Save our souls

I’m writing a book. It goes well, so I am completely exhausted. For the last two and a half weeks, I have spent 8-12 hours a day in front of the computer screen, mostly writing. Writing a book is draining, intellectually, emotionally, and, especially at my age, physically. But a book counts for as much as a good article in the British research evaluation. To be honest, it really makes no sense to write academic books any more. And yet, I tell myself, no article will ever give the elation of holding a published book.

I like writing books probably because I was brought up in a book-writing academic environment, with most people either writing, having written, or preparing to write a book. The book was, and in some disciplines in Poland still is, the ultimate achievement. And yet, let’s face it, Crick and Watson (do let’s remember Franklin!) got the Nobel prize for the briefest of articles. I am also not aware of any books written by Maria Skłodowska-Curie. And let’s remember, she was one of only four persons who received two Nobel prizes, and the only ever who received them in two disciplines (physics and chemistry). And she was Polish. Yes, it’s the same person who is represented here as ‘Marie Curie’.

Even if you take the social sciences, it really doesn’t make sense to write books any more. But I still like it. The book is substantial.  It offers the space in which to make an argument and explore it. I also like the challenge of putting together a network of arguments consisting of those in the chapters, which will finally be held together by the concluding chapter. Articles, however important, are small structures, books are large. It’s the difference between designing a bungalow and a skyscraper (I really wanted to say the Guggenheim centre in Bilbao, but it would be overdoing it)!

Moreover, writing a book has acquired a new status. From the default it became rebellious. It’s not attractive, desired, preferred. As we are forced into more and more intensive publishing, at least I can write a book! I might have given up on the typewriter, but I will always write books, however unpopular they are!

And then there is something else, perhaps a little embarrassing. I studied at one of Europe’s medieval universities. I loved sitting in the courtyard of Collegium Maius, just to inhale the atmosphere. I could almost hear the footsteps of Kopernik, Malinowski, or Wojtyła, amongst however many kings, princes, bishops, writers, philosophers. And I used to meet an elderly professor of international law – he told me he was coming there for the same reason! But it was the library which was awe-inspiring! I still remember walking into the catalogue room, filled with hundreds drawers which were full of index cards representing a few million items.

I really wanted to have a card there! To live ‘forever’ in this wonderful place. The book still offers me the materiality of my effort, in the same way, the catalogue room was the material representation of the sum of human cultural, scientific, social, artistic achievement that found its home in Biblioteka Jagiellońska.

Yes, I suppose, I feel old writing this post. But then I still can’t imagine a house without books, it’s like without a soul. “Books do furnish a room”, as a blogger says.


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