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.


suvenir memori

sudah, biarlah

biarkan bunga-bunga itu



kelopak saling lepas

satu sa tu u…

warna terkunci, tapi

walau susah ia ingat bentuk asli

(dan dimana dia petik!)

terbaring di meja berhari hari

tertiup, terhempas, tertindih, tibas



bunga membawanya mengingat segala

suasana ketika ia

dipuji dan diuji


2012-12-20 20.04.26

driven insane by a geometry book

I will quote a passage from a BULK novel I am reading.

Just two sentences. Read on.

From that day on or that night on, not a week went by without the four of them calling back and forth regularly, sometimes at the oddest hours, without a though for the phone bill. Sometimes. it was Liz Norton who would call Espinoza and ask about Morini, whom she’d talk to the day before and whom she’d thought seemed a little depressed. That same day Espinoza would call Pelletier and inform him that according to Norton, Morini’s health had taken a turn for the worse, to which Pelletier would respond by immediately calling Morini, asking him bluntly how he was, laughing with him (because Morini did his best never to talk seriously about his condition), exchanging a few unimportant remarks about work, and later telephoning Norton, maybe at midnight, after putting off the pleasure of the call with a frugal and exquisite dinner, and assuring her that as far as could be hoped, Morini was fine, normal, stable, and what Norton had taken for depression was just the Italian’s natural state, sensitive as he was to changes in the weather (maybe the weather had been bad in Turin, maybe Morini had dreamed who knows what kind of horrible dream the night before), thus ending a cycle that would begin again a day later, or two days later, with Morini calling Espinoza for no reason, just to say hello, that was all, to talk for a while, the call invariable taken up with unimportant things, remarks about the weather (as if Morini and even Espinoza were adopting British conversational habits), film recommendations, dispassionate commentarry on recent books, in short, a generally soporific or at best listless hone conversation, but one that Espinoza followed with off enthusiasm, or feigned enthusiasm, or fondness, or at least civilized interest, and that Morini attended to as if his life depended on it, and which was succeeded two days or a few hours later by Espinoza calling Norton and having a conversation along essentially the same lines, and Norton calling Pelletier, and Pelletier calling Morini with the whole process starting over again days later, the call transmuted into hyperspecialized code, signifier and signified in Archimboldi, text, subtext, and paratext, reconquest of the verbal and physical territoriality in the final pages of Bitzius, which under the curcumstances was the same as talking about film or problems in the German department or the clouds that passed over their respective cities, morning to night.

I first heard about the author from my boss. I did a short review of his latest book then, only from reading other reviews, not really reading the novel. I thought he was more into criminal novel or science fiction. But we’ll see, once we finish this 898-page piece. hehehe *grin. Yeah, it’s thick. Maybe I picked up the book as I thought Murakami’s 1Q84 was…. ehm… too expensive (but as thick). But so far, I like it. Don’t you just love when you find something that suits you? Realizing that this is gonna be the one that puts a great deal of influence on your style, or anything. Read this if you would like a concise review of this one of the best books in 2008.


i talk to a computer, the whole day

i talk to the office laptop, on work days. above 8 hours a day

i talk about TMT (you know what it stands for?) i talk harvesting rf ambient i talk transfer pricing i talk tax treaty i talk taxreturn i talk exposures

2012-12-15 19.12.55

i apologize, thanking for critique (to cushion my shame)

people say it’s urgent urgent urgent

i talk bull i talk shit

peer-to-peer otherwise, peer-to-anything but peer

i categorize, i reply, i make appointments, i highlight text, i put more texts, i make comments.

amendments. commandments.

i run word, switch to excel, dump powerpoint

what do i do when i don’t face the monitor? i turn my head and look out of the 33rd floor window. i remember milan’s face. i imagine dak choco rum latte and dark space.

