Chairil Anwar’s Poetry: Thousand Years’ Words

Chairil Anwar was regarded as Indonesia’s greatest twentieth-century poet. Indonesian foremost literary critic H.B. Jassin proclaimed him to be the founder of Generation ’45 of Indonesian literature. Born on July 22, 1922 in Medan, North Sumatra, Chairil attended the Hollands Inlandsche School (HIS), a Dutch elementary school for the natives. He continued his education at the Meer Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs, a Dutch junior high school, but he dropped out. At the age of nineteen, Chairil moved with his mother to Jakarta where he came in contact with the literary world. Despite his unfinished education, Chairil had an active command of English, Dutch and German, and he read the works of international authors.

In this paper I attempt to analyze four poems, “Aku” (“Me”), “Senja di Pelabuhan Kecil” (“Twilight at a Little Harbor”), “Rumahku” (“My House”), and “Yang Terampas dan yang Putus” (“The Captured and the Freed”). The selection of these poems is based on the principal theme of each poem, namely: identity, love, poetry and language, and death.

There are several factors that create ambiguity in Chairil Anwar’s language. The first is homonymy, or two words with the same pronunciation but different meanings. Second, multivalence, a word that has more than one meaning, for example baru means “new” and “just”. The third is transposition without formal indication. This has to do with the part of speech. Fourth, the paucity in Indonesian of phrase marker. Another factor is the frequent omission of subject pronouns, articles and copulas, for example adalah (“to be”) (Oemarjati in Echols 553). However, what makes the reading of the poems more intriguing is the English rendering or translation. Translation is a way of interpretation. Yet poetry is open to multiple interpretations. Thus in this paper I will discuss the multiple meanings based on the original Bahasa poems.


Aku (Me)

As already mentioned, the main theme of this poem is identity. Here the narrator calls himself binatang jalang, or wild beast. One way of reading a poem is by taking the words’ meanings literally. The attribute of jalang has a sexual connotation (which is lost in the translation. Calling a woman jalang is the same as calling her a whore. The “I” in the poem is “wild” because of his hedonistic life. Chairil indeed had a profane lifestyle. He died young at the age of twenty-six of syphilis, tuberculosis, typhus and cirrhosis of the liver.

However, we can also read the “I” as the initiator of Indonesian modern poetry. Chairil is a pioneer of literature in his era. His style was totally new, a breakthrough. H.B. Jassin said that Chairil Chairil “is the one who brought about a radical break in Indonesian literature” (151). This is why he is often regarded to represent the image of “wild beast” in this poem. He is damned from “the herd”. He is hurt and suffering. However, he does not care about what others think of him. All that matters to him is himself, with “[his] wound and … pain”.

But can a poet be separated from history? The second interpretation is the narrator as a poet in relation to his predecessors. Chairil has complex relations with them. We can name a lot of writers that may have influenced Chairil. This is because he was a keen reader of world literature. Moreover, he was a translator. Some of his translation works are Eliot’s poetry, Rilke’s letters. Andre Gide’s Pulanglah Dia Si Anak Hilang (1948), John Steinbeck’s Kena Gempur (1951). Critics also found that some of his poems were later discovered as adaptations from the poems by, among others, W.H. Auden, H. Marsman, Willem Elsshot, J. Slauerhoff, Archibald MacLeish and Edgar du Perron[1]. True, as TS Eliot says in Tradition and Individual Talent, writer or artist can be judged by the conventions or aesthetics of his predecessors. His works are compared and contrasted with that of the previous era. Some critics also see the influence of Indonesian poet Amir Hamzah (1911-1946) of Pujangga Baru Generation. As a man of letters who wrote in Indonesian, Hamzah gave a lot of contribution to the development of Malay language to become Indonesian national language. Malay words are in his poetry vocabulary. In his letter to literary figure Armijn Pane, Hamzah asserted that Malay is a beautiful language. Bahasa Indonesia is a symbol of heroism and Islam.

However, Chairil is Chairil and Hamzah is Hamzah. Each of them has his own poetic character and philosophy. Hamzah is of East-oriented tradition. He collected and translated poems from the East in Setanggi Timur, published in 1939. Hamzah is rooted in his nation. On the other hand, Chairil was influenced by Western tradition. He included ancient Greek and English myths in his poetry, such as Eros, Ahasveros, as well as Romeo and Juliet.

Besides identity, the poem also talks about God and life. One of the most memorable lines of Chairil is “I want to live another thousand years”. Individualism and existentialism are also the traces of Western philosophy in the poem. German philosopher Heidegger inquires into the “being that we ourselves are”. The individual and the public are always in tension. According to him, ‘I’ is an entity whose essence is exactly to be and nothing but to be. Humans must make a choice every time in order to maintain their liberty. This is further developed by Jean-Paul Sartre, whose proposition is that human is for itself (pour soi) and not emasculated by its determination. Chairil’s wish to live extremely long is a negation of God, seen under the light of Friedrich Nietzsche’s nihilism. The thesis of the death of God is due to the collapse of human morality. Morality is orchestrated by the ‘will to power’. Yet the narrator of “Me” is not an ordinary person. He is exiled, banished by his people. The people or ‘crowd’, in line with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, is ‘untruth’. The so-called autonomous self-legislating individual is a merely herd animal that deliberately train itself to succumb to the universal morality (Crowel). The ‘bullets [that] pierce [Chairil’s] skin’ are the morality.

In addition to existentialism, Generation of ’45 falls into the thoughts of universal humanism. (Jassin 54). Although this term seems to have been appropriated in Indonesian literary criticism, I find it hard to define. If it is to embrace all humanisms (Renaissance humanism, Judaism humanism, Secular humanism, etc.) the effort would only create problems and contradictions. So I would rather see it as simple humanism, the idea that human is the center of the world. The freedom of expression, of organization and other basic rights are also implied. This goes with the themes of rigorousness, struggle and nationalism, which are typical in the Generation of ‘45. ‘Universal humanism’ was responded by Gelanggang, a self-appointed group which declared to be the heir of the hero of the intellectual circles of Jakarta. Among the members are writers Rivai Apin and Asrul Sani. Although the document was published one and a half year after Chairil’s death, he was associated with Gelanggang, which was founded on November 19, 1946. Gelanggang published Surat Kepercayaan (Letter of Belief) in early 1950. Those who signed Letter of Belief proclaim: “we are the true heirs of world culture and we must perpetuate this culture in our own way”. This statement, which was more like a manifesto, was born out of the endless inquiry into East-West distinction (Djatmiko 249). Gelanggang members’ arrogance is similar to the poets in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry, whom he calls as “unacknowledged legislators of the mankind”. Art is seen to lie only at the hands of the poets. It is assumed that they posses a faculty that common people do not.



Rumahku (My House)

The poem is to me the most interesting poem to discuss because it talks about language, thus poetry itself. It can be read as self-reflective. The poet ponders upon his creation and the ability of it. The ‘house’ is his imagination and his mind. The house is where he makes poetry. He is married to words and begets poems. Here the poet seems to believe that words are reliable and poems can perfectly convey the thoughts and the feelings. But his house keeps changing, even he loses it. A poet raises different issues. His style can also change.

Death is also a theme of this poem. The poet as if predicts that he will soon die and therefore will not be able to create anymore poem. He cannot survive until the next ‘dusk’, to find another house. He cannot ask God for more time either, even though he says the most beautiful prayer, ‘words as sweet as honey’. However, a poet is actually eternalized by his works. This reminds me of Shakespeare’s Sonnet XVIII:


But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this and this gives life to thee.


The poem gives life to the poet because it will last much longer.

The form in terms of the rhyme and number of lines, is quite regular. The rhyme scheme is aa bb cc aa dd ee. This is almost like English (Shakespearean) sonnet, whose rhyme scheme is abba cdcd efef gg. Thus the English poetics is influential to Chairil’s poem.

Chairil enhances Bahasa Indonesia. He includes Malay words into Bahasa Indonesia poems. This is contradictory to John Milton, who did not much coin new words from Latin although he masters the language. He felt that the language of serious poetry had been corrupted by popular writers. Yet there are some Latin idiom and syntax, as Milton prioritizes conciseness.

The poet’s being lost may be interpreted as a dilemma in himself. He is the Generation of ’45, the moment of the birth of nation-state, the culmination of nationalism. He is expected to write about heroism, patriotism, war—the external world. He did write such poems, including Diponegoro, about Indonesian national hero. At the same time, the poet’s tagline, in the same poem, is “sekali berarti, sudah itu mati” (once meaningful, then die). He is individualistic. He writes about subjective issues, such as failed romance, loneliness, religiosity and death. However, we can argue whether TS Eliot’s ‘dissociation of sensibility’, the thoughts and passion not being fused, which characterizes Metaphysical poets, is applicable to this dualism. Writing about war does not mean it does not involve feeling. Subjectivity also plays a role, especially since the poet experiences the struggle in the war.

The issue of the function of poetry, or art in general, tempts me to interpret this poem again. There has been a tussle whether art is for art’s sake or for political means. Between 1950s and 1965 Indonesian literary ideology was roughly divided into two: art as a (communist) medium and art as an independent entity. The first one was professed by Lekra (Institute of People’s Culture), a leftist cultural organization and mouthpiece of Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The second ideology was followed by Manikebu (Cultural Manifesto). The poem can be seen to fall into the first category. Writing is a procreation. It is reproductive because it gives form to something else. This something can be, for example, a party’s propaganda. Art becomes a vehicle for a larger cause.


Senja di Pelabuhan Kecil (Twilight at a Little Harbor)

The poem is about an unspeakable agony, deep sadness. Chairil dedicated this poem to a woman Sri Ajati, which was not her real name. She is Mrs. RH Soeparsono, now about 85 years old and is living in Magelang, East Java. Chairil met Sri when she was working as a Japanese radio host in 1942.At that time she was already in a relationship with Soeparsono, who then became her husband. It seems that they shared an interest in literature. Like Chairil, she speaks many languages. She is fluent in Dutch, English, Javanese and four other local languages.

This quatrain has regular rhyme aabb aabb abab, like Yang Terampas dan yang Luput. Damono cited that Derai-Derai Cemara also obeys the strict quatrain rhyme. We can infer that Chairil views that creating a new way of expression requires fixed forms that need to stand against time. A new language of poetry means that which is used widely by its generation. However, a generation can never be fully detached from its predecessor. We can still see the trace of Amir Hamzah in Chairil in the use of pantun, a Malay poetic form that originated from traditional oral expression. Another feature of the poem’s structure is the blank verse. There are enjambments. Sometimes a sentence breaks in the middle, for example the first line of the third stanza there is only one word in the third sentence.

