A Certain Age

Colonial Jakarta through the Memories of Its Intellectuals

A Certain Age

a John Hope Franklin Center Book

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Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 6 illustrations Published: April 2010

Author: Rudolf Mrázek

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

A Certain Age is an unconventional, evocative work of history and a moving reflection on memory, modernity, space, time, and the limitations of traditional historical narratives. Rudolf Mrázek visited Indonesia throughout the 1990s, recording lengthy interviews with elderly intellectuals in and around Jakarta. With few exceptions, they were part of an urban elite born under colonial rule and educated at Dutch schools. From the early twentieth century, through the late colonial era, the national revolution, and well into independence after 1945, these intellectuals injected their ideas of modernity, progress, and freedom into local and national discussion.

When Mrázek began his interviews, he expected to discuss phenomena such as the transition from colonialism to postcolonialism. His interviewees, however, wanted to share more personal recollections. Mrázek illuminates their stories of the past with evocative depictions of their late-twentieth-century surroundings. He brings to bear insights from thinkers including Walter Benjamin, Bertold Brecht, Le Corbusier, and Marcel Proust, and from his youth in Prague, another metropolis with its own experience of passages and revolution. Architectural and spatial tropes organize the book. Thresholds, windowsills, and sidewalks come to seem more apt as descriptors of historical transitions than colonial and postcolonial, or modern and postmodern. Asphalt roads, homes, classrooms, fences, and windows organize movement, perceptions, and selves in relation to others. A Certain Age is a portal into questions about how the past informs the present and how historical accounts are inevitably partial and incomplete.


A Certain Age is a must for all who want to experience Indonesia’s colonial past through its intellectuals.” — Fridus Steijlen, Asian Studies Review

“By interweaving Indonesian memories with the insights of European avant-garde intellectuals such as Benjamin, Le Corbusier, and Proust [Mrazek] invites us to reflect us on the nature of modernity itself, to reconsider it from the perspective of a coloniality that he sees as often anticipating the metropole.” — Andrew J. Abalahir, Southeast Asian Studies

“Listen . . . as Mrazek certainly did, to the gentle, humorous and often wise and reflective voices of his Indonesian informants. Often recorded sitting on verandahs, against a background of street noise, their memories, but also their views at the end of their long lives, are worth hearing.” — Susan Blackburn, Inside Indonesia

“The book succeeds like no other before it in portraying the colony’s intellectual elites as contemporaneous with modern citizens of Europe and around the world. It is a generous book, involving the sharing of inspiring philosophical texts, literature, and memories, and lengthy quotations that do not simply illustrate analytical points, but animate social scenes.” — Matthew Isaac Cohen, Journal of Asian Studies

“This is but the latest in a series of strong writings by Mrázek on Indonesia; he is certainly accomplished in the field. . . . [A] carefully crafted work. . . .” — Howard Federspiel, Indonesia

“In juxtaposing Indonesian and European voices from the 1930s to the 1990s, Rudolf Mrázek compels us to reconsider the unsettling because of contemporaneous origins and effects of modernity in the colony and metropole alike. In his highly textured and brilliantly edited interviews with aging urban revolutionaries, he shows how remembering the past entails recalling its traces archived and activated in voices animated by the noise of the street and the neighborhood, the music of salons and cinemas, the stuttering bursts of translations and trains, the routine hum of prison camp and classroom. They thus convey the force of a certain history that remains bound to yet irreducible to narration and analysis.” — Vicente Rafael, author of The Promise of the Foreign: Nationalism and the Technics of Translation in the Spanish Philippines

“In this original and very exciting work Rudolf Mrázek offers a stimulating way of thinking about historiography and a radical departure from the ways ‘we in the field’ are used to thinking and talking about the history of Indonesia. A rich text, resistant to generalizations, A Certain Age is evocative, moving, personal, disruptive, and subversive. It is a must-read.” — Henk Maier, author of We Are Playing Relatives: A Survey of Malay Writing


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rudolf Mrázek is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He is the author of several books, including Engineers of Happy Land: Technology and Nationalism in a Colony; Sjahrir: Politics and Exile in Indonesia, 1906–1966; and Bali: The Split Gate to Heaven.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface: Promenades ix

Technical Note xv

1. Bypasss and Flyovers 1

2. The Walls 25

3. The Fences 73

4. The Classroom 125

5. The Window 187

Postscript. Sometimes Voices 235

Notes 253

Bibliography 293

Index 303
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4697-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4685-2
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