Except for that special, intense longing a child of the tropics experiences whenever he is exiled to a colder climate
September 30, 2011 § 2 Comments
I have reread the Mynheer chapters of The Magic Mountain three times in the last week and have concluded that I can’t make the prequel work: I detect nothing remotely Indo about the man.
The Indonesian Dutch, known as Indos, were a creole population, descendants of (mostly) Dutch men and generations of local women. At home they spoke Indonesian more often than they spoke Dutch (some spoke a version of Portuguese-derived patua) — indeed, Indonesian was their official language and they are responsible for having spread it across the archipelago.
Whether they married upper-class Javanese women, or washerwomen (probably both, though I can’t say which was more common), they would have been familiar, both through marriage and through their mothers, of things Javanese: the concept of refinement, the ideal of emotional reserve, the cult of the high brow. I see nothing of this in Mynheer Pepperkorn.
True, I see nothing of this in Max Havelaar; or in Country of Origin; but that’s why those novels have failed to interest me (except for that special, intense longing a child of the tropics experiences whenever he is exiled to a colder climate, and which was so well described in Country of Origin).
What I wanted to write about were some of the intense experiences of discovery which entering Indonesia more deeply affords: the gamelan, and the puppet theater, and the royal ballet, and the more general sense of rubbing one’s shoulders at all times of day and night against powerful magical forces, living in the midst of an invisible kingdom of spirits. But to ascribe such experiences to Pepperkorn who then goes on to be an ordinary fool, the way he appears in The Magic Mountain, promoting a kind of Hemingweyan romanticism (“you must make love to a woman as hard as you can, with all your heart and all your strength”, etc.), would be to deprecate these experiences; to say that they are not life-changing.
Yes, I suppose one can experience the Javanese royal ballet and go on being a fool. No doubt, many people do, perhaps even most, but how does one become interested in such people?