Reading Lolita in Bahasa Indonesian

Anton Kurnia

translator and writer, Anton Kurnia

Anton Kurnia is a translator. He’s translated Peter Carey’s The True History of the Kelly Gang and Nabokov’s Lolita into Bahasa Indonesian. He said that while these translations were praised, sales weren’t very high. Indonesia is often characterised as a socially conservative country so it was interesting that Lolita had been translated. One of Anton Kurnia’s own short stories is in the Ubud Bilingual Anthology of Indonesian Writing. He also wants his work to be read in the English speaking world. As do the 20 or so other writers in the anthology. It was funded by HiVOS, a Dutch NGO and it was because of their support of this project that the writers were able to come to the Ubud Writers’ Festival. I spoke to a few of them while I was there at the translation workshop run by John McGlynn, co-founder of the Lontar Foundation. This is the feature I made for the Book Show, ABC Radio National.

November 4, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

The literary culture of Bali

At this year’s Ubud Writers’ Festival there were more international guests than Balinese in the audience and festival program. The Ubud Writers’ Festival was never set up to showcase Balinese writers and writing. If this happens it’s a bonus. It was set up to attract tourists back to the island after the 2002 Bali Bombings. Janet de Neefe says it’s achieved this goal and attracts the ‘thinking man’ to the island. The festival receives funding from HiVOS – a Dutch Philanthropic NGO – and they are supporting the development of the Indonesian program in the festival. There were 15 Indonesian writers at the festival this year and 5 of these were Balinese.

I was interested to find out what the Balinese writers and translators thought of the festival and its contribution to the island – to its tourism and to its literary life. This is the feature I made about this subject for the Book Show, ABC Radio National.

Translator - Kadek Krishna Adidharma

Translator - Kadek Krishna Adidharma

Wayan Juniarta - Balinese writer

Wayan Juniarta - Balinese writer

Janet de Neefe - festival director

Janet de Neefe - festival director

October 22, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Writing Bali

I interviewed many guests of the writers’ festival in Ubud. My first feature for the Book Show, ABC Radio National, is on literary culture in Bali. I spoke to Wayan Juniartha, Degung Santikarma, Kadek Krishna Adidharma, Janet de Neefe and Shamini Flint. This feature will be going to air shortly. I’ve edited all these interviews and I’ve written my script. The next step is to record the script, put it in the multi-track, edit some more to make the story tighter then I’ll do the finishing touches with the sound bed. I will report back when it goes to air. I will also then put up the relevant photos.

October 20, 2009. Uncategorized. 2 comments.

The Dali of Bali?

I had a few hours to spare on Saturday so I visited the art gallery of Antonio Blanco. He is touted as the ‘Dali of Bali’…I thought his work was more like Norman Lindsay’s. Blanco made a detailed study of breasts throughout his life time. He even had a theory about why Balinese women’s breasts were perfect. Dali was not shy of breasts either but they featured in almost every painting I saw of Blanco’s.

Dali or Norman Lindsay-esque?

Ni Bawang (The Cinderella of Bali)...is this Dali-esque or Norman Lindsay-esque?

October 13, 2009. Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Seno Gumira Ajidarma on compassion

Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Seno Gumira Ajidarma presents his ideas on compassion. Once again, these are my notes.

Seno once said ‘when journalism is repressed, literature will speak up’. When an audience member asked him about this quote Seno commented that he was now bored with this topic (he’s spoken so much about it).

It’s not necessarily compassion that makes him write. It’s anger.

He thinks there is something dangerous about compassion because everyone has their own conception of it. The circumstances of the violence against Chinese-Indonesians in 1998 is an example of when compassion was used selectively. He says most people who took part in the communist cleansing in 1965 speak with pride about this period and says this ideology is still alive. There’s the military concept of peace, and the peace of conservatism. (I think some of his ideas have been lost in translation. He was speaking in English which is not his first language).

