17 August 2017

Laksmi Pamuntjak's University of Oxford Keynote Speech for 9th EuroSEAS conference

University of Oxford 

Keynote Speech University of Oxford
9th EuroSEAS Conference
17:00 - 18:30
South Tower, Examination Rooms
Oxford University


“Between Hope and Despair: On Living with Difference in Indonesia”

Abstract: This keynote explores the role of the poet and novelist in commenting on the state of the political world, specifically relating to the speaker’s personal and literary experience of her home country, Indonesia. As Indonesia celebrates the 72nd anniversary of its independence day, the rise of sectarian politics and the steady encroachment of conservative Islamic values on Indonesian culture has thrown into question the endurance of the country’s deeply-rooted pluralist spirit and the meaning of the national motto “Unity in Diversity.” The recent defeat of the Christian-Chinese incumbent at the Jakarta gubernatorial election has demonstrated the terrifying extent to which the politicization of religion and ethnic identity has succeeded in crushing its opponents.

The specter of Communism has been revived as a pretext for military intimidation. The alignment of core conservative and militant Muslims with the powerful old elite network has resulted in a streamlined, better funded alliance bent on gaining power in the upcoming 2019 presidential election. The widening economic gap across class and ideologies have further contributed to the insurgent potential of a campaign that mobilizes religious and economic grievance centered on social justice and poverty eradication against a perceived enemy of Islam and a remote, self-serving elite.

In this shifting platform we must ask ourselves whether politics shapes religion, or whether religion shapes politics? To what extent does Islam accept the national ideology Pancasilaas a consensus? We must examine the ethos of Pancasila and its continuing role in fostering ‘living with difference,” especially as seen from the nature of its conception as a community-based, interactive conversation—rather than as a well-formulated document, or a constitution set in stone. We must also look at the role of literature in allowing us a glimpse of the world and its possibilities, in revealing familiar narratives that make sense of new and chaotic situations, and in its urging of a plurality of vision in combatting polarization.

Laksmi Pamuntjak is a bilingual Indonesian novelist, poet, essayist, journalist, and food critic. Amba/The Question of Red, her bestselling first novel, won Germany’s LiBeraturpreis 2016 and was named #1 on Germany’s Fall 2015 Weltempfaenger list of the best works of fiction translated into German from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Arab world. The novel was also shortlisted for the Khatulistiwa Literary Award 2012. Pamuntjak, who co-founded Aksara Bookstore in Jakarta, was selected by an international panel headed by Sir Simon Armitage as the Indonesian representative for Poetry Parnassus at the 2012 London Olympics. In addition to being a jury member of the Amsterdam-based Prince Claus Award between 2009 and 2011, she is also the author of Indonesia’s first, award-winning independent good food guide series to Jakarta, known as The Jakarta Good Food Guide. Pamuntjak’s second novel, The Birdwoman’s Palate, will be published in the US on 1 February 2018. In Spring 2018, her third novel, The Fall Baby, will be published in Germany under the title Herbstkind. Her latest book, There Are Tears In Things: Collected Poems and Prose (2001-2016) by Laksmi Pamuntjak, was published in November 2017. Pamuntjak contributes articles on politics and culture for the Guardian and divides her time between Berlin and Jakarta.