Published on March 28th, 2014 | by Arief Rahadian0
“When sociology students are close to the end of their journey towards getting their bachelor degree, they will feel some changes inside. First, they will have a conceptual-radar-like sense that will automatically be activated when they see social phenomenon. Second, they will think that the classical sociological theory is kinda boring, and will start reading the work of contemporary theorist, or journals, and last, they can’t tell the difference between commonsense and beyond-commonsense, because their commonsense is now society’s beyond-commonsense.”
This is a story about my journey to the ASEAN Literary Festival, this might be a little bit long and jumpy, filled with weird things and broken grammar, but I hope you will like it.
I was playing LINE Cookie Run when my phone vibrated, it was Deden, asking “Where are you?”. Crap! I forgot that I have an appointment with him to attend the ASEAN Literary Festival (well I actually remembered it, I was just too lazy to go there, but in order to make the story a little bit interesting, let’s pretend that I forgot about it). “I’m at home, you already there? Want me to accompany you?”, I replied, then I rushed to the bathroom, took a bath, and asked my dad to take me there, I didn’t have anything to do back then, so I think it would be great to go and socialize once in a while.
It was a shiny day, I was looking for him for like ten minutes, and I found him inside the building, together with my juniors. Then we decided to attend the seminar about “Democracy, Human Rights, and Literature”. We were a little bit too late, one of the speakers was talking about his previous life that was filled with terror. He lived in Indonesia, but he didn’t feel like he was at home, he felt “alienated” back then, he told us that “democracy should give all of the citizens equal rights, but the state rips out the rights of the lower class, while giving the upper class a bunch of previleges”. It was a very moving speech from him.
The second speaker came from Thailand, he is a proffesional in literary world, the thing that I remember the most from his speech is that he told us a story about the relation between AFTA (Asean Free Trade Area) and literary. “Imagine, in 2015 we are all will be connected, there will be no borders between us. We can send resources, man-power, capitals, and people easily. But the problem is, how it is possible for us to communicate if we dont share a same languages?”.
For sociologists, social relationship is all about meanings. From the symbolic interactionism perspective, to understand the social world, we must understand the meaning behind symbols scattered arround us. We define symbols from others, and send it back to them. But what if we can’t define it, because we simply don’t understand it? Conflict, of course.
The rest of his speech was presented in Thai language,where he said that this world was, is, and will always be influenced by the power of writings. From Karl Marx to Adam Smith, literature plays a great role deciding the direction of society. Thus, he believes that pen is stronger than a sword, and in order to build democracy and harmony, we have to use literature. The first speaker, however, is a little bit sceptical about it. He said that today is no longer the era of literature, it is the era of internet, a system of mass communication faster than any literature. After I heard that, I remembered about Michel Foucault’s quote, “Power is everywhere, and knowledge is power”. I think that behind the literature is the knowledge that the author tries to give us, and it is basically the same with internet, and internet can also be used to publish writings, so I think both are basically the same. We are not talking about pen versus the internet, we are talking about communicating knowledge to empower someone or some groups, and it can be done by both.
They also talked about democracy, that democracy is all about equality and harmony. Then I thought, from the sociological perspective, democracy is not about equality, it’s about majority rules, 51% versus 49%, so when democracy happening inside a country, there will always be a majority and minority, upper class and lower class. There will always be elites that rule over the country. And isn’t it basically the same with literature world? If you want your writings to be published internationally, you have to be able to write in English. The standard of writings is also present, and you need to learn it first from college or private classes. Even when you want to write a journal or a report about your research, you have to use methods presented by the experts such as Neumann and Babbie, so I think literature world is very exclusive, and it is in the hand of the elites. Anyone can write, but if you want your writings to be acknowledged by the world, it’s a different story.
I asked about it, and they answered it normatively, but it’s fine since the purpose of the seminar is to educate and motivate, not debunking and breaking people’s hope. After my question, another speaker from China came, and he brought a translator with him. He told a story about the long history of chinese literature, a story about a ruler that lost his power, and corruption, but since my attention was drawn to his handsome translator, I don’t remember much, the seminar was then closed with the performance of Happy Salma, reading a poem from Widjie Tukul. It was a touching performance.
We took a break after that, we had a lunch together, and then Deden said this to me “I wonder, that Thai guy can’t speak English, so does the Chinese guy, and they both come from the upper class, i bet it’s the same with other countries in ASEAN too, even the upper class!. What will happen then if we can’t communicate with each other during AFTA next year?” That question remains unanswered.
The next seminar is about “Southeast Asian Literature and Colonialism”. The first speaker, Jamil Maidan from Philiphines, told a story about how literature in colonialism era start a movement in Southeast Asian countries. The second one, is actually one of our lecturer in FIB-UI. She explained about colonialism and post-colonialism theory, including mimicry, hybridity, and the role of literature and language in those eras. She said that what happened with English language in Singapore is different with what happened with Dutch language in Indonesia. English became the nation’s official language, while in Indonesia, it didn’t. Language can then create class. She told a story about an immigrant girl that lived in Malaysia, but can’t speak Malay, and it created a border between her and the others. She then closed her presentation with a question “are we still living in a post-colonialization era?”
That question was answered by one of the floor, stating that we still live in the colonization era, because we are now colonizing the papuas. Another asked about how literature can start a social movement. I grinned, because I know I can respond to both question, so I did it.
I told them that we are now living in a post-post-colonization era. If we are talking about colonialization, we are talking about the colonized and colonizer. But now? We don’t know for sure which one is the colonizer and which one is the colonized, and sometimes, it can be both. I then cited what Touraine said about social movement. It needs goals, enemies, and identity. For me literature can give us a sense of identity and goal, but it lacks the common enemies like we have back then. During the colonialization era, those writers had a common enemy, Dutch, but now? Do we have common enemy?.
The speakers responded to my statement eagerly. The lecturer from FIB-UI agreed that the power relation will create a condition where one can be the colonizer and also the colonized, she then responded to my second question. She stated that we now have a lot of enemies, including ourselves, like ignorance, so it’s possible to use literature as a tool for a social movement, because we have a lot of enemies, we just have to search for it. Jamil Maidan also agreed with my statement, saying that his wife might be colonizing all of his housemaids. But then he said something interesting about power relation. Sometimes, colonization, or tyrany happens because of love. “When you love someone, you want them to behave in certain ways. That’s the beginning of a tyrany”. I smiled, because I don’t think that love is something sociological, but he proofed it! That love is indeed, a sociological phenomenon. It’s like adding new variables in the relationship between the colonizer and colonized.
Responding to my second question, He then stated that literature can start a social movement, and we do have a lot of enemies, but we have to be able to tell the difference between enemy and scapegoat. Most of the social movement now is not a movement against enemies, it’s against scapegoats. It sounded normative and non-sociological, but I agree with him, I don’t know why. The seminar was over, and then I went home with a lot of things in my head.
“I think what lacks from students like us is a sense, a sense of morality in the world of sociology when everything is neither black nor white, yet both. Those senses can be found inside a discussion like the one I told you above. Afterall, what is the purpose of a gun if you don’t know what or where to shoot?.”