Sunday, 1 May 2016

Post-reading Reaction: Life Is Elsewhere by Milan Kundera

"When the poet's mother wondered where the poet had been conceived, there were only three possibilities to consider: a park bench one night, the apartment of a friend of the poet's father one afternoon, a romantic spot outside Prague one morning."
That is how the first page of this smart, witty, and funny novel begins. I deliberately quote that first paragraph to show that even the first page of the book has already given us hint that the whole book will be filled with interesting stories to read.
"Life is Elsewhere," is a novel by famous Franco-Czech novelist, Milan Kundera. It deals with the story of a poet name Jaromil. In a nutshell, the story begins with how Jaromil comes into existence and ends with his death.
Jaromil was brought to life when his mother was a student at a university. She was a typical of rebellious woman, who found her upbringing not so pleasant. Thus going to school was her way of rebelling her family's fate. One day her mother fell into a newly graduate engineer, and had an intercourse with him outside marriage. She was pregnant. When the young engineer reacts to the news not quite as what the mother has expected, she curses every rebellious attempt she had committed. She was hoping that the lover would take her pregnancy as a good news and they would have a happy life together, without her rich family. Quite contrary the young engineer suggested to abort the child which broke her heart even more. At the end, she decided to abuse her family's power and that worked to get the two to get married. Alas, love is no longer part of the marriage. The burn of love has been put out by the father's reaction and also the mother's dareness to make herself pregnant (as if the young engineer has not contributed to the process.) Making love for the young engineer is not equal to living with the woman for the rest of his life. For him at the time, making love is just a part of his sexual journey. As consequence, the two feel that the other has ruined the other's life.
She disgusts her husband for his reaction to the pregnancy. To react to this she prefers to think that the son will resemble Apollo, Greek god whose picture happens to be hanging at her room, not her husband. She believes with the saying what one's think and feel during the pregnancy is what the child will eventually become when he or she grows up .
Jaromil was born and mama, that is how this novel prefers to call the mother, was obsessed with her son. She records every words Jaromil has uttered. She finds Jaromil's words very poetic. Hence she calls her son a poet. That obsession is one of the things that this novel has been constructed with. The mother's obsession, and the mother's possession what bring Jaromil to his downfall.
When Jaromil was still young, he paint a picture and Mama takes that as a sign that her son is an artist. Mama praises Jaromil extensively and makes Jaromil believes he is a great painter. He was deluded for sometimes that he was one. But life proves that he is not particularly a great painter, for he is just able to paint one object, an almost sphinx-like object. And mama, again, takes that talent as her own contribution because she was thinking about Apollo when she was pregnant with him. It's her secret where the son gets its inspiration.
Jaromil has grown up, but he still cannot go away for his mother's shadows. Particularly when it comes to the facial formation. He finds his face and hair too feminine-like, which he takes as a reason why girls don't find him attractive. So he tries his best to be as masculine as possible by doing his hair so differently.
Jaromil's love story doesn't stream so smoothly. His first actual crush was with a one year older girl than him. They met at a Marxist group meeting. At this particular time he was trying to fit himself in life in terms of political choices. He seems to be in agreement with Marxist ideology. At this meeting he made an interesting argument. It catches a girl's attention, particularly a girl with eye glasses. They were very close for some times, but Jaromil's inexperience with woman drives the girl with eye glass away. He does not know how to consume love and it upsets the girl.
Another time he meets a girl with red hair, who comes from working class. By this time he was still inexperience but the girl helps him to explore his sexual life. Now Jaromil turns into a possessive man, just like the mother, who often treats his girlfriend very badly. He once said that he would not see her the same again if other men lay a finger on her, not even doctor.
One day, Jaromil was very angry because the girlfriend was late. Her excuse was that she was meeting her brother who intends to go out of the country illegally. She lied. But Jaromil has already taken her words very seriously. As he was a big supporter of the communist, he reported the news to local police and from then on the girlfriend was arrested. It went on for three year.
When she was released, she figures that Jaromil had died. Readers are told that her arrest was partly her fault and I would argue that it was also the man in his forty's fault who let her lie. Man in his forty is her other lover. Her deed has caused her family a great trouble. In fact her brother has not been released yet by the time she was released.
How di Jaromil die? He died of cold or pneumonia. A very poetic death isn't it? I personally think that what this novel tries to show is the classy and poetic-sound life of the poets, especially the romantic poets. Jaromil's personal life is considered very poetic because he lived very short life, just like the romantic poets, and his romantic obsession with love. I can't help but think of Robert Browing's dramatic monologue when I read the part where the narrator describes Jaromil's obsession over the red hair girl. He once had the thought of strangling the girl while she is sleeping, very Browing's dramatic monologue like, isn't it?
What's so special about this book:
  1. Metafiction
There are parts in the novel that breaks our focus from the fictional realm of the novel, such as in the part six "The Poet in His Forty" where the narrator tries to tell us the reasons behind his decision in constructing the story as such. The narrator also tries to theorize the life the characters are living. 
"The first part of this novel encompasses fifteen years of Jaromil's life, but the fifth part, which is longer, covers barely a year. In this book, therefore, time flows in a tempo opposite to the tempo of real life; it slows down."
This is not an analysis of the novel but part the novel. It's so interesting that the narrator who is supposed to tell the story but he the narrator also comments on the story.
  1. A work of literature that provides discussion on literary movement or style
Jaromil is the mouthpiece here. His status as a poet allows Kundera to employ theoretical preference or the perspective the characters have about arts are.
".... was no longer at all convinced that everything he thought and felt was solely his, as if all ideas had always existed in a definite form and could only be borrowed as from public library."

