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ANTON DAUTZENBERG: “The statute book is a fictional construction”

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March saw the premiere of the latest production by the ‘New Forest’ project: The Law. Together with the Royal Flemish Theatre (KVS) and an exceptional group of artists, the Wunderbaum Actors’ Group has made a theatrical triptych on the boundaries of the law and the laws of the boundary. The team also includes the sensational writer Anton Dautzenberg, who is making his playwriting debut with a critical look at the High Altar of Truth: the administration of the law.

 

Wunderbaum asked you to write a play based on Dutch legal cases involving (alleged) Somali pirates. Why did you agree?

Dautzenberg: What appealed to me immediately was, on the one hand, the romantic notion we have of pirates, and on the other the bravado with which these legal cases are discussed and described. That the Dutch ‘go abroad to catch pirates’ and then brag about it immediately arouses my suspicion. They try to camouflage the whole international game that underlies it – the position of the Netherlands in Europe and NATO – with such phrases as: ‘we are seeing to it that the law prevails’. Of course it’s pure post-colonialism. What is the point of our being in Somalia? None at all.

Then I had a number of conversations. First with Matijs Jansen and Walter Bart of Wunderbaum, and then with judges, lawyers and a Somali interpreter. That was when it started to get interesting. All these people more or less claim to represent the truth. Even though they put it into perspective, they are nevertheless obliged to follow a certain course. In fact they themselves have a lot of questions about the course they are compelled to take, but they cannot raise them in the posts they occupy.

 

In your play you let several characters speak: a judge, a lawyer, an officer of the judiciary, a marine commander, an activist and even a member of the public. Everyone has their own truth concerning what happened off the coast of Somalia.

I was reminded of Rashomon, a superb film by Kurosawa, who was one of the first film directors to show very explicitly how we deal with the concept of reality. He filmed several views of one and the same event with equal sympathy and weight. It was a marvellous choice not to make any choices but to leave the viewer guessing.

 

You also involve yourself with what are called the instruments of truth in your journalism and your novels too. You omit the proverbial instructions on what is real and not real.

Yes, deliberately, you don’t have to give them. If you write a piece in the paper in the form of a news article – even if it’s fictional – people tend to think it’s right. They hardly reflect any more on the codes they are given in journalism. A writer is allowed to make things up, that’s his profession. But as a writer I am also blamed for it. In an interview with a politician they accept everything as the truth. Whereas of course some complete nonsense is told there too. The politician is constantly playing with these codes, for electoral purposes. No one blames him for that. I have often explored the tension that arises there. The editors at Pauw and Witteman did a complete check on whether the kidney donation I made and described in my book Samaritan had really taken place or not. I replied: ‘So you suppose that politicians lie and writers tell the truth. That’s the world turned upside down!’ I delight in playing around with that confusion.

‘Truth’ and ‘reality’ are nothing more than words and notions. We have the idea that we can achieve a certain consensus, and that that is the truth. But of course it doesn’t exist. In the end you have to manage with your perception and with the understanding you come to. But anyway they are just constructions. Nevertheless, everyone is always implying their objectivity. And that takes you automatically to the book of statutes. Of course that’s a fictional construction too. It’s just that it has been given a solidity as if it were the absolute standard. Just like the Bible, which had the same sort of solidity for a very long time too. It seems we need that sort of solidity.’

 

Do you need it?

No. I find it much more interesting to further develop a question than to find an answer. I find that wonderful. It’s the same in literature: I really like it when the ends can’t all be tied up, when it blows up or something like that.’

 

A selection from the works of A.H.J. Dautzenberg:
– En dan komen de foto’s (novel, Atlas-Contact, 2014)
– Quiet 500 (magazine, 2013)
– Rafelranden van de moral (novella, Atlas-Contact, 2013)
– Extra tijd (novel, Atlas-Contact, 2012)
– Samaritaan (novel, Uitgeverij Contact, 2011)
– Vogels met zwarte poten kun je niet vreten (short stories, Uitgeverij Contact, 2010)