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Geertz - The Politics of Meaning

Geertz - The Politics of Meaning

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The Politics of Meaning

Clifford Geertz

One of the things that everyone knows but no one can quite think how to demonstrate is that a country's politics reflect the design of its culture. At one level, the proposition is indubitable--where else could French politics exist but France? Yet, merely to state it is to raise doubts. Since 1945, Indonesia has seen revolution, parliamentary democracy, civil war, presidential autocracy, mass murder, and military rule. Where is the design in that? Between the stream of events that make up political life and the web of beliefs that comprises a culture it is difficult to find a middle term. On the one hand, everything looks like a clutter of schemes and surprises; on the other, like a vast geometry of settled judgments. What joins such a chaos of incident to such a cosmos of sentiment is extremely obscure, and how to formulate it is even more so. Above all, what the attempt to link politics and culture needs is a less breathless view of the former and a less aesthetic view of the latter. In the several essays which make up Culture and Politics in Indonesia, the sort of theoretical reconstruction necessary to produce such a change of perspective is undertaken, mainly from the cultural side by Benedict Anderson and Taufik Abdullah, mainly from the political by Daniel Lev and G. William Liddle, more or less evenly from both by Sartono Kartodirdjo. 1 Whether the subject be law or party organization, the Javanese idea of power or the Minangkabau idea of change, ethnic conflict or rural radicalism, the effort is the same: to render Indonesian political life intelligible by seeing it, even at its most erratic, as informed by a set of conceptions--ideals, hypotheses, obsessions, judgments--derived from concerns which far transcend it, and to give reality to those conceptions by seeing them as having their existence not in some gauzy world of mental forms but in the concrete immediacy of partisan struggle. Culture, here, is not cults and customs, but the structures of meaning through which men give shape to their experience; and politics is not coups and constitutions, but one of the principal arenas in which such structures publicly unfold. The two being thus reframed, determining the connection between them becomes a practicable enterprise, though hardly a modest one. The reason the enterprise is immodest, or anyway especially venturesome, is that there is almost no theoretical apparatus with which to conduct it; the whole field--what shall we call it? thematic analysis? --is wedded to an ethic of imprecision. Most attempts to find general cultural conceptions displayed in particular social contexts are content to be merely evocative, to place a series of concrete observations in immediate juxtaposition and to pull out (or read in) the pervading element by rhetorical suggestion. Explicit argument is rare because there are, as much by design as neglect, hardly any terms in which to cast it, and one is left with a collection of anecdotes connected by insinuation, and with a feeling that though much has been touched little has been grasped. 2 The scholar who wishes to avoid this sort of perfected impressionism has thus to build his theoretical scaffold at the same time that he conducts his analysis. That is why the authors in the [Holt] book have such diverse approaches--why Liddle moves out from group conflicts and Anderson from art and literature; why Lev's puzzle is the politicization of legal institutions, Sartono's the durability of popular millenarianism, Abdullah's the fusion of social conservatism and ideological dynamism. The unity here is neither of topic nor argument, but of analytical style--of aim and of the methodological issues the pursuit of such an aim entails. These issues are multiple, involving questions of definition, verification, causality, representativeness, objectivity, measurement, communication. But at base they all boil down to one question: how to frame an analysis of meaning--the conceptual structures individuals use to construe experience--which will be at once circumstantial enough to carry conviction and abstract enough to forward theory. These are equal necessities; choosing one at the expense of the other yields blank descriptivism or vacant generality. But they also, superficially at least, pull in opposite directions, for the more one invokes details the more he is bound to the peculiarities of the immediate case, the more one omits them the more he loses touch with the ground on which his arguments rest. Discovering how to escape this paradox--or more exactly, for one never really escapes it, how to keep it at bay--is what, methodologically, thematic analysis is all about.

