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Couperus versus Pramoedya (part 1)

By: Christina Dewi Tri Murwani


The colonial experience envokes in Indonesian and Dutch East Indies literature as shown in: Max Havelaar by Multatuli, Uit de suiker in the tabak by P.A. Daum, Oeroeg and Sleuteloog by Hella Haasse, De stille kracht by Louis Couperus, and Student Hidjo by Mas Marcodikromo, Salah Asoehan by Abdoel Muis, Bumi Manusia by Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

It’s clear that both of Indonesianand Dutch East Indies literature about the colonial time is in the same corridor. They represent the value and view of colonial society by different languages.Indonesian and Dutch people were controlled by the same system of power, social, politic, and economy. Wolff (1981) says that the art is a social production, as aproduct of collective awareness. Philosophy and religion formulate truth; historyconfirms the fact, but literature, and the other arts tell us how and why people experience that truth and those facts (Claudio Magris, 2010).

My attention to Bumi Manusia is not only caused by its beautifulness, but also by resistance to colonial law of East Indies which gave priority of rights to the European/Dutch people. Mix-marriage and property rights are made as a story motor in Bumi Manusia. Koh (1996: 70-93) writes that the image of rebellion, especially toward colonial unjustice, can be found in Minke and the other characters; BM is a novel which resists to colonial power (Scherer, 2012: 142; Noor and Faruk, 2003).

In Bumi Manusia Nyai Ontosoroh performs in the opposite image with Nyai in the Deli romances, Nyai is a woman who has a mystical sensuality (Zonneveld in Dhaen, 2002). Nyai Ontosoroh is a good speaker and brave woman (Termorshuizen, 1996) and she changed her status of nyai in a new knowledge and awareness (Bandel, 2003).DSK criticizes society-life in the colonial times in Dutch East Indies andpredicts that colonialism will finish (Zonneveld, op.cit.). Different with E.M. Foster in Passage to India, Louis Couperus, as a writer of DSK, doubts the relationship between West and East (Prins, 2008). The movement of native and Islamic Resistance is described in DSK. As novels which have setting of colonialism, DSK and BM can be read with postcolonial theory.

Scope of the study

The main question of this research is representation of native resistance to colonialism inside both DSK and BM. The problem formulations of this research concern with (a) Historical and cultural background: relation subject of colonizer and colonized in the late nineteenth and early-twentieth century, (b) Identification of narrative structure of the two novels (c). How the construction of the ideal cultural identity is shaped by colonialism and how the demand of ideal identity is fulfilled by colonial subjects, (d) mimicry and resistance inside the colonial novel (DSK) and postcolonial novel (BM).

Postcolonial Theory

Postcolonial theory is allowed to be valued as a contestation of colonial domination and legacies of colonialism (Loomba, 2003 :15-16). Williams and Chrisman (1994:8) conclude the analysis of colonial discourse and postcolonial theory as a process of production of knowledge, leading to the definition of ‘The Other’. Postcolonial theory is a reading stategy, and it produces the bias questions that help us to identify the signs of colonialism in the critical texts as well as literary texts and evaluate the nature and significance of textual effects of these traces. (Day and Fouchler, 2002).

Edward Said suggests that the process of knowledge-production takes place continuously throughout the period of colonialism, although Orientalists maintain the image of the East. The definition of the East is adapted to West-Christian moral needs and limited by the series of attitudes and judgements in the works of other orientalists; the definition is not directed by the East sources at all. The East is produced in the orientalist discourse, characteristically and variously : voiceless, sensual, female, despotic, irrational and backward (Said in Moore- Gilbert, 1979: 390). With Orientalism, Said has criticized sharply the oriental way of legitimating colonial aggression and supremacy of the West. (King, 2001: 161).

