Conversations with Difference: Essays from Tempo Magazine

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By Goenawan Mohamad, Translated by Jennifer Lindsay

Indonesia's most accomplished essayist, Goenawan Mohamad is a public intellectual of rare grace. Goenawan's essays explore the movement between difference and the universal, from the positions of exile, of native informant, of tourist, of journalist, of poet, from in front of the ruins of the World Trade Center and front of the mirror. He is as comfortable quoting the Mahabharata as he is Zizek, Mahmoud Darwish or Hemingway.

Goenawan's essay style developed in the 1980s, in part as a strategy for dealing with censorship,in part a belief that "in a time when one could easily follow the prevailing grammar of injustice, lucidity always lay with fewer words". And Goenawan's lucidity is one that avoids "turning into an unbreakable crystal of answers".


Goenawan MOHAMAD was born in 1941 in a small town in Central Java, after his parents returned from exile in West Papua, sent East for their involvement in a left-wing nationalist movement. In 1947 his father was executed by the occupying Dutch military force.

As a young poet in his 20s, living in Jakarta, Goenawan was drawn into a bitter literary and political controversy when he signed a manifesto protesting social realism in the arts, which was being imposed by the then powerful Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Deemed a 'counter-revolutionary', Goenawan fled to Europe with the help of friends, and studied in Belgium. Back in Jakarta in 1971, he co-founded Tempo, a weekly newsmagazine, which despite a two-month ban in 1984, managed over the years to carve out an independent voice in an ever-increasingly controlled political environment. It was eventually banned in 1994, driving Goenawan and his colleagues to write in a network of underground publications until reviving Tempo in 1998, after Soeharto's fall.


Publication Year: 2003
304 pages, 200mm x 130mm
ISBN: 978-9799-06-522-3, Paperback

Tempo Magazine