Hedayat's Blind Owl as a Western Novel
Michael Beard


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.

First published in 1990.

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