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Fuller-Jakarta Flanerie,

Selected Writings of Seno Gumira Ajidarma


Jakarta Flânerie: Selected Writings of Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Andrew Charles Starr Fuller

Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

School of Asian Languages and Studies,

University of Tasmania,


Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Declaration of Originality This thesis contains no material which has been accepted for a degree or diploma by the University or any other institution,

except by way of background information and duly acknowledged in the thesis,

and to the best of the my knowledge and belief no material previously published or written by another person except where due acknowledgement is made in the text of the thesis,

nor does the thesis contain any material that infringes copyright

Andrew Fuller November,

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Authority of Access This thesis may be made available for loan and limited copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968

Andrew Fuller November,

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia


The intersection of urban life and literature is the starting point for this thesis on the writings of Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Seno has been writing since the early 1980s and is widely recognised as being one of the key figures of contemporary Indonesian literature

Throughout this thesis,

Seno’s works are used as the source material for an analysis of a writer’s imagining of urban life in contemporary Indonesian literature

As such,

this research seeks to contribute to discourses on Indonesian urban societies,

Indonesian social and political cultures and contemporary Indonesian thought

I link Seno’s work and studies of Indonesian urban trends with those occurring in other parts of the world

By drawing on historical,

literary and postcolonial studies of urban spaces and societies,

this thesis shows the key ways in which urban spaces – particularly those of Jakarta – are imagined in the writings of Seno Gumira Ajidarma

I argue that Seno’s writing allows a reading of urban spaces and societies that draw on ideas regarding Indonesian cities found in writings both from within and outside of Indonesia

This thesis uses theories developed on the idea of ‘the flâneur’ and the practice of flânerie in contemporary urban societies

These theories are used to analyse the ways in which Seno Gumira Ajidarma writes of and about contemp orary urban conditions in Indonesia in general and Jakarta in particular

I locate four primary areas where the concept of ‘the flâneur’ is present in the writings of Seno Gumira Ajidarma


Seno imagines the flâneur as a figure who engages in urban life in both an ambivalent and a critical manner


he engages in flânerie as a consumer of jazz in late night jazz clubs and as a reader of news reports detailing stories of state violence far from urban Jakarta


he is a flâneur who negotiates the meanings of the urban soundscape

the flâneur is a part of the urban landscape in a time of crisis who interprets the scenes before him through taking photographs and using a taxi to

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

The thesis shows that Seno’s writings are both a continuation of an earlier tradition of flânerie and that he engages with contemporary theories and ideas concerning urban societies

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Acknowledgments I have worked on this thesis thanks to the support of many people

Pam Allen (School of Asian Languages and Studies,

University of Tasmania) has been very supportive and constructive as a supervisor

Barbara Hatley (University of Tasmania,

Monash University) has also played a significant role,

especially in the later stages of this project

I thank Dr

Marshall Clark (Deakin University) for the role he played as my supervisor in the early stages of this thesis and also his critical role as someone with whom I can share ideas

I thank Dr

Barbara Hartley,

Head of the School of Asian Languages and Studies at the University of Tasmania,

for also being supportive and encouraging throughout my time at the University of Tasmania

I thank Hisako Umeoka,

Mandy Pink and Dr

Karen McGraw also for their support

My interest in literature and urban studies has been propelled by conversations with Binhad Nurrohmat,

Agni Amorita AMD,

Damhuri Muhamad,

Koko Sudarmoko,

Radar Panca Dahana,

Afrizal Malna,

Marco Kusumawijaya,

Mina Elfira,

John McGlynn,

Henk Maier,

Julian Millie,

Sander Adelaar,

Harry Aveling,

Brian Stafford,

I thank Seno Gumira Ajidarma very much for making himself available for interviews and casual conversations when I have been in Jakarta

I thank the examiners for their comments and suggestions

My parents,

Michele Fuller and Trevor Fuller,

have provided me with much support and encouragement

Thomas Fuller and Anna Harris have also been very supportive

My partner,

Sarah Sandragné,

I thank her for her love

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Table of Contents

















Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Introduction The city is the frontier of modern Asian society (Dick,

The centralising tendency to define ‘Jakarta as X’ is dead (Ajidarma,

Over half of the world’s population lives in urban societies

Many of the largest cities in the world are in Asia


the capital city of Indonesia,

is one of several cities in Asia to be identified as a megacity (Firman,


is densely populated and continues to spread out into other neighbouring regions

An understanding of the history and sociological conditions of Indonesia necessarily involves an analysis of the geographical,

political and symbolic positions of Jakarta – and the city in general – within the Indonesian nation

Jakarta is the centre of both political and cultural power: it is the home not only of the national parliament,

but also of many important cultural institutes

Jakarta’s growth,

density and development differentiate it significantly from other Indonesian cities: it is both exceptional as well as being a metaphor for Indonesian life

Throughout the last hundred or so years,

Indonesian writers – and others who have lived in or visited the city formerly known as ‘Batavia’ and ‘Djakarta’ – have written about Jakarta and thus helped imagine it and create a vast discourse on what the city is and how it is experienced,

Seno Gumira Ajidarma (b

creatively and critically on Jakarta and on urban conditions in Indonesia

It is because of Seno’s extensive writings on Jakarta and city life,

his critical acceptance as a significant writer and his ongoing productivity (as the author of some 30 books) that I have chosen him as the subject for my research

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

The intersection of urban life and literature is the starting point for this thesis on the writings of Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Since the early 1980s Seno has been widely recognised as one of the key figures of contemporary Indonesian literature

