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Sādegh Hedāyat, a Portrayer of Corpses
article [ Books ]
The Blind Owl

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by [cam ]

2007-06-22  |     | 

“There are sores, which, as the leprosy, gnaw within loneliness the soul, and destroy it.”

“Eventually, becoming accustomed with the text, living in its intimacy so many years – through a curious literary and ideatical empathy -, the sentiment that I myself have written this book invaded me. This is the dream of any translator, is it? The Romanian language, so hard-tried by the collations with so many “sacral” texts of humanity, has surmounted, we hope. The Persian text has let itself assimilated even if it is almost untranslatable! I am so sorry, mister Hedāyat, you cannot hear anymore that “The Blind Owl” is the first Iranian novel in Romanian linguistic equivalences! I thank to the heaven for setting me free ...”

It was the liberation sigh of the Romanian translator, Gheorghe Iorga, at the end of the closest from the original form of The Blind Owl, which was preceded by another 15 trials. Studying the Persian language at the University of Teheran, he has proposed himself the translation of the most difficult Iranian novel, and it appeared in Romania, in the second edition, in 2006.

A novel about frenzy and disappointment! A cryptic, polyvalent, acronychal text, superabundant in complex expressions, which push through to the multitude of interpretations. The hophead narrator, from which the author pretends himself like being detached, transposes his life into a surrealistic diary, using intentional phrases that have nothing in common with the delirium. Reading this book, even if an immense sadness wraps you, the author’s suicide doesn’t catch you unawares anymore. Sādegh Hedāyat, the greatest modern Iranian prose writer, has decided to surrender to the nothingness in 1951, at the age of 48. “Metaphor of spirit’s degradation”, The Blind Owl is considered the masterpiece of the Iranian modern literature. It was compared with works of E.A. Poe, Franz Kafka, Rainer Maria Rilke. Concerning me, I should dare to add a comparison with the writings of Mircea Ciobanu, a great Romanian poet, essayist and prose writer.

The theme of death is the bitter-sweet solvent that homogenizes within an unimaginable pain every of the words – life breaths of this writing. However, it is about a death that liberates the human being, handing it over to the nothingness, not leading it unto another form of existence: “the hope for nothingness, after death, was remaining my last relief, while, on the contrary, the idea of a second life was terrifying and slaying me”. “My whole being was longing for the oblivion sleep. And if this oblivion would become endless, if my eyes, closing, would be able to dip, slowly, beyond of the sleep, into the absolute nothingness, so as I could lose the existence’s awareness, then, my being would have been entirely melt into an ink stain, a musical sound, into a colorful ray. Then, these waves would have become so large, that they would have grown dim until the loss of their perception. And thus, my wish could have been satisfied”.

Same as for Mircea Ciobanu, the days are coffins for Sādegh Hedāyat too. The bed, the room that he resides, the whole world is a casket, which concentrates the space and the time.

“Don’t wake up the sadness of remembrances that lay
Within blue coffins abandoned through the days of yesterday!
Do say nothing,
Don’t wake up inside my soul tragedies that have been acted
In first sorrows’ dumb applauses!
Do step silent like the Beduin that wanders the desert’s sand,
Do step silent like someone whose hands are crossed on stony chest, [...]
Step aside me, terrified, as if I should be the carrion of a dead [...]–“
(Mircea Ciobanu – The Ballad of Yesterday’s Days)

However, Sādegh Hedāyat’s coffin is not blue, but a black one: “the dark, this dense and fluid substance, infiltrating within all the things and all the places...” We find out in The Blind Owl’s pages the same awareness of a dead lost among people. Even with the attention strained at maximum, we loose the delimitation between vision and reality. Often, the drawing from the cover of the writing case, so many times invoked, absorb us likewise within some real scenery. A woman offers a water lily to a hunchbacked aged man, over some water that separates them. Should it be the Styx, the hate’s river, which separates this world from the after-world? Our thought can fly unto the mythical lake, Vourukasha, in the middle of which grows the Haoma plant, used for preparing the hallucinogenic drinking with the same name. Haoma - initially sown by the supreme god, Ahura Mazdā, on Haraiti mountain – has a white heavenly prototype, which guarantees the imortality and will regenerate the universe at the end of the world. What could we understand from the baleful laughter of the humpbacked aged man? Maybe it symbolises the indifference of death while meetting the asceticism and the purity. The woman refuses to his husband love nights and kisses, but lets his lips being bitten by the filty teeth of death. The woman, the terrestrial principle, carries his virginity into the ground, for giving it as present to the hideous death. Is death her fellow creature?

We can go on, endlessly, with the interpretations. It has been written some trials of explaining this text, extended on a bigger number of pages then the novel itself. The author never tried to make us understand it. Moreover, how could someone explain the inner scourge, this disaster caused by the frightful abyss that separates the human beings?
As a unique hope, it remains the oblivion, that is to say, the death: “through occult threads, a morbid current have taken birth between me and all the elements”. Born from a strange mother and never known from which of two twin brothers (one has been killed by a venomous serpent, the other one has lost his mind), how could have been our personage else then he is? In his room, on a shelf, he was keeping a bottle of old wine, dated from his birth, in accordance with an old Zoroastrian habit. Was it a bottle of wine, or rather a bottle of venom? Was it a possibility of a deliberately choosing the death, bequeathed by his mother?

