Postcolonial Criticism: Literary Network on the Track Record of Colonialism

The milestone in the birth of postcolonial theory was marked by the publication of Edward W. Said’s book (1978), Orientalism . The main thesis of Said’s book uses an approach to the relationship between power and knowledge. As delivered by Michael Foucault in his book, The Archeology of Knowledge (1972) and Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison(1977), the orientalists argue that the problem of Western scientific study of the East is not solely driven by the interests of knowledge, but also the interests of colonialism. Knowledge for the Orientalists is to maintain their power, namely knowledge which is filled with ideological political vision and mission. The study is also simply another form or continuation of colonialism. The Eastern nation is constructed as a nation that is synonymous with irrationality, lecherous, childish, and “different” from the West that is rational, wise, mature, and “normal”.

         Said’s view seems to voice explicitly what is buried in the consciousness of many people, especially people in the former Western colony, which is now known as the “third world”, to rise to the struggle to find consciousness by demanding justice and equality. Lawsuits that emphasize freedom and the denial of all thought or hybrid power, for example, find their formulations most solid in the thinking of philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Michael Foucault. It is not a coincidence that Gayatri C. Spivak, a figure known for her great contribution to building postcolonial studies on a continuous basis, wrote such a lengthy introduction to Jacques Derrida’s book, Of Grammatology,(1982). In the introduction to the book, Spivak basically rejects all inhibiting and limiting powers, while at the same time expressing its priority over freedom. The oppressed and colonized society, the subaltern , must speak up, have to take the initiative, and take action on their silenced voices.

           On the basis of this understanding, postcolonial criticism was born and created by Edward W. Said, Homi Babha, and Gayatri Chakrovorty Spivak. Postcolonial criticism developed by Spivak includes post-structuralism in literary criticism, continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, feminist theory, Marxism, and post-Marxism. In general, postcolonialism is understood as a theory, discourse, and a term used to understand the former colonial society, especially after the end of the modern colonialism empire. In a broader sense, postcolonial also refers to objects before and at the time of colonialism. Therefore, Nyoman Kutha Ratna in his book, Indonesian Postcolonialism Literary Relevance(2008: 81-82) suggests five main points of postcolonial understanding, namely (1) paying attention to analyzing the colonial era, (2) having a close relationship with nationalism, (3) fighting for small narratives, mobilizing power from below, as well as learning from the past towards the future, (4) raise awareness that colonialism is not solely physical, but also psychological, and (5) it is not merely a theory, but an awareness that there is a lot of great work to be done, such as fighting against imperalism, orientalism, racism, and various other forms of hegemony.

           In relation to literary criticism, postcolonialism is understood as a study of how literature reveals traces of colonial encounters, namely confrontations between races, nations and cultures in conditions of unequal power relations, which have formed a significant part of human experience since the early days of European imperialism (Day and Foulcher, 2008: 2–3). Thus, according to Day and Foulcher, postcolonial criticism is a literary reading strategy that considers colonialism and its impact on the literary text, position, or voice of the observer regarding the issue.

        Based on this understanding, postcolonial criticism is actually a literary network on the track record of colonialism. If traced carefully, of course many modern Indonesian literary works have recorded traces of colonialism in the West and Greater East Asia throughout their history. On the basis of the historical fact that Indonesia was a part of colonialism or a colonized nation for hundreds of years and many literary works have recorded traces of colonialism, of course modern Indonesian literature has become a repository for postcolonialism analysis. Several novels that record traces of colonialism in Indonesia can be used as examples of post-colonialism analysis. This has been done by Nyoman Kutha Ratna (2008) in his book, Indonesian Postcolonialism: Literary Relevance.. In this book, Ratna tries to examine as many as thirteen novels that record traces of colonialism, namely the Nyai Dasima Story (G. Francis, 1896), the Nyai Paina Story (H. Kommer, 1900), Max Havelar (Multatuli, 1860), Free Man (Suwarsih Djojopuspita, 1940), Sitti Nurbaya (Angry Rusli, 1922), Salah (Abdoel Moeis, 1928), Terbembang (Sutan Takdir Alisyahbana, 1937), Shackles (Armijn Pane, 1940), Atheis (Achdiat Kartamihardja, 1949), Pulang (Toha Mohtar, 1958), Earth Man (Pramoedya Ananta Toer, 1981), Manyar Birds(YB Mangunwijaya, 1981), and Para Priyayi (Umar Kayam, 1992). In these thirteen literary works, the colonial traces of the West to the Indonesian nation are clearly recorded, especially the issue of national identity.

          Keith Foulcher and Tony Day (2008) also collected several articles or working papers on post-colonial literary criticism in the book Modern Indonesian Literature: Postcolonial Criticism (translation in Indonesian by Koesalah Soebagiyo Toer and Monique Soesman, which was first published by Yayasan Obor Indonesia, Jakarta. , 2004). Some of the Indonesian literary works discussed in the book and considered to have post-colonial links are Sitti Noerbaja , Salah Asoehan , and Durga JB Mangunwijaya. According to Keith Foulcher and Tony Day (2008: 5), there are two main topics of discussion about postcolonial criticism in Indonesian literature, namely the issue of language and identity. The language problem relates to the influence of colonial language on colonized languages, the way of expressing postcolonility in Indonesian literary texts, and the methods used by former colonial writers in decolonizing (national awareness) of the large colonial language. Meanwhile, the problem of identity is related to the problem of hybridity, namely the problem of national identity that changes due to the cultural influence of the colonial nation, including mimicry (imitating) colonial culture by colonized and subaltern nations (marginalized people or colonized people).

       Santosa (2009: 147) in the article “Oppressed Nation Resistance to Nation’s Dignity and Dignity: Postcolonial Study of Three Poems of Modern Indonesia” states that national awareness to get rid of colonialism is a matter of nationalism of a nation. Nationalism in the colonies was a reaction to various social and political pressures from the colonizers. Indonesia has experienced repeated colonization, such as the Portuguese, Dutch, English and Japanese colonization. The traces of colonization by Europeans and the nations of Greater East Asia in Indonesia are clearly recorded in modern Indonesian literature, for example in three modern Indonesian poems, namely the poem “Hang Tuah” by Amir Hamzah which records traces of resistance to the Portuguese colonialism; the poem “What the Banda Sea says” by Mansur Samin, which records traces of the resistance of the Maluku heroes against the colonial Dutch; and the poem “Sontanglelo” by Mansur Samin, which records traces of the Batak youth’s resistance to Japanese colonialism.

      The three modern Indonesian poems reflect the literary network of the track record of colonialism in Indonesia on the grounds (1) the three poems record the nation’s history of the traces of colonialism in Indonesia, namely a spirit of awareness of the nation’s children to be sovereign free from colonialism and to raise the spirit of nationalism, (2) ) The three poems are written in the form of narrative poetry or ballads which contain the story of the nation’s children’s resistance to colonialism, which is represented by the Hang Tuah figure who fought against the Portuguese, the figure Maria Christina Martha who fought against the Dutch, and the Sontanglelo figure who fought back. against the Japanese. The form of resistance by the three figures above was a reaction to the social and political pressure from the colonialists for the liberation of their country.

by Abdullah Sam
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