Hilbilly Literature

Blog / NewsUncategorized

February 1, 2015 — Valent Mustamin

Editor’s Note: The following text is adapted from Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s original speech in Bahasa Indonesia titled “Susastra Kawan Paimo”, as translated by Ninus D Andarnuswari. Delivered at IDWriters’ Literary Project launch on January 29, 2015 at Goethe-Institut Jakarta.

Dear Honored Friends,
Each time a discussion about literature takes place, a question that seems to never vanish until the end of the world comes up, how is it that a literature can be called literature?
Perhaps this does sound like an obsession. Writers want to write “the literature of true literature” while readers want to read “the literature of true literature.”
Life, perhaps, is considered too short only to be spent on searching for the answer for such a question. Not even life, 7-8 semesters are even too long!
In their obsession, those who come to the temples of literature want a super pill, once you take it all literary headache would be gone.
As if an obsession indeed, only without the consequential struggle to understand till you die.
Of course, cause it’s not necessary!

Dear My Wise and Benevolent Friends,
If such a question is posed to me, the person who asks would have a good chance to be disappointed for he would get nothing. Often I would answer that there’s actually no such thing as literature.
“How is it possible?” Such would be the common reaction.
“It is,” I would say.
“Heck, then what is it that’s been called literature all this time?”
“If it is called literature, then does it really mean it is literature, all literature and nothing but literature, instead of lies?” I would ask in return.
At this point usually the initial question would reemerge, with a more desperate tone.
I would still answer the same, only with a little longer lie.
“I told you earlier there’s no such thing as literature, it’s just there for the sake of certain groups’ interests.”
“Why does it sound like politics?”
“It is like politics, but more exactly it’s like the culture.”
“Ouch. You’re giving me a headache.”
“Why do you fuss about it? If you really do have a headache, it must be because of the labeling in literature, which is never enough in one word. It’s literature in a certain construct which is a form of re-presentation of a certain group’s identity politics. Just like the thing called culture.”
“Does it mean that literature is just a label?”
“Holy cow, yes. But it’s not a single label; it depends on the vested interest of the label-giver. The elites call their literature elite literature, with a construct of definition that fits the identity politics of the elites. The paupers call their literature pauper literature, with a construct of definition that fits the identity politics of the paupers.
“Now, these constructs of definition are sometimes so convincing a lie that when they are collected and sold by those who are believed to master the lie (some people really buy it) in the name of literature studies; even trusted by the government to establish a faculty; they accept enrollment with fee, teach people, test people, and give the title of ‘graduate’ for those who pass.”
“Yes, graduate.”
“Not Hilbilly?”

Dear Friends who Are Hopefully Well,
Thus is more or less the story, so in the end not only there are elite literature and pauper literature but also holier-than-thou literature and bonkers literature. Anyway, a similar question returns now.
“Then what on earth is the true literature, dude?”
“All of it is literature, yo.”
“All of it?”
“All or nothing at all. Without the burden of literary meanings, all is text.”
“So there is such a thing called literature?”
“There is or there isn’t, suit yourself! But the contention over literary legitimacy, that is the power of literature labeling with all the elaboration in the spirit of making it sophisticated, is what has added the intricacy, of which the necessity can still be debated.”

Dear Loved Ones,
The history of literary discourses up to today is a cultural misprint, which despite the repeated corrections, cannot be replaced nor retrieved, exactly like the world’s already-ness.
The name, label, or term “literature”, with all its ideological devices that strengthen it, has contributed to innocent men’s headache.
Unfortunately the name “literature” is apparently irreplaceable.
Since, if not, I would suggest the name Hilbilly to replace it.

Seno Gumira Ajidarma
Kampung Utan, Friday 23 January 2015. 10: 10.


  1. […] Paimo? Biarkanlah bernaung dalam pikiran orang-orang. Buat saya, kerja berbudaya bernama idwriters.com ini, hasrat untuk melengkapi database idwriters.com selengkap-lengkapnya ini, jauh lebih penting dibanding memperdebatkan apa yang sastra, dan apa yang bukan. Alasan saya satu: saya menaruh hormat bagi para penulis — bahkan penulis baru sekalipun, bahkan seluruh penulis Indonesia, dan bahkan yang sedang tidak berada di Indonesia pun — yang takzim telah mengolah pikiran dengan hati, menjadi karya yang enak bisa dibaca. […]