i want to meet REAL people

Book and Beach Club Day-out in Bantul

Ini adalah pertemuan untuk Klub Buku Rara yang pertama kali untuk saya. Buku yang akan didiskusikan adalah The Geography of Bliss, sebuah kisah perjalanan yang dicatat oleh Eric Weiner (kami membaca terjemahan bahasa Indonesianya, terbitan Qanita). Untuk ulasan buku dan kritik terjemahannya, saya ceritakan terpisah ya…

bliss tempo co

Kami bangun pagi hari itu, dengan penuh perjuangan. Kami bertolak dari Jalan Kaliurang Yogyakarta sekitar pukul 9. Rencana awalnya adalah Rara berangkat bareng India dengan motor, sedangkan saya dengan ojek yang sudah dipesan. Ojek akan menurunkan saya di pasar Bantul, lalu saya lanjut dibonceng Mbak Tiwuk. Sebelumnya saya khawatir harus mencari helm dulu, karena malam sebelumnya belum beli di jalan Abubakar Ali karena toko sepanjang jalan sudah pada tutup. Malam itu juga India sudah memberi-tahu bahwa, kata Rara, India harus kerja dulu, ke shelter untuk kliennya. Keesokan paginya India harus membatalkan kepergiannya karena masih harus mengurus kliennya itu. Jadi Rara memesan ojek satu lagi. Ternyata saya kebagian ojek yang mengantar saya malam sebelumnya. Oke lah, walau dia sedikit cerewet. Bawaan kami? Selain buku itu, kami sudah mendapat tugas masing-masing. Rara, jus dan minuman; saya, makanan pencuci mulut.

Ojek saya, yang tadinya mengikuti ojeknya Rara, tiba-tiba memisahkan diri (deng deng deng!). Tukang ojek saya membangga-banggakan bahwa dia asli Bantul (saya tahu dari cerita dia malam sebelumnya bahwa dia berhasil beli rumah di Bantul ini seharga 100 juta, hasil ngojek… dan beberapa cerita lainnya). Dan dia bisa tiba lebih cepat karena dia tahu jalannya. Kenyataannya sebaliknya, ojeknya Rara sudah menunggu kami di Pasar Bantul selama 15 menit. Ini saya maklumkan karena dia berkendara dengan kecepatan moderat. Untung tidak hujan. Saya sih berjaga dengan bekal jas hujan dan payung! Selepas Ring Road, saya mengenali rute karena minggu lalu baru saya ke daerah Dongkelan, suatu boutique hotel bernama Vila Kupu-kupu, tempat teman kakak saya bernama Bowo. Ternyata kami bergerak lebih jauh lagi. Melewati juga pusat satwa dan tanaman hias. Lalu saya sempat melihat motor dan sepeda yang tumplek ruah untuk menghadiri suatu acara entah apa. Jalanan bersih. Kami melewati Pasar Bantul ini, dan bergerak beriringan lagi dengan ojek Rara, mencari persisnya rumah Mbak Tiwuk.

Sesampainya kami di rumah Mbak Tiwuk, baru saja saya melepas helm dan mencerap kehijauan rumahnya—bagian luar dengan taman/kebunnya dan bagian bangunan rumahnya, saya diperas oleh tukang ojek saya ini, yang mematok tarif Rp35000. Dia mengeluarkan daftar harga berlaminating, harga resmi kantor dan menyatakan nomina untuk tujuan “Bantul Kota”. Padahal Rara cuma membayar Rp20000 ke Pak Edi ojek langganannya, sesuai kesepakatan sebelumnya. Yah… setidaknya Pak Parman ini akan masuk blacklist saya, bahkan mungkin saya akan mewartakan ini sampai ke Jakarta! Haha! Tapi suasana rumah Mbak Tiwuk menyembuhkan saya. Banyak sekali tanaman dan pohon. Ada mangga madu dan harum manis, berbagai kamboja, kembang sepatu, sejenis suplir (?), berentetan kaktus, bunga favorit saya teratai—biru dan mekar dan daunnya nyaris tanpa cacat, bunga ‘klasik’ merah berkelopak empat dan berbatang duri kejam, dll dsb. Hebohlah perbincangan seputar tanam-menanam antara para simpatisan ini, Rara dan Mbak Tiwuk, selagi kami menunggu Nina yang tinggal tak jauh dari situ. Dan.. psstt, bahkan Rara menemukan ‘harta karun’ yang masih setali merah dengan pertemuan klub buku mereka sebenarnya… (*mention katarara).

