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Situated Testimonies

Dread and Enchantment in an Indonesian Literary Archive

Laurie J. Sears

Publication Year: 2013

“This is a remarkable book in the way it attempts to tease out and crash through the barriers of self-restricting and self-restraining area studies. Situated Testimonies poses a challenge to Indonesianists as well as to many beyond the field. It is an adventure embarked upon with the help of Freud, Lacan, and other friends and foes. Sears demonstrates both the benefits and tribulations of such an endeavor. At its best, her book attains an impressive simplicity as it uncovers a sense of the world in both its subjects—the colonial and postcolonial literary figures—and its author as she thinks and writes about them.” —Rudolf Mrazek, University of Michigan

“In her innovative and sophisticated new book, Laurie Sears re-writes portions of the literary history of Indonesia over a sweep of many decades. Sears time-travels across the colonial and postcolonial divide, letting theory, translation, anxiety, and memory function as her airplane. It is an interesting and illuminating ride that we get to take with her.” —Eric Tagliacozzo, Cornell University

The Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer made a distinction between a “downstream” literary reality and an “upstream” historical reality. Pramoedya suggested that literature has an effect on the upstream flow of history and that it can in fact change history. In Situated Testimonies Laurie Sears illuminates this process by considering a selection of Dutch Indies and Indonesian literary works that span the twentieth century and beyond and by showing how authors like Louis Couperus and Maria Dermoût help retell and remodel history.

Sears sees certain literary works as “situated testimonies,” bringing ineffable experiences of trauma into narrative form and preserving something of the dread and enchantment that animated the past. These literary works offer a method of reading the emotional traces that historians may fail to witness or record—traces that elude archival constructions where political factors or colonial conditions have influenced processes of what is preserved and how it is shaped. Sears’ use of Donna Haraway’s notion of “situatedness” reiterates the idea that all of us speak from somewhere. Testimony, especially eyewitness testimony, is a gold standard in historical methodology, and the authors of literary works are eyewitnesses of their time. But the works of authors like Tirto Adhi Soerjo and Soewarsih Djojopoespito are first of all written as literature, and literary or stylistic devices cannot be ignored.

Sears finds substantial evidence of the movement of psychoanalytic theories between Europe and the Indies/Indonesia throughout the twentieth century. She concludes that far from being only a Jewish or European discourse, psychoanalysis is a transnational discourse of desire that has influenced Indies and Indonesian writers for more than a century. Psychoanalytic ideas, and the suggestion by French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche and Indonesian author Ayu Utami that memories, like literature, can move us back and forth in time, have inspired Sears’ thinking about historical archives, literature, and trauma.

Soekarno’s words haunt this book as he haunts Indonesia’s past. Situated Testimonies rewrites portions of the literary and social history of Indonesia over a sweep of many decades. Historians, scholars of literary theory, and Indonesianists will all be interested in the book’s insights on how colonial and postcolonial novels of the Indies and Indonesia illuminate nationalist narratives and imperial histories.

Laurie J. Sears is professor of history at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

When I first arrived in Java in 1972, it was before Edward Said had written his paradigm-changing book on orientalism. I left the United States and went to the “Orient” more to escape the Occident and the politics of late-1960s America than to seek the exotic. I did find a certain exoticism that soon became mundane as it also allowed the Occident I had left to come into focus. ...

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pp. xv-xx

As I was starting the major research for this book in 2004, I had envisioned it as a book on Indonesian history, memoir, and literature: ways in which forms of narrative overlapped and how each form put in question the disciplinary foundations of the others. I had also been drawn to the “Indies Letters”—discussed in the first half of this book ...

Note on Conventions

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pp. xxi-xxii

Selected Timeline of Indies and Indonesian Histories

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pp. xxiii-xxv

Map of Indonesia

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pp. xxvi-27

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Introduction: The Afterwardsness of History

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pp. 1-16

The late Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer makes a distinction between a “downstream” literary reality and an “upstream” historical reality. Pramoedya suggests that literature has an effect on the upstream flow of history, that it can change history. ...

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Chapter 1. Desire, Phantoms, and Commodities: Maria Dermoût’s Colonial Critique

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pp. 17-49

As the epigraphs above suggest, both Dutch Indies author Maria Dermoût and psychoanalyst and literary theorist Nicolas Abraham theorize time in terms of narrative, love objects, and phantoms. According to Abraham, these gaps or “phantoms” are caused by the traumas handed down in individual families, where secrets are kept that prevent new generations from understanding their particular pasts. ...

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Chapter 2. At Home and Not at Home in Empire: Transnational Phantasies of Colonial Modernity

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pp. 50-87

If Maria Dermoût both refuted and commemorated her awareness of the politics of empire, the same cannot be said for Louis Couperus, arguably one of Holland’s most prolific and respected authors. Couperus firmly rejected the career in the Indies colonial service that he was groomed for by his family and felt no compulsion about exposing the decadence of the Dutch imperial bureaucracy. ...

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Chapter 3. A Neurotic Family Romance of Modernity and the National Form

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pp. 88-119

Soewarsih’s Djojopoespito’s Buiten het gareel (Free from Restraints) is an Indies novel written in Dutch about the romance and narrativity of revolutionary activity rather than a novel that hides phantoms from the past.1 It was published in Holland in 1940, just after the Germans invaded Holland. ...

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Chapter 4. The End of the Nationalist Romance

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pp. 120-158

Soewarsih Djojopoespito fell into obscurity after World War II, but she wrote essays for several publications before the war, and a variety of novels and short stories after it. She also retold the life of the Prophet Muhammad for high school and college students in 1956.2 Perhaps feeling sensitive to her sister’s criticisms of Buiten het gareel, discussed in the previous chapter, ...

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Chapter 5. Trauma and Its Doubles in Postcolonial Masculinity

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pp. 159-175

In 1963 H. B. Jassin, Goenawan Mohamad, Arief Budiman, and other artists and writers signed the “Cultural Manifesto” (I Manifes Kebudajaan, Manikebu), proclaiming their right to artistic freedom. At the time the politics of LEKRA, the left-leaning arts organization supported by President Soekarno and Pramoedya Ananta Toer, ...

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Chapter 6. Masculinist Trauma and Feminist Melancholia

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pp. 176-201

Ayu Utami is one of the most impressive of the post–New Order generation of novelists writing in Indonesia today. Combining her skills in research journalism with a poetic feel for language and a fresh approach to human subjectivity and sexuality, Ayu’s novels have become popular in Indonesia and beyond.1 ...

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Afterword: Trauma, Translation, and a Critical Path

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pp. 202-214

Trauma, translation, and a critical path succinctly capture the moment in time where this book ends. The theme of trauma has haunted this book, and the various chapters have attempted to unravel the workings of trauma in the history of the twentieth-century colonial Indies and the postcolonial state of Indonesia through reading literatures as situated testimonies of the past. ...


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pp. 215-274


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pp. 275-280

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 281-304


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pp. 305-318

E-ISBN-13: 9780824839116
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824836832

Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 859157614
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Situated Testimonies

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Subject Headings

  • Indonesian literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Indonesian literature (Dutch) -- History and criticism.
  • Literature and history -- Indonesia.
  • Psychic trauma in literature.
  • Psychoanalysis and literature -- Indonesia.
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