In this poetry we can see how each word is powerful in its ambiguity. A word stands on its own, its relation with the following word is unclear. For example, the word “menyinggung” in the second line of the second stanza is pregnant with several meanings. It is derived from the root word “singgung”, which means ‘(to) mention’, ‘(to) touch’, or ‘(to) offend’.

A clause seems only comprises of random words, with loose relations among each other. The words’ part of speech is ambiguous, whether adjective, verb or noun. This is an issue in Bahasa Indonesia, which highly depend on suffix. For example “desir hari lari berenang” can prosaically translated into “the day’s hiss is running, swimming”. So the juxtaposition of running and swimming is a personification of the ‘day’. The imagery may not make sense but what is featured here is the rhyming “hari” (day) with “lari” (to run).

“Tanah” and “air” are wordplay as the two words together, “tanah air”, means ‘motherland’. Such pairing can suggest the couple. The narrator and the lover are like the boat and the sea; the motherland and the waves

The last line lacks of reference as regards the beach. We are not given information about the other three beaches. And we can interpret the embrace of the last sob in two ways. First, he will meet his love again someday, after he or she arrives at the beach for the forth time (or the second coming). Second, he will walk alone until he reaches the forth beach and then releases his grief. The latter implies pessimistic and is in line with the lack of hope and the goodbye in the previous lines. Of course “four” can be a mere number, and is not much different from five or six.


Yang Terampas dan yang Putus (The Captured and the Freed)

Existentialist theme of death is again obvious in this poem, as the narrator names his next destination in life, that is Karet cemetery. This poem was written in the year of his death. That time his health was declining. He says that “the great room where the one [he] want[s] is lying” is cold. His coffin is cold as his life is “darkening”. Tugu, which was translated as ‘columns of stone’ actually means ‘monument’. Monument is something public, fixed, a memorial, a contrast to rimba, or jungle. So does Chairil mean that his wildness will be tamed? Not only tamed, but also made into public, or even a celebration? Tugu can be read as the declaration of Chairil as the pioneer of the Generation of ’45, especially by Indonesian literature ‘pope’ H.B. Jassin.

In the third stanza kau, or you, despite being translated as ‘my heart’, may be seen as Death.  He patiently waits for his death but suddenly realizes that life impulses have never been completely inert (Budiman 23). This mood is depicted in some interpretations of the title. A.H. John proposed the title of The Ravaged and the Broken. His argument was the health of Chairil, ravaged by syphilis and tuberculosis. He also believes that the chill soughing (deru) reaches Karet, rather than the wind blows there. Meanwhile McGlynn’s version of the title is “The Seized and the Severed” (in Yampolsky). All these suggest that the narrator is imprisoned.

But can we read the line that says “But now it’s only my hands that move fiercely” positively? As full of vitality also? The poet would share his all. As he himself says that the will to shake, to scold is part of vitaliteit, life spirit. In art, this spirit precedes beauty, it is chaotisch voorstadium, a preliminary chaotic stage. There is something wild and destructive in the spirit. A poet is not afraid of anything, he is still ‘fierce’. The body may be passive, but he can still move his hand, write. If his mind is free, then he is also free to write, and that is what matters for a poet.


Discussing Chairil’s poem is more like analyzing a puzzle. Each sentence invites many interpretations. A word must be translated into so many senses. Meaning can differ every time we read the poem. This is the strength of his language. The form sometimes complies with earlier tradition, from Indonesia or abroad. The context of the poem is very much important to understand the poem, such as Indonesian independence and the Western existentialism philosophy. Appreciating these four poems would hopefully nourish the understanding of Indonesian poetry, literature, and mind.

[1]   See also Sapardi Djoko Damono’s “Chairil Anwar and New Language of Indonesian Literature
(Tempo, January 10, 2000) where he writes that Kepada Peminta-minta is a collage of foreign poems, Cintaku Jauh di Pulau is an adaptation of Federico Garcia Lorca, Kerawang Bekasi Archibald McLeish, and Datang Dara Hilang Dara, which Anwar claimed as his own, is a translation of a Chinese poem.


Rasa in Ratna Sarumpaet’s Play Pelacur dan Sang Presiden

In this article I would like to illustrate the rasas in a contemporary Indonesian play Pelacur dan Sang Presiden (The Prostitute and the President”). The play, written by Ratna Sarumpet, is about a woman who is victimized by the patriarchal society and resists this unequivocally in her own way. The protagonist of the play is Jamila, a prostitute who is sentenced to death for murdering a high-ranking official. Jamila is an obstinate character and her words are colored by tones of anger and protest. Therefore I will focus on Raudra Rasa (furious sentiment) in analyzing the play.

As regards rasa, Bharata Muni said that the mental states are called feelings because they make us feel the goal of poetry. Aesthetic experience is the process of tasting the Rasa. Abhinavagupta concluded that ‘rasa is simply the aim of poetry’ (Gnoli 52). Based on Abhinavagupta’s interpretation of Natyasastra, rasa is juice or flavour. It is a typical Indian concept especially with regard to aesthetics.

Rasa is to be experienced by the reader or spectator of performance. According to Bharata, rasa derives from the merge between the play and the actors’ act (Determinants). Out of this occur Consequents and Transitory Mental States (Gnoli 86). In Natyasastra, eight fundamental bhavas (mental states) are delight (rati), laughter (hasa), sorrow (soka), anger (krodha), heroism (utsaha), fear (bhaya), disgust (jugupsa) and wonder (vismaya). There are 36 occasional, transitory, impermanent states. There are 8 fundamental mental states or Rasa, namely the erotic (srngara), comic (hasya), pathetic (karuna), furious (raudra), heroic (vira), terrible (bhayanaka), odious (bibhatsa), marvelous (adbhuta).

Aesthetical experience is resulted from squeezing out of the poetical word. In drama, words of the actors come with actions. The spectator senses the performance through sight and hearing. As rasa is not revealed, but rather suggested or manifested, it does not lie on the actor. He is only the means, the ‘vessel’ of tasting. The play creates a distance between the spectator and the actor. Then the spectator identifies himself with the actor.


“The Prostitute and the President”

The drama starts from Jamila’s confession of killing a cabinet minister named Nurdin. The 26-year-old woman gives herself up and is imprisoned. From her diary, read by warden Ria, we have a glimpse of her childhood. Her father gives her away in trafficking. She is sold and raped, escapes and helps her younger sister to flee a brothel. She also becomes a prostitute, then Nurdin’s mistress. Currently she is pregnant. She is sentenced with death penalty and granted a final wish. She wishes to see the president and a prominent Islamic cleric of the country, which enraged the country.

The plot of the play is not linear. One time we see Jamila in prison and the other is a flashback of Jamila before she is arrested. As there are two time settings in the play, there are two Jamilas. JAMILA 1 refers to Jamila in the past, while JAMILA 2 the present.

Ratna Sarumpaet is the founder of One Red Stage (Satu Merah Panggung) theater troupe. She started her career as a television show director in 1991 for the state-owned television channel, TVRI. The themes of trafficking and sex industry not something that she is unfamiliar with as she is also a political activist. She was awarded the Female Human Rights Special Award by the Asia Foundation for Human Rights in 1998. The play is made into a movie, “Jamila and the President”, directed by Sarumpaet herself. It was nominated as a foreign language film for Oscar in 2009.


Raudra, Bibhatsa and Karuna Rasas in the Play

In Natyasastra, raudra rasa is explained as the following:


Now (the rasa) called raudra has anger for its permanent emotion. Demons, monsters and violent men are its characters. It is caused by battles. It arises from (sic) such vibhavas as anger, provocative actions (adharsana), insult (adhiksepa), lies, assaults (upaghata), harsh words, oppression (abhiroha, or according to Abhinava, “murderous intent”) and envy.

Aesthetic Rapture, Vol. I, p. 53

Patnaik shows how raudra can coexist with other rasas, namely vira and karuna in Natyasastra. He also evidenced that anger, one of the determinants of raudra, can cause sorrow and incomprehension. In the case of the latter, anger has the potential to arouse bibhatsa rasa or odious.

The evocation of raudra and vira can be seen in Act 5b. Jamila is shocked and furious when she finds out that her sister Dinda is brutally murdered. She has been missing for two weeks and the police do not take any action. The perpetrators are in fact the police officers. JAMILA 2 tells the officers that she knows why Dinda is murdered. Dinda always refuses ‘the present’ of drugs that is given so that the girls can work all night, ‘serving ten men in one night’.


JAMILA 1 You police officers are losers!!

Only losers can take a way an innocent person’s like

Like Dinda.



Now, whether you want to prosecute me –

Or kill me, the way you

butchered Dinda, it doesn’t matter to me …..

(Act 5b, 47)


Absence of sadness becomes the vibhava of vira rasa. Jamila releases her grief of losing her sister and she is ready to be killed by the police officers who want to keep their reputation. The anubhavas are firmness and heroism. The vira from correct perception also leads to santa as the vibhava of santa is knowledge of Truth (Patnaik 232). Jamila at that point of time realizes that her fate lies on a greater power.

Basically raudra is categorized as a negative rasa, or dukhatmaka according to Abhinavagupta, as it inflicts pain. However, as far as anger and vira rasa are concerned, raudra cannot be easily called negative. The relation between raudra and vira is that, in heroic actions sometimes the elements of fury are apparent (Patnaik 145). Utsaha or dynamic energy (the main sthayibhava of vira) is related to krodha or anger (one of the sthayibhava of raudra). In addition to energy, raudra and vira rasas contain action and correct perception. Anger can actually lead to a state of blindness, where one can do wrong actions or act unreasonably (which is negative). However, the energy in vira is transformed into good deeds, thus vira is a positive rasa.

Raudra rasa can also coexist with bhayanaka and bibhatsa, terrible and odious sentiments. The reason lies on the anubhavas of raudra: ‘beating, breaking, crushing, mutilating, fighting, drawing of blood… red eyes, knitting of eyebrows, defiance, biting of lips, movement of cheeks, pressing one hand with the other, etc’ (Ghosh). Beating, crushing, mutilating and drawing of blood can cause terrible feeling and furthermore disgust or bibhatsa rasa.