Throughout this thesis,

Seno’s works are used as the source material from which I analyse a writer’s imagining of urban life in contemporary Indonesian literature

As such,

this research seeks to contribute to discourses on Indonesian urban societies,

Indonesian social and political cultures and contemporary Indonesian thought

I also link Seno’s work and studies of Indonesian urban trends with those taking place in other parts of the world

By drawing on historical,

literary and postcolonial studies of urban spaces and societies,

this thesis shows the key ways in which urban spaces – particularly those of Jakarta – are imagined in the writings of Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Throughout this thesis,

I argue that Seno’s writing allows a reading of urban spaces and societies that draw on ideas regarding Indonesian cities found in writings both from within and outside of Indonesia

The city in literature is a site where the elements of ‘change’ and ‘continuity’ can be explored

This applies to Jakarta as it does to other cities


as a site of intense political meaning and symbolisation (Kusno,


is given meaning to through literary works

Indonesian literature has long been shaped by cities and urban culture

Modern Indonesian literature is an urban product

‘Low-Malay’ literature of the nineteenth century written by Indonesians of Chinese background was set in Batavia and other cities of Java (see Salmon,

Early modernist writers like Mas Marco Kartodikromo wrote vivid representations of cities such as Semarang1

Recent literary products are a key source through which we can understand how cities and urban spaces are interpreted,

approached and imagined in contemporary Indonesia

Seno’s writings are cultural products that complement

I discuss these stories in Chapter One

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

comics and plays that draw on the urban setting as a starting point for narratives on Indonesian cultural and social change

Just as the urban spaces and societies of Indonesia are dynamic,

so are the ways in which they are imagined

The urban spaces in Mas Marco Kartodikromo’s writings differ from those of Pramoedya Ananta Toer (2000),

which differ in turn from the urban spaces and societies of Putu Wijaya’s novel Stasiun (1977),

Writers evoke the city for their own rhetorical purpose

The various ways in which the city is represented show both the richness of urban life and the diversity of modern Indonesian literature

‘The city’ cannot be pinned down to having one particular form,


are given meaning by their users – the ‘citizens’

Contemporary Indonesian literature offers readers and students of urban history a vast source for understanding how Indonesian cities are imagined

The writings of Seno Gumira Ajidarma,

I argue,

offer a key body of work in the interpretation of Indonesian urban life

This thesis uses the concepts of the flâneur and flânerie as a means to distinguish Seno’s particular way of writing about urban spaces and societies

Throughout Seno’s texts both the flâneur and the practice of flânerie are present in varying ways

Seno draws upon and develops the tropes of the flâneur and of flânerie to show particular aspects of Indonesian urban life

I argue that Seno’s manner of using the flâneur and of broadening the practice of flânerie questions established notions of how to engage with urban spaces,

how to move through urban spaces,

how to listen in urban spaces,

how to see and look in urban spaces and how to give meaning to urban space


I argue that Seno’s writings on urban spaces and societies present a counter-narrative to the dominant ideologies of ‘development’ and urban order within the context in which he writes

I use his writings as an example of a writing practice that particularly relates to urban life in contemporary Indonesia

Literary texts provide a different perspective from state and administrative perspectives on urban cultures in Indonesia

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Although the concept and practice of flânerie and the figure of the flâneur are identified with nineteenth century Paris,

I argue that its definitions can be broadened and applied to the texts of Seno that are studied in this thesis

The flâneur,

strolls through the arcades of Paris consuming with his eyes the products before him,

walking with a tortoise to avoid ever walking too quickly and becoming caught up in the speed of modern urban life

According to Keith Tester,

the ‘flâneur is the secret spectator of the spectacle of the spaces and places of the city’ and thus flânerie is ‘the activity of the sovereign spectator going about the city in order to find the things which will occupy his gaze and thus complete his otherwise incomplete identity’ (1994,

The flâneur takes pleasure in the spectacles of the modern city

The flâneur enjoys the sights

I show,

that flânerie can be practised by drawing on other senses: particularly hearing

I show in chapters five and six how hearing and listening are essential parts of a character’s practice of flânerie

The flâneur is typically a man – the feminine equivalent being a flâneuse – for it was men who were able to wander freely and independently though urban spaces

The notion of the flâneur and the practice of flânerie are present in modern Indonesian urban environments

That is,

the general and earlier idea of the flâneur takes on a specific embodiment in Indonesia – in both its pre- and postindependent states

For example,

a kind of flânerie is evident in the writings of Mas Marco Kartodikromo

His writings are discussed in more detail in Chapter One

in Brousson’s Batavia: Awal Abad 20 (2007) a kind of flânerie is imagined through the eyes of a foreign soldier in the Netherlands East Indies

Becoming a flâneur in the rapidly changing urban environments of Indonesia involved a break with the past

a point of differentiation from others whose values were informed largely by ‘tradition’ and ‘religion’

To be a flâneur was to be modern and cosmopolitan: up-to-date in terms of fashion and au fait with the world of ideas and news

It is part of the purpose of this thesis to investigate the

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

ways in which the notion of the flâneur becomes a part of Seno’s writing of urban Indonesia

The notion,

has both global and local usages: its definition shifts across social and cultural contexts

In this thesis,

I show how the concept of the flâneur and the practice of flânerie relate to listening,

hearing and writing in urban spaces

That is,

I seek to remove the concepts from their historical contexts in nineteenth century Paris