a country which. religion. The scene is Indonesia. Organizing a cultural hodgepodge into a workable polity is more than a matter of inventing a promiscuous civil religion to blunt its variety. so far. Insofar as it displays a pervasive temper. as clashes of opposed mentalities-Javanese "mysticism" versus Sumatran "pragmatism. In one sense. the very density and variety of symbolic reference has made of Indonesian culture a swirl of tropes and images into which more than one incautious observer has merely disappeared. and moreover it had in Sukarno (who it is a mistake to think was untypical in anything but his genius) a man both wildly anxious and supremely equipped to assemble those symbols into a pan-doctrinal Staatsreligion for the new-formed Republic. be carried by powerful social groups to have powerful social effects. The main temptation to be resisted is jumping to conclusions and the main defense against it is explicitly to trace out the sociological links between cultural themes and political developments. Indic." a newspaper call to arms cried in 1921: "Abolish capitalism. unable to find a political form appropriate to the temper of its people. someone must revere them. practical. been more than marginally effected in Indonesia. defend them. is that the country is archipelagic in more than geography." Indic "syncretism" versus Islamic "dogmatism"--but as the substance of a struggle to create an institutional structure for the country that enough of its citizens would find sufficiently congenial to allow it to function. as they so often have. press. "Socialism. It requires either the establishment of political institutions within which opposing groups can safely contend. so to speak. II Indonesia is an excellent place to take up such a quest. "I have made myself the meeting place of all trends and ideologies. ."3 "I am a follower of Karl Marx."4 Yet. The strategies adopted to accomplish this are again various. I have blended. rather than to move deductively from one to the other. never tired of insisting. Chinese. almost every institution in the society--army. Ideas--religious. party." Sukarno announced some decades later. blended. on the other hand. As heir to Polynesian. aesthetic--must. incarnations of Vishnu Murti. impose them. and it is questionable how far they do so now. Neither of these has.5 With so much meaning lying scattered openly around it is nearly impossible to frame an argument relating political events to one or another strain of it which is totally lacking in plausibility. is an understanding of how it is that every people gets the politics it imagines. Islamic. the country has been as incapable of totalitarianism as of constitutionalism. . . what. Each study struggles to draw broad generalizations out of special instances. seeing cultural reflections in political activities is extremely easy in Indonesia. to penetrate deeply enough into detail to discover something more than detail.And it is. They have to be institutionalized in order to find not just an intellectual existence in society. Hundreds of thousands of political dead testify to the fact that nowhere nearly enough citizens did so. I am also a religious man. Because in this garden of metaphors almost any hypothesis discerning a form of thought in a piece of action has a certain logic. court. of course. it is of a state manqué. university. or the elimination of all groups but one from the political stage. among others. but. but this only makes the isolation of precise connections that much more difficult. still far enough away to sustain ambition. There are the regional . celebrate them. and blended them until finally they became the present Sukarno. developing hypotheses that have truth as well is more a matter of resisting temptations than of seizing opportunities. propped up by the imperialism that is its slave! God grant Islam the strength that it may succeed. it is one riven with internal contrasts and contradictions. and European traditions. the [Holt] book is about. The ideological wars which have wracked Indonesia for the past twenty-five years must be seen not. A great part of the problem. but the goal. moral. If Indonesia gives any overall impression. Communism. as Max Weber. village--has been swept by great tremors of ideological passion which seem to have neither end nor direction. stumbles on apprehensively from one institutional contrivance to the next. consequently. beyond the particular findings concerning particular subjects. bureaucracy. but the effort to make parochial bodies of material speak for more than themselves is uniform. Rather. a material one as well. it probably has more hieratic symbols per square foot than any other large land expanse in the world.

