- The Persian Novel: Ideology, Fiction, and Form in the Periphery by Omid Azadibougar
The author of this book has posed himself, and poses the reader, the following question: Why has the novel genre in Iran not entered world literature and the global market? After all, novels have been produced in Iran for more than 100 years, and another genre borrowed from Europe, the Iranian film, has enjoyed both critical and economic success internationally for many decades.
In order to examine why the Iranian novel has not had international success, Azadibougar takes the readers through a series of chapters that define his approach to the subject, including very fine readings of two Iranian novels, which will be discussed further below.1 The novel as genre is not structurally defined in the study. Azadibougar sees genres as carriers of an ideology, and the European novel, borrowed into Iranian literature, as an ideology or a worldview in which the given frame is a secular capitalist order where the powerful and independent individual is able to challenge the very same order in which he/she is living. However, this definition, Azadibougar tells us, might not serve us well in other contexts; for instance, in Iran, the social order and its accompanying ideology are and were not the same as in Europe. Azadibougar demonstrates the differences between the governing ideologies, and their literatures, of Iran and Europe by taking up the literary ideology expressed in classical Persian prose, the hekâyat ("story"), and by analyzing examples of this literary genre produced in Iran since about the year 1000, with the genre being in clover in the period 1000-1500. His analyses of the hekâyats demonstrate that the ideology or worldview of this literature is a static one in which the truth of the matter is always given beforehand, and the events, persons, and actions in the stories serve [End Page 526] as abstract examples of this truth, not as real events and actions in concrete time and space, nor as real persons in flesh and blood. In contrast to the novelistic ideology, in Azadibougar's words, "classical [literature's] ideology extracts a lesson out of events while in novelistic ideology an event generates a process" (35).
Anticipating what I see as the general conclusion of the study, answering the question of why Iranian novels have not been successful internationally: the combination of the dominant literary ideology of classical literature, an anti-novelistic ideology, and a social context or order that is different from those of Europe and other geographical areas, has made the Iranian novel difficult to identify with and unattractive to the global audience.2 This explanation may seem like an older, Orientalistic way of approaching a non-Western literature, but it is not. Azadibougar takes care to underline that while Iranian authors have borrowed the novel as a genre from Europe, mostly from England and France, this does not necessarily mean that the Iranian novel should be an imitation of its European role model. In line with Chatterjee (in Empire and Nation) and Bhabha (in Nation and Narration), he sees the "ideal" and globally attractive Iranian novel as a hybridization of a European novel and an Iranian social context combined with an Iranian (modern) literariness. Yet, it must free itself from the monolithic, or what Bakhtin calls "monological," ideology or worldview otherwise expressed in traditional Iranian literature.
Azadibougar exemplifies his views in two chapters, each of which is devoted to an analysis of an Iranian novel. Chapter Six, "The Serious Century and Hedâyat's Grim Laughter," is a groundbreaking new analysis of the most canonical and discussed literary text in modern Iranian literature, Sâdeq Hedâyat's (1903-51) Buf-e kur (The Blind Owl, 1937). The text-which, I must stress, might not be a novel, and I for one think it is not-has until now been generally seen as a bleak picture of Iran in an age of rapid modernization and a portrait of its narrator, who cannot...