"....: for a poem to be a poem it must be read by someone other than the author; only then can it be proved that the poem is something more than simply a private diary in code and that it is capable of living its own life, independent of whoever has written it"

"That there were progress in the arts, he said, was indisputable: the trends of modern art represented a total upheaval in a thousand-year evolution; they had finally liberated art of obligation to propagate political and philosophical ideas and to imitate reality, and one could even say that modern art was the beginning of true history of art."

"He referred to Marx's ideas that until now mandkind had been living its prehistory, and that its true history only began with the proletarian revolution, which was the transition from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom…………"

""A revolution is an act of violence," said Jaromil, "that is well known,and surealism itself knew very well that old-timers have to be brutally kicked off the stage, but it didn't suspect that it was one of them"" - Modernist mentality on Realist movement. Yes, Jaromil is both a modernist and a Marxist.  

(see part three no 15)
  1. Psychology
I would say that there is a sort of stream of consciousness in this novel but not quite as complicated as in Woolf's case. He the narrator goes to the character's inner mind but it is still in a tolerable amount.
The second type of psychology is the relationship between mother and son. Here the mother is the one who seems to suffer a mental disorder, since she is very possessive towards the son. She finds every woman tries to separate Jaromil from her. It's almost like the mother in D.H Lawrence's "Son and Lovers", in which the mother also has an over-obsessive feeling on the son.
  1. Politics
This novel is set in Czech when communism was first came to the country. Jaromil was part of the crowds who see communism as a solution for the social and economic gap in society. But the political tension was not so much discussed. Perhaps we can take girl with red hair's case as an example. There seems to be imposition of ideology happening in society at the time. Though Jaromil did take political action in his life, we can't see where is the narrator's stance on this. But still, politics is a big part of this novel. In fact the life of the main character, Jaromil, built up in sequence to the political tension upon which he has live his life.
  1. Jaromil's life is being compared to other prominent poets such as Shelley, Baudrillard, Rimbaud etc
(see: part four no 18)
Final thought:
This novel is so dear to me. I am so interested in the novel that talks about writer's life and his or her creative writing. How he or she comes about to become a writer. What makes this novel even grander to me is the characters' discussion on literature, arts and politics. It's the best recipe for my reading, really.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Europe Trip 3 - AMSTERDAM

 Repost dari facebook pribadi

Kebebabasan adalah konotasi yang langsung hadir ketika berbicara tentang Amsterdam. Namun siapa sangka ternyata kebebasan yang kian di gembor-gemborkan harus dibayar mahal oleh 'pihak yang menekuninya'. Sebut saja pajak. Sistem perpajakan di Belanda adalah salah satu yang termahal di dunia.

Selain itu para wanita yang menggeluti "pekerjaan tersebut" juga harus melewati tes kesehatan seperti halnya akan bekerja di profesi lain. Selain membayar sewa jendela tempat mereka "berdagang", para wanita itu juga harus membayar pajak ke pemerintah.

