Power, Memory, History

In a recent piece in Tempo Online, Goenawan Mohamad says some interesting things about memory. He discusses two recent novels dealing with the bloody events and legacy of 1965 in Indonesia. A key point is memory as an act of creation, a simultaneous expansion and contraction:

The grotesque, the touching, the factual – can all be present, because remembering is not producing an old sepia coloured photograph. Memory is not a weakened version of ‘reality’. Remembering is a process of contraction and expansion at the same time. Contraction, because within it is data that is scattered about, multilayered, multiplying, summarised via a process of selection that is spontaneous or intentional. From this selection comes that which is remembered sharply. However also from this, remembering is an expansion too: embracing and getting something new – such as when we retell an experience that unfailingly touches the heart.

So a memory is not a replica. Memory is not recitation, but rather the moments of forming and being formed, a process exercised in freedom. From this an image of the past is born. Composing reflections about it is not merely recalling something that once was. “Imaginer n’est pas se souvernir,” said Bergson.

The original Indonesian reads

Yang grotesk, yang menyentuh, yang faktual—semua bisa hadir, karena mengingat bukanlah menghadirkan foto-foto tua yang sudah berwarna sepia. Ingatan bukanlah versi yang lemah dari “kenyataan”. Mengingat adalah proses kontraksi dan ­ekspansi sekaligus. Kontraksi, karena di dalamnya data yang bertebaran, berlapis-lapis, berkembang biak, diringkas, melalui proses seleksi yang spontan ataupun diniatkan. Dari seleksi itu hadir apa yang diingat dengan tajam. Tapi dari itu pula, mengingat adalah juga sebuah ekspansi: merengkuh dan mendapatkan sesuatu yang baru—seperti ketika mengisahkan kembali sebuah pengalaman yang tak habis-habisnya menyentuh hati.

Maka ingatan bukan replika. Ingatan bukan hafalan, melainkan saat-saat membentuk dan dibentuk, sebuah proses yang dilakukan dalam kebebasan. Dari sinilah gambaran masa silam lahir. Menyusun bayangan tentang itu tak sekadar memanggil kembali sesuatu yang pernah ada. “Imaginer n’est pas se souvenir,” kata Bergson.

To know the truth of these words one need only visit the Sacred Pancasila Monument and the Museum of the Indonesian Communist Party’s Betrayal at Lubang Buaya in Jakarta. These give tangible form to a narrative of heroic military saving Indonesia from communist terror, a mythologised past that would help legitimate military rule for over thirty years, whilst silencing its victims.

Or, if one wants to take a more positive view of the power of historical imagination in Indonesia, there is another piece covered by Tempo Online that touches on the same theme of the power of memory. This one was about the declaration of the founding of a Press Legal Aid Foundation in Yogyakarta. The venue: the grave of Fuad Muhammad Syafruddin, aka Udin, a journalist who was murdered in 1996 by unknown persons following a series of investigative pieces by Udin exposing corruption in local government.