Sebelumnya saya sedang main ke tetangga, ingin memotret pohon mangga berbuah melimpah yang saya curigai adalah ‘mangga apel’. Berkat pengetahuan yang saya cerap dari bergaul di Mirota Kampus, saya kenal berbagai jenis mangga! Yeah! Selagi sibuk dengan mangga-mangga centil bergelayut, handphone saya dan Instagram, saya masih heran kok buah-buah ini selamat dari tangan usil nan berhasrat. Eh tahu-tahu sang pemilik rumah, seorang bapak berusia sekitar 60-an, beruban, berkaus, bercelana pendek, berkaca-mata, menghampiri saya. Langsung saya basa-basi dan memuji-muji pohon yang tepat di tengah-tengah depan rumahnya. Dia mengaku tak enak kalo memberikan buah ini ke tetangganya karena rasanya tidak enak (masa??). Ya, kata Mbak Tiwuk buah ini harus matang pohon, makanya para audience rela menunggu tiba waktunya dia matang dengan pas, menurut standar orang kebanyakan ☺. Eh bapak ini berbaik hati memberi saya dua buah mangga ini yang dia ambil dari dalam rumahnya!

Saya kembali ke rumah Mbak Tiwuk dengan mengumbar senyum. Tak lama Nina pun datang. Menjerit setelah melihat harta karun temuan Rara dan mulai menjepret-jepret kamera DSLR-nya. Mbak Tiwuk pun memetik mangga harum manis dan mangga madu sebagai tambahan untuk bekal piknik kami. Sepertinya tidak ada perkebunan mangga yang dikelola secara profesional (profit oriented?) di negeri ini, karena pohon tumbuh di halaman mana saja, dan siapa saja bisa jadi ‘pengebun mangga’. Dan pemerintah perlu memberi penyuluhan khusus bagaimana mengelola panen (betapa banyak yang tercecer terbuang dan dicaplok kelelawar!) dan mungkin menyalurkannya ke, terutama, daerah ber-gross domestic manggoes rendah.

Kami naik mobil Nina ke rumahnya. Perempuan imut beranak satu ini dulunya anak kota, dan sempat mengalami goncangan budaya waktu tinggal di kota kecil ini. Tapi sekarang dia sudah kerasan, dan anaknya, Sita, akan puas mengenal alam dan binatang-binatang di sini, bonus udara bersih dan suara-suara yang melangka di daerah perkotaan. Nina, selaku pemandu wisata dadakan kami, menunjuk dan menjelaskan jembatan yang konon merupakan yang terpanjang di Jawa Tengah. Kami tiba di rumah Nina, sayang Sita sedang di keluar bersama ayahnya, ke bengkel. Kami mengambil perbekalan dan berangkat lagi. Hamparan sawah bermurah hati dengan warna hijau dan ketenangannya. Sepertinya bermain sepeda, bercaping, menyusuri pematang “rumput” ini akan mengasikkan sekali, bukankah? Kami berpapasan dengan dua mobil-kereta masing-masing dua gerbong, ala bis yang mengelilingi kebun binatang, penumpangnya bersesalan. Lucu juga kalau bis ini disewa untuk acara keluarga pasca-pernikahan seperti cerita Nina ya. Ternyata perjalanan kami pendek. Sudah ada petunjuk, ke kanan Pantai Baru, kiri, Pantai Kuwaru. Kami di Dusun Ngetak, Poncosari, Srandakan. Srandakan memang pas disebut ujung dunia… Angin pantai mulai terasa. Pemandangan yang menawan perhatian kami pertama adalah kincir angin. Kincirnya sih tidak panjang, jumlah menaranya pun tidak wah. Tapi di antara bentangan langit biru cerah itu, kincir anginnya kelihatan mewah, kadang menyerupai helikopter dengan moncongnya. Kami memasuki kompleks Pantai Baru. Dijelaskan pengumuman yang bacanya: « Pembangkit listrik tenaga hibrid ». Angin sudah, matahari? Panel surya yang saya lihat tidak besar, di sisi kanan-kiri saya, dan letaknya tidak tinggi. Kami pun parkir dan mengeluarkan barang bawaan kami, berjalan menuju pantai.