I draw on the statement from Tester (1994,

I argue that flânerie is an attitude,

a flexible and mobile practice that can be applied in multiple circumstances

It is a practice that is of the urban and of the cosmopolitan

Practising flânerie involves an ambivalence: it affords the flâneur the possibility of being ‘involved’ or ‘detached’ in the circumstances in which he or she finds himself

Marshall Clark describes the flâneur as being ‘in the thick of things and contemplative’ (2010,

Throughout this thesis,

I show that the ways in which flânerie is practiced can serve as a critique of contemporary Jakarta and urban Indonesia

This thesis comprises seven chapters

The first chapter – “The City in Indonesian Literature”

I draw on the writings of Mas Marco Kartodikromo,

Armijn Pane,

Mochtar Lubis,

Pramoedya Ananta Toer,

Misbach Yusa Biran and Putu Wijaya,

to provide a kind of literary backdrop to the more recent writings of Seno Gumira Ajidarma

To varying degrees,

these writers have used Jakarta and Indonesian cities in general to describe sites,

scenes and spaces of oppression,

The purpose of this chapter is to show how Seno’s engagement and writing of Indonesian urban space and societies is both a continuation of an early interest as well as a development upon it

That is,

Seno’s writings represent a nuanced and insightful

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

perspective on urban space in Indonesia and in Jakarta specifically

The chapter is concluded by providing a summary of three recent films that also use Jakarta as a key element of their narrative

I include these films to show how Seno’s writings exist alongside a broad array of cultural products that engage with an imagining and representation of urban life in Indonesia

Chapter Two – “Framing the City” – introduces theories and ideas regarding urban spaces and societies that will be used throughout chapters four to seven

This chapter draws on scholarly discourses from outside and inside Indonesia in order to uncover theories and ideas regarding changes in urban societies throughout the twentieth century

I draw on scholars of sociology,

economics and architecture amongst other fields

The writings of scholars such as Simmel,

Benjamin and Wirth and others are central to the task of placing Seno’s writings on urban Indonesia in a broader context

Seno’s writings contribute not only to the literary traditions of Indonesia,

but also to scholarly discourses on Indonesian urban spaces and societies

In Chapter Three – “An Introduction to Seno Gumira Ajidarma” – I present an overview of his texts published to date

I argue that,

as an author of some 30 books,

he has made a significant contribution to Indonesian writing over the past thirty years

To emphasise this I refer to the writings of various scholars who have focused on Seno’s work to show the relevance of their scholarship to an understanding and analysis of contemporary Indonesian society and literary practice

I draw on elements of their work in order to ask new questions about how Seno has contributed to recent Indonesian literature

Although other scholars including Bodden,

Allen and Kusno allude to the urban conditions of Seno’s writings,

this thesis places the ‘urban-ness’ of Seno’s writings as a key connecting thread throughout his writings

That is,

I argue that in order to understand Seno’s writings one must come to terms with the manner in which the urban environment is present throughout his texts

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Chapter Four – “The Urban Spaces of Kentut Kosmopolitan”

This text is a collection of Seno’s short essays written over a period of roughly ten years

The essays of Kentut Kosmopolitan present Seno’s perspective on urban conditions in Jakarta

The essays describe conditions of the street,

the dichotomy of public and private,

the interaction between members of different social and economic groups and notions of what it means to be ‘cosmopolitan’,

‘urban’ and ‘fashionable’ in contemporary Jakarta

Kentut Kosmopolitan contributes to the growing number of publications dealing with the current social conditions of Jakarta

I argue that in the essays of Kentut Kosmopolitan,

Seno places a strong emphasis on the space of the ‘street’ as an area with diverse functions and uses

I argue that Seno’s stories draw on the practice of flânerie both as a method of writing the essays and as a way of seeing

Seno acts as a flâneur in Jakarta and his way of seeing expresses a contemporary act of flânerie that counters dominant modes of urban experience in contemporary Jakarta

In these essays,

through these essays the reader can trace Seno’s acts of flânerie through the streets and spaces of Jakarta

In these essays,

with Seno as narrator and as flâneur we gain an immediate perspective on how Seno frames Jakartan urban space

Through these essays Seno plays the role of ‘documenter’ and analyst of Jakartan urban life

He draws on his knowledge of Indonesian history and the social sciences in general to convey his ideas regarding the ways in which urban life in Jakarta is experienced

In Chapter Five – “A Listening Flâneur: Jazz,

Parfum dan Insiden” – I use Seno’s 1996 novel,

Parfum dan Insiden as a means to investigate the manner in which listening is represented in an urban space

Seno’s novel presents particular ideas regarding the political agency of jazz as music of liberation and also in regards to mediating urban experience

I argue that the narrator of Jazz,

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Parfum dan Insiden,

through his listening to jazz on his personal stereo (a Walkman),

The narrator (Seno himself) both ‘remembers’ the violence taking place at the periphery (in the then Indonesian province of East Timor) of New Order Indonesia,

while at the same time he forgets his own immediate context: that of urban Jakarta,

a site that is also subject to violence and displacement

Parfum dan Insiden is a text comprising three narratives: the history of jazz,

the perfumes of the various women the narrator meets at the jazz performances he attends and thirdly 'the incident'

-that is,

reports of the massacre at Santa Cruz in Dili in 1991

Throughout the novel,

these three tangential narratives occasionally meet,

As such,

the novel reproduces the form of jazz composition

Seno’s novel presents the flâneur as a figure who consumes a wide variety of texts and source material and who is able to move effortlessly from one form of media to another

