Evolution in Pramoedya’s Buru Quartet – Southeast Asia Research, 2012

“The Evolution of Java-Men and Revolutionaries: A Fresh Look at Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Buru Quartet.” Southeast Asia Research 20.1 (2012): 103-131.

“The Quartet refuses to deny the powerlessness of powerlessness, to make self- denial and self-sacrifice a roundabout way of procuring power for oneself; and through its refusal, it calls its Indonesian readers to face the grim reality of the beasts that lurk within them and the uncivilized wilderness which they inhabit, and which they have inhabited as a people for centuries upon centuries, from feudal days to the Suharto era; and, many would say, even from the post-Suharto era of the present.


With regard to the possibility that humanity will eventually triumph in transforming the Indonesian nation, the Quartet makes no promises; its author was thoroughly sick of them. But in interpreting the defeat and martyrdom of truly human individuals not as practical and nation-changing triumphs, but as triumphs in their own right – independent and individual instances of successful human evolution – the Quartet shows that while modern human beings may lack the power to transform the wilderness around them, they are able to keep the wilderness at bay in and around their own selves. And perhaps some day, enough modern human beings will each decide to do so communally – enough to create a civilized space for a whole group, or even a nation, to inhabit. Perhaps. The Quartet tells us that the responsibility rests not on some sweeping large-scale shift in power, but rather, on each and every individual.”

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