Lontar (Press)

Lontar refer to palm leaf manuscripts found across Indonesia and Southeast Asia.  Still made today in parts of Indonesia (largely Bali, where they cling tenaciously to many traditions), Lontar are the earliest textual documents of Indonesian history, mythology, and religion.  They are made by scratching text and image into dried palm leaves, and then filling the grooves with a black ink.  These are the earliest books of Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

Lontar Press is a very interesting publisher working today, located in the city center of Jakarta.  Founded in 1987, Lontar Press specializes in bringing Indonesian literary arts to an English speaking audience.  There are a number of interesting series coming out Lontar, including the journal Menagerie – featuring essays, photography, short stories, poetry, and other visual arts – as well as a series of anthologies of Indonesian drama.  The most recent project is the Modern Library of Indonesia, a selection of novels from the 20th century to the present day.  Additionally, Lontar Press administers two subsidiary imprints, Amanah and Godown, each trying to provide a different voice and perspective to the Indonesian experience.

Lontar Press is directed by John McGlynn, an expatriot, born and raised in Wisconsin, now living in Jakarta for the past 35 years.

Yesterday, I went to visit Lontar Press, and to meet with John McGlynn.  We had an interesting conversation about my ideas and experiences in Indonesian.  He provided lots of good insights, and also offered to help make some connections in with the different embassy and cultural institutions that might help make my larger goals possible.

He also introduced me to the work of photographer Oscar Motuloh, a frequent contributor to and collaborator with Lontar Press.  Oscar is a photojournalist in Jakarta.  John offered to introduce me to Oscar, though I am afraid that will have to wait until my next visit.

John also showed me a new publication by Lontar Press, Indonesia in the Soeharto Years, a wonderful volume offering many texts and photographs about some defining years in post colonial Indonesia.  Oscar was a contributing editor.  The book is filled with a number of great photographs about the emerging Indonesian identity.

The poet is, in certain ways, like a masked dancer with poetry as his mask.  As the writer is hidden by his mask, when he is “on stage” we can not be sure that in his exciting and memorable expression he is describing the character of the mask or the face of his own soul.  In the end we must come to the realization that were are faced not with an individual self, and not with a final conclusion or something finished, but with a dance:  a form and a statement in process.  There is always something in the dance that is not, or never will be, final, a question that will arise time and again.  That is the pasemon, the allusion, that rejects the certainty of knowledge.

Goenawan Mohamad – from a speech given upon acceptance of Professor A. Teeuw Award in Leiden, The Netherlands.  Translated by John McGlynn – featured in Menagerie Vol. 2


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