Chapter Six

“Penjaga Malam dan Tiang Listrik” and “Dilarang Menyanyi di Kamar Mandi”” uses three stories drawn from different periods in Seno’s career as a writer

I argue that these stories show how the soundscape can be used as a means to understand,

negotiate and give meaning to the Indonesian urban environment

This chapter draws on the writings of Colombijn,

Schafer and others to show how sound plays a role in the imagining of urban space

Through the three stories studied in Chapter Six,

I show how the silencing of particular erotic sounds is used to represent the suppression of disorder in an urban kampung,

how sound can be used to represent a particular imagining of time,

and thirdly how sound is invested with meaning in such a way as to reproduce the ‘state terrorism’ of the New Order government

The stories of Chapter Six use sound to embody the practices of surveillance as present throughout the era of the New Order government in Indonesia

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Chapter Six includes a discussion of the “petrus” (mysterious shootings) campaign that was instigated during the early to mid-1980s

This campaign involved the shooting of suspected petty criminals and gangsters and the displaying of their corpses in public places such as busy intersections and markets

This is one example of the ‘state violence’ that partly characterised the Suharto-led New Order era in Indonesia

Seno shows how a particular way of listening can question,

challenge and negotiate the manner in which the state performs surveillance against its citizens

The final chapter,

“Streets of Violence: “Clara”,

“Jakarta 2039” and “Jakarta,

Suatu Ketika ””,

draws on three short stories written around the time of the May 1998 riots

These stories also practise the double movement of ‘remembering’ and ‘forgetting’

Seno remembers some aspects of the May 1998 riots while forgetting others

Particular narratives are ‘remembered’ through the act of writing,

while other narratives are ‘forgotten’ through their exclusion

In particular,

Seno sees this time not as one of heroic deeds performed by brave and courageous students,

but as a time during which the city and its streets became sites of violence,

Seno draws on narratives of gang rapes against Chinese Indonesians as being a key historical moment

His stories of the sexual violence against Chinese Indonesians emerged at a time when their reporting in the mass media was largely taboo and their occurrence was largely disbelieved

The representations of rape in Seno’s stories “Clara” and “Jakarta 2039” are given particular urban dimensions

That is,

they are rapes that occur in anonymous urban environments

spaces through which ‘the crowd’ and ‘the masses’ are able to move according to their own desires

He presents Jakarta,

as a dangerous space for an individual

It is a time and space where it is dangerous to be a flâneur and when the imagined dichotomies of ‘Chinese’ and ‘pribumi’ are regarded as being fixed and real

A key element of the stories in this chapter is the depiction of the spaces of the toll-road and shopping

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

These are examples of ‘non-places’ (Augé,

‘Non-place’ refers to ‘spaces formed in relation to certain ends (transport,

and the relations that individuals have with these spaces’ (Augé,

The urban space of Jakarta in these stories is one in which the process of othering is a dominant trope

I argue that throughout his short stories and essays Seno uses the trope of the flâneur as a key figure in the understanding and practice of urban life in contemporary Indonesia

This flâneur is a figure that is variously a narrator,

a soundscape documenter and a photographer

Through Seno’s stories and novels,

the urban spaces of Jakarta are shown to be variably subject to flânerie

Sometimes the spaces are available to flânerie,

and at other times they are not

The writings of Seno Gumira Ajidarma show that the flâneur,

is a central figure in the negotiation of urban life in contemporary Indonesian literature

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Chapter One: The City in Indonesian Literature

The purpose of this chapter is to show how other writers wrote about the city prior to the emergence of Seno’s writings in the mid-1980s

In this chapter I outline the dominant themes,

manners and ways of describing and representing urban life

I situate these writings within the social,

political and cultural conditions of the era in which they were written

This chapter examines works by Mas Marco Kartodikromo,

Armijn Pane,

Pramoedya Ananta Toer,

Mochtar Lubis,

Misbach Yusa Biran and S

Each of these authors has represented Indonesian urban life in a particular manner

Their writings reflect a persistent focus in modern Indonesian literature on urban themes and modes of living

Although this chapter primarily addresses writings concerning Jakarta,

I do draw on some literary works that evoke other cities

The short stories of Mas Marco Kartodikromo

Towards the end of this chapter,

I also present a brief overview of three recent films that use Jakarta and its urban context as an essential aspect of the film’s dramatic impact

Modern Indonesian literature,

like other forms of modern literature,

has long engaged with the idea of the city

In the modern and contemporary European novel,

‘the city’ regularly emerges as a major theme

Examples include James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922),

the novels of Émile Zola such as The Belly of Paris 2 (1873),

the New York based novels of American author Don DeLillo (2003,

Eliot and the postmodernist urban folktales of Italo Calvino such as Marcovaldo (1983)

Modern Indonesian literature,

political and cultural background and context,

makes a significant contribution to contemporary literary discourses on urban life

It could be said that urban life and modern literature are inseparable

For Malcolm Bradbury,

cities act as both ‘generative environments’ as well as ‘novel

Le Ventre de Paris

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

carrying within themselves the comple xity and tension of modern consciousness and modern writing’ (Bradbury in Preston & Simpson- Housley,

Urban geographer Terry McGee has asserted that ‘in view of the dominance of the great Southeast Asian City as a centre of intellectual activity […] much of the contemporary indigenous literature portrays the problems of their changing societies within the milieu of the city’ (McGee,

Our notions of both the city and literature are tied up in mutually overlapping discourses

