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Hedayat's Blind Owl as a Western Novel

Hedayat's Blind Owl as a Western Novel

Michael Beard
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 286
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv6h7
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    Hedayat's Blind Owl as a Western Novel
    Book Description:

    The Iranian writer Sadeq Hedayat is the most influential figure in twentieth-century Persian fiction--and the object of a kind of cult after his suicide in 1951. His masterpiece The Blind Owl is the most important novel of modern Iran. Its abrupt, tortured opening sentence, "There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker," is one of the best known and most frequently recited passages of modern Persian. But underneath the book's uncanniness and its narrative eccentricities, Michael Beard traces an elegant pastiche of familiar Western traditions. A work of advocacy for a disturbing and powerful piece of fiction, his comprehensive analysis reveals the significance of The Blind Owl as a milestone not only for Persian writing but also for world literature.

    The international, decentered nature of modernist writing outside the West, typified by Hedayat's European education and wide reading in the Western canon, suggested to Beard the strategy of assessing The Blind Owl as if it were a Western novel. Viewed in this context, Hedayat's intricate chronicle challenges the very notion of a national literature, rethinking and reshaping our traditions until we are compelled, "through its eyes," to see them in a new way.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6132-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Chapter One NATIONALIST POETICS AND ITS SHADOWS
    (pp. 3-41)

    By authorship, language, and setting Sadeq Hedayat’s short narrative calledBuf-e kur(The Blind Owl, 1936) is a Persian novel. But it is a novel so profoundly informed by Western narrative conventions that it defies the reader to lodge it securely in an accepted category of Western or non-Western writing. And it is informed by more than one Western convention: Roger Lescot’s French translation,La chouette aveugle(Paris: José Corti, 1952), is reprinted in a series with Gothic romances andcontes fantastiques; D. P. Costello’s English version,The Blind Owl(1958), flourishes in the company ofnouveaux romansand the...

  7. Chapter Two THE BOOK OF LOVE: DANTE AS TEMPLATE
    (pp. 42-67)

    The form ofThe Blind Owlis above all that of a love story, in fact a highly conventional love story after the manner of romances that have become classical in our tradition. If we do not often speak of it in those terms, one reason may be Hedayat’s solitary life, which leads us to anticipate a solitary, companionless fiction. Another reason might be the way the book opens, with a bravura overture that seems almost to stand alone.

    The opening sentence ofThe Blind Owlis one of the best-known and most frequently recited passages of modern Persian, perhaps...

  8. Chapter Three CHAPTER ONE SAYS YOU LOVE HER
    (pp. 68-102)

    There is a transitional passage in the second part ofThe Blind Owlwhere the speaker, having described the story of the parents and the introductory narrative of his own marriage, sums things up with an uncharacteristically authoritative judgment of his own mode of seeing: “It seemed to me that until now I had not known myself and that the world as I had conceived it hitherto had lost all significance and validity and had been replaced by the darkness of night. For I had not been taught to gaze at and to love the night [chun be-man nay-âmukhte budand...

  9. Chapter Four GOTHIC I: A GENERIC BACKGROUND
    (pp. 103-139)

    Between the Westernized novel in a non-Western culture and the theme of the unconscious there is a logical affinity. Perhaps you could derive the theme of the unconscious from the experience of the non-Western novelist, since the analogy is so near at hand between the unconscious (a context that amplifies elements of experience otherwise passed over or denied) and the context of Western cultural history that, also invisibly, shapes the non-Western novel from abroad. A tradition that is molded from abroad does not, however, necessarily know itself as a mixed tradition.

    To the extent that we conceive of modern Iranian...

  10. Chapter Five GOTHIC II: POE AS GENERIC BACKGROUND
    (pp. 140-176)

    The themes of aggression that are the focal point ofThe Blind Owlhave their formal cause in the Gothic tradition. Poe’s “Berenice” offers us a way to examine this tradition directly, since its violence is linked to the relation of self and dwelling. It is, in addition, the Poe text with the clearest analogies inThe Blind Owl. LikeThe Blind Owl, it focuses on aggression against the speaker’s wife, an act of aggression erased from memory and called forth at the climax. InThe Blind Owlthe narrator finds his wife’s eye in his hand; in “Berenice” it...

  11. Chapter Six SALOME: THE PARABLE OF THE ARTIST
    (pp. 177-218)

    In chapter three we argued for a realistic reading of the narrating character on the grounds that a psychoanalytic decoding would naturalize or recuperateThe Blind Owl’s antirealistic elements. This project was a partial one, even on its own terms, and in Chapters Four and Five we emphasized the generic limits that dissolve the speaker’s individuality again. Hedayat’s fascination with the archetypal and parabolic seems to stand in the way of any understanding of the narrative that places it in history. We are faced with the dilemma that on the one hand we read to come closer to the represented...

  12. Chapter Seven PROLEGOMENON TO THE BLIND OWL AS AN EASTERN NOVEL
    (pp. 219-237)

    We have been focusing more or less insistently on the textual particulars and the formal shapes that link it with neighboring texts, but of course the impression persists that we should be able to pass beyond, to poke through the glass walls that surround the esthetic artifact and reestablish its connections in history. A standard critical move used to make that crossing is to identify satire, to locate the pointed commentaries that ground it in its social context. We have suggested that irony is the most frequent device—the strategy in which we pretend to praise, or when we enter...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 238-262)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 263-270)