One Language. Taken together. was that it is. but for the right to define truth. . the very nature of reality. seem nevertheless almost beside the point. tendentious history. For a state to do more than administer privilege and defend itself against its own population. "One People. repressed) political course along which the country is in fact moving. for all the inability thus far to bring it to workable institutional expression. behind the explosiveness of rural protest. it has been the refusal. Insofar as they reflect it. some of the most critical decisions concerning the direction of public life are not made in parliaments and presidiums. Most of the larger nations of Europe grew out of a cultural heterogeneity hardly less marked. archaic conceptions of the sources of authority. and morality. to come to terms with it that has impeded Indonesia's search for effective political form. behind the theatrics of Guided Democracy. they are made in the unformalized realms of what Durkheim called "the collective conscience" (or "consciousness". trajectory. so can Javanese and Minangkabau. beauty. the Indonesian elite) has managed to create anarchic politics of meaning outside the established structures of civil government. enfeeblement of formal law. while all the time the bitter combat of groups who see in one another rivals not merely for political and economic power. clouded over with ersatz syncretisms. however. Behind the moral quandaries of provincial modernizers lie complexities in traditional accounts of tribal history. is. The nationalist slogan. Fragmentation in the party system bespeaks an intensification of ethnic self-consciousness. do about as much to obscure this course as to reveal it. By acting as though it were culturally homogeneous like Japan or Egypt instead of heterogeneous like India or Nigeria. they do so obliquely and indirectly. these exercises in political exegesis begin to expose the faint outlines of what the Indonesian Revolution in fact amounts to: an effort to construct a modern state in contact with its citizens' conscience. what I have elsewhere called "the struggle for the real. Indonesia (or more exactly. in both senses of the word. But in Indonesia the pattern of official life and the framework of popular sentiment within which it sits have become so disjoined that the activities of government. though in fact he had something rather different in mind. The studies in the [Holt] book therefore diagnose and assess. this Revolution. I suppose. is not necessarily unreasonable. and force of its own. its citizens--to be. as dreams reflect desires or ideologies interests. There are racial minorities (Chinese and Papuans). As each of the essays in the [Holt] volume shows in its own way. Rather than the mere fact of internal diversity. there are the faith-and-custom "ethnic" divergences among even closely related groups. mere routinisms convulsed again and again by sudden irruptions from the screened-off (one almost wants to say. rages on virtually unguided by formal political institutions. the useful ambiguity of conscience is unavailable in English). its acts must seem continuous with the selves of those whose state it pretends it is. religious minorities (Christians and Hindus). This politics of meaning is anarchic in the literal sense of unruled. local minorities (Djakarta Batak. not over. though centrally important. deplored as a feudal remnant. The hope that the slogan represents. at all levels of the society. rather than measure and predict. a state with which they can." is a hope. One of the things Sukarno was right about.differences (the rhetorical combativeness of the Minangkabau and the reflective elusiveness of the Javanese. as in the East Sumatran "boiling pot". not a description. not a mere chaos of zeal and prejudice. The political processes of all nations are wider and deeper than the formal institutions designed to regulate them. for example). come to an understanding. Surabaja Madurese). there are the class conflicts reflected in the nativistic movement material and the vocational ones reflected in that of the struggle for a workable legal system. political facts in the narrower sense. and utopian fantasies. III The classical problem of legitimacy--how do some men come to be credited with the right to rule over others--is peculiarly acute in a country in which long-term colonial domination created a political system that was national in scope but not in complexion. enthrallment with cataclysmic images of change. renewed commitment to conciliatory methods of dispute settlement." the attempt to impose upon the world a particular conception of how things at bottom are and how men are therefore obliged to act. if Tuscans and Sicilians can live together in the same state and conceive of themselves as natural compatriots. It has a shape. as of course they do. The more accessible events of public life. not the popular one of unordered. justice. One Country. discerning it is more like interpreting a constellation of symptoms than tracing a chain of causes. The diversity has been denied as a colonial slander.