Beberapa menganggap bahwa sistem seperti ini adalah bentuk edukasi tanpa melulu mengatakan kata "jangan". Dari pada mengatakan jangan kepada mereka yang ingin hidup "bebas", kata mereka, mungkin lebih baik membuka mata mereka tentang hal-hal apa yang mereka akan hadapi seandainya mereka memilih jalan hidup itu.

Kenyataan seperti inilah yang membuat saya berani mengatakan bahwa Amsterdam bukanlah tempat wisata biasa. Ketika mengunjungi Amsterdam jangan pernah berekspektasi untuk melihat bangunan-bangunan glamour seperti di Paris. Bahkan bangunan di Amsterdam bisa dikatakan sangat sederhana untuk sekelas negara maju - apalagi jika dibandingkan kota-kota Eropa lainnya.

Ketika mengunjungi Amsterdam, cobalah untuk memahami:

1. Gaya hidup masyarakat Belanda yang sangat tertib. Bahkan, aku seorang teman, segala tindakan pelanggaran akan diadili cepat atau lambat. Jika tidak diadili ketika pelanggaran terjadi, siap-siap saja pelanggaran itu akan diungkit dimasa mendatang. Untuk warga asing, hal ini bisa saja terungkap ketika melewati kantor imigrasi saat meniggalkan Belanda.

2. Kontras kehidupan antara satu gang kecil (dalam tanda petik) dan kehidupan masyarakat Belanda secara umum.

Ada yang mengatakan bahwa mentalitas masyarakat Belanda adalah "terserah orang lain berbuat apa, sejauh itu tidak mempengaruhi saya." Mungkin inilah yang menjadi triger dilegalkannya penggunaan ganja dan rumah prostitusi.

"Lalu apakah ini tidak mempengaruhi kehidupan masyarakat secara umum? Lalu bagaimana jika anak remaja mereka akhirnya ingin coba-coba? Apalagi dengan statusnya yang legal mukin ini akan lebih mempermudah akses bagi mereka?" tanya saya pada teman.

"Jawabanny adalah... Sekali lagi, disini kalau anak sudah berumur 17-18 tahun mereka bebas menentukan jalan hidupnya sendiri. Bahkan jika orangtuanya ikut campur dalam hidupnya, mereka bisa dituntut sampai kepengadilan"

Saya bengong...

Hal-hal yang harus dilakukan di Amsterdam:

1. Mengikuti tour gratis yang berada di Dam Square 
2. Mengunjungi Zansee Schan 

3. Light Festival


5. Museum-museum (Ada banyak sekali museum di Amsterdam. Pastikan melakukan riset sebelum menenentukan pilihan, karena ada banyak sekali tourist trap)

Amsterdam ini sekaligus menjadi pengakhir EuropTrip saya. Ada banyak sekali pelajaran yang saya dapat dari perjalanan ini.

Sepanjang perjalanan saya selalu mencoba mencari jawaban atas pertanyaan saya sendiri "apa sih yang di cari para traveller sehingga mereka rela menghabiskan waktu berbulan-bulan melakukan perjalanan?"

Saya belum yakin apakah saya benar-benar menemukan jawabannya. Tapi asumsi saya karena mereka kecanduan (addicted) untuk bertemu dengan orang-orang hebat. Dalam perjalanan ini saja saya telah menemukan lebih dari 15 orang yang membuat saya "berwah" ria. Ternyata ada banyak sekali hal yang saya belum ketahui.

Asumsi kedua saya karena mereka belum menemukan jawaban yang memuasakan. Sampai mereka menemukan jawab itu, mereka tidak akan berhenti untuk berputar. Jawaban untuk pertanyaan apakah yang mereka cari? Tentang apa alasan mengapa manusia berada di dunia ini mungkin?

08 - 01 - 2015
Sang Pencari Arti Kehidupan
Clue: Saya sangat mengagumi "ide umum" Odysseus yang menghabiskan 10 tahun untuk pulang ke kampung halamanya.

