This article centers on a novelistic adaptation of the Indic Javanese epic Arok Dedes written by one of Indonesia’s most prominent novelists, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a proponent of socialist realism in Indonesia and a translator of Maxim Gorky into Indonesian. Drawing from Katerina Clark’s observations on the Soviet socialist-realist novel, and building on the adaptation’s intertextual references to older Javanese and Sanskrit epic traditions, Lienau’s essay argues that Pramoedya’s work posits the generic superiority of the Indonesian-Malay novel to the linguistic caste-consciousness (and relative monoglossia) of its Indic-Javanese, epic precedent. These arguments on the vernacular aspect of Pramoedya’s work question Benedict Anderson’s (and others’) conclusions about the revolutionary quality of Pramoedya’s nationalized Malay prose. Lienau also qualifies Mikhail Bakhtin’s distinction between the novel and epic and extends on a meta-lingual register Clark’s characterization of the “modal schizophrenia” within the socialist-realist novel. The analysis builds through a close reading of Arok Dedes to consider the socialist-realist patterns within Pramoedya’s adaptation and—in a departure from Soviet models of socialist realim—to revisit the novel’s passage to literary self-consciousness, a passage that underscores the historical contingency of sacralized languages of prestige. In addition to suggesting the historical telos of literary progress, Pramoedya’s novel exemplifies how a socialist-realist template changes in the hands of an opposition writer who moves beyond the state-centered enshrinement of official myth.

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