monuments. their acts. and not only in Indonesia." He didn't quite give it that. Much of the symbol--mongering that went on under the Sukarno regime. arbitrary. was a half-deliberate attempt to close the cultural gulf between the state and society that. But when a country has been governed for two hundred years or so by foreigners. of effective national existence in the contemporary world. himself performed them. the degree to which they were has commonly been exaggerated). it is. however. stimulating economic growth." A certain amount of psychological sleight of hand is always required on the part of government and citizenry in this in the best of cases. power. merely gestures toward it. in a characteristic burst of linguistic syncretism. had been enormously widened by it. The notion that the state is a machine whose function is to organize the general interest comes into such a context as something of a strange idea. The great crescendo of slogans. in result. and demonstrations which reached a pitch of almost hysterical intensity in the early sixties was. and Sukarno was destroyed. DeMille view of history. or seeming such. but they never imagined themselves. In them. exploitative. Even without the complicating factor of colonial rule. some mental adjustments to make. identity (as well. alas. unresponsive. but because it is so hesitant. and sustaining a sense of national unity--have indeed turned out to be that and more since independence has been gained. So far as popular reaction is concerned. heightened expectancy. as a reflex of concerns more stratificatory than properly political. a yet more difficult trick. This is not a mere question of consensus. but the various matters discussed in the [Holt ] book are others. authenticity. if not altogether created by colonial rule. and exercise their style of life. selfish. It was to such a confusion of sentiment that Sukarno's symbol-wielding was a failed response. Traditional rulers. of course. in the collapse which ensued. protest. or merely cruel (though. "What this country needs. But they have been joined by another task. despotic. when they could manage it and were so inclined. The political tasks that loomed so formidable as independence was reached for--ending the domination of outside powers. the modern state would seem alien to local tradition in a country like Indonesia. and insofar as they regulated matters beyond their immediate reach--which was commonly very little--they did so only derivatively. This conceptual dislocation--the putting into question of the most familiar frames of moral and intellectual perception and the vast shift of sensibility thereby set in motion--forms the proper subject of cultural studies of new state politics. along with his regime. amplified sense. that of dispelling the aura of alienness from the institutions of modern government. Mostly they governed to proclaim their status. creating leadership cadres. but they were gestures graphic enough to convince all but the most provincial of Indonesians that not just the form but the nature of government had changed and that they had. not only because its manifestations are so various and indirect.in some stepped-up. movements. one can see in concrete detail what being abruptly confronted with the prospect of an activist.6 Such a confrontation means that the received concepts of justice. a degree more of fear. less clearly envisaged then and less consciously recognized now. enlarge) their privileges. protect (or. "is ke-up-to-date-an. designed to make the nation-state seem indigenous. It is a question of immediacy." Sukarno once said. and a great deal of puzzlement. As it was not indigenous. A man does not have to agree with his government's acts to see himself as embodied in them any more than he has to approve of his own acts to acknowledge that he has. of experiencing what the state "does" as proceeding naturally from a familiar and intelligible "we. in part anyway. shot through with uncertainty and . nor did their subjects imagine them. the results of that strangeness have been the usual ones: a degree of curiosity. as a host of others these essays do not explicitly treat) are all thrown into jeopardy by the requirements. comprehensive central government--what de Jouvenel has called "the power-house state"--means to a people used to masters but not to managers. may have been. even after they have been displaced. to be executives of an omnicompetent state.7 IV This sort of social changing of the mind is a great deal easier to sense than to document. less concocted so less ephemeral. if only because such a state's conception of itself as a specialized instrument for the coordination of all aspects of public life has no real counterpart in such a tradition. disbelief and disorder spiraled upward together. and which has been moderated rather than ended under its successor. under the influence of the Cecil B. where possible.

editorializes simultaneously for the restoration of "the genuine Minangkabau adat [custom]. Javanese. 8 Sarekat Islam. as it did in the twenties. commonly denied. one. Not just in Indonesia . Anderson finds "archaic magical" and "developed-rational" theories of power existing side by side. evolution. to the essentials of its heritage--was countered on another by an accelerating dissensus as to what direction the heights should be stormed from and what the essentials were." but a twisting. is hailed as a sacred expression of the national soul. When this commotion disguised as a party came to pieces. and destiny that have only to emerge to be fought over. noblesse oblige program of mass uplift. fact--that whatever the curve of progress may be. What they reveal is not a linear advance from darkness to light. sons of civil servants--attempted to marry "spiritual" East and "dynamic" West by fusing a sort of cultic aestheticism with an evolutionary. is celebrated as the very essence of contemporaneity. and messianic peasants. trading-class reformers. again often the same one. also collectively. A tense conjunction of cultural conservatism and political radicalism is at the nerve of new state nationalism. Some of Sartono's peasants read their future in medieval myths. throughout each of the essays. peasant discontent and class struggle. and have yet to go--images of group history. or institution that is condemned as backward. lawyers." and for headlong entry "unto the path of kemadjuan [progress. Muslim modernists tried at once to purify popular faith of heterodox accretions and work out a properly Islamic program of social and economic reform. unmethodical movement which turns as often toward repossessing the emotions of the past as disowning them. Eurasian half-castes to reconcile their Dutch and Indonesian identities and provide a rationale for multiracial independence. 1912-1950). Indonesians . for every one attacked as alien. For every belief. character. Liddle finds localism and nationalism advancing pari passu. but into a whole series of factions. Islamic purists. . or more. The heterogeneity of Indonesian culture and that of modern political thought thus played into one another to produce an ideological situation in which a highly generalized consensus at one level--that the country must collectively storm the heights of modernity while clinging. Rural Koranic religious teachers sought to transform anti-Christian sentiments into anticolonial ones.) have been. In Indonesia. This undeniable. such bending backward and forward at the same time has been apparent from the beginning of the nationalist movement and merely grown more marked since.contradiction. no simple progression from "traditional" to "modern. After Independence." involved "new attitudes toward tradition itself and [an unending] search for a suitable basis of modernization"--is said. There is. The publicist whose career Abdullah traces as an example of his society's reaction to the challenge of modernism. ideologies. some in both. it fits no graceful formula-disables any analysis of modernization which starts from the assumption that it consists of the replacement of the indigenous and obsolescent with the imported and up-to-date. spasmodic. antifeudal (and to some extent anti-Javanese) attitudes in the interests of democratic socialism. the first really sizable organization (its membership increased from approximately four thousand in 1912 to approximately four hundred thousand in 1914). but throughout the Third World-throughout the world--men are increasingly drawn to a double goal: to remain themselves and to keep pace. Left-wing revolutionaries sought to identify rural collectivism and political. schoolteachers. the fragmentation of the elite and the active sectors of the . and themselves into links between urban activism and village piety. appealed at once to visionary mystics. in the fevered days of the nationalist awakening (ca. movements. one. some in Marxist visions. practice. Lev's lawyers waver between the formal dispassion of Justice's scales and the sheltering paternalism of the banyan tree. lawyers. Western-educated intellectuals to reconnect themselves to Indonesian reality by tapping indigenous. but a continuous redefinition of where "we" (peasants. ideal. "Enlightened" gentry--physicians. What Abdullah says of the Minangkabau--that accommodating to the contemporary world has required "continuing revision of the meaning of modernization. in such matters. in Sumatra. Christians. conspiracies--what Indonesians call aliran (streams)--seeking to fasten one or another form of modernism on to one or another strand of tradition. Everywhere one looks. and nowhere more conspicuously so than in Indonesia. Marxist radicals. often the same one and by the same people. it separated not into the "reactionary" and "progressive" wings of revolutionary mythology. clubs." In Java. with the twentieth century. . in one manner or another. now are.]. paternal aristocrats. someone is matching advanced ideas and familiar sentiments in order to make some variety of progress look less disruptive and some pattern of custom less dispensable.