Some photos are credited to mas Rusydi. Thank you so much mas udah nge-host kita dan nemani kita jalan-jalan di Amsterdam :) :)

Friday, 22 April 2016

Reflecting On Childhood to Build a Better Sense of "Self"


Lucky perhaps is the right term to describe the people whose childhood surrounded by books. I was not raised in an academically oriented family, at least not until my parents see how passionate I am about my education. By that I don't mean to say that my parents were not putting any effort to educate me academically. In fact so far they are very supportive when it comes to my education. What they seem to have a little trouble is in creating an academic-orianted environment in the house for me, particularly at the age where stuffing knowledge to a child's mind is very considered crucial such as at the age of 0 to 14/15 years old. That age is known for a time where children acquire their knowledge from internal surrounding, family.
However I don't entirely put the blame on them. They were just doing their turn. That was how they were raised, and in turn that is how they raise their children. As a kid, I don't remember my parents asking me to sit and read books. Neither had I any recollection of them reading a story while putting me to bed.
But I do remember that I had a grandma who was also just as desperate as I was to have a conversation. Sometime elderly are not included in the conversation because it takes hours upon hours to make them understand the topics. Just like a child.
So there I was becoming a little kid who is very curious about world, and so did my grandmother who wants to tell everything she knew about world. With that, she was the person who told me stories before bedtime. She would tell me a story about a village girl who turns into a marmaid to avoid marrying his own brother. It's called Puteri Ijo (the green princess). Some people believe that the princess is still exist today and she often disguises herself as green soap and any other green objects. Others admit that he or she had an encounter with her, especially those who survived from drowning the lake.
Other time she would tell me a story about a princess who turned into a stone because she did not follow what her mother had told her "do not gaze at the back." Today I could analyze this phrase through multiple lens, but at the time the moral of the story is probably about listening to what your mother has to say.
Some other time I would be told a story of her own life during the Japanese occupation. She happened to live at the time when Indonesia was still under Japanese colonization. And she would describe eagerly how she was making friends with the Japanese children in the School of the People (Sekolah Rakyat.) And how admiring the Japanese souldier was, because they were very discipline. My grandmother still remembered the song they sang while marching the town.
I am so happy to have a grandma who was very knowledgeable about world, in her own way. She was such a story teller. When I was a kid, I keenly remember how I would believe everything she said. And I will keep believing her story if she could tell me one right now. But then school happens. Starting from middle school I see her lesser and lesser, until I heard a news about the day when she was finally not able to tell her story. I wish I had recorded all ther stories she told me in any form possible and immortalize them into anything visible. She is one of my true heroes. She is a hero without being labeled as one. She had experienced so many wars: the Japanese occupation, Sarikat Islam Indonesia, and the last once was the Civil war between Aceh and Indonesia. If one day I could write a book, it will be on her honor.
Coming back to my childhood...
I grew up in a small town where people know each other. It seems that the townspeople had an unwritten agreement in raising the towns-children. So instead of raising their children individually, they would send their children to the afternood school where the children were taught to read Kuran and learn how to make ablution, and conducting the prayer. By the time I was 10 years old I was more than able to read Kuranic verses and other Islamic texts written in Arabic alphabet which was actually Malay language. We call that the Jawi scripture.
And that was how my primary school schedule constructed, in the morning  from 8 am to 1 pm I had to go to school (formal school) and from 4pm to 5pm I went to the afternood school. That was how I acquired my first step sort of knowledge.
I still regret the fact that my parents did not provide me access to popular children books. Again, without them making excusses, I would really understand what affect their chioises in raising me at the time. First, when I was a kid, between 1994 to 2014, the civil war was still going on. It is still clear in my memory of what was happening at the time. All valuable things such as clothes and kitchen stuff were hidden outsite the house, sometime burried undeground. The logic that they were trying to fulfil is if the house was burned at least we could still live outside with all these things: blanket and kitchen equiptments.  
I still remember how everything was reversed. Women were made to go to the farm, while husbands stayed at home to prevent the unwanted. For a man to go to the farm could be accussed for doing hidden meeting with the rebel. Or even being kidnapped by the rebel and forced to fight with them against 'the country.'
I am aware that regret won't change anything. Therefore, I prefer to make my childhood experience a learning for myself so that I can be a better human being in my own version. Also if one day I get my turn to be parent I would do my best to educate my chidren from early age. I can foresee myself being a strict father who would ask his children to read books as much as possible and to keep a journal. I will make sure that if I fail to become a writer, my children should become one!
*What is happening? I was gonna write about Peter Pan that happens to be one of the assignments for Science Fiction and Fantasy Class. How could I end up here? God knows :)