Bhibatsa can be evoked from the scene where MRS WARDIMAN regrets the current condition of Jamila. Jamila’s mother puts Jamila under the care of Wardiman family because she thinks it is a respectable family. However, Jamila is abused by MRS WARDIMAN’s husband and son and becomes pregnant. In the beginning of the play, MRS WARDIMAN tells Jamila to name the father of the baby. She says she does not like to see Jamila’s wearing a jilbab or veil. She feels as if she is conspiring with the devil in insulting Jamila’s mother (Opening). She views that the veil is unsuitable for her moral and then she condemns her:


MRS WARDIMAN   Your father – sold you to a pimp

when you’re still green

Dying, your mother kidnapped you

from that pimp and took you here

so that you’re safe.

In a house of a respectable family like this

she hoped you grow up well

And what eventually you become?

You are like destined to be a prostitute.



Then Jamila stands up and becomes stiff. MRS WARDIMAN’s insults are the vibhava of Jamila’s anger. After some more tensions, Jamila cannot take it anymore. She exits and it is implied that she has committed the murder.

After JAMILA 1 murders Nurdin and his son, she wipes the blood in the dagger onto her veil. She looks at the dagger as if seeing ‘a terrible sin’. She is haunted by what she has done. She remembers that her mother regards her birth as ‘light’, a blessing. Her mother talks about ‘purity and self esteem’. Then she asks what purity and self-esteem really are. There is a terrible sentiment at this moment.

The stage focus shifts. When JAMILA 2 is having a conversation with PRISON GUARD, she advices him to look after his daughters because, she says, “The world is full of greed and hypocrisy, and can pollute and trap them.” (Act I). After saying this, she bends her knees and holds her legs tight, looks straight to the front. In this scene the vibhavas of raudra rasa are anger and insult. Jamila realizes that she is talking about herself, that she is part of the greedy world, and that she is “dirty”. According to Ghosh, the vyabhicaribhavas of raudra rasa are presence of mind, determination, energy, indignation, restlessness, fury, perspiration, trembling, horripilation, choking voice, etc’. In this scene, the vyabhicaribhavas are determination, fierce look and harsh voice. Jamila goes on saying:


JAMILA 2  I am one of them, Officer.

I kill people since I was a child.

Since I could not differ the right from the wrong.


And that is terrifying.

(Act 1, p.14)


Her anger is addressed to herself and in her confession she justifies herself. The battle that causes raudra rasa is within herself.

The society considers Jamila as enemy of the country. She signifies the fall of morality and human values. PRISON GUARD reads out the newspaper to Jamila and tells her that an Islamic organization, Nation’s Faith Defender Forum (FPIB), will go for a demonstration at the court with participants of thousands of people. The organization demands that the trial sentences her to death. However, she calls the organization as “hypocrite moralist militants.” The fictitious FPIB actually refers to Islam’s Defenders Front (FPI), an organization which acts against ‘immorality’ on behalf of Islam. With uncivilized behaviour, FPI members raid on bars and nightclubs also destroy alcohol and pornography material especially during Ramadan month. They take the law into their hands and abuses religion. Jamila claims that those people do not understand morals. She instead proposes that they declare her a dignitary of the organization.


Seeing JAMILA 2 being intimate with PRISON GUARD, MRS RIA scolds him and says that his job is to guard the inmate, not to befriend her. Here the vibhava for MRS RIA is jealousy. She does not want Jamila to become a martyr.

However, MRS RIA also sympathizes with JAMILA. She tells her to stop bragging herself because “it may increase [her] punishment” (Act 1). When anger is transformed into violence and destruction, karuna rasa (pathetic sentiment) is evoked. Raudra and karuna have some common anubhavas , for example red eyes and movement of cheeks. In the scene when MRS RIA says that she cares about Jamila, MRS RIA’s face is stiff and her voice is firm—the anubhavas. In the mean time, the vibhava is Jamila’s captivity misfortune, which MRS RIA can feel as she is also a woman. The manifestation of destruction is resulted from her sorrow. This is the intersection between raudra and karuna. In karuna, the effect of sorrow is more important than the cause, while in anger, it is the opposite.

Besides MRS RIA, other people may also pity her. Malik, the LAWYER, tells JAMILA 2 that actually millions of people care about her. They do not want her charge to be interfered with political interests. However, JAMILA 2 is furious with this.

JAMILA 2   Enough! Enough!! Enough !!!!

I told you I don’t need legal defense.

(I, 18)


The reason for her refusal of legal aid from the lawyer is she believes she did the right thing. She killed Nurdin the official with her own hands and she does not regret this. She believes that there is no border between the personal and the public affairs. JAMILA 2 says, “Prostitution is politics… I’m no different from politicians” (Act 1). According to her men boast themselves when they talk about morality. Yet, they are very weak when faced with women’s sexuality. The moral value is not upheld anymore, regardless their social status. She says she hates the society for putting politicians at a high level as if they are heroic and holy.

JAMILA – 2  Mrs Ria, do you know what those clerics

think of people like me?

Hell! …..

Ha ha ha …. (I, 21)


The scene implies that the clerics are disgusted with Jamila. The clerics are moral upholders while Jamila is exactly the opposite. People like Jamila will go to hell. However, we can also read this the other way around, that Jamila finds the clerics disgustful. There is haasya rasa (comic sentiment) caused by the absurdity of the clerics. Discussing John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger and Allen Ginsberg’s poetry Howl, Patnaik explains that fury is the result of alienation. Jimmy and the ‘I’ feel “the sense of disgust at those who have made these people outcasts” (154). Jugupsa sthayibhava (durable psychological state of disgust) is there and thus bibhatsa rasa (odious sentiment) is also aroused by this scene.

Jamila connects the personal world to the public world. She wants to strategically use her sexuality to disrupt the society. The highest (male) position in the country is at the president. Then she makes her death wish, to sleep with the president, rather than an amnesty from him. This enrages Mrs. Ria. She slaps her and orders her men to take Jamila to isolation room. Yet, when dragged, Jamia laments:

JAMILA 2   Not a single child on earth

Wants to be a prostitute, Mrs Ria.

Not a single child …….. (Act 1, 22)


Her distrust of the world is the reason why she had abortion several times when she is working as a prostitute. She reveals this when MRS DARNO, her ex-pimp, pays her a visit at the prison. Jamila says she does not want her future daughters to meet people like MRS DARNO and be raped legally. Neither does she want them to be sex objects nor accused as the destroyer of the nation’s morals. Revenge, past insults, threats and sexual assaults are the vibhavas of raudra rasa here.

Some women are displeased by Jamila, for example the wives of officials. Two of them come to the prison representing the community of officials’ wives. They ask Jamila’s motive of request to see the president. They feel Jamila is being arrogant. Their manner is the anubhava of raudra. WIVE 2 pulls Jamila’s hair and spits at her.

 Jamila’s hatred of her life and the world is also expressed when a Muslim cleric comes to her cell. He wants to guide her to ask for God’s forgiveness. However, Jamila says that she does not need a cleric to do that because he cannot understand her suffering. She asks sharply why he comes now, why was not he be with her when her father gives her away. With the anubhava of her arms stretched she says:

JAMILA 2    Look, Pak Cleric, look!!

Look how dirty and sinful I am.

And don’t say that you are not also

responsible for all this.

(Act 7, 65)


 As we can see, the main vibhavas or raudra rasa in “The Prostitute and the President” are injustice and oppression. These reasons of Jamila’s anger drive her toward her disbelieve of the world. The murder of Nurdin can be seen as the greatest manifestation of her fury, the anubhava of drawing blood. However, she cannot be categorized as the ‘bad girl’. With feminist approach, Jamila is the hero. She blames her condition on the society that commodifies women’s body. This play is a critique against the state, the law, trafficking, prostitution and religion.



Works Cited

Ghosh, Manmohan (trans.) Natyasastra by Bharata Muni, 1967. Calcutta: Calcutta Oriental Press.

Gnoli, Raniero The Aesthetic Experience According to Abhinavagupta. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series, 1985.

Patnaik, Priyadarshi Rasa in Aesthetics: An Application of Rasa Theory to Modern Western Literature. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 1997.

Sarumpaet, Ratna Pelacur dan Sang Presiden (The Prostitute and the President). “Naskah Drama Indonesia” page downloaded on April 28, 2010.


Silang-sengkarut Subjektivitas: Pengamatan atas Video « What » Reza Afisina

What: Silang-sengkarut Subjektivitas

But I say to you, my friends, Fear not those who kill the body
and after this have no more that they can do
– Luke 12:4

See a short clip of the video here on Youtube.

Sebagai bentuk seni yang lebih baru, video mampu menampilkan rangkaian gambar. Gambar-gambar yang bergerak ini lebih mampu memperlihatkan hubungan sebab-akibat (kausalitas) dengan hadirnya periode. Video dapat pula menyertakan alur atau jalan cerita. Dalam satu karya—misalkan untuk menampilkan orang berjalan—ada potongan-potongan gambar ketika orang itu baru mulai mengangkat kaki, ketika salah satu kakinya melayang di udara, dan ketika kaki tersebut mendarat, dimana pada saat yang sama kaki yang lain beranjak lepas dari tanah.  Perihal alur ini, misalnya, dapat juga dilihat dalam adegan yang menggambarkan orang sedang menangis: ada gambar ketika ia mulai menitikkan air mata, sesenggukan dan pada akhirnya meraung-raung.

WhatPada What (2001), sebuah karya video Reza Afisina (Asung), ada aktor, dialog (atau, untuk lebih tepatnya, monolog) dan plot. Penonton dapat melihat (sekaligus mendengar) bahwa sang aktor pada awalnya seperti sedang mengutip puisi berbahasa Inggris. Mungkin puisi tersebut merupakan bait-bait milik William Wordsworth atau John Donne. Aktor tersebut duduk dan bertelanjang dada. Di belakangnya, seperti dibocorkan oleh Hafiz Rancajale, pengamat film dan pendiri Forum Lenteng yang turut serta dalam pembuatan video itu, adalah instalasi yang berupa silet-silet yang acak tertancap di tripleks putih. Aktor tersebut melakukan semacam-monolog tersebut dengan nada datar, seperti merapalkan mantera, sambil sesekali menampari dirinya sendiri. Adegan ini, menurut saya, merupakan gambaran klasik penyiksaan di ruang interogasi, dimana sang penyidik berusaha mengorek kebenaran dari tahanan. Tahanan itu pun bertahan dengan versi kebenarannya sendiri.