Postcolonial theory of Homi Bhabha

Bhabha rejects Said’s opinion suggesting that the colonial discourse is uniform and solely owned by the colonizer (Richard King, 2001). Meanwhile, Young (2007) adds, ‘He (Bhabha) showed how colonial discourse of whatever kind operated not only as an instrumental construction of knowledge but also according to the ambivalent protocols of fantasy and desire.

In Bhabha’s opinion (1994), the colonial discourse is a result of a process of hybridisation which is provoked by contradictions between the colonialists and the native tradition. That is why colonial discourse has a deep suspense which causes the relation between colonizer and colonized always ambivalent. It means that the colonial discourse is a dynamic one. It has unstable, unidentical and contradictory things. The East is seen as a beautiful but horrible place, friendly but foreign place.

Despite the invitation to follow its civilisation, the West is ready to make war and kill the East. The ambivalence of colonial discourse gives the colonized people the opportunity to make interruptions. Like the colonial discourse, the opposing discourse by the colonialized is ambivalent too. A concept of loving the West, but hate it on the same moment, starts to exist. The Dutch government in Dutch East Indies looks after the discourse which supports its power. The Dutch scream the superiority of their identity and culture; at the same time, they formulate the opposite about the Natives. Alatas (1980) researched orientalist texts in Dutch East Indies, Malaysia, and Filiphina in colonialism period. The Natives, who worked in the capitalistic sawah, were given predicates as lazy drinkers, thiefs, opium consumers and buying always on credit. Those predicates or “ the Myth” encouraged and legimitated the colonialism and capitalism. Based on these myths, the colonizer took the right to control, regulate, and civilize the Natives. Images of superiority and inferiority are parts of the fixity-concept in the colonial discourse. Fixity is needed as a sign of racial, historical and cultural differences. The fixity of myth brings the colonized to an unstable condition; they ask themselves about the origine of their own identity. That is why they try to build a new identity which is similar with the superiority-image (Bhabha, 1994: 82).

Colonial mimicry produces hybridization in the ‘third’ space, the meeting room between the West/White and the East/Black, Bhabha refers it as a liminal space (1994: 1-4). That twilight zone is the web, which builds the difference between the White and the Black; it will be the path which connects the colonizer and colonized.

Jaques Lacan and concept of mimicry

The colonized resist and mimic the colonizer as a reaction against the indoctrination about origine of race and mockery. Adopting the Lacan’s theory, the demand and desire concept, Bhabha illustrates mimicry as a defence like the technique of camouflage practised in human warfare, or the biological defences of insects (Bhabha, 1994: 120-121; Moore Gilbert, 1997: 131-133).

The concept of desire is derived from Lacan’s interpretation of Freud‘s theory. Lacan rejects Freud‘s adagium (ego controls id) by specifying that the human existence is controlled and influenced by unconsciousness. When the infant is in the demand-fase, after the need-fase, he realizes the existence of ‘the other’, who has to ‘leave’ him. But that is impossible. Now, he is in “the imaginer fase” and he sees himself (ego) in the mirrored image. It means, ‘ego’ in the mirror is not the same as the ego in reality because ‘ego’ in the mirror is derived from the misperception of mirrored image (Ibad, 2012). The mirror-fase, which adheres anatomically to the uncomplete-development, automatically sets the relation of double imaginer; this fase becomes the basic of interpersonal relations and at the same time a precondition of prime narcissism and source of aggressive behaviour (Kurzweil, 2004).

