Introduction: The Book That Stirred Society
Society, power and stereotypes have never been easy to discuss. Even in the liberated Europe and USA, some of the issues regarding gender and racial relationships remain unresolved. The situation regarding personal freedoms is especially complicated in Asia and Indonesia, which numerous period pieces in literature show. Showing her point of view on social and gender prejudices, Dewi Lestari creates a reality that works as a social commentary on the current situation in West Java.
Analysis: Reading between the Lines
Perhaps, one of the greatest things about Lestari’s Supernova is that Dewi is completely honest with her readers. Lestari does not hesitate to explore intimate issues and discuss them with her readers, which allows the reader to relate to the characters described in Supernova. Though narrated in a typically Asian tactfulness, the stories in Supernova concern relationships that are very uneasy to discuss and that touch upon a number of confusing issues, both psychological and social.
Addressing gender issues: society and its prejudices
Lestari does not shy away from still topical issues regarding sexuality, gender and sexual orientation. Again, very subtle, the messages concerning tolerance towards sexual minorities are conveyed in a very subtle way: “Opto, ergo sum. I choose, therefore I am” (Lestari 191). From a broader perspective, the given quote can be interpreted in a million ways, not necessarily as the call for tolerance towards gays; it could be seen as a message concerning gender equality, family roles, the path of life, for that matters.
The given issue aligns with the principles of the gender theory, in accordance with which, gender roles are not attached to people since the day when they are born; on the contrary, gender roles are imposed on people socially. Lestari shows that there is a way to protest against social vision of gender roles and follow the principles that one feels comfortable about in the family realm.
Post-colonialism and West Java: through a darker lens
Despite being focused mostly on gender relationships, the book also touches upon a number of political issues. While these issues are not addressed directly in the stories, Dewi Lestari does a very good job by dropping meaningful innuendoes here and there throughout the entire book. Thus, the distress of people who have finally gained the recognition of their freedoms in a tiresome fight, yet have to reconstruct the entire society is portrayed: “Individuals are always shaped by their society, aren’t they?” (Lestari 21).
Foucault and industrial discourses in Supernova
As it has been stressed above, Supernova deals with a number of social issues, which were topical for Indonesia in general and West Java in particular at the time. As a result, the novel introduces a number of industrial dilemmas into the plot. At first, the idea of having an industrial argument and a social statement in a novel dealing with relationships seems rather weird.
On a second thought, however, one must admit that social life affects personal one to a considerable degree, shaping people’s concept of society, prejudice and self. Supernova analyzes the conflict between industry and nature, which gains an interesting meaning once viewed through the prism of Foucault’s concept of reconciling with nature.
Co-creation of power-knowledge: Supernova and Foucault
It is remarkable that Dewi’s novel features the key principle of Foucault, i.e., the idea that knowledge produces power, while power produces knowledge. Dewi, however, does not interpret the given statement as the fact that knowledge is the source of power and power is the source of knowledge. Instead, she stretches Foucault’s theory into the idea of knowledge being the tool that can lead to ultimate power, ultimate misery, or both. Whereas Foucault considers knowledge and power interrelated, Dewi shows that knowledge defines power.
Discussion: Where Knowledge Meets Power
Incorporating the elements of drama and philosophy in her short stories, Dewi manages to convey important messages to the reader and comment on several major philosophical doctrines.
Strengths: expressivity at its best
When it comes to discussing the obvious strengths of the novel, the expressivity of Dewi’s writing style should be mentioned. Even though the author remains within the boundaries of the Asian restrain and political correctness, in emotional scenes, Lestari’s talent of depicting the most subtle changes of heart comes out in full blue. The depth and palette of emotions that a single phrase in Lestari’s novel can contain is truly stunning. Thus, the reader can easily relate to the leading characters.
Weaknesses: the faults of the argument
Unfortunately, the book also has its problems, and the lack of structure in the author’s arguments definitely tops this list. While the series of short novels represented in Supernova are not mathematical theories, they still could use a better argument.
For example, when considering the rights and freedoms of people to build their own relationships with other people in unique ways, Lestari loses the focus at some point, making a pretty blanket statement. Although one might argue that Lestari made her statement vague on purpose, thus, allowing for more interpretations, this vagueness definitely does not add to the cogency of the story.
Conclusion: A Story to Remember
Even with the flaws specified above, Lestari’s work remains one of the most impressive period pieces in the history of the Asian literature of the XX and XXI century. Approaching gender issues and social concerns that infiltrate the environment in which Dewi lives, she voices the concerns of not only her nation, but also people from all over the world. A demand for peace and acceptance, Supernova has clearly joined the ranks of classics of the early XXI century literature.
Lestari, Dewi. Supernova. Jakarta, Indonesia: Modern Library of Indonesia, 2011. Print.