The Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature

A Historical Survey of Genres, Writings and Literary Views

V.I. Braginsky

Traditional literature, or 'the deed of the reed pen' as it was called by its creators, is not only the most valuable part of the cultural heritage of the Malay people, but also a shared legacy of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei. Malay culture during its heyday saw the entire Universe as a piece of literature written by the Creator with the Sublime Pen on the Guarded Tablet. Literature was not just the creation of a scribe, but a scribe himself, imprinting words on the 'sheet of memory' and thus shaping human personality.
This book, the first comprehensive survey of traditional Malay literature in English since 1939, embraces more than a millennium of Malay letters from the vague data of the seventh century up to the early beginnings of the modern literatures in the late nineteenth century. The long path trodden by traditional Malay literature is viewed in historical and theoretical perspectives as a development of integral system, caused by cultural and religious changes, primarily by gradual Islamization. This changing system considered in the entirety of its genres and works, is seen both externally and internally: from the point of view of modern scholarship and through the examination of indigenous concepts of literary creativity, poetics and aesthetics.
The book not only repesents an original study based on a specific historico-theoretical approach, but it is also a complete reference-work and an indispensable manual for students.

V.I. Braginsky

Scholarly works considering traditional Malay letters from a literary point of view are scarce. In this book, classical Malay literature of the 16th through the 19th centuries is viewed in the context of more than a millennium of medieval Malay letters. In the first part, based on a reconstruction of the literary self-awareness of the Malays, a model is offered of classical Malay literature as an integral, hierarchically arranged a ‘anthropomorphic’ system, the impetus for its formation being the Islamization of the Malay world. A study of the origin and evolution of all genres of Malay literature, as well as an analysis of some exemplary works with special reference to their poetics, provide the factual basis for the suggested model. The second part of the book treats of the aesthetics of classical Malay literature, first and foremost the central notion of the sphere of beauty, ‘the beautiful’ (indah). Its divine origin, internal properties-such as the diversity of manifestations, perfection, orderliness-capable of arousing love and thus producing a harmonizing effect on the human psyche, are considered, as well as the synthesis of Hindu-Javanese and Muslim components in Malay literature aesthetics.
This is the first study that aims to present a coherent view of the entire body of classical Malay literature. In a novel and stimulating approach, the organizing principles of Malay literature are seen as a system in which the various genres are allotted their proper place.

Edited by V.I. Braginsky

Ever since its first appearance in Russian literature in the 11th century, Nusantara, then a legendary country somewhere in the isles 'beyond India', next to Paradise, has continually stirred the imagination of Russian men of letters. Early Russian writers saw it as a fabulous land allegedly visited by Alexander the Great and saintly pilgrims, and the home of pious Rahmans, monsters and allegorical animals—a land that knew no injustice and which thus provided an ideal setting for social utopias. Russian classics like Pushkin, Goncharov, and Turgenev, and especially the writers of the Silver Age (Bryusov, Balmont, and Bunin), created a different image of Nusantara: Nusantara the exotic, a land of refined aromas and deadly poisons, of tropical flowers and ancient temples, which comprised a constellation of irresistibly attractive far-off islands offering an imaginary refuge from the humdrum of the real world. In the works of the Soviet poets (Gorodetsky, Tikhonov, and Simonov), finally, Nusantara the exotic was supplanted by Nusantara the ideological arena—the region of working masses suffering under the yoke of colonialism and of communists fighting for a brighter future. The first section of this book—intended for both Southeast Asianists and Slavic scholars—offers a survey of Russian images of Nusantara from their genesis and sources (old Byzantine and modern Western) through their nine-century evolution. The second section contains a comprehensive selection of excerpts from literary works (in both English translation and the Russian original) in which these images are elaborated. The third section supplements the other two with a variety of rare materials relating to the topic of the book as well as with traditional Malay writings about Russia.

Braginsky, V.I. and Koster, G.L.