FLIN 421 -- Introduction to Indonesian Literature



This class provides exposure to and discussion of a wide variety of Indonesian literature, The main themes of the course concern the role of language(s) in the Malay/Indonesian world, both traditionally and in the context of the modern nation-state. The course gives an overview of a variety of  traditional and modern literatures, and explores the role that these literatures have played (and are playing)  in the development of Indonesian identity.  The many tribes and ethnic groups that inhabit the Indonesian archipelago for the most part did not see themselves as “Indonesian” until the conscious efforts of nationalists during the late colonial period began constructing an allegiance to the Indonesian land, people, and language.  A form of Malay that had been used as a trade language thus came to unite Javanese, Balinese, etc., almost none of whom spoke it as a first language, and most of whom had always regarded themselves only as members of their own ethnic group, under the colonial rule of the Dutch. After World War II, part of the (decidedly mixed) legacy of Japanese occupation was a much better developed sense of Indonesian autonomy which, after a bitter four-year struggle, resulted in the independent nation of Indonesia.  There continues to be contestation and negotiation about Indonesian identity, on the personal, local and national level, and language -- especially literary language -- is a vital part of  this process.


The course divides into three main segments, the first of which centers around the power of the sound of language, as exemplified in traditional literary and ritual language from various ethnic groups, and then considers several writers who have borrowed from this tradition in creating literary works that try to bring this power into the modern world.  Written, as opposed to oral, literature brings a very different kind of power into play, and the second part of the class looks at the manuscript tradition that has preserved ancient  texts (especially the Javanese and Balinese versions of the ancient Sanskrit epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana).  The dramatic tradition of the shadow play is also examined in some detail, since it serves as a bridge to a pre-colonial literary tradition for many writers (and is often presented, although not with unanimous agreement, as an artifact of  “Indonesian culture”).  Finally, the modern printing press made possible the mass literary production which played a seminal role in the early development of Indonesian nationalism, especially with reference to the role of Indonesian as a national language;  the third segment of the class examines some of these works, especially those set and written around the time of the Japanese occupation and the struggle for Indonesian independence.  This political side of  Indonesian literature is then examined in light of the present climate of tight government censorship of what, to American sensibilities, seem to be very harmless works.  In particular, the work of Pramoedya Ananta Toer is examined in some detail, since his career began in the mid-forties (when he was banned and imprisoned by the Dutch), continued through the turbulent 50’s and early 60’s ( when he argued -- too forcefully, many say -- that art for art’s sake was not a responsible path for artists in a country as poor as Indonesia, and thus became a promulgator of Indonesia’s version of socialist realism), and continues into the present (when, after having served 14 years in a prison camp, he has emerged with a monumental quartet of novels about the earliest stages of Indonesian nationalism only to have them banned by the present Indonesian government).  Another issue that is discussed at this juncture is the role of women, in both traditional and modern Indonesian culture (s), and how the literature by and about them reflects this.


Requirements:  reading selected works and discussing them in class is the primary daily activity, but short reports may also be required as a means of bringing focus to the discussion.  In addition, two papers will be required, one due after mid-term and one at the end of the semester.  The size and subject matter of these will be discussed with the instructor.







FLIN 421



I. Sound, Power, and Social Integration


Week 1                         Mantras and Chants:  Malay, Roti;  poems by Sutarji


Week 2                         “Disguised” language:  pantun, gurindam, wangsalan


Week 3                         Balinese Folktale (“Men Klodan-Klonceng”); modern poetry


Week 4                         Modern Indonesian Poetry:  Amir Hamzah, Chairil Anwar, Rendra


Week 5                         Modern Indonesian Short Story:  “Yang sudah hilang” by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

                                    Excerpts from Atheis by Achdiat K. Mihardja


II.  Interpreting the past in performance and writing


Weeks 6 & 7                The Mahabharata and Ramayana in India and Java;  the Old Javanese Kakawin  Arjuna Wiwaha; Wayang shadow theatre


Weeks 8 & 9                Modern short stories based on wayang:  the works of  Danarto, Putu Wijaya,  Yudhistira ANM Massardi, and others


III.  Writing the present:  literature, protest, and politics


Week 10                       “Surabaya” by Idrus and “Bukan Pasar Malam” by Pramoedya Ananta Toer


Week 11                       Protest poetry and drama by Rendra and Riantiarno


Week 12                       Women writers:  short stories by Leila Chudori and others


Week 13 & 14              Bumi Manusia [ This Earth of Mankind] and Anak Semua Bangsa [ Child of All  Nations] by Pramoedya Ananta Toer


Week 15                       Overview