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  • Wayang & Its Doubles: Javanese Puppet Theatre, Television and the Internet by Jan Mrázek
  • Miguel Escobar Varela (bio)
Jan Mrázek. Wayang & Its Doubles: Javanese Puppet Theatre, Television and the Internet. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2019. 349+ pp.

This book chronicles the history of wayang kulit's presentation in television and the internet through situated testimonies from a variety of people: artists, producers, sponsors, spectators, and academics. These voices are interspersed with the author's own experiences watching wayang—live, on television, and online—over two and a half decades. The book shows how wayang is transformed when it is presented via television, but also indirectly changed by it, as the aesthetics and aspirations of wayang respond to television's allure and broad cultural influence. Television, too, is transformed in this process—wayang serves as a litmus test of what television can or should accomplish, and what its roles should be in Indonesia. Thus, Mrázek characterizes the ways in which wayang and television transform each other as a "marriage full of conflicts," where each consort is transformed by its interaction with the other. These interactions are not limited to specific events, but also encompass the ways in which key wayang and television stakeholders imagine and misunderstand each other. Wayang and television, in Mrázek's analysis, are "haunted" by each other's specters. This haunting is further complicated by the arrival of the internet, which in many ways realizes the dreams that early television broadcasts could not achieve (for example, the direct transmission of all-night performances), but also continues old problems, such as the clashes over intellectual property ownership between different "cultures of copyright." Thus, the internet and television are characterized as wayang's doubles: spectral, half-imagined representations of itself. As the author notes, this is "a story midway between reality and imagination" (204).

To tackle this story in all its complexity, the book invites us to see television as wayang's conflictive consort, and also as its double. Mrázek's analysis artfully combines these two metaphors to bring humor, nuance, and depth to a variety of points he makes throughout the book. These shifting metaphors emphasize plurality (there are many wayangs and many televisions), and long histories (while wayang is transformed by television, wayang's contemporary features also owe much to processes that started much earlier). These evocative metaphors are put into conversation with the ideas of Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jaques Derrida, Paul Virilio, Max Weber, and James Siegel, among others. In the author's words, "I do not apply their theories or methods, but rather shamelessly localize their thoughts and gather them into one coffee shop, so to speak, with those of Javanese practitioners, wayang audiences, and theorists, as well as with my observations and reflections" (7). The coffee-shop-asmethod gives the book its distinctive tone and structure. Take, for example, the way in which Heidegger's ideas are brought to bear upon the discussion: "Sitting with Mbah Martin in the coffee shop, we may playfully substitute wayang and television—each is a mode of revealing, of truth, but each involves a different way of being in the world" (14). [End Page 129] Heidegger is referred to as "Mbah," the honorific used for respected elders. This device is not just for levity's sake: it nuances and re-contextualizes Heidegger's points, and brings them into conversation with other ideas, in an attempt to move "from gossip to philosophical and mystical ruminations, from personal anecdotes to historical reflections, from observations on what is happening at this particular wayang event to what someone read in a book about wayang, with reflections and observations interwoven somewhat like the voices in the many-layered texture of Javanese gamelan music" (9).

Thus, wit and wisdom are brought together to highlight culturally specific problems and conditions. Readers familiar with Mrázek's previous work might recognize a familiar style in these playful passages. In his introduction to Puppet Theater in Contemporary Indonesia, Mrázek imagines each contributing author as a wayang puppet.1 In his Phenomenology of a Puppet Theatre, the footnotes often add humor and incisiveness to the writing.2



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pp. 129-132
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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