Deconstruction Process in Translating Bekisar Merah | April 2017 | Translation Journal

April 2017 Issue

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Deconstruction Process in Translating Bekisar Merah


This paper aims to discuss the process of translation done by Nurhayat Indriyatno Mohamed in translating Ahmad Tohari’s fiction, Bekisar Merah. The purpose of this analysis is to discuss what kind of processes ascribed during the translation from the view of deconstruction as described by Jacques Derrida (1981) The analysis shows that Mohamed deconstructs the meanings on the text by redefining terms not in the phantasm of sameness and producing new meanings ‘at play’. From this paper, it can be concluded that translation is not merely a process of finding signification of a term in another language. It is actually a process in which translator implements his own assumption to the work by deconstructing the meaning which in the last stage, the translator activates or produces the new meanings in the targeted language.

Keywords: Translation, Deconstruction, Domestication 

Fiction refers to “literature created from imagination” (“what”, 2006). There are some of famous western novels categorized in this genre such as To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. In Indonesia, there are also few fiction novels that are described as ‘popular’ and are even translated to another language. Some of those novels are Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s The Girl from the Coast, Andrea Hirata’s Rainbow’s Troops and Ahmad Tohari’s The Red Bekisar. These novels are unique in a sense that they put some of local issues inside of their novels and wrapped them in a form of fiction.

The Red Bekisar, for instance, discusses the ‘gap’ issue between the wealthy and the poor. This novel is written by Ahmad Tohari, a remarkable Indonesian author who wrote some  notable works such as The Dancer (Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk), Kubah and The Red Bekisar (Bekisar Merah). Bekisar Merah is published in 2011 under Gramedia Pustaka Utama publishing which later is translated to English as The Red Bekisar by Nurhayat Indiryatno Mohamed under Dalang Publishing. This novel portrays the life of Lasi, a young half-Japanese, half-Javanese woman who fled to Jakarta because she was disappointed by her husband’s betrayal. However, in Jakarta, she was trapped in prostitution because of her beauty, yet innocently she was not aware of it. She then married a wealthy man after which she realized that she had fallen in love with her childhood friend, Kanjat. The struggle of this couple to be together then became the main conflict in this fiction.

One thing that makes this novel special is how the author implemented the essence of becoming Javanese than can be seen from the Javanese terms, beliefs and sayings. The Indonesian version is written in Bahasa Indonesia but mixed with Javanese language, as it can be seen below

“Kita sebaiknya nrima saja. Kata orang, nrima ngalah luhur wekasane, orang yang mengalah akan dihormati pada akhirnya.” (p. 31)

(“Never mind, Las, let them be. We’ll turn the other cheek. It’s said that those who turn the other cheek are respected in the end.”) (p.20)

The use of Javanese words within the original work is to make the readers understand which Javanese saying is quoted to explain the context. However, the English version rarely puts the Javanese term and yet it uses more English to describe most of the terms and sayings. The difference found in the translation—whether to put the Javanese terms or not—therefore, becomes one of the issues that is interesting to be discussed from this text. That is because the translator, Nurhayat Indriyatno Mohamed, chose not to put all the Javanese terms and sayings in the brackets like most of translator did, but he changed them to the targeted language which is English. Thus, the concept of deconstruction proposed by Derrida (1981) will be used to analyze the process of translation done by Mohamed.

Deconstruction is an approach which “challenges limits of language, writing, and reading by pointing out how the definitions of the very terms used to discuss concepts set boundaries for the specific theories they describe” (Gentzler, 2001, p.146). This approach “rejects the primacy of meaning fixed in the word and instead foregrounds or ‘deconstructs’ the ways in which a text undermines its own assumptions and reveals its internal contradictions” (Munday, 2001, p. 170). The notion of this approach is to find out how the translator deconstructs the ‘word’ and then infers the meaning of that word to another language, which is what Derrida (1981) states, “translation practices the difference between signified and signifier’ (p.21). Derrida argues that translation is not a process of ‘these words’ signifies ‘those words’, but it is more in a process which ‘these words’ activate or produce meanings by the means of  “playing movement” through both temporal and spatial dimensions (Kruger, 2004, p.50).

The subjects of this research are Bekisar Merah by Ahmad Tohari, published in 2011 and The Red Bekisar translated by Nurhayat Indriyatno Mohamed published in 2014. Because this research is focusing on the translation process of Javanese terms to English, chapter seven is used as the main text because within the chapter, there are a lot of Javanese terms used to describe Javanese philosophical life. This chapter mainly portrays about Handarbeni (Lasi’s wealthy husband) who seeks for advice to Pak Min, his servant. 

