The not being-there in the being-there

The making of a drawing can be considered as an icon for apostrophe, since the maker of the drawing has to look at the one to be portrayed and turn away to the paper of the sketch. He is addressing the one he portrays in terms of attention. In making the drawing, he is addressing and therefore turning away to another addressee, in terms of expression.

It is this turning away that will convince the one portrayed that a portrait is being made, whilst producing a feeling of insecurity as to what exactly is being made – and for whom to see. The latter point suggests a pivotal point in the turn away. The turning away from the one portrayed in order to be able to make a sketch, functions principally within the frame of the turn to another addressee and audience. To that other audience it speaks.
The act of witnessing implies a double form of address, then. It is on the witness’s attention that the hope of a victim will rest. Equally necessary however is the fact that the witness relates, simultaneously, to an audience that is virtually present. I am using virtually here in the sense Gilles Deleuze defines it: as something that is not yet actualized but nevertheless real, and present.[13] This is why the turning away is both reassuring and painful because the turning away implies, and must imply, a painful but also hopeful not-being-there in the being-there of the witness. The not-being-there in the being-there is what constitutes both the theatrical and the rhetorical moment in witnessing, with affectively charged consequences for all the participants involved. Only when address of attention and address of expression coincide, in a different modality, can participants be “stirred”. And only then, or such is my contention, can witnessing operate ethically, in relation to a community, in terms of responsibility.
The two modes of address are in play at the story’s end, when Quirien is alone in his sleeping chamber and his mother comes to say goodnight. He then describes the final moment of the execution, and as the text explicitly states, he says it in a strange way, using other words than usual, as if he had written it down, once (Dermôut 2001: 326). That is to say, whilst speaking to his mother, his words are turned away formally, as if intended for another audience:

‘Thomas Matulessey walked the ladder with confidence, and coming above, when the fateful noose had been lain around his neck he greeted the judges politely and said…’
The son looked at the mother. “He spoke Malay of course (Malay or English, not Dutch), the regular, everyday greeting – one says ‘good fortune!’ for the one that is going, the other ‘good fortune!’ for the one that stays; these are only two words in Malay, very short.
That is how he said it as well, very short, with a calm but resounding voice: ‘Good fortune for those that stay here! My lords!’ – that is: Slamat tingal! Toeang toeang![14]

The description of the scene is a good example of what I want to call apostrophic hope. Apostrophic fear indicates the victim’s and witness’s insecurity as to whether the one who bears witness will not bury what happened under its own inadequacy, or pervert it by a distorting eloquence. Apostrophic hope indicates the possibility that the one who bears witness will capture the pivotal character of what has happened.[15] Earlier in the story the sketch appeared to have felicitously captured a different image of Pattimura than the distorted one in media reports. Likewise verbal descriptions may be felicitous, as this one is, and produce an image through a verbal representation that may be so vivid that it turns us into the affected audience of one who, in turning away from what he witnesses, becomes one who bears witness.[16]

As I have phrased it now, the address of expression seems to come after the act. That however, is only its actualization in time. This may become clear when we consider the scene for its rhetorical structure. When Matulessey’s last words are reproduced by Quirien, the latter is looking straight ahead into the silent room. He is not addressing his mother but somebody else in terms of attention. He is an inner witness, here, addressing Thomas and his fighters. However, looking straight ahead into the silent room with the imagined Thomas before him and being turned away from his mother, Quirien is also, in terms of address of expression, making the turn away from Thomas to the audience of readers. This audience, always virtually present in relation to the story, will materialize in the shape of different communities in a present – either in the fifties of the twentieth century in Holland, or now, in the present of 2011. Obviously, the turn away cannot concern just any addressee, as if any audience will do, indifferently. Rhetorically speaking the apostrophe needs another addressee and an audience formally, but both can only be meaningful in terms of trust and concern, which is to say ethically, in relation to an interested audience. In the fifties the communities of Ambon people in the Netherlands would have responded differently to the story than, let us say, Dutch catholic or protestant communities. And all these in turn will differ from contemporary communities. The point remains that, principally, the address of attention has to coincide simultaneously with a virtual turn away of the address of expression if the witness is to work meaningfully, ethically.

The implication for the YUTPA model of Caroline Nevejan – one that works on the basis of “being with You in Unity of Time, Place, and Action” – may be evident. There is always, simultaneously, a double “you” involved because of the address of attention and the address of expression. These two “you’s” split the situation in a theatrical way, involving different relations and different modes of relation. The complex dynamic at stake finds an expression in and through the story by Dermôut. Yet, as her text also indicates, the delicate fabric may be distinctly threatened by “media”, for instance the ones that had reported on Pattimura as a monster. Let me now turn to that issue in relation to the essentially theatrical character of the relation between the two modes of address.

Note 13: Deleuze is inspired here by Proust’s ideas on what is constant in past and present.
Note 14: ‘Thomas Matoelesia liep met vaste tred de ladder op, en boven komende, toen hem de noodlottige strop om de hals geslagen was, groette hij zijn rechters beleefd, en zei…’ De zoon keek de moeder aan. ‘Hij sprak natuurlijk Maleis (Maleis of Engels, geen Hollands) de gewone groet van alledag: de een zegt: geluk! voor die heen gaat, en de ander: geluk! voor die hier blijft; het zijn maar twee woorden in het Maleis, heel kort. Zo zei hij het ook, heel kort, met een bedaard maar luide stem: Geluk voor die hier blijven! Mijn heren!—dat is Slamat tingal! Toeang toeang!’ (Dermoût 2001: 327).
Note 15: I take my cue from Mitchel (1994), here, who in Picture Theory distinguished between “ekphrastic hope” and “ekphrastic fear”. The first would be the hope one may set on a description of an image that allows “to make us see”, the second would be the fear that the description will be winning over what actually was there to be seen. In terms of my argument apostrophic hope would be that someone will adequately bear witness. Apostrophic fear would be that the witness will steal the show or operates inadequately.
Note 16: This was Longinus’s point, see note 7.

Frans-Willem Korsten