Ketika saya mendengar sang aktor melontarkan kata “He”, yang mengacu kepada Tuhan, dan berkata-kata dengan bahasa Inggris arkaik, saya baru bisa menduga bahwa sang aktor sedang mengutip ayat Alkitab. Kadang, sebelum ia menyelesaikan sebuah kalimat, tangannya sudah mendarat di pipinya dengan keras. Tangan kiri menampar pipi kiri dan tangan kanan pipi kanan, dengan alusi, yang saya tangkap, ajaran Yesus–jika kita ditampar di pipi kiri, berikan pipi kanan. Alat perekam gambar yang ia pakai tampaknya diletakkan begitu saja tanpa ada orang yang mengoperasikannya.

What 2Kemudian, seperti memiliki dua kepribadian, aktor yang terengah-engah tersebut kembali menghadap ke arah kamera—dengan mata menghindari kamera—dan merapalkan ayat-ayat Alkitab lagi, seolah bertahan dengan kehendaknya; seolah ia tetap setia pada apa yang diyakininya dan tidak terpengaruh oleh rasa sakit fisiknya. Kedua pipi dan matanya lebam, keringat bertengger di wajah dan rambutnya, ingus berleleran dari hidungnya. Mungkin ia tidak lagi mengerti apa yang diucapkannya, tetapi sekadar mengulang-ulang ayat itu sebagai robot. Atau, dengan mengucapkan ayat itu, ia juga sedang memeriksa batinnya, mencari tahu apakah ia masih mempercayai apa yang termuat dalam ayat tersebut. Saya jadi teringat Winston Smith, protagonis dalam novel karya George Orwell yang berjudul 1984, subjek indoktrinasi pemerintahan totaliter. Diperlakukan seperti binatang, Winston Smith meragukan apakah ia masih bisa membela ruang rahasia yang bernama otak.

Dalam katalog OK Video Post-event 2004, kurator Hendro Wiyanto menyebut Asung sempat pingsan ketika bermain dalam video What tersebut, yang mungkin menjelaskan adanya adegan yang terpotong. Pada titik ini, saya melihat Asung sebagai aktor menjalankan dua peran dengan sangat baik: di satu sisi dia menjadi korban yang menahan sakit dan di sisi lain ia menjadi pelaku penyiksaan. Ia mampu menghimpun tenaga dari kepayahannya dan menyalurkannya ke dirinya sendiri, tidak menakar dampak dari tamparannya sehingga ia tak sadarkan diri. Asung menjadi dua diri: yang masokis dan yang sadis.

Adegan berikutnya melibatkan sang aktor yang sedang mengambil sebatang rokok, menyalakannya, kemudian menghisapnya. Keheningan ruang digantikan oleh latar suara yang berat yang mungkin berasal dari kalimat-kalimat milik aktor yang sama namun diperlambat. Lalu layar berubah hitam. Tulisan ayat tersebut ditampilkan satu per satu. Kita kemudian diperlihatkan sumber kutipan monolog Asung, yaitu dari injil Lukas.

Menuturkan ayat Alkitab berkali-kali, Asung kelihatannya percaya dengan sesuatu yang menguasai dirinya setelah tubuhnya mati. Namun, ia tidak gentar terhadap sesuatu yang hanya bisa mematikan raganya. Sebagai objek yang disiksa (walaupun eksekusinya diwakili oleh tangannya sendiri), Asung adalah kelompok subaltern yang ambigu. Sebagai tambahan, istilah subaltern sendiri pertama kali dipakai oleh Antonio Gramsci untuk kelompok inferior—subjek hegemoni bagi kelas yang berkuasa—ketika ia membahas tentang kelas yang tidak masuk dalam sejarah Italia dalam tulisannya pada 1934.

Dalam What, Asung masokis adalah subaltern yang berbicara, sementara Asung yang sadis tidak punya atau tidak diberikan kesempatan berbicara. Mungkin inilah akhir peran Asung yang sadis. Asung yang pingsan adalah kekalahan Asung sadis, Asung yang bungkam.


Kontradiksi Asung?

Video adalah bentuk seni naratif dan umumnya memiliki tokoh. Jika dalam fiksi, salah satu titik dalam perjalanan alur adalah perubahan karakter atau nasib tokoh, ini pulalah yang saya lihat dari video What. Setelah adegan monoton dan menyakitkan itu–menampar diri sendiri sambil tetap mengutip Injil, Asung menyalakan rokok. Ini saya asumsikan sebagai pembalikan rasa sakit, penyembuh, antidot. Ia seolah sedang memberikan penghargaan pada dirinya sendiri dengan melakukan hal yang baginya menyenangkan. Merokok menenangkan dirinya. Tetapi perubahan drastis ini memicu saya untuk berpikir bahwa Asung telah melepaskan perannya sebagai aktor dan lalu muncul sebagai sutradara. Atau ia menjadi bisu, tak bisa dan tidak perlu mengatakan apa-apa lagi secara verbal.

Ketika Asung mematikan sebentar kameranya, perannya sebagai sutradara semakin tampak. Ia-lah yang punya konsep dan cerita, yang punya bayangan akan seperti apa nanti hasil rekamannya. Momen ini sangat sarat kepentingan. Asung punya kuasa untuk menghadirkan dan meniadakan suatu adegan. Ia memegang gunting sensor, mengendalikan persepsi penonton. Diri  Asung terbagi-bagi antara objek dan subjek penamparan serta mastermind atau arsitek keseluruhan video.

Dalam buku Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag melihat kekuatan fotografi untuk menjadi objektif. Lebih jauh, kelebihan aspek fotografi yang melampaui sastra yaitu gabungan antara gambaran kenyataan sekaligus pernyataan pribadi. Bagaimanapun, kamera dikendalikan oleh pemotret berdasarkan dorongan-dorongan subjektifnya. Dalam persimpangan fotografi dengan video, What menjadi pernyataan pribadi Asung dengan jejaring subjektivitasnya.


Perlakuan Asung terhadap tubuhnya juga menarik untuk dibahas. Tubuh bukanlah komoditas atau barang yang bisa dibeli, tubuh adalah ranah kuasa pribadi mengungkapkan permasalahan. Di satu sisi, tubuh Asung adalah yang disiksa, masokis. Tubuh yang pasrah, hirau akan perlakuan yang akan menimpanya. Dari sisi yang lain, sebaliknya, tubuh Asung adalah tubuh yang memperhatikan dirinya sendiri, mengurusi dirinya sendiri, yang narsis.


Christine Poggi menulis tentang karya-karya Vito Acconci termasuk Trademarks (1970), dimana ia menggigiti tubuhnya sendiri hingga tampak bekas hujaman giginya, yang kadang melukai kulitnya. Bekas gigitan ini diberi tinta dan kemudian menempelkan “cap” ini ke berbagai permukaan media. Amelia Jones dalam Poggi menyatakan bahwa karya Acconci merupakan pergerakan dialektika dimana posisi subjek dan objek senantiasa berganti. Tubuh mejadi lingkaran self-reflexive, pasif dan aktif. Tubuh menjadi maskulinitas yang hiperbol sekaligus masokisme yang teatrikal.

Dalam esainya, “Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism,” Rosalind Krauss berargumen bahwa video adalah medium psikologis, daripada teknologi. Pada kelahirannya sebagai bentuk seni pada tahun 1970-an hingga 1980-an, video art menjadikan dirinya sebagai ranah narsisisme. Perhatian penonton dibelokkan dari pertemuan dengan objek luar sebagai Liyan ke arah parameter situasi psikologis dimana Diri dibangun.

Jadi saya melihat posisi ambivalen Asung sebagai tanda bahwa What adalah pergulatan dalam dirinya sendiri. Karya video tersebut menampilkan Asung sebagai pencipta yang resah juga medium penyampai keresahannya itu.


Indah Lestari

This article was originally written in September 2008 for the art writing workshop organized by Ruang Rupa, Jakarta. For more information on the workshop, check

Imagining an Indonesian Literary Translation Body

To translate is to transfer a text into another language, to put it simply. But this carries a lot of problems with it. For example, in relation to literary translation, which books to translate and why? How to value the quality of translation?

How far a translator is recognized? What is the position of the translator in connection with the author’s text, and copyrights? And what about censorship, the relation among the translators, editors, publishers as well as agents?

These were some of the questions that the “Towards an Indonesian Literary Translation Center” seminar was trying to answer. Held in Erasmus Taalcentrum Jakarta from October 8 – 12, 2012, the seminar was part of the effort to found an Indonesian literary translation body, as initiated by Eliza Vitri Handayani. The seminar ran simultaneously with translation workshop and was organized in cooperation with British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT).

The workshop was a kind of sequel of a summer school of group translation conducted by Writer’s Center Norwich last July. In Jakarta, three classes were offered, Dutch – Indonesian, Dutch – English – Indonesian and Norway – English – Indonesian. The works to translate were Old People’s Home by Norwegian author Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold and the novel Dover (2008) by Dutch author Gustaaf Peek, which were already translated by groups in Norwich. The English translator group leaders were brought to Jakarta, Kari Dickson and David Colmer, both are award-winning translators.

The workshop was an experiment, to quote BCLT’s International Program Director Kate Griffin. The class translation leaders for each class were Widjajanto Dharmowijono, Anton Kurnia and Arif Bagus Prasetyo. The names of the last two are quite famous among the literary translator circle. At the closing night, the groups performed the consented translation.

The workshop was aimed to grow appreciation of literary translation, which takes a great deal of process and thus is an art in itself. Regarding its complexity,

Melani Budianta, an English literature professor at the University of Indonesia wrote in Kalam journal, that to translate is an ‘intertextual strategy’ to process the source text into a text of its own. The translation text may be different from the original as it carries the cultural ideology and the age developing within the translator. Translation is never neutral.

Translation also demands skills. In the past the Indonesian translators themselves were authors. Sophocles’ Oedipus was translated by dramatist WS Rendra, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea by poet (and lecturer) Sapardi Djoko Damono, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men by Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Tortilla Flat by Djoko Lelono. We actually had our golden moments, consuming works translated into Indonesian, which were published long ago by now a losing state-owned Balai Pustaka, and Pustaka Jaya.