Literature has traced the trajectories of urban development

The novel has long been the pre-eminent form of modern literature (Moretti,

In Indonesia,

poetry and short stories have featured as the most easily consumed and most widely read and written forms of literature

Maier’s assertive account of ‘Malay writing’,

focuses on Malay novels (2004)

developments and changes in the social and political conditions of urban life are also reflected in changes in literary discourses

As such,

in this chapter I provide the literary context within which Seno writes

I also refer to other authors who have written on Indonesian urban life

The early twentieth century writings of Mas Marco Kartodikromo are one kind of representation of urban life in Indonesia

As with other authors such as Pramoedya and Mochtar Lubis,

Mas Marco uses the city as a place to show the differences between rich and poor and between ethnic groups,

as well as projecting the city as a site of urban discontent

Mas Marco also plays close attention to the physical attributes of the urban scenes he describes

He writes of the particular infrastructure in the city of Semarang: paved roads,

These are markers of modernity and simultaneously markers of modern life

For Frisby,

‘the processes of modernization that generate the ‘modern’ dimensions of modern societies appear to be driven by unilinear and ostensibly inexorable forces [… which] appear to create modes of ordering society and its structures’ (2001,

The modern,

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

against that which is ‘traditional’ and cities are often the sites ‘on which the spectacles of modernity [are] played out’ (Frisby,

These are familiar tropes of early twentieth century literature

Mas Marco’s stories “Black Semarang”,

“Images of Extravagance” and “The Corrupted Life of a Big City”3 (Kartodikromo,

Given their 'pioneering' role,

it is appropriate here to provide a summary of the plots of these stories

“Black Semarang” (Kartodikromo,

It is an early example of literature published in newspapers,

a practice that continues until today

“Black Semarang” describes the events of a Saturday evening in Semarang,

a city on the north coast of Java

Saturday night is described as a time for ‘fun’,

as workers have the opportunity for walking through the city and taking in its sights

This flâneuristic pleasure is something that is further explored in Seno’s short stories and essays

Yet it is a pleasure that is denied to the workers on the night described in “Black Semarang”,

for the ambience is disturbed by incessant rain

The streets are empty – only in the distance does the narrator hear the sound of a horsewhip propelling a cart

The narrator hears the sounds of a saté vendor ‘hawking his wares’,

he sees the gas lamps dim when they are struck by the east wind

In the first instalment of the story,

the narrator begins to tell the story of a young man who is engrossed in a newspaper report about a vagrant who dies on the side of a road in the city

The young man moves through various urban spaces and encounters typical urban phenomena

He comes across a crowd of people watching a gamelan and dance performance at a Chinese wedding

He sees people wearing traditional Javanese clothes and he hears fragments of conversations

A person who will soon lose his job at a factory is told to just watch the dancing

The young man despairs at the apathy of ‘the educated youth’ 3

Their original titles are Semarang Hitam,

Tjermin Boeah Keroyalan,

Roesaknja Kehidoepan di Kota Besar

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

who are only concerned with pleasure

The young man continues to wander

He comes across the house of a capitalist and soon after ‘a house of ill-repute’,

where ‘women sell their virtue just to get a bite to eat’ (Kartodikromo,

He hears the sounds of arguments and guitars

He comes to the conclusion that it is poverty that causes moral degradation

While in the town square (alunalun) he drinks a cup of coffee and is disturbed by a beggar

He gives the beggar some money yet doubts it will do anything to improve the beggar’s condition

The young man comes across a prison – this too is a site of capitalism,

where people are incarcerated for their search for justice

As the young man is too engrossed in his thoughts,

he hasn’t noticed the change in the weather

He walks through the quiet city streets

He arrives home with his mind still mulling over what he has just seen

I argue that his presence within the cityscape is an early evocation of the flâneur

In contrast to the flânerie present in Seno’s stories,

Mas Marco’s characters take little pleasure in the urban environment

They view it as a site of moral degradation and as a starting point for political action

Their distaste for city life differs from the more ambivalent flâneuristic attitude found throughout Seno’s stories

“Images of Extravagance” (Kartodikromo,

after an evening at the theatre,

moves in with a lady of ill repute

He spends all his money on satisfying and maintaining his pleasure before,

in an act of desperation and in search of work,

Notwithstanding the simplistic plot,

the urban life of Semarang is described in fine detail in the story

Various aspects of early twentieth century urban life in Indonesia are revealed

These include the changing dynamics of interpersonal re lations in public,

and the rise of brand names and the use of consumer products

Clothes and means of transport are signs of one’s

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

In the case of Soedirga,

his fancy clothes hide the fact that he hasn’t been paying the bills at his accommodation


so that his shoes do not become dusty

Particular kinds of clothes are no longer reserved for memb ers of particular classes

Yet Soedirga’s ‘real’ social position is part of the end of this short story: destitute,

Like “Black Semarang” this story is highly didactic and moralistic

Mas Marco’s story asserts that those who fall for such superficial luxuries are bound to end up ruined

The urban life of the city in “Images of Extravagance" is described as follows: ‘there was bustle everywhere

horse carriages and various other sorts of vehicles were all turning their wheels over the wide asphalt roads

The night tram to Djomblang Boeloe was crammed with people sitting side by side on benches’ (Kartodikromo,

Soedirga is done up in the fashion of an urban dandy: newly cut hair,

a rain coat and silver watch chain (Kartodikromo,

“Images of Extravagance” also shows the manner in which an audience is expected to interact (or not) with others throughout a performance: ‘Soedirga’s thoughts whirled about in his head,

thinking of ways to open a conversation with the young woman beside him’ (Kartodikromo,

