Literature as a Seismograph of Life is a literary criticism of Malay literature by Shahnon Ahmad, translated from the original title, Sastera Sebagai Seismograf Kehidupan. A seismograph is an instrument for recording earthquakes, a natural disaster. Nevertheless, the role of this instrument can be widened to encompass literature. For example, literary works such as novels, short stories and poetry also contain the characteristic of a seismograph which records about man, about society, in fact, tries to depict, imitate and analyse society itself. For example, why and how Ranjau Sepanjang Jalan, Rentong and Terdedah were produced from a depiction of society by the author for society. Similarly in other novels, Shahnon Ahmad also gives his views and opinions. The novels mentioned are seen not only from the presence of their energetic vigour but also from the differences which their author tries to explore. Poetry is not just seen from their aesthetic values, in fact from aspects of their humanity. According to Shannon, several ideas were brought forth in the early stages—the stages of looking and establishing experiences. While searching, he finally reaches the discovery level when Islam is used as a basis in the context of structure, form and content in literature. This became clear in the final part when he talks about the relationship between literature and Islam.
The compositions in Part One for example may contain pictures and notes encouraging literary writing, mischievous notes produced from inexperience and undersized intellect, At the time it was the age of drawing the keris inserted in the wall and stabbing the wind surrounding oneself. Memories are still fresh when called back to the fifties and early sixties with several companions of the same feeling and each one feeling he has collective literary talent, conspiring, debating till dawn with shrill voices about the role of literature and literary men in opposing colonialism and development when the colonials have been driven out. The faces of these companions are still clearly depicted: Jihaty Abadi, Abdul Ghaffar Ibrahim, Suhaimi Haji Muhammad, Anas K. Hadimaja, Ahmad Sebi, Dino S.S., Norjaya, Nahmar Jamil, Rejab F.I., Mokhtar A.K., Nazril Mohd. Zain and many others who have been vaguely swallowed up by the period. We gather and discuss literature and how to become great literary men like Usman Awang, Keris Mas, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Khairil Anwar, Sitor Situmorang and others.
It is very much felt that there is a front of literary figures in Kedah to strengthen energy, to take steps to bring into realisation the personality of literary men as fighters of his age. How splendid? Or to bring to realisation literature as a branch of art whose voice is distinct and the sound echoes all over the country. We would like to cry as loudly as we can to fight these oppressors. Qur pens feel sharp enough, ever ready to scratch whosoever contravenes the indigenuous people’s ethics. And so is born our pact, ideas such as Malay Power, literary men as fighters of his age, GATRA or the Association of Literary Men who are Aware and several other slogans. And when GATRA actually existed, it was very quickly regarded as the Organisation of Kedah Young Literary Men GATRA challenges, GATRA teases, GATRA stabs and GATRA’s voice is loud and distinct enough to divide Gunung Jerai into twe and echo throughout Kota Setar. GATRA’s action very much suits the members’ deep feelings, fiery, hot-tempered and just restless to pull out the pen and outline the situations of men around. We quarrel with Hamzah because we feel Hamzah does not know the ABC of writing. We adopt a harsh voice with Tongkat Warrant and several times support Hang Tuah who was given the pen-name Keris Tembaga (Copper Keris) to Keris Mas and Tongkat Semambu (Cane Waking-stick) to Tongkat Warrant.
Articles were written in a lamenting tone, showing anger at the early stage in the collection of these essays, a greater part of which has a background of this climate and spirit. But this is the process of development and growth of oneself. Gradually with the passage of time, one will be more experienced, more intelligent and less emotional as well as sentimental. And later essays that are more rational and convincing will be produced. Perhaps.
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