Heru Joni Putra


We Need More "After"

Under the title of Frank Harris's short story, The Holy Man, is the phrase "after Tolstoi". At first, I doubted whether "Tolstoi" was "Leo Tolstoy", a great Russian writer. It was only when I finished reading the short story that I became convinced that the two identical names refer to the same person. I immediately linked the short story The Holy Man with a short story titled The Three Hermits by Leo Tolstoy that I had read years ago.

Frank Harris was clearly not only influenced by Tolstoy's work, but also made the Russian short story an important reference for interpreting his own short story. The use of the phrase "after Tolstoi" clearly serves a very important purpose to provide the broader context of the two similar stories.

Both of these short stories tell how a person hierarchically obtaining the holiest position in a religious system (let's call it subject-superior), one way or another, denigrates someone who cannot pray according to the official rules of a religious system (let's call it subject-inferior). In the name of god, the superior subject goes to a desert island to meet the inferior subject and then leads the inferior subject to pray in the right way. And because the subject-inferior accepts the prayer lesson sincerely, the subject-superior feels that he has carried out his spiritual duty well; he certainly feels even more superior because it has made ordinary people understand religion better.

Both of these short stories conclude in surprising ways. When the subject-superior is far away from the desert island, the subject-inferior has apparently forgotten the lesson that has been given by the subject-superior. He then pursues the subject-superior by walking on water until he reaches the subject-superior's boat. Seeing that the subject-inferior is capable of performing an act that “only Jesus could”, the subject-superior feels himself to be nothing when the subject-inferior asks to be taught again about how to pray. In that way, these two short stories are closed by destroying the dichotomies (superior-inferior, holy-barbaric, civilized-uncivilized, etc.) in a religious system.

However, when Tolstoy shows how the problem occurs between people who both believe in the same religion, Harris tries to broaden the scope of the problem between a religious believer and someone who does not know about religion at all. So, what Harris wanted to do with the phrase "after Tolstoi" is a recontextualization of the issue of superiority in religion to the new symptom.

We can of course learn many things from both of them. Tolstoy's The Three Hermits was published in 1886 and Harris’s The Holy Man in 1912. But, after all, we are now living in the 21st century. When Harris expanded the context of the story from a story between followers of the same religion to a story between a religious believer and someone who doesn't know religion, then our condition today that full of conflicts between "Beliefs" (in a broad sense) requires "stories" that affix a kind of "after Harris" and so on. In other words, we need a much wider radical contextualization.

We need such contextualization precisely because to this day we are not dealing with the power of one religion, but with the power of religions, the power of nation-states, the power of capitalists, the power of developed countries, and so on. They, one way or another, have created their own notions of a "better future" and made that understanding as a "Belief" which we must follow according to the ways they created. We are like the hermit or old man in the two short stories who are considered nobody just because we don't live the rules they created. It's just that, ironically, until now we have not been able to show such actions as "walking on water". Therefore, we need to create more "after" to find new forms of "walking on water" movement.

So, for today's condition, what kind of action is equivalent to “walking on water”, and with that action, we are able to undermine the superiority of the subjects of the powers?

Submission Title

We Need More "After".

Submission Location

Payakumbuh, West Sumatra.

Manifesto Statement

For today's condition, what kind of action is equivalent to “walking on water”, and with that action, we are able to undermine the superiority of the subjects of the powers?