Seno Gumira Ajidarma:Conscience of The People

Artikel diambil dari Klik disini untuk melihat format aslinya. Dalam artikel ini diterjemahkan pula cerpen berjudul Tujuan:Negeri Senja (dimuat di Harian Kompas edisi 8 Nopember 1998) ke dalam bahasa Inggris yang dapat anda baca disini

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Ditulis oleh PAM ALLEN1 University of Tasmania

Born in 1958 in Boston, Seno Gumira Ajidarma has been writing fiction since the age of sixteen and began working as a journalist when he was nineteen. He is now one of Indonesia’s most well-known and most prolific writers: as Michael Bodden puts it. ‘Seno’s work is literally everywhere.’2 He won the Southeast Asia Write Award in 1997, and in the same year his short story anthology Eyewitness, translated by Jan Lingard, won the (Australian) Dinny O’Hearn Prize for Literary Translation.

In New Order Indonesia, however, Seno often wrote at the risk of being censored because of the sensitivity of the issues he addressed in many of his short stories – in particular military violence in East Timor, which is at the core of the stories in Eyewitness and in his 1996 novel Jazz, Parfum dan Insiden (Jazz, Perfume and an Incident). He has also written stories about the so-called ‘mysterious killings’ in East Java in the early 1980s, and about Aceh (most chillingly in a 1999 story called ‘Telpon dari Aceh’, ‘Telephone call from Aceh’). Seno’s credo is ‘When journalism is silenced, literature must speak. Because while journalism speaks with facts, literature speaks with the truth.’3

Seno’s journalistic style, and the topical and controversial nature of the issues he covers – a recent example is his story ‘Clara’, about a Chinese woman who was raped in the violent attacks on Chinese-Indonesians in May 19984 – mean that he is difficult to categorise as a writer. This is compounded by the fact that his writing style oscillates between realism, fantasy and reportage, often, in the best tradition of postmodernism, incorporating a variety of styles within one work. When quizzed by students at a 2001 seminar about whether he is a journalist, a short story writer, a poet or a political commentator, and about whether his work is surrealism, magic realism, fantasy or postmodernist journalism, he gave the enigmatic reply, ‘Call it whatever you want. It’s what I do.’5

His response was equally non-committal when asked about the ‘meaning’ of the story translated here, ‘Destination: The land of the neverending sunset.6 The symbolism of the date on which the story was written – 17 August, Indonesian Independence day – and the year – 1998, three months after the fall of Suharto – combined with Seno’s penchant for couching serious political commentary within fantastical narratives, makes it tempting to regard the story as an allegory. Seno himself suggested, ‘It’s the reader who makes the meaning out of a story, isn’t it?’7, adding ‘If someone wanted to read it as simply a fairy story, then s/he would be a happy person.’8

Political allegory or charming fairy story? Pessimistic tale about the elusiveness of happiness or optimistic yarn about the possibility of eternal bliss? Seno won’t give the answer; we as readers must ‘make the meaning’ for ourselves.

  1. Pam Allen ( is Senior Lecturer in the School of Asian Languages and Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia. Her research focuses on contemporary Indonesian literature and popular culture with particular reference to postcolonialism and the voices of ethnic minorities in Indonesia.
  2. Michael H. Bodden ‘Seno Gumira Ajidarma and fictional resistance to an authoritarian state in 1990s Indonesia,’ Indonesia 68, October 1999 p.154.
  3. Ketika jurnalisme dibungkam, sastra harus bicara. Karena bila jurnalisme bicara dengan fakta, sastra bicara dengan kebenaran. Seno Gumira Ajidarma, Ketika jurnalisme dibungkam sastra harus bicara, Yogyakarta: Yayasan Benteng Budaya: 1997, p.1.
  4. See Michael Bodden’s translation of this story in Indonesia 68, October 1999 p.157-163.178 Pam Allen
  5. ‘A fiction of facts: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’, Latitudes March 2001 p.60.
  6. The story ‘Tujuan : Negeri Senja’ was first published in Kompas, 8 November 1998, and has since been included in Seno’s collection Iblis tidak pernah mati (Yogyakarta: Galang press, 1999). It was also included in Kompas’s collection of the best stories of 1999 (Derabat Jakarta: Kompas, 1999).
  7. Pembermaknaan yang dilakukan oleh sang pembaca dong, ya kan? Personal correspondence 5.6.02.
  8. kalau ada yang menerimanya sebagai “dongeng saja” maka dia orang yang bahagia. Personal correspondence 5.6.02

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