Young Writers, Old Works: Naomi Jacobs on the preaching of John the Baptist

In the exhibition 80 Years’ War, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam looks back at the Revolt that led to the division of the Netherlands. At the request of deBuren, eighteen young Flemish and Dutch authors each bring an artefact from the exhibition back to life. Over the next few weeks you can read several of their stories in translation for the first time. Today NAOMI JACOBS attends a field sermon.

Pieter Breughel the Younger after Pieter Breughel the Elder, Field Sermon, or the Preaching of John the Baptist, c.1630, oil on panel, 118.7 x 167.5 cm, Groeningemuseum, Bruges

The Field Sermon, or the Preaching of John the Baptist

You have to look hard to see me, after all I’m the smallest one here. I’m sitting stark naked on my mother’s lap, don’t you agree she’s wearing a nice hat? My parents sat right at the back, I can scarcely hear what John the Baptist is saying. My father is mainly occupied in reading that man’s palm. People come from far afield to have my father tell them the truth. But if they would talk a little more quietly, I could at least hear what’s being said at the front. What I have heard is that churches have been stormed and statues smashed. There is change on the way. My mother was not the only one who began this year heavily pregnant. Time itself is pregnant, with change.
Each birth marks a new beginning, and not just the actual coming into the world. A smashed picture or a toppled statue is like a birth that heralds a new beginning. The new attacks the status quo. The new destroys the old. It is a process of constant innovation, creative destruction.

Here, now we are listening to our preacher, the rules of what is possible change. Like a miracle his words will bring about something that is stronger than its own cause. My mother looks forward to it expectantly, to the birth of a new age. ‘Your future is hopeful,’ she whispers softly in my ear as she lays me down to sleep. ‘You, little one will be freed from the yoke of those Spanish oppressors and their hypocritical faith.’

My father is not so hopeful, in fact the opposite. According to him this year will bring us chaos; destruction and gruesome murder. It will be the lot of many of the people here today. Some will be murdered, others thrown into prison. A few will be able to escape and spend their days in exile. My father has always been clairvoyant. That’s why so many people ask him to read their palms.

Hey, what’s that dirty dog doing there? Why does the animal sit on my father’s cloak? Is this perhaps a dark omen, which points to the dog-like devotion of a few people here to Spanish authority? Or does this creature perhaps suggest that my father is a false prophet.

Dammit, get out of here, you filthy animal!

Naomi Jacobs © Marianne Hommersom

Naomi Jacobs (1990) is studying for a doctorate in the philosophy of technology at the Technical University in Eindhoven. With the philosophers Lisa Doeland and Elize de Mul she wrote the book Onszelf voorbij, kijken naar wat we liever niet zien (Beyond Ourselves, Looking at What We Would Rather Not See), which was published by the Arbeiderspers at the beginning of 2018.

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