THE date of that extraordinary day was May 19, 1824, or 21st of the fasting month 1751 in the Javanese calendar.
THE date of that extraordinary day was May 19, 1824, or 21st of the fasting month 1751 in the Javanese calendar. Prince Diponegoro wrote in his autobiography that a visitor who claimed to have no home asked him to go to Mount Rasamuni. He was summoned to meet the Ratu Adil or Just King. The man was willing to accompany him.
And Diponegoro set out. Upon reaching the foothills, his companion suddenly vanished. But at the summit of Mount Rasamuni he saw a shining face. The light was so brilliant it outshone the sun.
The prince had had not the strength to know
or to look upon the countenance
of the Ratu Adil, whose brilliance
indeed eclipsed the sun.
This story perhaps did not actually happen. But who knows. I prefer to see it another way: something haunting lies behind it, namely a crisis.
Time and time again the story of man tells that in times of gathering crisis, when there is a general acute sense of injustice, when there seems to be no way out, then there is always discussion about Justice (with a capital ‘J’). But it is always unclear.
In other words, injustice is a very long story—and in the middle of it, Justice is summoned, there are attempts to establish it, often vengefully, or if not, with intense passion, tumult, and confusion.
This is where imagination about the Just King springs from. In Jewish tradition it is the Mashiach, which is where we get the the word ‘Messiah’; in Buddhism the Maitreya and in Taoisme ‘Li Hong’.
Diponegoro, who could not look upon the brilliant countenance of the Just King, ends up taking on the role of ‘Messiah’ himself. The historian Peter Carey says that Diponegoro, the nobleman whose rebellion led to the outbreak of the Java War, felt called to become the Just King as he witnessed Java increasingly losing its dignity under the rule of the VOC. Diponegoro was not destined to become the Just King, Carey said in a lecture, but the time forced it upon him.
Diponegoro’s story, like all Ratu Adil stories, is both heroic and tragic. It is the product of ideas that are unfinished but cannot wait. ‘Justice, however unpresentable it may be, doesn’t wait’, Derrida wrote in Force of Law (1994). ‘Justice is that which must not wait.’
The question then is what happens when there is a sense that Justice cannot wait ? What does a society do then? From Diponegoro’s rebellion in the 19th century through to opposition to dictatorship in the following centuries, we see a series of paradoxes.
The birth of longing for the Just King shows this. In severely repressed societies, ‘not waiting’ means revolution or large scale rebellion. The fight for change always involves a kind of messianism – promises that are given names like ‘Independence’, ‘Truth’ and ‘Justice’ are imagined as traversing place and time. But in mass action fuelled by a sense of urgency, there is always unclarity. Ratu Adil’s brilliance is so blinding his countenance cannot be seen. The guide showing the way vanishes at the foothills. There is no easy path. The text of Indonesia’s Proclamation of Independence was written in such a hurry that it did not stipulate what was meant with the ‘etc’ (d.l.l.). It remains unspecific. There was no program drawn up about what the nation would do after the ‘transfer of power’ to the hands of the new Republic.
Derrida was right when he spoke of ‘urgency’ in messianism, particularly in revolution. The need for Justice here and now in the field, he said, is like madness that rips time apart and ignores dialectics. There are no guarantees, no rules, no institutions. Justice calls, and its call always produces action beyond limitation, like a swiftly flowing current, débordement.
This is why in all social and political change there is the unformulated, the incomplete, about how Justice is to be manifest. This is not necessarily paralyzing. Precisely because of it, Derrida says, Justice always invokes a state that is not yet reached but always beckons to be reached – in the future. Justice is always in the future, avenir, is always ‘yet to come’ à venir. ‘We have to say ‘perhaps’ about justice’, Derrida said.
So too the future. Encrypted in the manifestation of Ratu Adil is promise, and promises always point towards ‘later on’. Usually, we try to subjugate the future. We make a boundary line on the horizon and replace ‘hope’ with ‘prediction’.
In so doing we are actually making the future into a prop of the present. Even messianistic promises are no longer considered merely promises. They— and the future—are framed in such a way that they seem already fulfilled in our design.
But that is impossible
Derrida differentiates between the ‘future’ and the ‘yet to come’ or ‘l’avenir’ which is entirely unpredictable, and which cannot become the projection of ourselves in the present. This differentiation is necessary, but excessive. The way I see it, we cannot control the yet-to-come because it is never clear; it always contains present desires, just as the present contains memories about the past.
This is why we cannot view the history of injustice as an old story that seems to continue with large variation. This is why we always seem to know afresh Job’s suffering, tortured as he was by God even though he had not sinned. This is why today we enjoy The Game of Thrones (a story about the uncertainty of justice in a fictive past) and Justice League (a story of heroes for Justice in an fantastic, but disturbing future.
And we listen to the conversation of two characters in Justice League :
Diana Prince: People said the Age of Heroes would never come again.
Bruce Wayne: It has to.
Fantasy or not, Messiahs of the past and Hollywood superhoes of the present are probably part of our desire to keep on going, hovering between fear and hope, because of injustice.