The Conundrum Journal

Goenawan Mohamad’s (Modified) Spectrum of Writing Personae

Among the most worrisome people I know are writers—yours truly included.

First, they (we) worry about an issue—say, Iman aims to maximize youth involvement or Alanda and her noble idea of dream power. Second, they worry if the audience will actually get their message right—Marx is the least Marxist person on earth, remember? The published ones worry if their books can’t get to the second print because the public are simply not interested in buying them. Then they worry some more—about possible rebuttals, the kind of language they should’ve used (Why the hell am I writing this post in English if most of my readers are Indonesian?), the gender of diction that will sound best (Shouldn’t it be more cheerful? Would this bore my visitors?), and the list goes on.

This tributed post, my fellow writers, is an antidote to the endless stream of concerns that surround us (both professional and amateur) writers: the story of what actually takes place in our very primitive stage of writing.

So earlier this week I started reading Goenawan Mohamad’s Indonesia/Proses. Despite being greatly impressed by his eloquent elaboration on the profoundly misunderstood concept of identity, I will highlight something else—my most favorite part of the essays, in fact:

Dengan sendirinya, medium [menulis] sangat berperan penting dalam terbentuknya persona itu. Korespondensi, kita tahu, berbeda dengan catatan harian. Catatan harian adalah ibarat sebuah kapsul pesawat antariksa yang berisi seorang astronaut di dalamnya. Dalam catatan harian, seseorang masuk dan diam di sebuah ruang komunikasi yang paling intim, tapi juga berada dalam ruang pikiran dan imajinasi yang hampir tanpa batas. Tak ada orang lain. Atau orang lain itu (seperti dalam catatan harian Anne Frank) diciptakannya sendiri dan berada di bawah ampuannya: teman bicara imajiner itu tak bisa menjawab.

This particular paragraph strikes me. Hard. Finally, the answer to all those confusing inputs that people throw at me (“Menulis itu harusnya untuk dimengerti orang banyak, Fu. Percuma lo mikir ribet-ribet kalau nggak ada yang baca,” or Pramoedya’s “Bangga memang, menulis dalam Belanda. Tapi orang yang menulis dalam bahasa pribumi lah yang bisa meninggikan derajat bangsanya.”) appears: there are options of writing-mindsets! Your writing medium plays a pivotal role in the creation of this (your) persona. Of course!

I then took the liberty to create this spectrum of writing personae:


Basically, Goenawan postulates three distinct examples of writing personae (Anne Frank’s diary, Kartini’s correspondence with her Dutch friend, and a journalist’s report)—but then I added a complementary element of targeted articles. Here’s how they’re different from one another, in his own words:

Personal Journal

Kecuali bila seseorang sadar bahwa catatan hariannya suatu ketika akan dibaca orang lain, ia praktis secara mutlak menguasai ruang komunkasi itu. Ia bisa bicara apa saja. Catatannya bisa berperan seperti sebuah curahan konfesional, semacam pengakuan dosa yang tanpa pastor.

Public Journalism

Bila catatan harian adalah ekstrem yang satu, media massa adalah ekstrem yang lain. Bila catatan harian ibarat sebuah kapsul pesawat antariksa, media massa ibarat sebuah konser di alun-alun. Ruang komunikasi di sini hampir sepenuhnya publik. Menjangkau sebuah audiens yang besar, berkat teknologi Guttenberg dan kapitalisme-cetak, media massa mengandung paradoks. Ia kuat dalam potensi mempengaruhi, tapi juga rentan.

Letters to a Friend

Dibandingkan dengan kedua ekstrem di atas, surat-menyurat bisa dilihat sebagai sesuatu yang berada di tengah-tengah—antara ruang komunikasi yang intim dan surat kabar. Dalam korespondensi, ada orang lain yang nyata, yang bisa bertanya dan bereaksi. Tak hanya itu: orang lain itu secara konsisten dapat diidentifikasikan.

Briefly (yet articulately) explicated in less than two pages, this theoretical framework helps me understand that it is okay to be different personae in different writings—because there is no right or wrong in pouring our thoughts into words; what matters is you feel comfortable in doing so. I myself have three (or probably four?) separate blogs where I express myself dissimilarly. Because hey, what is writing if not a personal ritual and powerful remedy to the restless minds?

Here’s to being more open to who we are and what we like writing about the most.


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