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Tohari's Trilogy: Passages of Power and Time in Java

  • Nancy I. Cooper (a1)

Ahmad Tohari's trilogy of novels conjures up national demons of Indonesia's darkest historical moment. In reading across the grain of anti-communism and pro-moral reform, this article analyses a wealth of gender imagery. Javanese complementarity, although unequal, recognises a kind of dramatic feminine power that need not be threatening as long as men exercise self-restraint. Although modernisation tends to dichotomise persons into ‘castes’ of the sinful and virtuous, alternative modernities drawn from Javanese cultural sensibilities are also conceivable.

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I first addressed this topic in a paper for the 46th Annual Meeting of the Association of Asian Studies in a panel on ‘Defining the other: Women in art and fiction from contemporary Southeast Asia’. (Thanks to Ruth Dawson for alerting me to the original call for papers.) Parts of the material have appeared in my Ph.D. dissertation, ‘The sirens of Java’ (University of Hawai`i, 1994). Thanks to Michael Bodden for his helpful comments as discussant for the panel and for his more recent interest in the long-neglected manuscript which spurred my own interest in publishing it. I am also grateful to James T. Collins and Erlin Barnard, who originally helped me to read and understand the first novel of the trilogy. Naturally, they are in no way responsible for the interpretations here, which are my own. Special thanks goes to Evelyn Blackwood for reading and commenting on an earlier draft. Although I was not able to get a copy before JSEAS went to press, René Lysloff's generous and considerable efforts in making Tohari's work accessible to readers of English are to be commended; see Ahmad Tohari, The dancer: A trilogy of novels, tr. René T. A. Lysloff (Jakarta: Lontar Foundation, 2003). I thank the Anthropology Department of University of California, Santa Barbara, especially Michael Glassow, for the use of their facilities during the writing period.
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Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-4634
  • EISSN: 1474-0680
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-southeast-asian-studies
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