The mirror-fase is always used by the infant to identify himself with the others. Based on that fase, the infant enters the fase of desire to get an identity. Ibad (2012) concludes that the form of desire is a wish to become an complete subject: an unsplit subject, a whole subject and without lack, because desire is motivated by lack. In the Lacan’s view (Sarup, 2002), identity is formed in the social space; identity is conceivable in difference with the others. In the colonialism frame, desire of colonial subjects is envoked from the lack as well. Bhabha (Jefferes, 2008: 36) argues that the colonizer as well as the colonized turn around the pivot of the stereotype; in acts of disavowal and fixation, the colonial subject is returned to the narcissism of the imaginary and its identification of ideal ego that is white and whole. Bhabha (1994) adds that the colonizer has a demand of recognition, which is on the unconcious level. In this area, according to Bhabha (1994; Sarup, 2002), there are narcissistic demands that if the colonizer is rejected by the Native, he becomes paranoya; the rejection causes the colonizer subject gets a feeling that the colonized subject hates him. His sense of superiority stimulates him to observate the colonized. Indeed, surveillance is not a guarantee for fixity (Bhabha via Sarup, 2002: 16). It means that the demand of the colonizer is refused by the colonized.Colonial mimicry makes the colonized’s demand is not achieved. Colonial mimicry contains resistance, because it disturbs the fixity and so produces paranoya which will lead to rejection.

I focus on the representation of native resistance in both two novels, DSK (1900) which was written by Louis Couperus in Dutch language and BM (1980) which was written by Pramoedya Ananta Toer in Indonesian language. BM and DSK are both world literary works. We can read these two novels in many languages (English, Dutch, Indonesian, China languages etc.). I applied the comparative method, literature structural theory and postcolonial theory to read those novels. These methods are relevant steps and appropriated, according to O’ Reilly ‘s opinions (2007: 117-118) : 1. We can compare the two novels, which address the same period or historical events; 2. We can compare these two novels , colonial and postcolonial literary works , which have the same region/setting by discussing the problem of representation and their perspective, and the relation between them. Both novels are narrative texts, so I used the analysis of narrative structure from Rimmon-Kenan (1993). Sarup (2002) says that identity must be seen in space and time; the identity is related with the narrative (story and discourse).

Historical and cultural Setting

Company or kumpeni is a famous name for VOC in Indonesia. VOC (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) was the first of world-trading organizations. VOC can’t be forgotten by Indonesia and Dutch history. Jan-Peter Balkenende (2007) was appealing to the VOC-mentality to raise the spirit of the Dutch economy. Directly, he has got a lot of critics because VOC has still a negative image as a colonizer and slave-trader.In the colonial times, VOC has an image of adventure and a struggle mentality. The VOC was sailing from its country to the East and improved the financial situation of the Dutch. VOC has subjugated the East, but it brings a positive atmosphere to the society in The Netherlands. Gelder (2000, via Sudibyo, 2002) explains that the sense of owning the East Indies gave the young Dutch people a positive image as mondial people, as good seamen and as people with a lot of talent for authority. VOC is the queen of the East and the great Batavia, as the capital city of VOC, like one performed by Jan Harmes de Marre in his poetry (Suprihatin, 2012).

The failure of VOC (1798) motivated The Dutch government to invite private investors and apply a cultuurstelsel system in 1830. The cultuurstelsel which aims to get a batig slot or positive saldo, used cultuurprocenten by giving a percentage for the regions as a supplier of agricultural commodities (sugar, coffee, indigo, etc.) (Fasseur, 1997: 16). This percentage stimulated the regions to make bigger results with those products and made it impossible for the farmers to exploit the available fields for food (rice, corn, etc.). Multatuli illustrates the starvation in Java which is caused by cultuurstelsel system in his novel Max Havelaar,1860 (Dewi, 2008).

