The Construction of Modernity in Pre-independent Indonesia and its Ensuing Manifestation in Critical Discourse and Literary Theory

Paulus Sarwoto


This article traces the development of what may be called Indonesian critical discourse particularly related to the position of “West” and “East” from the colonial period to the New Order era. The development of this discourse and its manifestation in Indonesian literary theory began with a postcolonial debate on the construction of Indonesian modernity, i.e., toward which center it is going to be oriented. The tension between Western-centric discourse, on the one hand, and traditional orientation, on the other, characterized the earliest intellectual debate in the 1930s. This argument took a different contour in the 1960s when the tension turned out to be between social realism and liberal humanism. The banning of leftist ideology and teaching after 1965 gave way to the unchallenged dominance of the traditional humanist outlook in the literary-critical scene. The paper argues that the present hegemony of traditional humanist approach in Indonesian consciousness is rooted in its distinctive development in these few decades.


culture polemic; Lekra; Manikebu; social realism; humanism; postcolonial

Full Text: