Apostrophe, witnessing and its essentially theatrical modes of address: Maria Dermôut on Pattimura and Kara Walker on the New Orleans flooding
AI and Society p. 1- 11
Apostrophe is best known as a punctuation mark (') or as a key poetic figure (with a speaker addressing an imaginary or absent person or entity). In origin, however, it is a pivotal rhetorical figure that indicates a 'breaking away' or turning away of the speaker from one addressee to another, in a different mode. In this respect, apostrophe is essentially theatrical. To be sure, the turn away implies two different modes of address that may follow upon one another, as is hinted at by the two meanings of the verb 'to witness': being a witness and bearing witness. One cannot do both at the same time. My argument will be, however, that in order to make witnessing work ethically and responsibly, the two modes of address must take place simultaneously, in the coincidence of two modalities of presence: one actual and one virtual. Accordingly, I will distinguish between an address of attention and an address of expression. Whereas the witness is actually paying attention to that which she witnesses, she is virtually (and in the sense Deleuze intended, no less really) turning away in terms of expression. The two come together in what Kelly Oliver called the 'inner witness'. The simultaneous operation of two modes of address suggests that Caroline Nevejan's so-called YUTPA model would have to include two modalities of 'you'. Such a dual modality has become all the more important, in the context of the society of the spectacle. One text will help me first to explore two modes of address through apostrophe. I will focus on a story by Dutch author Maria Dermôut, written in the fifties of the twentieth century, reflecting on an uprising and the subsequent execution of its leader in the Dutch Indies in 1817. Secondly, I will move to American artist Kara Walker's response, in the shape of an installation and a visual essay, to the flooding of New Orleans in 2005. The latter will serve to illustrate a historic shift in the theatrical nature and status of 'presence' in the two modes of address. Instead of thinking of the convergence of media, of which Jenkins speaks, we might think of media swallowing up one another. For instance, the theatrical structure of apostrophe is swallowed up, and in a sense perverted, by the model of the spectacle in modern media. This endangers the very possibility of witnessing in any ethical sense of the word.
|Address of attention, Address of expression, Addressee, Apostrophe, Inner witness, News coverage, Pseudo-witnessing, Rhetorical moment, Theatricality, Witnessing|
|AI and Society|
|Organisation||Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC)|
Korsten, F.W.A. (2012). Apostrophe, witnessing and its essentially theatrical modes of address: Maria Dermôut on Pattimura and Kara Walker on the New Orleans flooding. AI and Society, 1–11. doi:10.1007/s00146-011-0331-9