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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

The obsessions of Hedayat in The Blind Owl

The smart intro to the Grove edition of Sedagh Hedayat's The Blind Owl suggests that this short novel merits many re-readings - probably - and that many of the seemingly disparate pieces fall into place on multiple readings - possibly - but based on my just one reading this novel from the 1940s by an Iranian author - apparently very well know to Iranian readers but not to most Western readers - I'd say this work is strange, unsettling, unconventional, difficult, and probably not as carefully constructed as some readers and critics would like or suppose. By all indications Hedayat was a troubled guy; we do know that he killed himself (gas) in Paris about a decade after writing this piece. And The Blind Owl is about an alienated and troubled man of undetermined age. In the first half, about which I posted yesterday, the narrator describes his obsession with the image of a beautiful woman by a stream, an image he paints repeatedly on the "pen cases" he decorates for his (meager?) living, and then actually "sees" outside of his building, invites her in to his house, offers her a drink of wine (from a bottle we later learn has been poisoned), then dismembers and buries her body - very gruesome and disturbing. We are led to think this may be a dream of vision - but there's also a suggestion that the murder and dismemberment were real and that the unnamed narrator hallucinates about this event. The second half is similar in character,setting, and mood, but in this telling the narrator narrator is unhappily married (always calls his wife "the bitch") to a woman who never loved him, whom in fact he has never kissed on the lips, and who flaunts her affairs with other men, some of whom are quite decrepit. The telling of the story, involving similar images of the woman by a stream entertaining a man, culminates in the narrator's embracing his wife, almost coming to orgasm with her for the first time, and then stabbing her to death. Again, we are uncertain how much is real, how much illusion, how much delusion; but if we look for the recurrent images we can see that the driving force throughout this short novel is self-loathing and venom against women. And speaking of venom, surely the most striking passage of all is the "cobra test," in which two men are put in a dark room w/ a cobra and when the cobra attacks one and he screams the other man is freed. The intro essay compares Hedayat w/ Kafka and Poe - yes, true, but without the political world view of Kafka (man against the system) and without the pure entertainment value of Poe.

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