In this sinister foray into the depths of human frights, the feminine element is the leitmotif, the central axis around which, all the spatial and temporal planes of the novel are spinning; the woman caused the narrator’s illness, and his feverish waiting for the death. Surrounded by mystery, the Woman, after which he ceaselessly runs, can be the Death itself. The woman appears in all her states: half of the whole, without which the masculine personality, so dependant, cannot find his quiet. This dependence generates the need of vengeance: love and hate are merging; the man kills his woman twice. Thus, the ill and the insane young, turns suddenly into a hunchbacked, grey-haired aged man. Then, who could be the hideous old, from the image that haunts him? Could be, this ghost, the personation of scoundrel, of death, of Charon, or rather of him himself? The woman is the healer Mandragora, the wearer of the miraculous pith, the giver of the tonus of life. Sometimes she is chaste, untouched even by the men sights; sometimes she is the whore that shares her body with anyone, excepting her husband. As personification of oriental conceptions, she appears in different states, which sometimes imbed one another: nurse, mistress, wife, and mother; honey and venom, angel and demon, life giver and executioner. The narrator wants the ethereal woman to remain in the world of death. She must remain out of touch and not seen by the others. Suddenly, the ethereal woman and the mother image become the same. Mother is the birth giver; the narrator is mystified by the strange psychic state of his mother. The mother withdraws and there is an intense need to find her. The ethereal woman becomes mother. Therefore, any suggestion of love intimacy with women in the sexual sense must be avoided. For him it is not possible. At this point, the sexual love becomes the focus of the collapse of security and being.

Does Sādegh Hedāyat really write the diary of a single life? It seems that its pages imbed with the diary of a prior incarnation. For detaching himself from the “scoundrel’s world”, namely from the normal people’s world that he detests, he was using to turn his face unto the dark past, to abandon himself to the onirical travel. Moreover, he was witnessing at the genesis of the events he is just living. He is finding the same personages, the same squalid environment, and the same inaccessible ideal.

The scoundrel’s world is a world within which each one is the image of everybody: and all are “made from a mouth, hanging on by it a fist of bowels that end with a caricature of sexual organ”. The supreme fright of the narrator is that he will belong to this world also after his death. He confesses himself in a diary written with “the blackest ink”: “once dead, I wish to dispose of long hands, endowed with oblong sensitive fingers, for gathering all my atoms, for keeping them inside my closed palms, in order to prevent these fragments of my own being, my exclusive property, to mix with the scoundrel’s corpses”. The scoundrel is made for infamous ones, for boors, for innate beggars, haughty ones, dullards, for the greedy ones who, “like this starving dog, staying in front of the butcher’s, is obstinately waiting for someone who will throw to him a scrap of tendon”. He was writing all these things for his shadow, his alter ego, overseeing the finalization of his confession.

The wine and the opium were the narrator’s refugee. His life unfolds between the four walls of his room – the bulwarks that close his dreams, his entire existence - within which he breathes the smell of things and beings that have inherited it long time ago, smack of death and agony, nevertheless so lasting. “I don’t know what kind of toxic virtues possessed the walls of my room; they were poisoning my soul: doubtless, a thug, a furious madman has dwelled these places before me”.

The distorting mirror, generating hallucinations, is an indispensable object for our personage. “The mirror is more important that the scoundrel’s world”, “I was feeling myself heaving the frail consistence of an image reflected into the mirror, like two cats that face one another in a battle”. His imagination being free from constraints, the visions compose for him a world more real. The artistic fiction is not only a heteronymous reality, “but even an avatar of it, its negative”, observes the translator.

The onirical travels, the meditation, the consuming of narcotics, are ways through which the author cops out from reality and deforms it. Concomitantly, they are procedures of wiping off the borderline between vision and reality. The opium and the wine exacerbate his perceptions. The woman’s body, her lips have the bittersweet taste of the cucumber. The room’s walls smell of urine, of sweat, of rancid butter. The exclusive connection between he and the scoundrel’s world is the clerestory of his room, the square slot, open unto outside, which allows the darkness to come for embracing his soul, his mind.

The thoughts torture him more than the reality. The Woman fluid – is it about virgin or mother? – penetrates his heartstrings, purifies and poisons. The absolute truth looses the control of the human intelligence. Obscure intuitions torture the soul.

Does not matter how many interpretation we should try for this novel, it will remain always something unaccountable, equally enchanting, and frightful. New elucidations darken the previous ones. Anyway, it is more important to let yourself carried by the waves of symbols and motifs, than to try looking, with sharp mind and blunt sensitiveness, for a key that fit in the mystery that prevails in this book. And yes, “there are pains that cannot be disclosed to anyone”...

Do look for a portrait of Sādegh Hedāyat! The likeness with an owl will shock you....

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