The Cliodynamics of Literature opened up vistas for my head. While writing it, I thought I was going to reach a conclusion that is as final and abrasive as “The society is in peril if it doesn’t read literary fiction.”
Even though my conclusion did not exactly fizzle like a snubbed cigarette butt, it still fizzled. I couldn’t be abrasive in my closing. Heck, I didn’t even bother with a closing.
Not everybody should read literary fiction. In fact, in some cases, it isn’t wise to thrust too much education too quickly upon a society without the grounding support of habit and routines.
For instance, if all the farmers in Java were to read literary fiction, develop socialist ideas, and put lives in peril by not tending the fields, then to hell with the books. If all the women in Saudi suddenly decided to start a suffragette movement, house and hearth be damned, then hell hath indeed no fury like a Saudi woman scorned.
All of which meant that, as good and nourishing as literary fiction may be to the souls of those who are accustomed to its effects, it’s still better to stock the rest of the society with genre fiction that soothe and entertain and ascertain their step in the world.
Which meant that I held one less conviction, one less reason to bother writing that kind of fiction.
Which meant that, while I am not good enough to write for the Western market, I still couldn’t go as low as writing formulaic* genre fiction.
Which meant that me and my writing motivations were screwed.
Months passed in unwritten silence. I figured that, to break the block, I needed to be amongst writers. I needed to see how real writers do it. Writers who must have gone through the same depressing thoughts, and managed to forge on writing without losing their souls in the process. Writers who managed not to succumb to genre fiction, even though it is never a fanfare in the Indonesian literary fiction market.
He was still productive in his seventies. He gave his lecture on Freedom Writing, of all irony, under the effect of a rebellious hip. And his voice was softened with self-deprecating awareness of his age.
The lecture was about daring to write scathing truths that could lead to incarceration and other scary things. He talked about the time he spent in jail for something he wrote. And lamented this generation’s lack of sensitivity to their surroundings, to themselves and the hard sacrifices the past has made to bring them here.
While the lecture was very encouraging, my head was screaming. “Dude, people need to eat first before they could give a fart about sensi-fucking-tivity.”
I raised my hand when he closed up, “Any questions?”
“Do you know about the hierarchy of needs?”
I gave everyone in that auditorium a mini presentation on the Maslovian Hierarchy of Needs, closing it with the question that has been bogging me down. “Where do you think the need to be sensitive fit in the hierarchy?”
“At the very top,” he said, “Along with the need to self-actualize.”
“Then how could we expect the self-entitled, the poor, the jobless, the majority of the society to be sensitive enough to bother reading and writing sensitive literature?”
(I held my breath watching him pausing. Mesmerized. There. See? That moment of pause is the thing that brought me all the way to that festival. Only his generation could have that reel of history and experience within their mind’s reach. Only writers could have that confidence to take a thoughtful pause in front of an audience. That, mate, that is wisdom. And it came to me like an affectionate echo from the past. From a place where worse things than a writer’s block or a generational amnesia have taken place. Things that have murdered half a million Indonesians and cleansed the souls of those who remembered it with the humility of long survival.)
“I sold my first story to Kompas when I was in relative poverty and had just had baby.”
(It felt that a key just lodged itself in my heart,)
He raised his gaze to meet mine. “I was hard up. But there were worse things happening around me. Things that needed retelling. Things that only by writing about them I cloud alleviate the survivor’s guilt. People were going through much worse situations than I was. I couldn’t….”
(I felt a click.)
(And felt the swoosh of relief filling me up.)
"How could we not write with this blessed curse of awareness?"
* This article was written by loosely following the “Perfect Scene” formula. #sheepish