This study examines the role of Indonesian literary works with regard to the imagination as well as constructions of islands and seas, and in relation to the changing perception and attitudes of the Indonesian government respecting these twinned terms. The aforementioned is strikingly obvious in the case of the 2019 Natuna incident in which the Indonesian government verged on jurisdictional conflict with China over its Exclusive Economic Zone off Natuna island. The literary work chosen for discussion is Arus Balik by Pramoedya Ananta Toer. I examine this novel's imagination and construction of islands and seas with reference to current theoretical frameworks in critical island studies; the Indonesian government's shift from a land-based to a maritime orientation in its policies, especially after the Natuna incident; and to spatial production theory in cultural studies. In accordance with this new orientation and policy, the novel perceives and signifies Indonesian islands from a maritime perspective, which is a rupture in nature. On the one hand, the novel aims to broaden the minds of perceived limited islanders by compelling them to abandon the "reverse flow" and join in experiencing islands from a broader marine perspective. On the other hand, it serves as a reminder to the populace of the danger posed by the North and foreign countries/peoples.


constructions of islands and seas, literary imagination, maritime orientation, spatial theory

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

The Philippine Commission on Higher Education (CHED) declares Kritika Kultura as a CHED-recognized journal under the Journal Challenge Category of its Journal Incentive Program.

International Board of Editors

Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
Professor of Cultural Studies
Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)