Women are also not expected to be at the theatre by themselves: ‘“By herself

“The Corrupted Life of a Big City” (Kartodikromo,

Goeno and Dirdjo

They have come to Surabaya for a conference to discuss ‘matters of important to the people at large’ (Kartodikromo,

The story is based around their experiences as they leave their meeting and head to their homes in quieter suburbs near Surabaya

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

What they see in the ‘big city’ of Surabaya provides starting points for discussions on various forms of social injustice

Mas Marco Kartodikromo was one of the most astute observers of urban social conditions in early twentieth century Indonesia

Despite the abrupt and clichéd endings of the stories discussed above,

Mas Marc o’s stories provide descriptions of intricate details of daily life in pre-independent Indonesia

Mas Marco’s writings,

contributed to a growing sense of nationalism and formulation of ideas regarding class,

The rapid social,

cultural and political changes of early twentieth century Indonesia are reflected in the descriptions and fragmentary narrative style of Mas Marco

He saw much of what was ‘new’ in terms of technology,

modes of travelling and ways of interacting

The language used by Mas Marco – particularly in Student Hijo (Kartodikromo,

His stories reflect a culture in transition and a language yet to be made ‘good and correct’4

The variety and plurality of the language used in Mas Marco’s stories reflected the heterogeneity of the urban society he sought to represent

These short stories are some of the significant predecessors for Seno’s writing on contemporary urban life in Indonesia

Ways of interacting in public,

public transport and inter-racial relations are also important themes of Idrus’s story “Kota-Harmoni” 5 (Ismail,

The story is of a tram trip from Kota to Harmoni

Idrus’s style of writing is typical of ‘modern’ literature: it is straightforward,

The story emphasises the harshness,

roughness and tension of everyday urban life in ‘Djakarta’ under the Japanese occupation (1942-1945)

By contrast to the scene at the theatre in Mas Marco’s story “Images of Extravagance”,

The Pusat Bahasa

Dari Ave Mari ke Jalan Lain ke Roma,

Jakarta: Balai Pustaka,

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Kota to Harmoni the passengers freely talk and interact with each other

These stories show how in different urban milieus different rules of politeness apply

As in other social situations,

to be properly urban is to know how to behave in each different circumstance

The crowdedness of the tram is both a source of complaint and also a reason for the enforced mixing of people of different classes

The passengers complain about the slowness of the tram journey and the customs of the other passengers who ‘don’t know the rules’ (Idrus in Ismail,

The space which one occupies on a tram is ordered by the price one pays for a ticket,

rather than whether or not a person should be given respect (Idrus in Ismail,

The crowdedness and discomfort of the tram trip from Kota to Harmoni affords the passengers a mome nt of nostalgia: ‘it’s difficult now

It was a difficult era twenty years ago,

but it wasn’t as difficult as it is now’ (Idrus in Ismail,

This is a common trope of writing on urban life: the city is seen as a source of difficulty and oppression,

a place that can be escaped from by either imagining a calmer and more tranquil rural life,

through imagining a more peaceful and less difficult past (Lehan,


The city,

is a place of escape from the impoverishment of rural life and the restrictions of traditional customs

Belenggu (Pane,

is an early portrait of urban life in Jakarta

The story involves a love-triangle between Tono,

Tini and the 'other woman' Yah

Tono is a sophisticated young doctor who reads in his spare time,

while Yah is a singer of ill repute,

who is portrayed as being an independent and strong- minded woman

The novel was rejected by Balai Poestaka,

the dominant publishing house of the time

Henk Maier writes that Belenggu was different from other novels of the era for it is entirely focused on the urban setting of Jakarta,

rather than the traditions of regional Indonesia (2004,

The language of the novel Belenggu included terms thought to be unfamiliar to some of its readers: there is a glossary at the

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

Urban life in Jakarta of that era was (as it remains) cosmopolitan,

and the daily language used was one of great richness and borrowings (as it remains)

Belenggu provides a portrayal of the ambience and culture of urban Jakarta in the pre-independence era

Tono practices a new kind of pleasure: observing the city from his vehicle

one passage reads as follows: ‘[Tono] was happy to be in his car

Sitting in the back,

The car moved smoothly,

the day had become dark and the lights on the side of the road had been turned on

The air had started to cool

To calm his thoughts,

his eyes looked left and right out the window’ (Pane,

Pramoedya Ananta Toer,

‘an author close to being the conscience of his nation’ (Foulcher,

was one of the main contributors to literary discourse on Jakarta – particularly his collection Tales from Djakarta (Toer,

which included stories written in the 1950s

Pramoedya’s Tales from Djakarta,

originally published in 1957 as Tjerita dari Djakarta,

is a study of life in Jakarta after Indonesia gained her independence

“Letter to a Friend from the Country” (Pramoedya in Aveling,

The narrator (“I”),

Pramoedya himself,

writes a letter to a friend as part of an effort to dissuade him from coming to Jakarta

Throughout this story-as-letter,

Pramoedya creates a blisteringly negative portrayal of Jakarta and Jakartans

He argues that it is a ‘city built on dreams’,

yet with each new arrival in Jakarta there is a new story of failure

He writes of women who become prostitutes and men who are unable to escape their difficult circumstances

For Pramoedya,

the nation of Indonesia will not be served well by yet another person seeking his fortune in Jakarta