October 13, 2009. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Wole Soyinka on Suka Duka

The theme for the 2009 festival is Suka Duka. It translates as compassion and solidarity.

Wole Soyinka, Nigerian Nobel laureate, reflected on the meaning of compassion. The event was packed (see photo) and his fellow panelist was Indonesian writer Seno Gumira Ajidarma. (See post above for Seno’s response.)

Suka Duka audience

Suka Duka audience


Wole Soyinka at the 2009 Ubud Writers

Wole Soyinka at the 2009 Ubud Writers

These are my notes on his presentation. He said he experienced a thrill about being asked to Ubud for this festival. He’s the second Nobel laureate to have ever visited Indonesia. His visit was an act of solidarity because the festival was born after the 2002 Bali Bombings which were engineered by ‘agents of death’. Indonesia is one place which has an historic duty to be engaged in examining the attributes of compassion given its checkered history. He referred to the 1965 communist purges in Indonesia which come close to the brutality of the Khmer Rouge in the 70s.

Compassion. A confusingly diffuse word but we know what it means when we see it. Terms like tolerance, understanding and reconciliation are connected to compassion. It refers to the ability to transpose oneself into the condition of another without losing the ethical core. It is different from pity and philanthropy. It is not a virtue that condescends and is egalitarian.

Truth and reconciliation. A capacity to transcend the past is a quality of compassion and a quality of truth and reconciliation. Nelson Mandela is the best recent example of a person exhibiting true compassion, in fact, embodying compassion. Ghandi didn’t achieve this he says.

But. There are times when the circumstances for compassion simply don’t exist. For Soyinka a victim of torture can not exercise compassion towards their torturers. He wanted to avoid the word ‘justice’ so says compassion without restitution (instead of justice) is a violation.

October 12, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

The opening night

Dance at the opening night

Dance at the opening night

Music at the opening night

Music at the opening night

Arnold Zable

Arnold Zable

October 10, 2009. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

To blog or to festivalise?

I promise I’ll blog more about what I’m doing later on. There’s so much to talk about but there’s also so much to do. I’m off to a panel on queer writing in Asia. Later I speak to NH Dini a prominent Indonesian writer and then to Degung, a Balinese activist. Will tell all in good time.
I’ll also upload pics because I finally went to a shop and purchased myself a cable.

<My saviors. Have camera cable. Will travel.

My saviors. Have camera cable. Will travel.

October 9, 2009. problem solved. 2 comments.

Sunnyside up

Translating Bahasa

Translating Bahasa

It’s a cliche to say Balinese people are always smiling. Does this mean they’re always happy? It’s very easy to confuse the two and it’s what foreigners often say about people they don’t understand. It’s hard to know what people think without speaking the language. I went to a workshop on Indonesian to English translation. It was conducted in Bahasa. I don’t speak Bahasa. I did a lot of smiling.

The workshop was held at a deluxe hotel and there are many of these in Ubud. It looked out over an infinity pool that looked out over a valley or rice terraces and coconut trees. There were 15 Indonesian writers all getting the low down from one of the few English language translation publishers in Indonesia. They were finding out how to get their work out there in English. It’s not easy. Although they do have their own Nobel hopeful, Pramoedya, Indonesian writing doesn’t have a solid place in the pantheon of world literature. In Indonesia the most popular fiction genre is Muslim Romance. The biggest book in the last few years is the semi-autobiographical ‘Laskar Pelangi’ (Rainbow Warrior) by Andrea Hirata. It was made into a blockbuster film too.

While I was smiling at the writers doing the workshop I wondered how they might make an indent on the international publishing scene. Of course, many of them speak English so I didn’t have to wonder for long.

Infinity pool

Infinity pool

October 8, 2009. Tags: . translation. 1 comment.

No photos

Somebody forgot to pack the cord so they could upload photos to this blog. That somebody is going to be in a great deal of trouble with themselves.

October 7, 2009. self-castigation. 2 comments.

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