As regards translation of Indonesian literature, John McGlynn, co-founder of Lontar Foundation which has published the English translation of select most important modern Indonesian writers’ works, said Lontar aspired to introduced Indonesian literature to the international world. Yet, I was a bit surprised to hear that Indonesian works can be translated into another language bypassing English. For example, Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind) was directly translated from Bahasa Indonesia to Filipino by Thelma Kintanar. This is despite, Lily Rose Tope, who teaches Southeast Asian studies at University of the Philippines, argues that Southeast Asia hardly read each other’s literature. Her paper focused on colonial history that influenced the country linguistically and culturally. Her colleague, Corazon D. Villareal, shared her method of teaching translation and examples of how her students approach translation, as part of creative writing or literary and cultural studies. This is where literary translation by practitioners goes hand in hand with research and academic insights on translation.

In order to enliven literary translation, the working conditions must be far improved. Handayani highlighted the condition in Indonesia, including the short time for translation (even a book is divided into sections for several translators for speed, yet at the cost of quality and consistency) and low fee. In addition, the translator’s name is hardly acknowledged in the publication. She envisioned an award or prize for literary translators, perhaps an Indonesian version of UK’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, of which Griffin was one of the judges. The prize, £10,000 annually, is divided equally between writer and translator.

One way to improve the working condition surrounding translation is by providing professional assistance. PEN Translation Committee’s guide can be reference for translators in a contract negotiation, wrote Olivia Sears from Center of the Art of Translation, in her paper. Nicholas Jose, who teaches creative writing in University of Adelaide, informed that Australian literary translators have AALITRA, Australian Association for Literary Translation. In Norwegia, freelance translators were even able to go on strike for better pay and a better agreement with the publishers. Cecilie Winger, chairperson of the Norwegian Association of Literary Translators (NO), showed how the translators managed to reach an agreement with the publishers’ association for increasing the basic fee per page, something that translators can benefit from a union.

Cooperation across translators’ organization becomes favorable. Eddie R. Notowidigdo from the Association of Indonesian Translators (HPI) said one of the benefits of this is that the future literary translation center can have access to HPI’s member database. But do we see Indonesian government fund on the horizon? Jose told about Australia-India Literatures International Forum in Sydney which was organized by, among others, the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australia-India Institute of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There is a subsidy program to fund the translation and publication of Australian literary titles into other languages. Journals are indeed effective to nourish translation practice and discipline.

Overall, it was a great week of engaging in Indonesian literature and cultural exchange. We must be reminded that Indonesia is bound to be the guest of honour in the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015, so it is hoped that a possibility to body established to facilitate these can be realized soon.

Indah Lestari

A translation practitioner, earned MA in English Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, and currently teaches Creative Writing at Unisma Bekasi English department.

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Music and Black Movement in Three Biographical Movies Lady Sings the Blues, Bird and Ray

By Indah Lestari

This paper attempts to look at the importance of music as part of Black identity. The movies chosen for this purpose are based on the biography of black singer and musicians. Lady Sings the Blues (1972) is about Billie Holiday, Bird (1988) Charlie Parker and Ray (2004) Ray Charles. The artists lived in relatively the same period and in some points of time in their life had tensions with their race. Their life is inseparable from music and a probe into music would allow us to see the social life in American Jim Crow era. Music has the capacity to reveal the contradictions within society by communicating to the listeners a connection to the real world.

The three artists discussed in this paper are active in Black music genres, particularly jazz and blues. Blues is deeply rooted in American history, especially African American history. It is originated in Southern plantations in the 19th century. It was invented by slaves, ex-slaves and their descendants. They sang in the cotton fields while working. It is mostly regarded as evolving from American spiritual songs, work songs and field hollers, blending rural life and percussion. They improvised the call-and-response method and put it in American context.

Black music in 20th century is an appropriation of Western music elements. Blues and jazz are interconnected. Blues nourished in Mississippi Delta, near the birth town of jazz, New Orleans, which was then the center of American slave trade. Blues then grew into Rhythm ‘n Blues (R&B) and rock ‘n roll, while jazz has cause a lot of subgenres to spring from it, such as bebop, Bossa nova and acid jazz.

One of the foremost female jazz singers in American music history is Billie Holiday or Lady Day. She was born by a real name of Eleanora Fagan on April 17, 1915 and died in 1959 of drug overdose. In relation to black movement, Holiday is mainly identified with her song “Strange Fruit”. The song bitterly tells about a black body hanging in a tree as if it is the tree’s fruit. It was premiered in a New York club in 1938. The lyric goes the following:

Southern trees bear strange fruits
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouthd
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

The song was brought about when she was on a big-band bus tour and witnessed a lynching of two blacks, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. The lyric was adapted from a 1937 poem by Jewish schoolteacher and poet in New York, Abel Meeropol (pen name, Lewis Allan). The image of a person hanging in a tree in the poem is literally depicted in the movie. Holiday herself (starred by famous black singer Diana Ross) sees this person, though there is no sufficient data to tell whether this happened in her real life. So we can see the politics of the movie—which is based on the book by Holiday and William Dufty—by blending facts and fiction in highlighting black struggle.

The song « Strange Fruit » is difficult to categorize, either by the music or the lyric. It is “too artsy to be folk music, too explicitly political and polemical to be jazz”[i]. At that time the civil rights movement was not at its peak. As the song was then regarded controversial, Holiday’s record company Columbia did not release it, and a smaller label Commodore took it. It is now one of Holiday’s signature songs.

Around the same time as the premiere of “Strange Fruit”, Holiday joined swing pianist Count Basie in 1937 and clarinetist Artie Shaw a year later, becoming one of the first black singer featured with a white orchestra. In the movie, among all the band members, all white, Holiday did not face racial discrimination. In fact she is treated like a lady. When a band member is complaining about not being featured by some radio station and started cursing, Harry says, “Watch your mouth. Can’t you see there’s a lady present?” This means she is respected, not as a black, or merely a woman, but a (white) lady. There is also an interesting line when Harry  says « let’s face it Billie, you are the cream in our coffee.” So the logic of the colors is reversed, Billie is the ‘white’ while the men are the ‘(black) coffee’.

The movie starts in New York in 1936 when Holiday is jailed on drug charge. In black and white picture and horror music, the audience can see how Holiday was ill-treated by the white (female) officers, for example her hair pulled and she is pushed into a cushion-walled chamber. As the movie shows the credits, the picture stops repeatedly and depicts the photography of the violence. This scene goes in film noir mood, strong contrast of black and white, and horror-jazz soundtrack. Certainly the black-and-white color can be interpreted as the juxtaposition of the blacks and whites of America, how they interact, clash, and mingle with each other.

From one club to another the viewers can see how Holiday’s career in singing is rising. In her first job in a cheap club, like any other singer, she is supposed to take the tip from the guests with her thighs or keep it in her cleavage. Her costume is as if designed for that, bright red with high cut in the middle to her thighs. The guests are mocking her because she could not take the money, not until a man, Louis McKay, whom she seems to have a crush on, puts forth a bill. Although her stretch of voice is limited, she sings like a jazz instrumentalist, lengthening and shortening phrases. With warm voice she equips the lyrics with sadness, sensuality and irony. She is also famous for singing a little behind the beat, which was followed by later generations of vocalists. The journey of a year of her career in that club is represented in the movie by some sepia pictures, of which in some she stands in front of the club with a poster by her name.

Then Holiday is approached by two white men, Harry and Reg, requesting her to join their band in a tour. She thinks they are joking, saying “a colored singer with a white band?” She joined them and their first destination is ‘the South’. On their stop to have lunch, the music is country music. Country music or Western music or cowboy songs was found in Southern United States. Here we can see the application of Jim Crow laws, where the bar does not allow blacks to enter. Holiday just stands outside while the other band members are eating. Reg goes outside and shouts that she “ain’t missing a thing” as if to soothe her. Here the discrimination is not shown full frontal in the movie, not a subtext. In Bird, Charlie Parker plans to go on tour with his band to the South—Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. But the band’s comment is, “Deep south with a mixed band? We’ll get lynched!” Mixed band refers to one of the band’s members, who is a Jew. Parker undercuts the whole system of race and takes it for his own advantage.

Still in the South in the trip they meet Ku Klux Klan rallying in the street, bearing white supremacy and pro-slavery posters saying, for example ‘Free Passage to Africa’. This is one of the scariest moments, when the white-hooded people see Holiday, a negro, in the bus, break the glasses and try to hurt or even kill her. Meanwhile, she refuses to hide and instead keeps cursing them. We can read her anger as a representation of the black people in America who are oppressed by racial discrimination. She does not care of risking her life, under the threat of the dangerous organization. She could only spontaneously and emotionally convey her hatred against KKK, or racists in general. She is not featured in a Network Radio program either, she missed the slot because of two white ladies. Holiday only comments that the reason must be because the radio people want them to sell soaps, while black people, with no “bright complexion… [or] pretty white hands” do not use it. She could have been featured in the radio because skin color would not be seen, in the radio people only listen to the voice. But a man in the station is arguing with the stakeholder about her. So to be featured in a radio, although your skin color is not mention, will have a direct impact on your career.

But skin color does not matter in terms of taking drugs. Drugs did not choose its victim by the skin color. Harry finally influences Holiday to take shots and she becomes an addict. This is shown in her performance, for example she almost faints on stage, or she forgets some lyrics. She could also lose the love of McKay, who warns her since the beginning. After singing the song “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”, she is faced with a dilemma between taking a shot of drugs and visiting her sick mother at the hospital. Taking drugs may be her free choice, not to say that she cannot control it, but she is not there with her mother when the latter dies. It is a similar scene in Bird when Parker’s daughter, Pree, is really sick, and he is very intoxicated. He is with another woman and cannot be at his wife’s side. He can only send telegram of his condolences.

And skin color does not mean anything for Holiday in order to perform at the “top spot” prestigious Carnegie Hall. It is a concert hall in Midtown Manhattan. Although as her agent says, she does not sing operas, she would perform there with her own style, and that is jazz. The movie finishes with the Carnegie Hall scene where the audience is clapping loudly for the lady who sings her blues. A happy ending. The movie does not tell the viewers that the real Billie Holiday died at the age of 44 because of her drug addiction problem.

