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Two Indonesian Women's Diaries: Between Public and Private

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journal contribution
posted on 17.05.2017, 11:15 by Soe Tjen Marching
Because of the desire of the subject to be alone when s/he writes a diary, a diary gives the impression of secrecy. The “I” of the diary often conjures up an image of a person cloistered in a room, with no one around. While autobiographies are intended to be read by the public, private diaries are usually written to be kept secret. Autobiographies are published, sold and displayed in shops. Thus, the subject of an autobiography has to project him/herself in the world of rhetoric, to an audience. On the other hand, the main reader of the diary is the writer him/herself. The writer writes about him/herself for him/herself when s/he is alone. Despite these obvious differences between autobiographies and diaries, some critics have challenged the distinction between public and private texts, as some diaries are intended for public readership. Judy Nolte Lensink argues that a diary constitutes a “cohesive” autobiography, complete with thematic purpose, person, and distinctive imagery. Likewise, Philippe Lejeune states that some diaries of girls in nineteenth century France were written "in order to be read one day by the general public". Because of the existence of a certain kind of audience in diaries, some critics have tended to down play the differences between public and private writings.

Indeed, two diary writings which I was able to gather in Indonesia show the desire of the writers to be known, to be recognised by a kind of “public”. However, unlike the case of the diaries of French girls highlighted in the work of Lejeune, hardly any of these diary writers intend their diaries to actually be read by the “general public”. Rather, they demonstrate the presence of this “public” as a kind of imagined audience internalised within the subject. Furthermore, the desire for public recognition which they express does not necessarily contradict the private characteristics of diary writings. In this paper, I will discuss that while these two Indonesian women’s diaries indicate the authors’ willingness to appear before an audience or “public”, this willingness also serves to emphasise the private nature of their writings.


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