Apology and Antirrhetic
Words against Image
Truth in the Theatrical Monologue
As Dutch winters produce ever thinner ice, so also the value of truth seems to be thinning in the year of 2017. Would there perhaps, then, be a correlation between ice and truth? This lunatic correlation taken aside, it is indeed on thin ice one is treading when taking up the subject of truth. Nevertheless, the theatrical monologue Missie undertakes an examination of, amongst other things, truth and coherence in the individual. With Missie Van Reybrouck thought-provokingly asserts the multifariousness and internal ambiguity of the individual, stating in the preface that “Elke waarachtige mens is een Corsicaans bergdorp met ruzie.” (Van Reybrouck 9).
Missie is written by the Flemish Belgian author David Van Reybrouck who is an archaeologist, cultural historian and writer of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and theater. It premiered in 2007 at the Royal Flemish Theatre. In 2012 the text was published in the bundle Twee Monologen, together with the earlier theatrical monologue Die Siel van die Mier from 2004. Missie is an account of the Belgian missionary Grégoire who has been living in the Congo for forty-eight years and who is temporarily back in Belgium telling his story. It has originally been conceived as a play. However, with the publication of Twee Monologen it is now also a text. Because of the boundedness in time and space of this research paper, not the performance of the play but only the text will be examined here, without however, losing out of sight the fact of the form of the theatrical monologue as it has originally been conceived. The text will be read alongside Peter Goodrich’s text on the laws of genre ‘Apology and Antirrhetic: Icon, Idol, Image, and the Forms of Law’. Central to this paper are the laws of genre, with Goodrich’s text primarily as a theoretical framework. The question that arises then is twofold: First, the manner in which the laws of genre substantively are discernible in the text will be examined. Second, the interrelationship between the form of the genre of the theatrical monologue and its contents is to be studied.
Although Goodrich’s text seems primarily concerned with legal methods and techniques for reading the law, it is not exclusively useable for these purposes, but can, with caution, be put to productive use for other purposes as well. For also Goodrich finds the origins of the methods and techniques of reading law in religion, and that is exactly what Missie seems primarily concerned with as well.
Apology and Antirrhetic
As Goodrich sets forth no doctrine can exist without having a figure from which it heretically excludes or excommunicates itself; affirmative values and laws can only exist by negating enigmas or antiportraits from which they are distinct (Goodrich 44). The missionary effort seems a prime example of this discourse of doctrine Goodrich elaborates on because it “is the armature of virtue, and it is explicitly imperialistic in its battle to convince, to convert, and to control those within its spiritual and territorial jurisdictions.” (Goodrich 44). A Belgium missionary in the Congo trying to convert people to Christianity seemingly fits this conception quite well.
Taking a closer look, to spread its message, the apologia oftentimes uses the rhetorical genre of antirrhesis which takes on an antithetical form, constructing its discourse explicitly not only against evil but namely against extremity and monstrosity (Goodrich 49). That is not to say that the apology and antirrhetic is one and the same thing, but that the apology “is necessarily tied, in structure and in substance, to the antirrhetic.” (Goodrich 50). What the antirrhetic does to spread the apologia, is specifically build its community and doctrine on the sentiments that move the soul (Goodrich 50). It is a “writing against” that characterizes the apologetics of the antirrhetici, and its refutations and denunciations are specifically construed to stress the lawlessness of its opponents (Goodrich 51). Antirrhesis constructs itself against images of other doctrines, laws and gods which it denounces. The other here, then, is characterized as alien, nomadic, evil and wicked. Those outside that which the antirrhetic is defending are excluded by their extremity and monstrosity (Goodrich 49): “The subject of the antirrhetic […] is defined by its antagonisms, identified by its exclusions, […] The subject of the antirrhetic is bound internally to law by an image of a univocal, singular, and literal reason, by the fantasy of a victory over “false imaginings,” ” (Goodrich 67).
In Missie the rhetorical genre of antirrhesis is regularly discernible. Father Grégoire, for instance, cites the text of ‘Sint Jan 8’: “Als ge mijn Woord onderhoudt, zult ge mijn leerlingen zijn. Ge zult de Waarheid kennen en de Waarheid zal u vrijmaken.” (Van Reybrouck 107). He says he cites this text because it is essential for him concerning the superstition of the Congolese. The missionary then recounts stories about the superstition and its consequences he has witnessed. In condemnation he speaks about how always when somebody dies, a natural death or not, somebody is going to be held responsible for this because of the darkness of superstition. People turn to fortune tellers who then point out someone who consequently will be killed to avenge the deceased (Van Reybrouck 108). Father Grégoire states that he has to awaken them: “Ik moest ze wakker schudden // hen uit die duisternis halen, // uit die angst.” (Van Reybrouck 108). When somebody got struck by lightning on a lake while fishing and consequently passed away, naturally a culprit had to be found and killed. During Easter vigil there was a party and when Grégoire came out of the church he saw a boy getting beaten to death. He jumped in between to save the boy because he perceived the rituals and beliefs of the local people as wicked superstition and condemned it as absolute barbarity (Van Reybrouck 109-110). It is here that the missionary is recognizable as an apologist, for the task of the apologist to “establish and defend the boundaries of tradition and the limits of thought.” (Goodrich 46). Grégoire here is determining the limits of thought of the men that are beating the boy to death, since they are not allowed to believe in the superstition of the soothsayers. Barbarity in the killing out of superstition is one of the examples the missionary alludes to when he several pages before speaks about how and why to spread the word of Jesus: “die superstitie hier, die duisternis en zo” (Van Reybrouck 101).
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- Goodrich Van Reybrouck Missie Twee Monologen Genre Laws of Genre Theatrical Monologue Antirrhetic Form and Content Peter Goodrich David Van Reybrouck Apology Polyphony Word and Image Tertullian