Instead he implores his friend to ‘develop your own province’ (Pramoedya in Aveling,

For Pramoedya,

This is another kind of flânerie of the sort that is also evident in Seno’s short stories and essays

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

were ‘monument[s] to the failure of the Revolution’ (Pramoedya in Aveling,

Unlike in other stories in Tales from Djakarta (Toer,

“Letter to a friend from the Country” does not evoke the social,

political and cultural conditions in a slow and measured manner

it merely provides a detailed list of ‘how things are’ – as if they are fixed and unchanging

The story is highly polemical and serves as a rhetorical tract that indicates the author’s disappointment in Jakarta

Tales from Djakarta is a further elucidation of Pramoedya’s negative perception of daily life in Indonesia’s capital

In Jakarta,

Pramoedya witnesses the failure of the aspirations of the dreams for independence

He sees a similar kind of moral and physical degradation and corruption that had persisted throughout Dutch colonisation and the Japanese occupation

The revolution has failed and for him this is exemplified most harshly in Jakarta

Mochtar Lubis,

an author and journalist who was diametrically opposed to Pramoedya Ananta Toer during the debates on culture throughout much of the New Order era 7 ,

is the author of one of the most well-known and well-read literary works on Jakarta: Twilight in Djakarta8 (1983)

While Pramoedya makes the claim that ‘[Jakarta] is still a collection of villages,

with no specifically urban way of life’ (Pramoedya Ananta Toer in Aveling,

Lubis presents Jakarta as a city whose social conditions

Pramoedya’s negative attitude towards the city is fixed from the outset

Twilight in Djakarta novel presents one of the most significant and thorough literary investigations into the city life of Jakarta in newly 7

Mochtar Lubis and Pramoedya Ananta Toer were two of the leading writers throughout the second half of the twentieth century

Lubis was largely aligned with the ‘right’,

while Pramoedya was on the ideological left

For the first fourteen years of the New Order era,

Pramoedya was exiled to the island of Buru on account of his ideological views

many writers on the ideological right enjoyed a kind of literary hegemony

Lubis and Pramoedya’s mutual antipathy stems from the highly charged debates leading up to the attempted communist coup of 1965 – a time when the leftists were in ascendency and those on the right were highly marginalised and publicly criticised

The New Order era saw a reversal of these fortunes

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

The novel places ‘Jakarta’ as one of the subjects of the novel: it is the place where characters such as Saimun,

Itam and Suryono struggle to make their living and to live fulfilling lives

This novel presents various tropes familiar in discourses on Jakartan urban life

Jakarta appears as a place for both the extremely rich and the extremely poor,

as a place of ethnic diversity (and where people are categorised by their ‘race’),

as a city with ‘so many shortcomings’ (Lubis,

as a city for intense political discussion and the struggle for political power

Each chapter concludes with a section titled ‘City report’

In each of these sections a different aspect of the underside of urban life is covered,

petty violence and the daily lives of the urban poor

a lesser-known author in ‘modern Indonesian literature’,

has also been a significant contributor to the literary discourses on Jakarta

Ardan’s stories from the 1950s,

Terang di Kali (Bright Moon,

Clear in the River) (Ardan,

provide a portrait of Jakarta as a Betawi9 urban space

In Ardan’s stories of Jakarta,

the characters speak in the Betawi dialect,

make their lives through informal trade and live in accordance with Islamic values

Like the 1970s stories of Misbach Yusa Biran,

Ardan’s stories emphasise the daily struggles of the urban poor and the manner in which selfdeprecating humour is a technique for overcoming persistently difficult circumstances

The characters in these stories include becak drivers,

factory workers and the unemployed


there is little discussion of the significance of Jakarta as the nation’s capital and its position as the source of hope for newcomers from rural Java – as in the writings of Lubis,

Pramoedya and Goenawan Mohamad (2002)

Ardan’s Jakarta is the home for its inhabitants,

who face changes to the city without being able to long for and imagine an ‘other’ and

The Betawi are considered to be the original inhabitants of Jakarta

Betawi culture is largely Muslim and also has links with Arab and Chinese cultures

Betawi language is also distinct from contemporary standard Indonesian

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

more distant geographical location as ‘home’

Ardan’s characters see their homeland changing before their eyes

The short stories of Misbach Yusa Biran,

such as those that appear in Keajaiban di Pasar Senen (Miracle at Pasar Senen) (Biran,

These are humorous stories that document the daily lives of artists,

would-be artists and writers who have been marginalised from mainstream Jakartan life during the 1970s

The stories contain frequent reference to Betawi foods such as kue putu1 0

Misbach also uses informal Indonesian as well as the occasional incorporation of Dutch language

Pasar Senen becomes a central focus point of Jakarta – and the city becomes a site of struggle for living an artistic and intellectual life juxtaposed against desires for development and personal enrichment

Where Pramoedya sees persistent failure and depression,

Misbach Yusa Biran on the other hand presents a lighter side to this ‘failure’


Misbach focuses on the tenacity of the artists and their sense of humour in spite of their fate

Putu Wijaya’s early novel,

Stasiun (Station) (1977),

represents a surrealist and nonsensical portrayal of Jakarta in the first decade of the New Order

In this novel,

the train station becomes the vital centre of contemporary urban life

The novel details the life of the workers who are based at the station and the quickly changing and highly dynamic life of the hub of the train station

Like the tram in Idrus's story Kota-Harmoni,

the train station serves as a ‘microcosm’ of urban life

The main character of Wijaya’s novel is a figure that lives a purposeless existence in the urban context of a city that seems to be like Jakarta