Deventer (1988), supporter of Ethical Policy, argues that the Dutch government owed The Dutch-Indies tens of millions gulden. The government has to pay the colony for good education and a better economy, also with the participation of the natives. Queen Wilhelmina, 1901, spoke about Ethical Policy in parlement (Hartoko, 1979; Bosma, 2005). Ethical Policy has changed the opinion about Dutch East Indies as a wingewest (the profit area) to become an area which need to be developed in their culture and fulfill their needs.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the amount of students from noble Javanese families increased (Margana, 2004; Moriyama, 2005). The education for the Natives was used by Dutch Government to recrute government employers. The Dutch education also gave opportunity to the natives to speak and write in Dutch language. Minke, main character of BM, writes actively in newspapers. The Dutch East Indies press are used by writers to spread hatefulness. Pramoedya (2003: 199-201) attaches the Mas Marcodikromo’s protest letter for Dutch government. He asked why the Dutch government gave him a punishment for his critics about the High Technic School, while the same critic by Dutch writers didn’t get punishment. Mas Marcodikromo has got 7 years in jail because he responded to mockery of Dutch writers. Van Haastert has got just 3 days in jail, although he wrote about the native as a bad and rough coachman, backward farmer, and lazy supervisor, the natives are stupid, despotic, etc. (Termorshuizen, 2011). The Dutch articles which mock the native didn’t get a serious response from the Dutch government, but the native articles were called an invitation for hatred.

Reach a cultural Identity in the Liminal space

According to Sarup (2002) identity can be formed from its difference with the others. The colonizers are the migrants. They left their country, their society, and met the people who were different from them. Instead of being cornered, they create a discourse and fetish about their superiority and ideal identity. The Native is forced to realize their lack of identity in the liminal space. Bartels (1990) reports about the attitude of Maluccan people in colonial times. They spent their money to send their children to learn the Dutch language. They felt very close to Dutch people if they spoke the Dutch language and ate the Dutch food.

To reach the White (or ideal) identity, the Native mimics the Dutch people. Nyai Ontosoroh is very angry with her father, so she does not want to meet him anymore. She always asks her husband, Mr. Mellema, to get recognition for her new identity. She wants to speak Dutch perfectly; she wants to have the ability and knowledge at the same level as Dutch women. She succeeds. But her achievements do not place her status of identity at the same level as the Dutch women automatically. She becomes a different person and now she is similar with the Dutch women whom she has imitated. She is ‘almost the same, but not quite’. A judge in Court forces her to speak in Malay language and does not permit her to speak Dutch. Nyai Ontosoroh must realize that she is a native. The Dutch throws her to the original place, the original society.

Photo by Aleksandar Mijatovic

Minke has finished his school, HBS Surabaya. He achieves the best final score among all of the students in Surabaya. He defeats the other students, also the Dutch ones. In the colonial law, Minke is still a Native although he has a privilegiatum (private-right in the law) as a noble Javanese. For their marriagecase, the Court applies the European law for Annelies. So, their Islamic marriage can be cancelled by colonial law because Annelies’s age is below 17 years. The colonial law instructs her to go to Nederland. Annelies always calls herself a native, but she has to live in a foreign country. She shocks in her double and ambivalent identity.

In the Indo society, there is a group of humans who disavow their nativeblood, e.g. Robert Suurhof and Robert Mellema (BM), Ida van Helderen (DSK). They prefer more to be Dutch than Indonesian. Ida pretends to dislike rijsttafel (Indonesian foods) and tries to speak Dutch language as good as possible. She also pretends that she speaks Malay badly. Leoni van Oudijck is a lazy lady; as a wife of the resident, she does not want to organize the social activities in Labuwangi. She gives her tasks over to Eva Eldersma, the wife of the Resident’s secretary. Eva wants to look after the Dutch social life, so she organizes concerts , the tableau’, Dutch dinner and etc. She is an ideal Dutch woman. In the colonial times, Dutch women have a high status, but Louis Couperus introduces a white woman, a wife of a Resident, as a naughty lover. Indirectly he said that the white identity is not always perfect… The wife of Regent Soenario always tries to use the Solo tradition. She gives an impression that she wants to show Solo tradition to the society of Labuwangi, Jawa Timur. She takes a coachman from Solo who wears the Keraton-Solo costume. The Resident is disturbed by her behaviour, but he can not stop the Keraton– Solo woman who speaks gently with her smiling face and always responds her interlocutor, “iya, … saya.. saya..!”.

To be continued…

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