Pantai tidak terlalu ramai. Penjual makanan juga tak banyak. Walau ada pasar ikan dan ‘penjual jasa’ masak. Daftar harga: goreng 7.000, bakar 10.000, goreng tepung 10.000, dan asam manis 10.000. Murah kan? Cuma dua-tiga yang menjual baju. Mungkin tak ada suvenir. Ada bangkai ikan hiu tutul terdampar suatu sore bulan Agustus lalu yang kini terbujur, bentuknya tak karuan (lihat Daerah yang teduh dengan pohon cemara adalah yang kami okupasi. Tikar 3 meter warna biru muda digelar (berdasarkan pengakuan Rara, harganya 3000 semeter). Makanan dan, tidak lupa, buku, ditebar. Ada kripik tempe, nasi goreng, kopi good day rasa orange, kacang, mangga, pudding buah, kripik jagung, dan lainnya.

Klub buku ini, kata Rara, dibentuk untuk membahas buku yang tidak berkaitan dengan pekerjaan Rara dan teman-temannya. Sebelumnya mereka telah membahas kumpulan cerpen Nadira oleh Leila Chudori, yang katanya “berat” dan “sedih”. Rara ambil kendali sebelum kami lepas kendali dihadang makanan. Dia melancarkan pertanyaan demi diskusi ini. Apa arti kebahagian buatmu? Sejujurnya saya belum selesai membaca buku ini. Tapi pembagian berdasarkan negara di buku ini asyik sekali. Kami memberi contoh-contoh cerita dari buku untuk mendukung argumen kami. Untuk mengenali kebahagiaan, kita harus tahu ketidakbahagiaan. Apakah kebahagiaan bisa dinilai dengan uang? Para pembaca antusias ini sepakat melempar kesimpulan bahwa kebahagiaan itu bisa jadi sederhana, sesederhana makan mangga (manis) dan ada yang ngupasin, malah ada yang nyuapin ☺  Dengan backdrop pantai berpasir abu yang lumayan bersih, ombak yang lumayan besar, angin semilir, tentu kami berbicang serius. Tentang kebebasan, pilihan, nilai agama, menjadi warga negara dan pelancong, mempelajari budaya, TKI, uang. Dan sebagainya. Acara klub buku ini toh bentuk kebahagiaan itu. Beserta merencanakan buku selanjutnya (trilogi Kim Dong-Hwa?) dan tempat berikutnya (gunung Kaliurang?) dan jatah tugas menu seterusnya he he…

Cuaca berpihak pada kami, tidak hujan. Dua fotografer, Mbak Tiwuk dan Nina membebaskan kreasi mereka. Pemandangan dan kami sendiri jadi modelnya. Pengunjung datang-pergi silih berganti, mobil pantai roda-tiga (bermesin, ya) meluncur. Sinar matahari menghangat. Saya berjalan ke arah Barat, ingin meneliti air. Ombak menepi pasti-pasti. Eh, kepiting kecilpun, dengan kelincahan dan kebahagiaan sendirinya, menarik perhatian saya juga. Buih air sekejab menghias landai pantai, sekejab itupun tersedot menghilang. Di kejauhan ada kapal, atau mungkin bukan. Kata Rara, laut terlalu sulit diprediksi. Segalanya mungkin terjadi. Di sini lagi saya berdiri, di tepi darat dan air. Laut memang serba merangkul, menjadikan bumi satu. Life of Pi, Talk to Her-nya Almodovar, Iones Rakhmat, Mata Tertutup-nya Garin… semua jadi satu. “Kehidupan itu ‘indah’, tak boleh ada yang menutupnya.” Saya berjalan, kembali ke basecamp.

