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Goenawan Mohamad: On God and Other Unfinished Things

Written by eastern writer on Wednesday, March 26, 2008

This is the newest book by Goenawan Mohamad, a leading Indonesian poet and Indonesian intellectual, former Tempo's chief editor and also the founder of the Indonesian legendary magazine (Tempo=Times, Goenawan named his magazine inspired by that American magazine, Times). This book content with 99 essays that departed from the aphorism, followed the tracks of the Sprinkling of the Contemplation of the Roestam Effendi work in the 1930 's. His contents generally is the moments exploration religious, the poetic experience, also meditation about the Lord, faith, the death and the authority.

On God and Other Unfinished Things previously published in Indonesian language edition entitled "Tuhan dan Hal-hal yang tak selesai". The English edition translated by Laksmi Pamuntjak.

Some people said that the book is another form of "Catatan Pinggir" (a weekly Goenawan' essay in Tempo). Some give a positive appreciation, and some response in negative tones that this book only to show the writers intellectually. Whatever people say, Goenawan, an Indonesian poet who have started his career since 60s and keep writing poems up to this recent days (which has emerges a lot of GM' epigons, will (always) be one of the greatest Indonesian Poet.

Bayu has posted on his blog, reviewing this book. To read the review, visit

I was feel alienated when came to community that I visited several times at the past. Last night at Freedom Institute-Jakarta, the newest book of Goenawan Mohamad (a.k.a. GM) –the founder of Tempo and one of Indonesian journalist living legend- was launch. Present as speakers were Rev. Martin Lukito Sinaga and K.H. Husein Muhammad. As I observed, guest whose came divided into: GM’s inner circles, peoples who their work and daily life connected to GM including press, peoples who like party and ‘food free to eat’ like students, and peoples like me: who confused to categorized themselves.

However, confusion was not my monopoly that night, because many guests whose came looks shocked when they read this unique book. This book is compilation of 99 short fragments which named book, titled with weird like some philosophical book: On God & Other Unfinished Things. Read this book, I remember Nietzsche’s work which used fragment broadly, even longer. This model is shortcut for ‘peoples who have many ideas’ which often that idea came by co-incidentally fast that needs to write down immediately before it pass away. It is logic, if fragment chosen as the best way to extract idea. Because of that, never fall into confusion if you don’t find chapter number, changed with fragment although it not mean as a row. Never think you can read this book regularly like complete book from the first page until the last page. I was open any page randomly and a-ha!, I got the same sensation. Every fragment was separate but still related each other. Readers have no obligation to read until finish then. Only one thing clear, this book explained about searching process of one wayfarer about meaning of life. And life in the par excellence form is God.

The author seemed to show off his knowledge about world horizon. Likely he already discovery every valley, climb every mountain, dive In under every ocean, for write off this book. The never ending style since the era he wrote on Catatan Pinggir (means Side Note, name of his column) at Tempo magazine before it was banned. At his brief GM acknowledge also there are some parts of his book came from his legendary column. For readers who have limitation about religion horizon, this book could shake your faith. Although it not put bright blurp on it’s cover like Da Vinci Code was.

He took splash stories from far lands: Illiad which tell about Troy (38), al-Mutawakkil Baghdad caliph (41), 1001-Night Tales by Shahrazad (11), Sultan Akbar from India (21), Musa (23, 26,27,28,30), Yesus (24), Sophocles and Mahabharata (39), Serat Cabolek from Java (52), Ratu Kidul from Java also (67), Yosua (88), Sherlock Holmes and Andersen (56), Cervantez’ Don Quixote (81), until Mel Gibson’ Passion of The Christ (24) and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’ Babel. GM also rowing many great names –including from Indonesia history-: Sunan Kalijaga (1), Sitor Situmorang (2), Rilke (3,60), Omar Khayam (4), Subagio Sastrowardoyo (4,62), Chairil Anwar (4,16,32), Derrida (6,61,96), Holderlin (7), Amir Hamzah (8,21,40), Ibn Rushd (8, 22), Ibn Sina (8), Al-Ghazali (8,31,76), Buddha (9,28), Shakespeare (9), Karl Barth (13), Tagore and Adorno (15), William James, Roland Barthes (16), Tahar Djaout (17), Alan Badiou (22, 54), Simone Weil (21), Nietzsche (26,74,84), Lyotard (27), Muhammad (28,30), Santo Agustinus and Rudolf Otto (28), Boris Pasternak (33), Pramoedya Ananta Toer (33,53), Brecht (36,83), Noah (40), Al-Tabari (40), Goebbels dan Hitler (42,56), Claude Lefort (48), Baudrillard (49), Rene Girard (50), Lacan (51,54), Descartes (52), Neruda and Walter Benjamin (53), Foucault (54), Karl Marx (54), Sayyed Qutb (55), Gadamer (55), Heidegger (29,42,52,61,67), Ilya Ehrenburg (53), Albert Camus (57), Asmuni (58), Dao and Ranggawarsita (59), Levinas (61,85), Heraklitus (62), Vico (62), Marcel Proust (63), Cokot, Duchamp and Jean Tinguely (64), Husserl, Basho, Matisse, Jean-Luc Marion, Rusli, John Cage (65), Kafka (66), Abraham (68,79), Kierkegaard (68), Allen Ginsberg (70), W.H. Auden, Ibn Arabi dan Herodes (71), Naoki Sakai, Ito Jinsai and Kong Hu Cu (73), Angelus Silesius (74), Signorelli and Michelangelo (78), Roberto Calasso (79), George Steiner (80), Dylan Thomas (82), Fukuyama (84), Iqbal (85), Joan Copjec (86), Nelson Mandela (87), Derek Walcott and Sukarno (92), Rachel Bespaloff (93), Marion (95), Groucho Marx and Franz Fanon (96), dan Habermas and Mother Sud (99).

I feel strange, from that many names which like worker who like to put ther presence card on the machine, GM not mention many names of God as they are same each other. He put God concept from any ages and cultures as simply as “God” word only. As simple as that. Just like what he hope from his book reader not to think too hard and look into his writing as simple as look at many stars which became the mystery of night sky. Then, this book maybe as manifestation of question about God which shadowing author’s mind for years. The thing that could happen to other wayfarer also.

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