The first deconstruction process done by Mohamed is redefining terms not in phantasm of sameness. The examples of this can be seen below,

Pak Min mengenal Handarbeni sejak majikan itu masih anak-anak, karena ayah Pak Main juga ngawula kepada orang tua Handarbeni, seorang siten wedana di daerah kaki gunung merapi sana. Pak Min tahu betul majikannya hidup mukti sejak bocah... (p. 234)

(Min had known Handarbeni since he was a child. His father had served Handarbeni’s father, a government official in charge of several sub-districts around the foot of Mount Merapi. Min knew his employer had lived in luxury from childhood…) (p.176)

From the description above, it can be seen that Mohamed deconstruct the concept of ‘mukti’ to ‘luxury’. Based on Sundanese dictionary, the word of mukti means hidup senang, kaya (live a happy life, being rich) (“arti”, 2016). However, Mohamed prefer the word of ‘luxury’ which in Bahasa Indonesia means kemewahan rather than ‘richness’ or kekayaan. Thus, it can be seen that Mohamed tries to transfer the concept of ‘being happy and rich’ to luxury. Luxury, in this sense, means ‘living in a comfort’ and it is one degree higher than only ‘being rich’. Being rich means a person has many possessions that money can buy, but being luxury means a person has everything that he wants, even for things that money cannot buy like ‘happiness’. Therefore, Mohamed deconstruct the word of mukti to ‘luxury’ because the word mukti itself in this text has a higher degree than only ‘being rich’. Based on the approach, this process is called as différance (to differ), in a sense that these two words are not really identical but can still used in the process of translation to deliver a meaning. 

The second example of this process can be found in page 177. In that dialogue, it is written,

“Tetapi orang hidup harus punya ambisi, punya keinginan. Artinya, orang harus mengejar apa yang diinginkan atau dicita-citakan. Bila tidak, ya melempem, atau mati sajalah...” (p.237)

(“Pak Min, a man has to have ambitions and desires. Men have to go after what they want. If not, they’re miserable and might die as well.”) (p.177)

There are two words being compared in this point, which are melempem and ‘miserable’. The definition of melempem in Bahasa Indonesia is tidak bekerja or tidak bersemangat (does not work/not excited) (“kamus”, 2016) while ‘miserable’ is defined as “wretchedly unhappy, uneasy, or uncomfortable” (“Miserable”, 2016). If the word of melempem is translated to signify the same meaning, then the word of ‘spiritless’ will be more suitable, but the translator does not do it. The underlying reason is because in the process of translation, the translator assumes that melempem is more than ‘spiritless’. It is more in a condition when a person is incapable of doing anything, and because of that, this person’s life is ‘miserable’. Thus, with this example, it can be seen that actually Mohamed deconstruct the meaning of melempem first before activating the word of ‘miserable’. These two words do not signify one to each, but produce the new meaning which is ‘at play’ during the translation process.

The next example of this process can be seen when Mohamed translated the word of jimat to ‘talisman’ which shares the same meaning. It can be seen as below,

“Pak Min. Pitutur kejawen itu ya memang jadi jimat para priyayi Jawa seperti saya ini...” (p. 238)

(“Pak Min, those sayings are a talisman to Javanese noblemen like myself…”)

 However, in page 180, Mohamed translated the same word, which is jimat, not into ‘talisman’ but ‘relic’.

            “Dan menganggap wewarah kejawen hanya sebagai jimat?” (p.239)

            (“And you believe that kejawen sayings are just a relic?”) (p.180)

The swift on this translation is caused by the different usage of the word to deliver a meaning in these two pages. In the first page, jimat is used to describe the attitude on how the nobles see the jimat or ‘talisman’ as something precious. However, in the later page, the word of ‘relic’ is used to describe the attitude changes toward the jimat, because the nobles do not see it as something precious anymore. In Bahasa Indonesia version, there is no change in the using of the word, but the translator grasps the idea and therefore, changed the word in the translation. Thus, with this kind of process, it can be seen that translation, in the perspective of deconstruction, is not a process of finding a word to signify the other word, but rather, it is a process of producing a new meaning which suits the context most.

Finally, this process can also be seen in the page 179, in which Handarbeni describes his attitude as the nobleman as below,

Jadi ya…seperti yang Pak Min lihat atau rasakan. Kita memang sudah lama jadi republic; republic yang diatur dalam semangat mental priyayi tadi. Nah, saya kan Cuma menari mengikuti gending yang sedang ditabuh (p. 239)

(We’ve since long been a republic shaped by the minds of the noblemen. I just dance to the beat of the drum.) (p. 179).