Upon leaving his home one morning,

undecided about where he is going

Wijaya emphasises the absurdity of the urban condition

His emphasis on the ‘absurd’ and ‘nonsensical’ places him in a different literary

A kind of traditional Betawi cake

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

tradition than Mas Marco and Pramoedya Ananta Toer,


Wijaya’s novel provides an insight into a character’s perceptions of modern urban life

Wijaya’s characters are nameless

they are only identified in relation to the other figures of the story

Goenawan Mohamad,

an important and influential intellectual who has lived in Jakarta for more than 40 years,

is the author of the Catatan Pinggir 1 1 columns that have appeared throughout the publication of the weekly magazine Tempo,

Although Mohamad established himself as a writer,

editor and columnist a decade or so before Seno,

his literary career relates generally to that of Seno

The two figures share similar interests and critiques

Seno’s short stories have sometimes been published in Tempo

Where Seno has been occupied with the individual projects of writing and working as an academic and lecturer,

Mohamad has been entrepreneurial with the establishment of Tempo news magazine,

Institut Studi Arus Informasi,

Komunitas Utan Kayu and Komunitas Salihara 1 2

Mohamad’s projects have played a major role in the development of the arts infrastructure in Jakarta

Mohamad has played the dual roles of being both a writer in Jakarta as well as someone who has actively re-shaped the urban arts infrastructure of Jakarta

Despite being on the ideological right during the cultural debates of the mid-1960s 1 3 ,

he was a consistent and vocal critic of the New Order government

Throughout the post-New Order era,

Mohamad has frequently championed those whom he considers to be the victims of censorship – whether coming from the state or societal forces

As an intellectual,

he has considerable insight into the daily life of Jakarta

Three of his essays on Jakarta from the Catatan Pinggir columns include “City” (Mohamad,



These essays have been translated and collected under the title ‘Sidelines’ in English

Institute for the Free Flow of Information

Utan Kayu Community and Salihara Community are venues for theatre and music performances,

art exhibitions and public discussions on cultural and social issues

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

“City” is an exploration of the relationship between an individual and urban life – in this case it is the city of Jakarta

The essay is a discourse between the narrator (Mohamad),

his friend and abstracted ideas of the city and urban life he refers to ‘an expert’ and also to Italo Calvino

Mohamad directly draws the reader into the dialogue (albeit written ‘conversation’) through addressing the reader in the following manner in the opening sentence: ‘I have a friend who is very much like your friends: he lives in this city of Jakarta,

and he curses this city’ (Mohamad,


in the eyes of the unnamed expert,

simultaneously experiences a process of ‘urbanisation’ and ‘ruralisation’: newcomers bring their lifestyle to the city and thus make it ‘more like a village’

For Mohamad the consequences of this are ‘the number of infant births and deaths […] superstition and […] lack of freedom’ (Mohamad,

He concludes the essay by suggesting that the ‘hope and fear’ of his friend is that he does not feel a part of Jakarta (Mohamad,

“The Street” presents a dichotomy within the urban context of Jakarta

The narrator,

Mohamad himself,

contrasts the freedom of birds with that of an increasingly privatised city

Mohamad writes of the ‘privatised birds [those that are caged],

and privatised leisure’ (Mohamad,

Mohamad also reflects on how ‘privatisation’ is part of the ‘construction of a city’ and that ‘the city […] becomes something because capital and profit give it birth and shape it’ (Mohamad,

Mohamad sees ‘the street’ as a place that functions as a Javanese alun-alun (town square)

he writes that it is a place ‘where people meet,

show their solidarity’ (Mohamad,

This kind of Jakartan city life is being threatened by a generic figure he labels as ‘Mr

Official’ who transforms what is important for the public into something that is important for an individual

The contemporary ‘Mr

Official’ is contrasted against the figure of a former governor of Jakarta,

Ali Sadikin

Mohamad refers to him for he implemented changes to Jakarta so that it

Jakarta Flânerie: Seno Gumira Ajidarma’s Writing of Urban Indonesia

became a more heterogeneous society

privatisation threatens the publicness of the streets and other communal spaces

originally written in 1982 and whose title refers to Mochtar Lubis’s novel of the same name (discussed above),

is a description of the changes in public space in Jakarta

In this essay,

Mohamad describes the various kinds of advertisements one sees on the streets of Jakarta

He sees ‘stupid’ sentences and not-so stupid sentences and slogans

An example of a stupid sentence,

is: ‘traffic discipline shows national discipline’ (Mohamad,

Mohamad criticises the ‘state’ for presuming that Jakartans are acting within the framework of the nation during the times when they are seeking pleasure for themselves,

at ‘movie houses and [at] the foreshore’ (Mohamad,

Jakartans momentarily stop at traffic lights and check whether or not it is safe to go forward – it is at such moments that a user of a road ignores and denies the presence of the state that seeks to regulate behaviour and traffic discipline

Mohamad states that unlike in ‘Western society’,

‘we don’t know if we have ever had any […] ‘spontaneous desire to follow the law’ or ‘respect for the rights of others’’ (Mohamad,

Mohamad’s essays show the ambivalence of many Jakartans: the city is their home,

yet they don’t feel at home in Jakarta

It is the place in which they live and make money,

yet they curse it and do not feel as if it shapes them – instead,

it merely traps people and keeps them in its clasp


in his essay “The Street” also shows how there is an increasing tendency towards the privatisati