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The ‘Malay world’ in this novel is not a closed, impenetrable world. In this novel at least, that kind of world does not become ‘local color’. Usually in literary criticism, what is called ‘local color’ is something identifiable—because it is whole, homogenous and distinctive: descriptions of landscape, customs and local dialects used in the story.
The past does not stop. Over and again, we fail to recapture it in memory. Of course, we have history books and think that this is where the past is recorded as memory. But memory is the product of the present, and the present is not a station where memories pause, unchanging. This is why we often try to recall the past in other ways.
The phrase "the desert of the real" conveys that ‘the real’ is the destroyed world, gloomy, fantastical, inexplicable through language, especially when viewed from the ordered world. In Indonesia, we are actually in that ‘desert’: with incessant floods, landslides and earthquakes.
The Bible prohibits the faithful from making pictures of humans and from worshipping idols, as do the other two Abrahamic religions. The history of the Christian world has witnessed a few episodes of ‘iconoclasm’, movements to destroy statues: in the 8th and 9th centuries in Byzantium, and at the beginning of the 16th century in Europe, when the Protestants burnt statues and paintings in churches.