Matahari makin miring, condong ke Barat. Pose meregang: bersandar, berselonjor dan tiduran. Jadi ingin tinggal di mana di antara negara-negara tersebut? Qatar, tidak menarik, orang-orangnya kurang ajar. Islandia, terlalu depresif. Bhutan, terlalu terisolasi. Amerika, lewat. Belanda, bisa jadi pilihan. Moldova? Inggris Raya? India? Kalau yang terakhir, sih, layak dikunjungi lagi, setidaknya bagi saya. Apakah Eric penggerutu? Apakah Eric bertambah bijak? Kelapa muda dipesan. Topi Rara digilir. Para pemancing ikan di pantai bergeming. Oh ya, ternyata Pantai Parangtritis kelihatan dari sini. Tak lama, Sita dan ayahnya datang. Kami punya model satu lagi untuk difoto-foto. Selain sadar kamera, Sita, anak berpipi tembam dan berambut ikal ini juga unjuk kebolehan menyanyi dan menari! Melihat keluarga kecil ini bahagia, ya, membahagiakan.

Waktunya pulang, kami mengakhiri kunjungan singkat namun berkesan ini. Hari Minggu itu benar-benar terasa hari Minggu bagi saya yang berkantor ini. Lain kali kami akan coba blekecek, “bumbu mentah dikasih santan”. Oke. Salah satu sandal saya, yang pernah diselamatkan Rara dengan jarum dan benangnya, kini almarhum. Mbak Tiwuk memburu gambar kincir-kincir megah. Kami tak jadi mampir ke Goa, lalu kembali ke rumah Nina. Asin dan pasir seperti menempel di paras kami. Sita mentas lagi. Tante Rara sulit mengucapkan selamat tinggal pada anak ini sepertinya. Tapi kami harus pergi. Di rumah Mbak Tiwuk yang bercat dan berubin hijau itu kami menyempatkan cuci muka. Pertemuan berikutnya? Mungkin saja di lain kota. Sampai jumpa.

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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salin guro, mimpi indah

i don’t seem to be able to sleep. it seems that this day cant just be over without my recalling of the things that make my day, make me happy, make an important turn in my life.

first is a good bye. but it’s not a sad one as i now have three amazingly smart and kind Fillipinos whose interest is the same as mine, literature, Cora, Lily and Isabela, who are all lecturers at the University of the Philippines, who were totally strangers to me two days back. We met yesterday, the first day of a workshop/seminar on founding a literary translation body. They wanted to get some batik and souvenirs, but Thamrin City is usually closed at the same time as the offices. So I took them to a mall, playing a role of an LO, which I missed so much, but this time voluntarily. Then they treated me for dinner, and even for es teler dessert, though only at their hotel.

and they are leaving tomorrow, plane would take off around 1.30, so they won’t attend tomorrow’s seminar even the morning session. but at least i know whom to contact when i get to Manila hehehe. and after seeing Filippinio’s interest in studying Indonesia, especially the literature, I was thinking of sending Lily some Acehnese writer’s short stories that I have done for the Translation course in JNU… hmm,,

second is the hope that my translation work, of JM Coetzee’s novel, would be able to reach the hands of the author. This is made probable by Prof. Nicholas, who is one of the speakers in the seminar. He teaches creative writing (so fun!!) and… guess what… in addition to Writing and Society Research Centre, University of Western Sydney, he’s also in the, I better quote here, « J.M. Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice, University of Adelaide »!!!

When I was still in India, I really wished I could give a copy to my professors, especially the ones teaching Translation Studies and Postcolonial Literature. But since I only have a copy, which I luckily found in a major bookstore after I got back from India (it was published in 2005), I can only give it to one person, without shipping cost preferably. So we’ll see what happens. I know Coetzee mustn’t speak Indonesian, but I’m somewhat embarrassed. It was my first attempt of (published) translation, right after I graduated from Unpad.

third… maybe chronologically, rather than by degree… I got a reply from a publisher that my poem is accepted for their journal!!! Oh my God, I hardly write, let alone poems. And I got rejected a few times before. I only sent my three to five English poems to international journals, both print and online. And… my shortest poem is the one accepted.

They first told me that they only have 35 pages for the poems of the 24th edition, and mine would be placed on page 36 if there were such page hahaha… So the editor decided he would include it in the next edition, the 25th. I will receive a hard copy of it, since I won’t be able to travel to attend the launching. FYI, one copy costs 10 pounds….

So that’s it. I’m about to crash. See you.