Interview: “I am a Slave to Narrative”

The Indonesian fiction writer Intan Paramaditha on the political potential of horror and writing as a feminist practice

December 10, 2015

Intan Paramaditha published her first short story collection, Sihir Perempuan (Black Magic Woman), at the age of 25. That same year, she left Indonesia to go to graduate school in the United States, where she has spent most of the past decade. “I have been away from Indonesia for so long that it is hard for me to say that I only have one home,” she writes.

As a fiction writer and scholar whose work explores where gender and sexuality, culture, and politics meet, her creative and scholarly pursuits have informed her political views and aesthetic preferences. In practice, however, the worlds she shuttles between are not always connected: “I often feel like I am living two separate lives, in two separate spaces—emotionally, linguistically, and geographically.”

The following interview with Paramaditha was first published in the anthology Indonesian Women Writers edited by Yvonne Michalik and Melani Budianta, recently published by Regiospectra.

Read her short story “Apple and Knife” in The Margins.

 

You are known for developing your own narrative style, one which fuses the genre of horror with a feminist voice. Can you tell us about your aesthetic exploration? Why and how did you come up with this style?

I became interested in the potentials of horror when I wrote an undergraduate thesis on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. I viewed Frankenstein as a feminist novel that challenged the gender ideology of 18th century British Romanticism. I concluded that writing should be a feminist practice. And Frankenstein is a horror novel – in the popular gaze the genre seems harmless (many people are not aware that Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster), but if you look at it more deeply you will know that it is subversive. I guess for me that was the initial attraction to the horror genre.

My second short story collection, Kumpulan Budak Setan (The Devil’s Slaves Club, 2010), which I co-wrote with Eka Kurniawan and Ugoran Prasad, is an exploration of horror in the local context. It is a rereading of works by the most prolific Indonesian horror writer Abdullah Harahap, whose name was quite forgotten when we began our project in 2008. Horror in his writings is a site to talk about the tension between the urban and the rural space, the disillusionment with developmentalism (in the 1970s-1980s), and the control and absence of the state. I expand these issues in my stories, framed with a feminist perspective.

Currently I am becoming more and more interested in the themes of travel, cosmopolitanism, and globalization. Sometimes horror works, but sometimes it doesn’t. In my last short story, “Klub Solidaritas Suami Hilang” (“The Solidarity Club of the Missing Husbands”), I move away from the elements of horror (though not completely). I think the most important thing is to serve the narrative. The aesthetic style comes later, as a strategy by which you choose to tell the story.

I often get questions like “Do you believe in ghosts?” or “Have you ever experienced an uncanny event?” and I make people disappointed by answering “No” (apparently my own personal experience is not that fun!). What intrigues me about ghost stories is the cultural meaning that they produce. When I was a child, I had a female Quran teacher who told me this legend in her hometown about a female ghost who licks menstrual blood in the bathroom. I never forgot how grisly the story was. When I grew older, I learned about the cultural anxieties about women’s bodies and sexuality in society, and I immediately thought of that story. The visual image and the way that it came to me via my Quran teacher disturbed me. I ended up incorporating the bathroom ghost and my teacher in one of my early short stories.

 

Read the full interview here