I’ve come full circle: I’m sitting in my flat in Cracow again, reading about Holland. Herbert and art books. Only this time I’m not researching what I’m about to see, but things I’ve seen already. I’m reading Mulisch again (one of my greatest influences), but this time I’m not interested in the precise way he structures his work, his compelling imagination or impressive erudition. This time my only interest is in addresses, place and street names. I’ve been checking on a map to see if I might have been there, if I might have walked that way.
I do miss Holland a bit. Too short, too little. I wish I could have stayed longer, I wish I could have stayed a while. Perhaps even forever… I don’t know if I could actually live in Holland, but I’m sure I could live among the Dutch. There are lots of things about the Dutch that I like. What I like most is that they’ve designed their cities for people, not for tourists, not for cars, not for advertisers, but for people – for themselves. There’s no such thing in this country.
From Holland to Poland. From the homeland of liberalism to a country where the term ‘liberal’ is a serious insult. From a country where you can do pretty much anything to one where you can’t do anything at all. Over there, people do whatever they please, and as a result everything is neat and tidy (you can see the squares and rectangles through the plane window as you land). Here in Poland everything comes under the strict diktat of one of the (more or less nationalistic) right-wing ideologies that take everyone in, including the younger generation (which is the scariest thing of all), and as a result there’s chaos across the board. There’s nothing paradoxical about that – it’s obvious and predictable.
My country is teetering on the edge of a black hole. And so am I, to some extent – but this hole doesn’t scare me – it intrigues me. This trip to Holland came up at just the right moment. A few weeks ago I finished my second book – written in a frenetic burst, a sort of youthful frenzy, incurring intellectual, psychological and physical debts that I’ll be repaying for the next few months. It did me good to go to The Hague, and especially to be forced to write a series of columns under the gun. I was a little apprehensive about that at first, but then I realised that actually I always write like that, except that usually it’s me that has to hold the gun to my own temple.
To go and to return. To let yourself be distracted and then reabsorbed. To slip away from Poland for a few days and then immerse yourself again. Briefly to forget about the third book, unwritten and clamouring to be written. To come back and see a black hole. To gaze at it, to stare at it with rising hope.
I am certain that the next few years – to be endured on the ever-shorter leash of an extremist right-wing government – will result in a significant liberalisation within Polish society. I am certain that my personal black hole will engender another book. After all, what has my writing always come from if not from perceiving holes, chasms, fissures, pits and precipices? Not from the gift of observation, and not from a well-developed imagination – I haven’t got those. Nor from empathy – I haven’t got that either. It’s from holes, nothing but holes. From the hole that was left by a non-existent, imaginary god. From the hole left by the ludicrous and exhausted omniscient narrator. From the hole left by Poland’s murdered Jews. From the hole left by Poland’s extinct intelligentsia. From the hole that will – inevitably – be left by me.