and in not very different form. if extremely powerfully. and fed upon. again not just for power but for the power above power--the right to specify the terms under which direction of the state. "but slow to come up. in which a rivalry.population along such lines was completed as the society regrouped into competing familles d'esprit. more than vaguely. and about which no one yet quite knows what to say. for one can no more stare at the abyss than at the sun. political life proceeded in a curious kind of double-level way. Nasakom. when it refers to the culture." they say. haunts the essays [in the Holt volume]. like the agon of a play with the crisis left out. compartmentalism in the provinces.10 The wash of nationalist cliches soon clouded the scene again. Thus. but it appeared. a change of awareness which may prove to be the largest step in the direction of a modern mentality they have yet made. the Pantjasila.9 The contrast was not a simple center and periphery one--integralism in Djakarta. however clouded. and the like. There is military rule. and they are scrambling along the edge of it. Jordan. and one of these is surely the eruption of great domestic violence." But the question "What has changed?" is still." Both writings on Indonesian politics and those politics themselves are permeated right now with the inconfidence derived from waiting for that crocodile to come up. Massive internal bloodlettings like the American or the . deposed. the Congo mutiny. also would-be. political life proceeded in this way until October 1. blended. dramatized. which were concerned not just with governing Indonesia but with defining it. a paralyzing incongruity grew up between the ideological framework within which the formal institutions of the would-be powerhouse state were constructed and operated and that within which the overall political formation of the. Perhaps the most common is a failure of nerve. nor more difficult to evaluate. essentially destroyed. then. can hardly have left the country unmoved. has come to virtually the entire country for almost the first time since Independence. at the cost of large-scale political detentions. The "confrontation" with Malaysia has ended. some minute. a baffling one. The economic situation has markedly improved. But none can have been more shattering than the Indonesian. The sense that something has happened for which no one was prepared. advanced. especially as it mostly occurred in villages among villagers. are in the uncomfortable situation of knowing that a vast internal trauma has shaken their subject but not knowing. Domestic security. But there can be very few Indonesians now who do not know that. yet how far and how permanently it has been moved is impossible to say. some huge. and has since died. relentless grace the Javanese call halus. some in between. however (and when one looks at the history of the modern world. all scholars of Indonesia. The flamboyant desperation of what now is called the "Old Order" has been replaced by the muted desperation of the "New Order. what its effects have been. making them read. Surely. even decisive. and national brotherhood. The Third World has seen a number of these eruptions over the twenty-five years it has been coming into being--the partition of India. Since the terrible last months of 1965. and the "boiling pot" compartmentalization of popular sentiment. That is. on its claims the third largest in the world. a constriction of the sense of possibility. wrapped in the generous phrases of common struggle. V Whatever social scientists might desire. In the history of comparable political seizures. or even mere official existence.11 Of course. there are some social phenomena whose impact is immediate and profound. but whose significance cannot effectively be assessed until well after their occurrence. sometimes. so great a catastrophe. at least for the present. with that controlled. Emotions surface extremely gradually. the abyss is there. From the village coffee shops where Sartono's peasants laid their small plans to the bureaus of Merdeka Square where Anderson's "ministeriales" laid their larger ones. between the "blended. blended" integralism of Guided Democacy. some outcomes seem more common than others. Sukarno was first immobilized. 1965. some of the outward effects are clear. is granted--went on. on all levels of the political system. But there is no help for this: the crisis is still happening. nation took shape. historic identity. has been. The bungled coup and its savage aftermath-perhaps a quarter of a million dead in three or four months--brought to open view the cultural disarray fifty years of political change had created. Biafra. and especially those trying to penetrate the country's character. The Indonesian Communist Party. they are easy enough to find). in Indonesia: "The crocodile is quick to sink.

if not an answer. most of it visceral. perfection of elaborate precautions. the Dialectic. or Practical Reason. Java is still spectacularly overcrowded. indeed. whatever happens explodes them. ambivalence. Sartono's peasants. a few more). as public disasters refract through private lives. can be both a subtly addictive and a profoundly rigidifying force. an inner catastrophe. the conscience. on the half-recognized desire that it do so and to get it over with. and passions are left to flourish in the dark. Accepted for what they were. most of them symbolic. as a bar to the sort of moral presumptuousness that neither Americans nor Indonesians are at this time very well positioned to affect. The ultimate truth with respect to the character. be determined less by their fit to the facts from which they are derived. it is the central question of Indonesian politics at