Mohamed changes the concept of gending and translates it to ‘drum’. These two musical instruments are different in a sense that gending produces different sounds and has different physical features from drum. Moreover, it is a traditional instrument. Drum, in a different way, is a well-known musical instruments, especially in western context. In this process, Mohamed does not change the meaning in which he is still expressing the meaning in the same expression of the author. However, he deconstructs the tool (musical instrument) to express this. This process is what Derrida (1982) states as différance, “the non-full, non-simple, structured and differentiating origin of differences” (p.11). Drum is absolutely different from gending, even the word of gending itself is not the origin of ‘drum’. However, the word of drum is still perfectly used in the translation without changing the meaning intended by the author.

Secondly, the deconstruction process can also be seen in a part of which Mohamed eliminates most of Javanese sayings and terms in his work and produce new meanings from them. In the story, Handarbeni is described as the descendants of siten wedana, or a government official in charge of several sub-districts. As the descendants of siten wedana, Handarbeni is not only rich, but he also has everything that he wants. He is described as having the joys of life based on Javanese mysticism. His wealth is later described in the page 235 as below,

Dia sudah punya wisma atau rumah, kukila atau kesenangan, curiga atau kekuatan, turangga atau kendaraan, kencana atau harta, dan tentu saja wanita alias perempuan. (p.235)

(Handarbeni had everything he needed: power, wealth, many houses, more cars than his garage could hold, and, of course, women). (p.176).     

Mohamed does not put the Javanese terms like wisma, kukila, curiga, turangga, kecana and wanita inside the brackets on his translation because deconstruction is a process which “resist systems of categorization that separate ‘source’ text from ‘target’ text” (Gentzler, 2001, p. 147).  Based on this approach, target text is as important as source text, and hence, the translator is allowed to infer the meaning of a word without quoting the original word from the source text if the targeted words could represent the meaning well.

Moreover, in page 235, not all the terms are translated into English. Curiga (kekuatan) is translated into power, wisma (rumah) is translated into many houses, kencana (harta) is translated into wealth, wanita (perempuan) is translated into woman, but kukila (kesenangan) is not translated in the text. From deconstruction point of view, Mohamed does not translate the kukila or kesenangan to happiness because somehow, this word is already represented by the other words. In this sense, happiness (kukila/kesenangan) is already completed by the others like power, houses, wealth and woman because happiness can be achieved if all the elements above become possessions. Thus, translation is not a process of finding each of signification, but rather, it is a process of rewriting a new text based on the assumption of the translator (Lefevere, 1992, p.9).

Furthermore, Mohamed also eliminates Javanese sayings such as angler nguler kambang as can be seen below,

“Nguawur! Tadi saya bertanya mengapa hidup yang empuk, angler nguler kambang bisa tiba-tiba berubah jadi panas dan memusingkan kepala?” (p.235)

(Why does a life so sodt and breezy suddenly turn so hot it causes a headache?) (p.176)

In the original version, which is in Bahasa Indonesia, these Javanese sayings play an important role because these sayings give the reader references to which philosophical of the Javanese is discussed through its sayings. However, when this work is translated to English, these sayings lose its importance because the targeted readers do not have any reference to the Javanese sayings. Thus, the process of domestication is used in this translation because as Venutti (1998) stated, domestication “entails translating in a transparent, fluent, ‘invisible’ style in order to minimize the foreignness of the TT [targeted text] (p.241). This translation process emphasizes the importance of the targeted text and readers, so that a work will not be foreign to them, and they understand most of the context described.

­­­In conclusion, based on deconstruction approach, there are two ways done by Mohamed to translate Bekisar Merah. Those processes are redefining terms not in the phantasm of sameness and producing new meanings ‘at play’. These findings reveal that actually, translation is not a process of finding signification of a word or term, but it is a process which translator puts his own understanding and assumptions toward the text in the translation. It is also solely about translating from the source text into the target text, but it is more in creating a new ‘sense’ or which Derrida points, activating or producing new meanings ‘at play’.

However, this kind of process sometimes leaving a sense that the translation is failed to show the local context provided by the original text seen from how the translator tends to translate each Javanese sayings or terms to the target language. Moreover, this translation tends to be a work that is lacking to project the cultural richness provided by the author, Ahmad Tohari. Meanwhile, in another perspective, this work succeeds to describe the local issue and context provided by the translator for the readers through the process of domesticating terms and sayings. Furthermore, this translation is even acclaimed as “flow[ing] elegantly while staying close to Tohari’s lyrical prose about the slowly disappearing beauty of Javanese village life and the surrounding nature, as well as captures his sense of nostalgia and sadness” (Sears, n.d.). Thus, it will be best to see translation work as an original work outside of the source text.


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