The conversation in this book deals with the impact of modern life on Balinese society over the past 50 years. Eric Buvelot, journalist and 13 years’ editor of La Gazette de Bali, interviews Jean Couteau, an observer of Bali for over 40 years, author of many books, and national columnist for Kompas. They discuss changes from sexual behavior to religious practices, the engagement of Balinese with foreigners and other Indonesians, issues of tolerance, violence, economy, spirituality, cultural evolution, and the shift of mentality from myth to rational thinking. First published in French, this book was translated by Diana Darling, author of The Painted Alphabet and long-time resident of Bali.
from the Foreword by Kadek Krishna Adidharma
What happens when two men sit down to discuss the passion, wealth, righteousness and evolution of the people of their adoptive home? Will they reveal insights or yet more clichés of paradise? What can we learn about and glean from the culture being gazed upon? Would we learn more about human cultural adaptation, or more about the lenses used for looking upon changing human worlds?
As a Balinese, I read through these pages with a mix of awe at the breaking of taboos of discussing certain subjects and horror at the highlighting of some practices I grapple with within my own extended family, yet with a tenderness: Here are two men who are attempting to understand the culture of my people, our idiosyncrasies and contradictions. Here are two observers who are holding up a mirror to Bali. Here are two thinkers who have, in their own way, created a portrait of Balinese society: A snapshot of a woman of a certain age at the cusp of yet another great transformation. The woman may not enjoy seeing her wrinkles bared for the world to see, but it is also hard not to accept the token of love in all this attention.
The conversations in this book do not purport to convey an objective truth. From Lao-tzu to Jacques Derrida, to the more recent Charles Eisenstein, the fallacy of objective meaning has been widely recognized. The truths presented in this book are subjective, and usefully so. Balinese myths are full of subjective truths that are contradictory without being any less conciliatory. Only the initiate is encouraged to attempt understanding; novices are enthralled by the story, accepting that different passions and reasons drive each of us on in life. Our stories are told to keep us in wonder of the infinite possibilities of the world while embracing the fire in our own bellies, harnessing them to power our journey to pursue our own truths.
Growing up in Bali, we are told that things just are the way they are. Don’t try to explain them! Understanding is for later. When pressed into the role of a guide to foreign guests from an early age, I often felt the magic of creation when I attempted to explain my world to visitors. As I uttered my explanations, it became so! Fifty years of receiving such magic from his hosts and informants, and almost as many years of weaving them into vignettes in Balinese, English and French, have similarly transformed Jean Couteau. Prompted by the questions of Eric Buvelot, Jean makes sense of the stories he has received.