this juncture of history. So what is written [in the Holt volume] is. and the villages of peasants without land. what Jakob Burckhardt. Denied. When they are properly anchored. and the guilt of a people remains for ever a secret. we can only wait for the crocodile along with everyone else. at least a sense of what the probabilities are. At an enormous cost. and irremovable conviction. if only because it is deeply embedded in the realities of Indonesian social and economic structure. and they have not. in the long run. the Indonesians would seem to an outsider to have now demonstrated to themselves with convincing force the depth of their dissensus. the studies in the [ Holt] volume contribute. to see that it doesn't. as well as the soldiers who now police them. and one which need not have been paid. as for an individual.12 Lev's lawyers. religions. when they are not. the conceptual matrix within which the country has been moving cannot have changed radically. who perhaps deserves to be called the founder of thematic analysis. the towns of merchants without capital. such a march is possible. and ethnic groups as there ever were (even. in an intellectual sense. the Voice in the Quiet. especially when it occurs in the process of a serious attempt to change. but to strike the balance of the whole is not given to human insight. Whether the demonstration has in fact been convincing to the insiders. or that. still testable. For a society. there are still as many islands. perhaps. if only for the . is not entirely an analogy--with individual response continues) when the truth of what has happened is obscured by convenient stories. and most especially the illusion that the Indonesian population is embarked as a body on a straight-line march to modernity. by means of another cooked-up ideological synthesis. Abdullah's reformers. we shall begin to see whether what has been said here about Indonesian culture is penetrating or wrongheaded. and the cities are still full of intellectuals without places. languages. than by whether they illumine the future course of Indonesian politics. if not predictive. Their frame of mind may be different--after such horrors it is hard to believe that it is not--but the society within which they are enclosed and the structures of meaning which inform it are largely the same. whether it enables us to construe what happens in terms of it or leaves us straining for understanding against the grain of what we thought was so. though it is that which recommends them to our attention in the first place. Cultural interpretations of politics are powerful to the degree that they can survive. whatever happens reinforces them. the events of politics. their rhetorical plausibility. now that West New Guinea has been added. and their ability to do that depends on the degree to which they are well grounded sociologically. As the consequences of the last decade appear in the next. that "it is about to happen again". The worth of these essays--the authors of which may or may not agree with my interpretation of their findings--will. or their aesthetic appeal. Meanwhile. and disorientation. However great a disruptive force the massacres may (or may not) have been. Liddle's politicians. most of them illusory. the events of 1965 could free the country from many of the illusions which permitted them to happen. for whom such revelations about themselves must inevitably be terrifying. that it is going to anyway-all resting. face the same range of problems with about the same range of alternatives and the same stock of prejudices as they did before the holocaust. the export of primary products is still the main source of foreign exchange. as terrible as they were. For all their before-thestorm quality. and Anderson's functionaries. is another question. not on their inner coherence. even guided by the Koran. recalling. This is particularly so (and here the analogy--which.Spanish civil wars have often subjected political life to the sort of muffled panic we associate with psychic trauma more generally: obsession with signs. the half-suppressed memory of the events will perpetuate and infinitely widen the gulf between the processes of government and the struggle for the real. said in 1860 about the dubious business of judging peoples: It may be possible to indicate many contrasts and shades of difference among different nations.

309 . [ Djakarta (?)." Asian Survey 6. at the expense of its meaning for the development of Indonesian political consciousness. and The Rules of the Game in Paris (Chicago. can afford to ignore both its advocates and its accusers. 1958). and National Integration (New Haven. and any attempt to trace them beyond such expressions to their sources would. orig. F. are the terms of trade. 1950). Perhaps the foremost. Ethnic and National Loyalties in Village Indonesia. Local. E. The people of Europe can maltreat. J. the United States. 1959): 340. 1959). Koch. as having a rather warped mind. Kudeta: Staatsgreep in Djakarta (Meppel. Quoted in L. To my mind. Time Out of Hand (New York. Nasution. Culture and Politics in Indonesia (Ithaca. W. Sukarno and the Struggle. The quotation is from Sukarno's letters attacking traditionalist Islam. What this says about reason faced with unreason is a complicated matter. 