Revolutionary Stink and the Extension of the Tongue of the People: The Political Languages of Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Sukarno

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By James T. Siegel on Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Published in Southeast Asia Program Publications at Cornell University,
Oct 01, 1997

“If one wanted to bring an Ubermensch to life in a prison, that is, a man free of good and evil, it would of course be futile” Sukarno, 1931

In Pramoedya’s “My Cell Mate,” the narrator’s impression of his cell mate depends on their forced association. The story begins with the immediate circumstances of that association—with the cell—for its measurements emphasize its rigidity and smallness. But at the same time the descriptions suggest that the cell is a mouth; its shape, with a relatively small width and large height, is that of a mouth. What we expect to be a ceiling is termed a palate; the barred opening onto the outside is said to “gape” or “yawn.” This opening (like the smaller one on the opposite side) is called by the strange name “kelangkan” which means “balcony” or “balustrade” rather than window. As such it suggests the forward thrust of the mouth with its rows of teeth.

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