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Reimagining the Fluid Categorization of the Communist, Chinese, and Jews in Umar Kayam’s Stories

Paulus Sarwoto


This article examines how Umar Kayam’s fiction reveals the logic underlying the New Order political legacy through the reproduction of the myth of ethnic purity and anti-communist discourse. It argues that Kayam’s fiction, especially “Musim Gugur Kembali di Connecticut” (“Fall in Connecticut,” 1967), “Sri Sumarah” (1970), “Bawuk” (1973), Para Priyayi (The Nobles, 1992) and his last novel, Jalan Menikung (The Winding Road, 1999), reflect how that essentialist discourse believing in the primacy of certain ethnic and class categories has been deployed effectively in the Indonesian political arena to create false consciousness among the masses. Kayam challenged this by offering a fictional figuration of fluid identity—identity whose quality is not determined by boundaries of race and class categories of the communist, Chinese and Jewish characters. The texts also signify the narrowing of Homi K. Bhabha’s (2002) third space, leaving fewer courses of action for priyayi (Javanese nobles), resulting prominently in corruption. The third space in the Javanese priyayi context does not become a site of empowerment but of corruption and manipulation. It emerges in Kayam’s essentialist priyayi characters who believe in the primacy of Javanese priyayi class not as a progressive reconstruction of the site of postcolonial politics, but as a failure to find a moral center for the emergent nation.


New Order; Gestapu; Lekra; Marxism; marriage; abangan; race; prejudice

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2020.03511