Drug is also a central theme in the other two movies. Charles Parker also died of overdose, even younger than Holiday. Not only drugs, both Bird and Ray, also portray Parker’s and Ray Charles’ relation with many women. As a biographical film, Bird also depicts three-dimensional view of the character, Charles Parker both on- and off-stage. But unlike LSTB, this movie shows the growth of the artist’s skill—his failures, his experiments, and his success with his horn. In LSTB, the songs sung by Holiday are not chronological. They merely stand for the theme of her life story at certain points of time. In Ray, drug is Ray Charles’ temporary means to escape from his physical disability. He feels that hiss life is “null and void”. Being blind, Ray Charles can actually manage to survive without the help of a walking stick or a dog because he has a good memory and sharp senses. He trains himself, due to his mother’s teachings, and he does not want to be pitied. Toward the end of the movie, he realizes his mother’s advice, “never let nobody or nothing turn [him] into no cripple”. Taking drugs actually makes him a cripple, so he finally stops doing it.

Another aspect to be compared among the movies is the artists’ close relationship with the whites: Holiday and the white band, while Parker and his wife Chan as well as his colleague ‘Albino Red’. Chan could understand the creativity within Parker as her childhood was spent in Westchester, where her father owned a club. Red Rodney, the Albino, is actually not completely ‘white’ because he is a Jew, a minority in American society. Ray portrays the artist’s encounters with white people, some are racists and some not. In the beginning of the movie, Ray enters a building where a country band is rehearsing. He is not deliberately insulted for being blind, but a white man supposes that he can only play “boogie-woogie”, or dance music.

But Ray Charles’ most significant encounter with the Jim Crow laws is in 1961 in Augusta, Georgia. In the state, negroes were persecuted everyday. When he and the band arrive, there are people carrying posters demanding segregation abolishment. A journalist tells Ray Charles that the dance floor is only for the whites while the negroes have to stay in the balcony. He replies that he is merely an entertainer. But after being convinced that he can make a difference, he decides to leave the place. This is a victory for all blacks in America. Music is indeed for everybody, but the audience must be able to enjoy it freely, without any boundary. Eighteen years later, in 1979, at Georgia State Capitol, “Georgia on My Mind” is declared the official song of the State. Ray Charles “changed American culture by touching people’s hearts”. The American people accept the fact that black people is part of their society. They live on the same land and they are all equal citizens.

Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker is known as the icon of jazz subgenre Bebop, as he collaborated with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Parker is an alto saxophonist born on August 29, 1920 in Kansas City, Kansas. Parker’s peak of career was in mid ‘40s. In the early 1940s, jazz musicians were looking for new directions to explore. Bebop is characterized with its “complicated chord patterns, dazzling phrases, difficult intervals and unexpected breaks.”[ii] Big bands of swing music shifted to bebop, from dance music to an art form. No longer were there huge big bands, but smaller groups that did not play for dancing audiences but for listening audiences. Parker experimented with chord progressions, faster tempos, higher notes and more dissonant tones. The movie Bird (starring Forest Whitaker) shows the ups and downs of Parker’s career. He is struggling with inventing his music while his lifestyle, especially drug abuse, is clouding him. For example, in winter 1946 in California, he had to be hospitalized due to unfamiliar surrounding; audience response to new sounds; and police crackdown on narcotics, as the report says.

From cinematic perspective, I would say that Bird is better compared to LSTB. Besides acting, Bird is also better in terms of narrative technique. Unlike LSTB which has linear plot in general, Bird utilizes non-linear plot. There are also devices of repetition to show Parker’s dark imagination. For example, a recurring image in the movie is a cymbal being thrown to the floor. This refers to when young Parker who never plays with somebody famous, does badly and the drummer has to throw a cymbal in order to stop him. This embarrassing moment is repressed in his subconscious and may be one of the causes of his self-destruction. Another depressive image evoked in the movie is a dream when young Parker is in a morgue. A man who looks like a doctor, who claims to be “worse than a prophet” pulls a drawer and shows him a dead body. He gives him, based on his experience, only 18 to 20 years of living considering Parker’s drug habit.

But among the three movies, I find Ray, directed by Taylor Hackford, more entertaining and less gloomy. It also employs repetition of scene especially to evoke the trauma Ray Charles (starred by Jamie Foxx) of witnessing his brother’s death. This trauma causes him to suffer from glaucoma and further lose his sight. The plot goes back and forth in time. The distinctive quality between the present and the past of Ray Charles is the color. In the present time, the colors are natural, while for Ray’s childhood, very vivid. This method works well as we bear in mind that he becomes blind at the age of seven. So everything that he sees in the past is as if more memorable, especially the image of colorful bottles hanging in some twigs, which occurs twice in the movie.

« If you really understand the meaning of bebop, you understand the meaning of freedom, » says pianist and composer Thelonious Monk. Bebop is identical to freedom as its core is improvisation, freedom to play tunes. Parker became the first modern jazz soloist by November 1949. Parker, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Christian are called bebop or proto-bebop musicians. Parker’s blowing is very fast, and he has the sense to appropriate other kinds music into jazz. He is best known for his ability to play rests (an interval of silence in a specific duration). He could suspend the time by making tantalizing statements. Playing with silence was one of his great skills. Yet, he never overplayed it. Only sometimes he overdid astonishing cadenza runs, almost like 100 notes to a bar[iii]. Jazz gives identity for black Americans. Parker and Gillespie in the early 1940s were a rupture in the society. Gillespie says in the movie that he is a reformer. They invented something for the young, yet a disturbance for the old, or those who danced over jazz. Moreover, bebop’s relation with international world is dialectic. It draws upon European art music tradition and Parker, among others, took freely this tradition. He brings jazz to the level of European art music through appropriation and assimilation of modernist European art music[iv]. On concerts in Europe and other countries, Parker does not only bring the name of black Americans, but Americans in general.

However, as we have already seen Holiday’s bound with drugs, Parker’s self destruction leads to his grave. In the movie, Parker is not only addicted to drugs, but also takes poison to kill himself, and involves himself in a fight. His attitude can be interpreted as, Gillespie says, “trying to be a martyr”. This theme of being a martyr is also supported by the movie’s ending, that is the death of Parker. The denouement of the movie is the decline of Parker’s existence. He has to drive to a gig in Chicago as nobody would pay for his air tickets. He is infamous for his lack of reliability as he often misses gigs. Back in New York, the neighborhood has changed, all jazz bars have been turned into strip joints. R&B has changed into rock ‘n roll. Parker goes to Baroness Nica’s place, heavily intoxicated. When he dies, a reporter says Parker has a heart attack and his age is 65 (he was actually 34). So the movie romanticizes the figure of Charlie Parker, turning him into a symbolic figure. He becomes a martyr of bebop.

In LSTB, Billie Holiday has become a cult figure. This is because the last song in the movie is “God Bless the Child”. The lyric implies that the child is a separate entity, not depending on the father or the mother. But in the context of Holiday’s life, the song shows a mixture of innocence and guilt. She is like confessing her sins. On the other hand, there is a tone of being grateful to God for her talent. She was finally at the top. Black music is also a marker of blackness, it has become a cultural product that is linked to African tradition especially slavery era. Black music is affiliated with “its soulfulness, its depth of feeling or ‘realness,’ its emotional and rhythmic energy, its vocally informed instrumental inflections”[v] are born out of the pain of social life that is formed as an urge to end racial discrimination. So it speaks in two voices: creative and political.

In Seattle in 1947, in a club, “a place where the sophisti-cats and hipsters hang their bebop hats,” we meet Ray Charles. Ray is both a musician and a singer. His music comprises many genres, but he is mostly associated with soul music. Soul became enormously popular among both black and white audiences beginning in the late ’50s. It evolved until the 1970s. Some view soul as merely a new term for rhythm and blues. Actually a new generation reinterpreted the sounds of R&B, including Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Sam Cooke. Later James Brown became the ‘Godfather of Soul’. In 1955 Ray Charles’s breakthrough in soul music is the song “I’ve Got a Woman”. He invented this new genre by secularizing certain aspects of gospel music (chord changes, song structures, call and response techniques, and vocal screams, wails, and moans) and adding blues-based lyrics[vi]. Soul then transformed into what became known as rock and roll. The power and personality of Soul were taken by disco, funk and hip-hop styles[vii]. In the movie, we can see how controversial soul is then when Ray Charles is accused of “turning god’s music into sex” when performing “Hallelujah I Love Her So”.

Ray Charles emerged as a blues and jazz pianist, but his character was indebted to Nat King Cole in the late 1940s, as we can hear in “Mess Around”. After “I’ve Got a Woman”, his song “What’d I Say” topped the R&B sale charts in 1959. He also became popular among jazz fans, performing a set at the 1958 Newport Jazz festival in 1959. He also entered the pop market with best-sellers “Georgia on My Mind”, “Unchain My Heart” and “Hit the Road, Jack” (1961). He even tried country music and recorded Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962), which was sold for more than one million copies.

All the movies are not just about music. They depict the artists’ struggle with life, of which race is an inherent part. Each artist had his or her own way to cope with racialism while pursuing their career. Music becomes a means to convey their feelings and thoughts, and in the end also influences larger society. Music as Black identity is a vehicle for the Black Movement in its greater sense. The movies to a certain level also promote this through cinematic devices.

[i] Margolick, David. “Billie Holiday, Café Society, and an Early Cry for Civil Rights” in

[ii] Dyson, Michael Eric, “What would America be like without 60 years of Black contributions” , EBONY Nov 2005 p. 175

[iii] Ulanov, Barry. “Jazz: Issues of Identity” in The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 65, No. 2 (Apr. 1979), p. 253

[iv] Smethurst, James Edward. The Black Arts Movement: Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s.2005. University of North Carolina Press, p. 271.

[v] Radano, Ronald Michael. Lying Up a Nation: Race and Black Music. 2003. University of Chicago Press, p. xii.

[vii] “soul music.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2010.

Dunia Karnival, Dunia yang Berputar: Membaca Wajah Terakhir

Membaca cerpen Mona Sylviana seperti membaca cerita detektif, kisah misteri. Benar juga kata profesor Inggris, CW Watson, di epilog buku ini. Ia teringat cerita-cerita detektif Sherlock Holmes-nya Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Membaca kisah misteri punya keasyikan sendiri. Pembaca ditantang untuk juga memecahkan masalah. Dari awal cerita, pembaca harus berperan aktif membangun logika cerita, menyusun data dan meletakkannya di garis waktu atas dasar sebab akibat. Di sini sebenarnya kita harus paham betul bahwa suara narator punya andil. Narator, baik sebagai karakter utama itu sendiri atau sebagai pengamat dari jauh, membawa pembaca sedemikian rupa agar suspensi terus terjaga, agar kejutan tetap utuh.

Tapi bukan hanya itu. Pembaca tidak sekedar digiring untuk sampai ke akhir dan membulatkan cerita. Cerita yang menyembunyikan banyak hal di sini membebaskan imajinasi pembaca, ketakutan mereka. Pembaca menjadi penulis-penulis sampingan. Sebut saja cerpen ‘Ningsih’. Setelah mendengar curhat panjang seorang laki-laki, yang kita duga keras suami Ningsih, tentang perempuan yang diperkosa lalu dibunuh dan mayatnya dibuang di hutan, meliarkah imajinasi kita sebagai pembaca untuk membuat simpul bahwa Ningsih bisa saja diperkosa lalu mengalami apapun yang menyebabkannya amnesia. Pembaca toh telah dipancing dengan disuguhkannya informasi bahwa Ningsih sering pulang malam, jalan kaki, sendiri dan sering tak luput dari godaan pengendara-pengendara mobil yang lalu. Informasi tersebut bukan keusilan narator semata, tapi menjadi stimulan bagi pembaca untuk membangun cerita lain, cerita cabang, atau cerita tandingan. Cerita bisa mendadak berakhir.

Dengan demikian, jalan cerita menjadi hal penting, kalau bukan utama. Kita bisa jadi menikmati (kesenangan atau kesedihan) proses bergulirnya cerita. Membaca cerita kalimat demi kalimat menjadi kebutuhan. Mungkin tidak seperti nonton sinetron sekarang, dimana penderitaan, dengan mudah ditebak, cuma menumpuk. Cerita-cerita Mona selangkah di depan film drama umumnya, yang sering ditonton ibu saya, misalnya. Kadang ketika dia harus berhenti menonton di tengah-tengah cerita, dia meminta saya tetap menonton dan memberitahunya akhir ceritanya. Jalan ceritanya secara detil jadi dinomorduakan. Segala cerita, baginya, cuma ada dua jenis. Happy ending atau sad ending. Tapi di sini, imajinasi berputar Mona memaksimalkan potensi sastra. Sastra bukan saja mencerminkan dunia yang sebenarnya, tapi dunia yang mungkin. Pertanyaan dan kritik dilancarkan pada nilai-nilai yang dianggap sudah kokoh.

Alur cerita tentunya tak harus mengalir. Menjajaki terkuaknya cerita-cerita di sini didistorsi dengan, di antaranya, nada staccato. Kalimat pendek-pendek, tak lengkap, kadang tanpa objek, lebih sering tanpa predikat, apalagi tanpa subjek. Narasi pun tak ayal bernada dapat bernada puitis, karena imaji yang cerdas, perumpamaan yang kuat.

Tapi tak selamanya petunjuk datang sejalan cerita. Kadang saya juga merasa seperti dicurangi karena tidak diberi cukup petunjuk, bahkan dibohongi. Misalnya, salah satu cerita favorit saya, ‘Aroma Mesiu’. Dopis, laki-laki berusia empat puluh lima tahun, beranak dua, duda dari perempuan yang bunuh diri, ternyata adalah ayah dari sang ‘saya’ sendiri. Sebab itu, kalimat bahwa ‘saya tinggal serumah dengannya’ sebenarnya hal yang sangat biasa dan tak perlu diberitahukan. Lumrahlah seorang anak tinggal di rumah orang tuanya, apalagi dia belum menikah. Inilah celah dari bangun cerita misteri. Apa detil akan sama menggugahnya saat dibaca kedua kalinya atau lebih?

Saya kira inilah tarik-ulur antara membuat kejutan dan narasi menawan. Salah satu tekniknya misalnya nama-nama tokoh yang aneh. Barok, Teja, Gahar, Garwa, Dopis, Warok, Geo dan San. Jenis kelamin pun jadi misteri, sebagai salah satu efek defamiliarisasi. Konsep yang dicetus formalis Rusia Victor Skhovsky ini membuat persepsi kita akan dunia jadi tertunda, tidak otomatis, atau klise. Dengan ketidaktahuan kita akan jenis kelamin tokoh, kita belum bisa menyematkan sifat-sifat, atau stigma-stigma. Kita juga sulit menentukan hubungan satu tokoh dengan tokoh lain, terutama suami-istri.

Seks memang satu isu yang disorot di buku ini. Seks adalah sesuatu yang laten, yang mendekam, yang merepresi sekaligus membebaskan. Menahan beban masing-masing, tokoh siap menerjang, melepaskan hasrat dan tekanan. Tak heran kebanyakan tokoh utama cerita-cerita di sini adalah perempuan. Tokoh Mona adalah tokoh yang ‘telanjang’. Perkosaan, kekerasan dalam rumah tangga—baik fisik maupun psikologis diumbar. Saya juga melihat ada formula kecil di akhir satu-dua cerita, yaitu monolog panjang, seolah ingin memberikan penjelasan atas tindakan tokoh, sebuah motif.

Selain kegamblangan seks, Mona juga mengekspos hal-hal ketubuhan lain. Hal-hal yang secara nyata dan kasat mata terlalu menempel dengan kita. Contoh, bibir yang seperti liang pantat, kotoran kuku yang diendus, kelamin yang terkena sipilis. Hal-hal yang tidak mau kita bayangkan, dengar, lihat, endus, apalagi sentuh. Kata-kata yang jorok, kasar, vulgar, yang mungkin bagi sebagian orang tidak pantas untuk diangkat dalam karya sastra. Namun hal-hal itu tetap bagian dari kenyataan hidup sehari-hari. Inilah realisme Mona. Kekerasan, organ tubuh, tabu terefleksi di cermin Wajah Terakhir. Dan menggambarkan hal-hal itu pun membutuhkan keberanian.


Ini mengingatkan saya akan sastra Dalit di India. Dalit sebagai kasta atau lapisan sosial di masyarakat Hindu, khususnya India, menempati posisi terendah dan bahkan dianggap bukan kasta. Kaum Dalit, yang secara harafiah berarti orang-orang yang tertindas, awalnya disegregasi melalui jenis pekerjaan. Mereka melakukan pekerjaan rendahan atau yang dianggap kotor, misalnya membersihkan bangkai atau kotoran manusia. Mereka dilarang masuk kuil, apalagi mempelajari agama atau kitab Weda. Pengalaman sehari-hari mereka mengais makanan basi layaknya anjing. Misalnya di otobiografi seorang Dalit asal Maharastra, Sharankumar Limbale, berjudul Akkarmashi digambarkan bagaimana ia dan keluarganya harus mengumpulkan bijih yang lolos dicerna hewan ternak layaknya kopi luwak, mencuci, memasak dan melahapnya.

Realisme semacam itu bisa dilihat sebagai yang ‘grotesque’, karnival, buruk atau aneh. Mengkritik Gereja Abad Pertengahan, Mikhail Bakhtin bilang karnival adalah perayaan atas yang profan. Dunia karnival tak mengenal batas sosial, tidak ada yang disucikan. Tubuh yang ‘grotesque’ atau menjijikkan adalah gambaran tubuh yang menjadi, metamorfosis yang belum selesai. Di dunia Mona, seorang suami bisa jadi raksasa yang menelan matahari, atau seorang perempuan melahirkan anak sebesar jempol.

Tapi, baik dongeng pengantar tidur atau riwayat di kitab suci, alusi menjadi alat bukti yang membantu kita menemukan kunci cerita-cerita di sini. Di karya terakhir, yang berjudul sama dengan buku koleksi cerpen ini, motif berlatar belakang politik Indonesia begitu terasa. Dengan patokan situasi politik tersebut, cerita jadi sedikit tertebak dan boleh dikata antiklimaks, meski Mona dengan gayanya tetap mengedepankan pergulatan tokoh dengan ingatan dan pengalamannya. Kilas balik, yang bagaikan video yang diputar ketika mata dipejamkan, berpadu dengan dilema tokoh dan waktu kenyataan yang memburu. Lalu, dapatkah Anda membuka lagi halaman-halaman ini setelah buku ditutup?

Surrealism and Indian Aesthetics: Beauty in Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou

by Indah Lestari

In this article I would like to compare Andre Breton’s Surrealism and Indian aesthetics. Then I will use the two traditions to approach Luis Bunuel’s film Un Chien Andalou, one of the best-known surrealist films of the avant garde movement of the 1920s.

Traditionally, art seeks to represent the beauty of nature. Aesthetics, both Western and Eastern, theory attempts to answer the question ‘What is Beauty?’ Beauty is an inspiration in the works of art, it is a subject. Beauty is represented in many kinds of medium, including drama, poetry and film. Anandavardhana argues Nature, when suggested, is more appealing than when plainly stated (in Krishnamoorthy 6). As we will see, Surrealism proposes unconventional concepts of beauty. The quest of beauty in Indian aesthetics deals with what is termed as alankara. It is the body of all art whose invariable property is beauty. Meanwhile, in Surrealist aesthetics the normative idea of beauty is undercut. Surrealism attempts to integrate primordial forces into our waking state in order to transfigure and enhance the way of our perception, communication and response of reality. The dream logic presents loosely related scenes, especially in film form.

Surrealism began as a literary movement in French, with its icon André Breton. In Le Manifeste du Surréalisme, 1924 Breton wrote that logic and reason can only be applied to our secondary interests. we actually filter knowledge based on our experience. even in modern era our minds are still clouded by superstition and myths. Under the light of Freudian psychoanalysis we view our mind as much deeper than « summary realities ». This is where imagination is a significant part of our selves. Breton calls on to capture what is hidden in our mind and then to bring it under rationalism.

Breton very much owes to Freudian psychoanalysis. Freud investigates into DREAMS as it is considered to contain our repressed desire and knowledge. In dreams these elements are represented with less obstruction and interference. Breton argues that in waking state humans succumb to their memory. In memory, dreams are vague and obliterated. dreams are secondary to human life. being the primary element, memory has the power over dreams. our will determines the distinct representation of realities. However, Breton sees that dreams are also a source of important reality. Furthermore, the waking state is interference into the suggestion of dreams. Dreams are freer and more expressive than the mind. It is also subjective. dream is constricted by moral values. In a dream humans can do anything even that is not imaginable in real life. They are released from identity and responsibility. Breton aims at the unification of dream and the mind, which he calls « a surreality ».

Surreality can be compared with Indian aesthetics in terms of words. Apart from dreams, another version of reality can also be represented in a waking state but under different mental state. For example the lost of control over speech in war victims due to trauma. Babble can also produce something expressive. Since it takes the form of words, it is related to literary aesthetics.

