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Javanese “Power”

This evolved fairly easily from my first draft of it (always a nice surprise). I also found that chapter 10 of They Say/I Say was a little more fun than some of the others – I had to consider my argument in detail, and I think it led my paper in a different direction than I would have had otherwise. I feel that a strength of this paper is its clarity (I hope), in that it follows from one point to another easily. This was especially heartening due to the number of complex ideas involved in this week’s essay topic! With that said, I think I can improve most on the “Power” paragraphs. They currently seem wishy-washy to me, in that I didn’t feel I could pull out much textual support for them (I was trying to keep to the “one brief quote” rule for this paper).

Language takes precedent over our ability to conceive once we have gained it – it will seep into everything, from the way we organize (the GSU constitution on our campus) to our ability to think abstractly or visually (1 always = “one” for me). I’m not saying other means of communication aren’t necessary, simply that language takes precedence in forming our identity and thought processes. Language, as with all social structures, is co-constructed by its participants constantly, and leads to culturally distinct concepts. I theorize that the Javanese language supports a conception of “status” for both speaker and listener that lends itself to the “centers of Power” necessary for the distinct Javanese cultural/political sense of “Power”.

The Javanese language is grouped into two main areas: High, or kromo, and Low, or ngoko, Javanese. In this essay I will focus mainly on kromo, which is the more “status-aware” approach to Javanese. The ideal of kromo is to create a tranquil mind, to defer to the listener’s need for minimal disturbance. Siegel describes the goal of kromo as “not to match one’s feelings to one’s words, but to one’s listener’s sensibility” (17). As kromo is used for unequal-status, this “minimal disturbance” geared around a “listener’s sensibility” is naturally tied into what can create status: age, gender, and Power. Essentially, what I’m arguing is something Teresa Woods already outlined for us: The Javanese language creates a culture of deference to one’s “social superiors” (our superiors, as our society conceives of them). This sense of superiority carries over to the Javanese concept of “Power”.

Power, in the Javanese sense, is fluid in the cosmos. There is a fixed amount of this homogenous form for “Power”, which contributes to the back-and-forth nature of society and the world. We are forever oscillating between order and disorder, harmonious, communal halus, and selfish pamrih. One gains more “Power” by means of asceticism, concentration, and will-power. One cannot exercise “Power”, but its effects are naturally demonstrated by a Powerful figure; Power therefore ignores issues of morality and legitimacy because it precedes such concepts as agency.

With this concentration of Power, it is seen as flowing from the center out – the example of a nation-state becomes difficult to describe in Javanese terms, as it assumes an even spread of authority and influence, rather than an uneven (but “natural”) concentration of power towards the center. Imagine instead a pot of simmering water – the heat is mostly concentrated around the bottom. There is no one to proclaim a law (language) about how the heat will spread, so it simply heats outward from where its hottest – the bottom, or the “center of Power”.

Kromo (High Javanese) then aides this conception of Power, as it seeks to create an orderly language. Language is “central to identity”, as we have seen throughout the quarter, and we should be aware of this here as well. For High Javanese to keep its distinguished status, it must provide an diminished self-image for the speaker, a sense of Power in the listener, and a center from which Power can flow outward. From its time as a court language, we can see how integral kromo is to the maintenance of a halus social order of differing classes, ages, and genders.

Javanese “Power” would not have come about without the language of Javanese, but the language of Javanese would not have come about without the Javanese concepts that support it, such as Javanese “Power”. We resultantly need to be aware not only of the ideology that is driving a discourse, but the language and culture that shapes it as well.


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One Response

  1. Mom says:

    Reminds me of reading about the Balinese language in “Eat, Pray, Love”…guess it’s not surprising that 2 islands in Indonesia have similar orderliness in their languages.

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