1963). where they reappear as peculiarities or even as virtues. Goenadi and H.83. Benda. 8 (New Haven. 39." New Left Review (1966): 26-40. 1969). Cultural Reports Series no. M. 3 vols. W. van der Kroef. It lives on with or without the approval of theorists. 1971). the massacres. Sedjarah Pergerakan Rakjat Indonesia (Djakarta." in R. right. p. Lev. A. "Dynamics of Guided Democracy. 1970). For an example. "Indonesia Before and After the Untung Coup. See especially his A Study of Bolshevism (Glencoe. Dahm. in studies of this scale. M. Fischer. in which the present essay first appeared as an "Afterword. as well as the most uncompromising. Hughes' account of the coup. 200. to do so as they like. soon get out of hand. C. written while he was in prison exile in Flores. Dahm.90. D. Om de Vrijheid (Djakarta. see Dahm. 1968). K. The End of Sukarno (London. ed. and the Soviet Union are still more or less where and what they were. though not very analytic. McVey. ed. McT. Ill. W. Party. p. de Jouvenel. ed. Overzicht van de Ontwikkeling der Nationalistische Beweging in lndonesie in de Jaren 1930 tot 1942 (The Hague. 1969). Gunawan. 86 . 1953). A great nation." Encounter 25 (1965): 80-89." Pacific Affairs 43. Pringgodigdo." ibid.000 to a million. Holt. eleventh letter. August 18. Religion and Politics in Rural Central Java. 4 (1970. has been marred by obsessive concern with the exact roles of Sukarno and of the Indonesian Communist Party in the immediate events of the plot (not unimportant issues. M. F. August 1966. 1950). L. Rey. The Story of Indonesia (New York. 1969)." Pacific Affairs 39 (1966): 115-127. Cultural Report Series no. A. Skinner. left. Liddle. P. 189. pp. see R. but more important for understanding the moment than for understanding the country). Shaplen. and the killing was on so grand a scale that to debate numbers seems obtuse. p. 1969). in K. 2 (1966): 103-110. G. p. R. for that matter. (1860). eds. and its fortunes with the whole life of the modern world. Brackman. Utrecht. it is not because they are considered unimportant. B. Jay. Indonesian Society in Transition (The Hague. The Crescent and the Rising Sun: Indonesian Islam under the Japanese Occupation. no. the literature on the coup. and so.. but what it does not say is that reason is powerless because not clairvoyant. H. Southeast Asia Studies. no one really knows. 1968). 1959). its achievements.. interwoven by its civilization. Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia (Ithaca. Luethy . 1963). Many studies did stress the enormous tensions and the potential for violence in Indonesian society.409 . Dibawah Bendera Revolusi I (Djakarta. 1936. The Communist Collapse in Indonesia (New York. Ethnicity. and R. D. J. p. "Indonesia 1965: The Year of the Coup. S. and center. 1953). R. anyone who announced before the fact that a quarter of a million or so people were about to be slaughtered in three months of rice-field carnage would have been regarded. 26 (1966): 75 . B. The fact that no one predicted the massacres has sometimes been instanced as an example of the futility of social science. see Tentang Dasar Negara Republik Indonesia Dalam Konstituante.. no. For other discussions. H. along with my comment "Are the Javanese Mad?" and Luethy "Reply. Japan. 1972). Estimates range from 50. for popular divisions.13 ____________________ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 See C. 318. but because in order to have local effects they must first have local expressions. Southeast Asia Studies. Surat-surat Dari Endeh. 9 10 11 12 13 . We must leave those who find pleasure in passing sweeping censures on whole nations.. and rightly. For the history of Indonesian nationalism. 1952). 319-336. and the ascendency of Suharto. 1970). On Power (Boston." pp. 1962). from varying points of view. see J. Wertheim. 154. Jones. T. Indonesia (New Haven. pp. It should perhaps be remarked that the external parameters have also not changed very much--China. 1954). but happily not judge one another. W. G. The death estimate is that of John Hughes. For the state ideology of the Republic until the mid-sixties. Wertheim.. 1958(?)]..1971): 557-577. Moreover. Burckhardt. Pluvier. see H. lndonesie's Nieuwe Orde: Ontbinding en Herkolonisatie (Amsterdam. 1956). Kahin. M. "Interpretations of the 1965 Indonesian Coup: A Review of the Literature. 1942-1945 (The Hague. G. practitioner of this paratactic approach to relating politics to culture is Nathan Leites.reason that its defects have another side. Sukarno and the Struggle for Indonesian Independence (Ithaca. on which my remarks here are but passing commentary. "Indonesia Confronted. see H. Indonesia: The Possible Dream (New York. Sukarno and the Struggle. 12 (New Haven. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (New York. Feith. For a similar statement from a public speech of Sukarno. is probably as reliable and evenhanded as any. Quoted (from Utusan Hindia) in B. "Dossier on the Indonesian Drama. If so-called outside factors seem to have been slighted in favor of so-called inside ones [in the Holt volume]. The rather schizoid political atmosphere thus created can be sensed in the debates of the constitutional convention of 1957-1958.

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