There was the illusion of an extra- ordinary verve, a great deal of emotion, a considerable assortment of images of a quality such as we would never have been capable of achieving in ordinary writing, a very vivid graphic quality, and here and there an acutely comic passage

The words are full of « immediate absurdity ». The coinage of the word surrealism–which Breton also defines–is an act to propose a new mode of pure expression. Anna Balakian quoted by Rattray said that « surrealism is in fact intoxication » (161) The “word” for Breton is a hallucinatory stimulant, apart from people, objects, nature’s manifestations. Images are opium. Liberating language paradoxically results in becoming enslaved by it. The poet is a mere vehicle of the words in the shaping of poetic images. Surrealism opens wide the doors of the unconscious. The energy within the unconscious is freed and thus creates poetic intoxication. Watching a surrealist film can be seen with Indian aesthetic theory in terms of the function of the poetic language. As proposed by Bhattanayaka, in addition to abidha or primary meaning, poetic language also functions as bhavakatva, or  freeing oneself from vibhava and sthayibhava, and bhojakatva, or consuming the emotion in the performance/text (Kapoor 22).

Words, or images in a surrealist film are less interconnected. There is hardly continuation from one image to another. Surrealism is driven by automatism and its expression manifests in verbal or written. It relies on free association and the play of thought. Meanwhile, the notion of word is the subject of Bhartrhari’s sphota theory (5th century AD), which posits linguistic sign as an abstract reality (Kapoor 12). The difference here from Surrealism is that there is “fixity in the power of the words” (“Vakyapadiyam of Bhartrhari” 9). The words have eternal relation with their meanings.

The opening scene of Un Chien Andalou

We shall see the relation between sphota and surrealism in the film. Un Chien Andalou (1929), a 17-minute film, is the most analysed film ever. It is surreal as the stories are disjunctive. It brings up the themes of desire, androgynous gender and the unconscious. Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel wrote the film together based on their dreams. Bunuel states that in writing the script, they did not « accept any idea or image that might give rise to a rational, psychological or cultural explanation » (quoted in Russell). The disconnectedness between the word and the meaning can be seen in the movie for example in the image of razor. Razor, by dictionary, means an instrument with blade. In reality it is used to remove unwanted hair from the face or body. However, take a look at the opening scene of Un Chien Andalou, A man (Buñuel himself), smokes a cigarette while sharpening the blade of a razor. He steps onto a balcony and stares at an unobscured moon before prying open woman’s eyelid. A cloud slides across the face of the moon as Buñuel’s razor cuts into the woman’s eye. So the razor has a totally different function, beyond our expectation. Here Buñuel demands that we look at the world with what Vigo calls « a new set of eyes. » This scene may not be pleasant. It induces the viewer both to want to look and not want to look at the same time. We know that the man is about to cut the eyelid as camera goes close-up. It is also beyond our expectation that the woman seems calm as if nothing is going to happen, or the cutting is something ordinary and regular. As the cutting goes on, we may expect to see blood. Yet, what comes out is the transparent jellylike tissue that fills the eyeball behind the lens. This is something very technical and it may be a new knowledge for common audience. Yet, we can still feel beauty in this horrible scene. How the cutting is juxtaposed with the movement of harmless clouds in front of the moon is a creative metaphor that only an artist with pratibha can do.

Disconnectedness also comes to the devices of the film, such as the text that says “Huit ans après” (Eight years later). This information is meaningless because it is irrelevant with regard to the following scene. The same woman is there, with normal eyes, but the scene does not suggest continuity from the previous one. A slim young man bicycles down a calm urban street wearing what appears to be a nun’s habit and a locked box with a strap around his neck. The woman is in the house, not wearing nun’s habit.

ants on palm

Basically most of the images in this surrealist film are disconnected from each other. Their existence appear to be forced or coincidence. The actions are absurd. All this leaves the viewers in confusion, or even delirium. For example the scene where the man is looking at his hand. Ants are emerging from the hole in his palm. A cinematic device of transition is used to suggest the resemblance among the ants, an armpit and a sea urchin. Also the scene where the man drags two pianos by ropes with a dead donkey on top of each and two priests are also tied.  Buñuel has said that Un Chien Andalou was the result of conscious automatism. However, the film is less a dream than an abstraction of a dream filtered through the logic of reality. The symbols in the film can be interpreted in as many ways as the viewer. Automatism contradicts Indian aesthetics in terms of subjectivity. The transfer of rasa from the poet and the director (scriptwriter, etc) to the reader or spectator presupposes dharanikarana, or universalization. They have shared experience (Krishnamoorthy 42). If surrealist images come from personal experience, their meaning are unlikely to be conveyed. The images of the nun, the priests and the Bible are subject to each viewer’s interpretation. From the side of the director, Buñuel was sickened by sex in general. His cinema is a spiritual fetishes. He wrote: « Our imagination, and our dreams, are forever invading our memories; and since we are all apt to believe in the reality of our fantasies, we end up transforming our lies into truths. Of course, fantasy and reality are equally personal, and equally felt, so their confusion is a matter of only relative importance. » Buñuel’s surrealism became the cinematic vehicle for both Marxist ideals and Freudian psychoanalysis. However, the dual function of language in surrealism is paradoxical. The images and words would impact the viewer’s imagination in unpredictably. As words are in free association, they are no bearing in the viewer’s imagination. As the viewer attempt to deduce meaning the torrent of images floods his mind. The images, beyond the laws of reality, cause the viewer to be disoriented because he applies logic. Therefore surrealist images demand imagining consciousness in the grasping of meaning in reality.

If we see the dreamlike images in the film from the perspective of Indian aesthetics, the goal of rasa assumingly cannot be reached. This is because the lack of verisimilitude is one of the obstacles to the realization of rasa (Gnoli 62). The real is opposed to the dream. In Bharata’s Natyasastra (2nd century BC), the rasa theory is important to aesthetics. Rasa is primarily beauty in art. It is the soul of aesthetic emotion or sentiment. Furthermore, rasa can transform ugliness into beauty and give form to the formless (Krishnamoorty 12). There are nine rasa, including srngara, karuna and raudra. At the level of spectator, their emotion and feeling is called bhavas, which is important to perceive the rasa. The circumstance of time and place in the background is called vibhava. Then the strongly felt emotion is externally manifested, which is called anubhava. The durable emotions evoked are sthayibhava, while the auxiliary emotion that reinforces the main emotion is sancaribhava. Despite the binary opposition of the real and the dream, we can still apply the rasa theory to the film. In the opening scene we may identify the sancaribhava such as vitarka (trepidation), nirveda (indifference). The abhinaya can be angika, the body movement of the man and the stillness of the woman. The sattvikabhava is stambha, or paralysis. The sthayibhava may be jugupsa (disgust), bhaya (fear) or krodha (anger). Finally the corresponding rasa would be bibhatsa (odious), bhayanaka (terrifying) and raudra (wrathful, terribleness).

To come back to the inquiry of beauty in art, we recall that art of literary composition is aimed at giving pleasure by evoking some states of mind. It must have good aesthetic quality. Art is also about the representation of the state of mind. Art is deemed as successful if it can move and affect the viewers. This is linked to Indian aesthetic concept of kavyadosa, or fault (Kapoor 93). The faults are listed in Bhamaha’s Kavyalamkara. Surrealist film is not desirable and thus violates many dosas. These include contradictory meaning, redundancy, doubt, nonmaintenance of correlated sequence, and counter-factual. This is still linked to the issue of verisimilitude of artistic works.

Another feature that is comparable is religious and moral values. Kavya, or literary composition, is valued not for sabda (form, sound) nor artha (content), but rather the manner of expression. Kavya is even regarded as the fifth veda in Natyasastra, as it is expected to give guidance of life and serious thoughts to common people. thus it is also a means of knowledge (Kapoor 84). Philosophically surrealism also provides solution to the problems of life. This is because of the history of surrealism itself. The birth of Surrealism is due to the devastation of World War I and the revolution in science and technology. According to the Surrealists, the dream contains meaningful symbolic representations, and its analogical method of communicating truth is best approximated within the aesthetics of film. Thus, the Surrealists embrace the cinematic potential for channeling and reproducing the omnipotent “dreamlike” mysteries of life. Within film, much like the dream, the contradictory aspects of the universe intermingle, as life is at once death, illusion is truth, night is day, and opposites coexist in a state of unified tension, and all this without facing the tribunal of “logic”. Thus, the ninth rasa, santa (tranquil) can be also be achieved in a complicated way. This is because rasa experience is regarded as a cognitive process. Rasa theory is deeply rooted in the empirical human reality. And surrealism apparently can be the means of rasa realization.

Anandavardhana’s dhvani theory in Dhvanyaloka (9th century AD) is about verbal symbolism. Dhvani is the resonance of meaning that remains in the mind of the hearer, causing the continuous recovering of new meanings from the text. This theory poses that the indirect meaning of literary works, or suggestion, is the characteristic that distinguish the literary works from rational discourse. There are three levels of meaning: abidha, laksana and vyanjana. These are, respectively, literal meaning; socio-cultural meaning, and the meaning determined by situation, propriety, and form. In addition to the context, this tertiary meaning is also shaped by linguistic factors such as intonation, gestures and sounds. The poetry of suggestion becomes the highest kind of poetry (Kapoor 21). The departure from rational discourse in dhvani theory is also found in Surrealism. Surrealism rejects the ratio and produces images with so many layers of meaning. Meaning from artistic works becomes knowledge. In Indian aesthetics, what constitutes the knowledge of literary work is the understanding of bhava. Bhavas derive from the experience of events. No meaning is possible without rasa. Experience in a literary composition (rasa-bhava) is the structure of the states of being. As being comprises emotional conditions, the rasa theory is based on the non-opposition between emotion and reason (Kapoor 103). Thus surrealist art can evoke rasa as it blends the two factors, emotion and reason. The artist may be subjective in presenting the images, but the viewers can also select out of the images. The object of literary works is the emotional effect of human experience.

The comparison between surrealism and Indian theory may also be seen in terms of the objects in Nature. In Indian perspective, the object is imbued with Brahman. The artist’s mind attaches itself to the object in reverence and love. The creative process is yoga, the system of altering/heightening/unifying consciousness by freeing all cognitions through intense mental concentration that merges the subject-object and eliminate the sense from the process of knowledge (Kapoor 81). In Surrealism, the artist also frees himself from cognition. The difference is the emphasis of dreams.




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