Reading Matters: An Examination of Plurality of Meaning in Selected Indonesian Fiction, 1980-1995

Using the work of theorists in the field of reader-response theory, this thesis examines the notion that the meaning of a given literary work is a product of the interaction between the reader and the text, and that a given work thus potentially contains a plurality of valid meanings. The theory is applied to selected works of three of Indonesia’s most prolific writers in the period 1980-1995: Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Y.B. Mangunwijaya and Putu Wijaya. Each work is subjected to at least two different ‘readings’ which in each case privilege different features of the text and in effect produce a different literary work.

Home, Fatherhood, Succession: Three Generations of Amrullahs in Twentieth Century Indonesia

We ask for a thousand pardons . . . We are repeating other people’s stories / Their lies are not our responsibility.1 2 “Traditional” Minangkabau disclaimers do not hold here. This essay is an attempt to unravel the skein of memories and fiction in Hamka’s (Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah, 1908-1981) self-narrative of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The two primary texts are Hamka’s biography of his father and his four-volume autobiography—Ajahku and Kenang-kenangan Hidup.3 The young Indonesia was, for Hamka, a tenuous and dangerous place. It took his considerable skills as a novelist, Islamic scholar, and Minangkabau cultural authority to build a textual raft that would carry him into the new nation. While this essay will not attempt to identify any “lies,” it will explore Hamka’s very deliberate manipulations of narrative genres often mined uncritically and incautiously by historians. I will also analyze Hamka’s work of the 1920s, and set it against the contemporary writings of his father. Both men have been defined by Ajahku, the biography Hamka wrote of his own father, and by Kenangkenangan
Hidup, Hamka’s own four-volume autobiography; the characterizations of the texts need to be held up against the extant historical record.

An early story of Kho Ping Hoo

Kho Ping Hoo (1926–1994) is the most well-known of all Indonesian writers of popular silat stories, largely set in China, which describe the adventures and romances of legendary heroes famed for their skill in martial arts. It is less well-known that he began his career writing critical stories about socio-economic conditions in the late 50s and early 60s. This paper discusses one of these stories. It places the story in the context of political developments of the time, in particular as they affected the Chinese Indonesian community. The paper argues that this story and one or two others like it come at the end of a tradition of Sino-Indonesian literature which had flourished from the end of the nineteenth century until the mid-1950s. After 1960, Chinese-Indonesian writers cease writing realist fiction of any kind and write either silat stories or romantic stories set in middle class urban environments.

Perburuan 1950 and Keluarga Gerilya 1950

I’ve been asked: what is the creative process for me, as a writer? This is not an easy question to answer. Whether “formulated” or not, the creative process is always a very private and personal experience. Each writer will have his own experience, again whether “formulated” or not. I’ve been asked to detail the creative process which produced the novels Perburuan [The Fugitive] and Keluarga Gerilya [The Guerrilla Fam ily]. Very well. I’ll answer— even though there’s no real need for other people to know what goes on in my private kitchen. My willingness to respond in this instance is based purely on the public’s right to some comparisons . . . to limit undue onesidedness.

1948. I was 23 at the time— a pemuda who believed wholeheartedly in the nobility of work— any kind of work— who felt he could accomplish^ anything, and who dreamed of scraping the sky and scooping the belly of the earth: a pemuda who had only just begun his career as a writer, publicist, and reporter. As it turned out, all of this was nullified by thick prison walls. My life was regulated by a schedule determined by authorities propped up by rifles and bayonets. Forced labor outside the jail, four days a week, and getting cents for a full day’s labor. Not a glimmer of light yet as to when the war of words and arms between the Republic and the Dutch would end.

I was in despair.

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