Book review by Mirren Strahan
Afrizal Malna’s Anxiety Myths is a collection of poetry that defamiliarizes the reader into a purgatory state of being. He incorporates familiar cultural images and objects of Indonesia and displaces them into a parallel world. Sometimes these objects will lose their original purpose and transform into a different sensation. For example, ‘rain is still in refuge in another country after your vehicle attacked it from fried banana politics.’, an excerpt from january’s backyard of Anxiety Myths.
His writing cascades into a free flow manner and dismisses grammatical convention, challenging language norms. Afrizal’s poetry feels perpetual and impenetrable. He writes in a way that follows the post-modern trend of stripping the reader of any comfort or trust in their pre-existing reality. For the reader it is a very visceral experience. These poems indulge in bodily movement and space, very little dialogue and continuous observations. Afrizal’s writing demands a different kind of attention.
One of Afrizal’s prominent characteristics within his poetry is the figure ‘i’ as is also the relationship between ‘i’ and the place. As the first person ‘i’ is repeated throughout, the poem demands attention to the surrounding world he has created for the reader. The reader becomes ‘i’ momentarily, constantly experiencing bodily sensations and movement internally and externally toward the surrounding environment. The ‘i’ figure is incessant and neutral, forcing the reader to accept an unfamiliar environment.
Within the book Anxiety Myths, the translator, Andy Fuller, incorporates an insightful introduction to Afrizal’s work as well as a translated letter from Afrizal. Both pieces discuss the exploration of his entwined ideologies and identity within his work. Within the introduction Fuller writes about Afrizal’s active descriptions of fragmentation. He considers his soul as fragmented and thus his writing is fragmented. Fragmentation is within the grammar, where sentences seem that they are spliced and conjoined with other sentences. Fragmentation is also in the place, where the setting does not feel whole. Projecting one sensation to the next, not allowing a solidified image of the place you are in. As each poem is mostly the length of one paragraph, the poem feels momentary but a bit endless; then you need to read it through again. Afrizal is explicit in his letter about his anti-authoritarian and anti-elitism values and responds to that aversion by using language that is simplistic, impenetrable and unusual, as for example a lower case ‘i’ when referring to the self and rejecting conventional grammatical and sentence structure. These poems are timeless or rather ‘era-less’ and are read as general representations of how society prevails, exploits and repeats itself.
Afrizal Malna is a Jakarta based activist writer, scriptwriter and art critic, born 1957. He studied philosophy at the Driyakara college of Philosophy and currently participates in many philosophical, literary discussions throughout Indonesia. His activism is largely responsive toward anti-authority and anti-elitism within Indonesia and has collaborated with the Urban Poor Consortium during the 1990s to set-up a creative arts program that is readily accessible to the impoverished community.
Afrizal Malna, Translated by Andy Fuller