Bali has a vast and rich literary tradition, dating back to at least the seventeenth century, and beyond that to pre-Islamic Java. A number of different genres are represented in the Balinese literary corpus, ranging from prose treatises and poetical works written in a variety of Indian-derived and indigenous metrical forms and languages Old Javanese, Kawi and Balinese, to modern novels, short stories, plays and poetry written in both Balinese and Indonesian. The current description of Balinese literature is skewed to a literary historiography that owes much to the uncritical reproduction of colonial historiography and the scholarly interests of nineteenth and early twentieth century Dutch philologists. By producing the first detailed study of the Balinese literary corpus in its entirety this project questions and critiques the longstanding conceptual parameters that dominate the study of this literature.
The principal aim of this project is to produce a comprehensive overview and analysis of the Balinese literary corpus that incorporates both its centuries-long evolution and its contemporary developments, and which provides a reappraisal of the analytical framework in which this literature is usually described. Part 1 deals with Balinese manuscript traditions and genres (parwa, kakawin, kidung, gaguritan). These traditional genres do not represent vanished historical curiosities since they are still widely used in performance and ritual although new technologies in both print and electronic media have largely replaced the palm-leaves of the pre-colonial period. Part 2, on which I am collaborating with my Balinese colleague I Nyoman Darma Putra, will deal with the western narrative forms introduced to Balinese writers from the early twentieth century with the onset of colonialism, including novels, short stories and verse forms written in both Balinese and Indonesian.