Monday, June 8, 2009

GM on identity

Last Friday, Goenawan Mohamad (1941) – or: GM – gave a guest lecture at the Faculty of Philosophy, Parahyangan University, on identity. GM is an Indonesian poet and founder of Tempo Magazine. He still writes columns for Tempo, called ‘Sidelines’, in which he criticizes narrow-minded and one-dimensional views, instead he supports open-endedness to encourage the reader to think for her- or himself. He claims that unidentifiable identities are transformed into foreigners by rejecting the strangeness of strangers. Through metaphoric space, borders function to exclude the alien. Identity should be readable and is therefore shaped by fixed demarcations. However, boundaries do in fact shift. From time to time, different interpretations are ossified, i.e. borders are volatile. This volatility signifies contingency with a never fulfilled desire: a desire for clarity without surprises. However, identity is a never-ending search, an on-going formation, always tentative. A frontier can therefore also be seen as an invitation to other, unknown places – anxiety as a move towards freedom, as Camus would have it. And language is of utmost importance for identity. Language is the infrastructure of our voice. The Dutch colonial regime and Suharto’s New Order ossified this infrastructure. Countless army boots trampled upon the language to enforce uniformity. Symbolic markers were created by decree and became, over time, fixed in countless euphemisms. It is, therefore, no surprise that GM employs techniques of deconstruction to create new spaces, new vistas. He wants to see identity as open-ended. He urges us then to become poets: to be playful, ironic and recognize the contingency of language.

In the Jakarta Globe I published an essay on GM, see here.

Goenawan Mohamad wrote the libretto for The King's Witch, which is composed by Tony Prabowo:

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