated and reliable companion but in Arabia; that, I would say with Paul, who is circumcised in his heart. But that is of course my private venture, not a piece of advice that might work in any other woman's life. On the opposite pole, my opinion about the Moroccan men largely coincides with the analysis of Fatema Mernissi; I mention them here, since they might be possibly considered as the direct successors of my Andalusian spiritual homeland. Unfortunately, they are not, and I agree with the Moroccan sociologist that the colonial fact might have been a major factor of destruction in this domain. Such a hypothesis brings the discussion back home, to Poland; an elderly scholar, Ewa Thompson, had once shared with me an interesting comment about this; she pointed to the exhaustion of masculinity caused by recruitment to colonial and imperial armies. Poles and Moroccans had been in fact recruited by the Russians and the French. Is this the reason why my own hunting grounds had to reach beyond imperial zones of influence, toward the fragile purity of uncolonised deserts? Who knows.
Certainly, I do not pretend to know it all. And sometimes it crossed my mind that I might like to end my life by a chapter in Farsi; I saw some Iranian refugees in the Netherlands, ageing handsomely, with a touch of spirituality and sublime to render them interesting. Very alien, true strangers to my world, sort of an Orient of the Orient. But overall, if I say I fancy to have a Persian in my old age, the reader is kindly requested to infer that I'm partial to domestic cats. Well, to be honest, if one day I could live somewhere in the Middle East with sufficient means, I would gladly keep a cheetah... Such are my dreams for the autumn of life; I can gladly see myself on the highest floor of a burj in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, with an expensive hunting cat and a pair of falcons. But that's enough of coloris, I end here. My realistic aspirations for retirement don't go beyond acquiring Dutch citizenship and living the remainder of my life in an old house with a tiny garden, preferably in the perimeter of the city walls of Leiden.
I often think one day I might still become quite an elegant, even a charismatic old lady, perhaps to compensate a lifetime of abjection. As I repeated already once or twice in connection to diverse other topics, one of the things I deeply regret was to have spent most of my life rather unkempt and badly dressed. Certainly, much of it may be forgiven as a lasting consequence of my childhood; but for me it remains unforgiven as a constant betrayal of my Andalusian worldview. In this aspect, I have never managed to grow out of my youth; even my habit of wearing black has nothing to do - as one might eventually admit - with Arabia; it is simply the remnant of the fact that I had been punk as a teenager.
But I am interested in luxury and style; it comes naturally with art and art history. Not a very refined taste, I am afraid; the hotels of my choice, such as the Alchemist in Prague, are those often frequented by unmistakably Russian clients. Nonetheless, growing sober would be a proof of my stylistic and cultural adaptability; with time, I might blend in the Netherlands; although not completely, I'm afraid.
I appreciate a variety of local styles; some of them with traditions behind, other fostered by recent affluence, like in the Emirates. Are the former naturally better than the latter? After all, I am a newcomer to many things; why should I squeeze in the stylistic choices of old aristocracies?
Very early in my life, I loved material world, making things, woodcarving. I regret so little remains from my work; and I promise myself to return to this one day, in the Netherlands, when I have my own house and a garden where I might build a little shed for my tools. I loved the sensation of fresh wood yielding to my chisel, letting itself shape, cut clearly. But I was taught to despise it, to abandon whatever I did as a thing useless. I only learned how to respect, gather and consolidate my creative work very late. Such a respect, and the creation itself, was something anti-social; it went against the spirit of self-loathing in which I was educated. Against the injunction to discard whatever was mine. Even now, I still feel this urge of discarding whatever is too much my own. I hate my own pathos, my flourish, the overload of me in whatever I do. As if it were aesthetically inadmissible, like an excess of female body in an obese girl. Everything is supposed to be different, ought to be different, not as it is. Whatever is mine ought to be discarded, because it requires too much attention, occupies too much space.
Perhaps my utopian aspiration of studying non-cultural poeisis becomes understandable only in the light of this personal experience of significant making as something going against the cultural message received. The cultural message I got, even in the positive sense of a calling for scholarship or the approval of cultural analysis and criticism, was in fact anti-poietic. That cultural calling was to do things derived, not the primary creation; and I believe it would be the same, if I studied painting instead of philology. The call of my inner landscapes was something essentially different, opposite to the impulses transmitted to me from others. With the best of intentions, they could only invite me to share the existing universe of meaning; they could only dissuade me from searching for my own.
To explore and inhabit my inner places was to remain constantly on the edge of incommunicable, something I was unable to articulate clearly even to myself, with all the resources I had at my disposal, both visual and verbal. Inner places are a zone of silence and emptiness, where shaping, articulating hardly emerges out of nothingness as a fluctuation, constantly collapsing back onto undisturbed void. There exists a specific emotion of non-cultural poiesis, that is a sensation of fullness, of plenitude inherent to the unlimited potential present in the void, from where any creative act may begin.
This is how I always wanted to count my life; the form that my autobiographical narration took in The Four Riders marks the collapse of the extra-cultural onto the cultural, the failure of articulating the inner domain, of remaining in it. Initially, I was only able to tell my life in constant reference to the cultural, to the History going on outside, because the cultural offered the only grid, the only support for expressing my experience, for talking about it in a meaningful way. But at the same time, whatever was cultural constituted a traumatic irruption into my inner world, and I think this particular narration shows it very well. How much I lost and suffered every time that people and external circumstances were interfering with my inner reality. Of course, there was a cultural transmission also inside, plenty of it; all that "high scholarship" that I mention as my refuge, all those books and libraries are eminently cultural. But at the same time, they are spheres of the irruption of the extra-cultural authenticity and vitality; there is a profound difference in the quality of the cultural as I found it in art or inspiring scholarship and the cultural as I found it in the narrow, enslaving repetition of ancestral gestures and rituals to which my mother was fettered, the manipulative cultural that my grandfather sipped from his ultra-Catholic radio, even in the madness of my father collecting chestnuts under his bed to protect himself from imaginary radiation of the underground water currents. This is something that cannot be reduced to the by-gone opposition of high and low culture, the elitist and the popular. I make quite a different distinction: between the vital, the dynamic, and the stagnating; between the productive, the efficient, and the reproduction of failure. What is to be found through these different qualities of the cultural is liberation and enslavement, mind-boggling abundance, and the most dire poverty, misery, desolation. The desolation of the hen my grandmother kept in the balcony of our urban flat, because she was unable to let go her peasant culture in which the bird and its egg were so central and so profoundly sacred. The example may seem anecdotal, but I believe such an atavism is omnipresent in the cultural realms we inhabit. This is why the deconstruction of the cultural, the ability to let it go is absolutely crucial.
What I call different quality of the cultural may perhaps be reduced to the closeness of the extra-cultural from these varied locations inside the cultural territory that I have evoked above.
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