Bad Women: Intan Paramaditha’s “Apple and Knife”
December 10, 2015
Intan Paramaditha is a feminist fiction writer and scholar whose work explores where gender, sexuality, culture, and politics meet. Soon after she published her short story collection Sihir Perempuan (Black Magic Woman) in 2005, Paramaditha found herself being placed into the category of woman writer, a grouping that, although accurate, felt more like a pigeonhole. Indonesian literary history for generations has been mostly the domain of men, and the country’s most prominent literary critics (all men) have systematically diminished the importance of women in literary and intellectual traditions. After the fall of the New Order in 1998, a new generation of women writers arose who, free of the censorship and repression under Suharto, were able to break taboos, writing about sex and sexuality. Alongside them were Muslim women writers who, in their fiction and poetry, charted new ways of being a modern Muslim woman.
While proudly a woman writer, Paramaditha chafes at the expectation that women’s writing be preoccupied with the body, with sex and sexuality. She is wary of being put into any box, and her work subverts many of the walls erected to keep women writers in their own domain. Her writing is inflected with elements of horror, and she counts among her influences Mary Shelley. Another major influence is the work of Toety Heraty, a pioneering feminist writer whose poem about a Balinese sorceress sparked Paramaditha’s desire to write about what she refers to as “bad women in fiction and history.”
One of those “bad women” takes center stage in the short story “Apple and Knife,” translated by Stephen Epstein. The final scene pulls from the Quranic/Biblical story of Yusuf/Joseph, mashing up horror and irony, characteristic of Paramaditha’s interest in twisting and recontextualizing our realities.
Also in The Margins, read an interview with Intan Paramaditha on the political potential of horror and writing as a feminist practice.
—Jyothi Natarajan and Margaret Scott
Read “Apple and Knife” here.