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Abstract

Since the middle of the nineteenth century there has been continuous interest in one of Java’s most famous poetic texts written in macapat metres, the 1815 Sĕrat Cĕnthini Kadipaten or Major Cĕnthini. That interest has been focused on the poem’s encyclopedic array of information about Javanese culture, not its quality as arguably the greatest expression of literary art ever written in Javanese. In this essay I examine one aspect of the text’s literary greatness with the help of Alex Woloch’s innovative analysis of minor characters and literary narrative. My close reading of one episode from the adventures of Mas Cĕbolang demonstrates that, contrary to a view widely held in Javanese and Indonesian studies, fictional characters in Javanese literature, based, however indirectly, on real, thinking, religiously devout (or impious), and sexually active people in the everyday world, are centrally important for understanding how literary narratives in Java have been created and what they mean.

Open Access
In: Storied Island
In: Clearing a Space
In: Heirs to World Culture
In: Clearing a Space
In: Philological Encounters
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Abstract

The version of the Sĕrat Cĕnthini that was composed at the royal court of Surakarta in Central Java in 1815 belongs to a genre of narrative poetry that describes the wanderings and adventures of Javanese men and women searching for knowledge, especially mystical enlightenment as described in the literature of Sufi Islam. This essay is a “dialogic” reading of a passage in which Amongraga, a Sufi shaykh and the central protagonist, sets out on a final mystical journey that ends in his death and spectral reunion with his wife, Tambangraras. The analysis demonstrates that the rendering of Amongraga’s journey is a “conversation” that engages older, pre-Islamic religious ideas and poetic conventions with forms of thought that belonged to the greater Islamic world in which the early nineteenth-century Javanese court poets were active participants.

In: Philological Encounters