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Hedayat, Sadegh



This entry looks at the life and work of the Iranian pioneering modernist writer Sadegh Hedayat in the hope of finding out how the city, culture, and folklore influenced him and how he influenced them in turn. Hedayat’s life and work was presumably not irrelevant to the city, and there is evidence to support that both himself and his writings are connected with different urban spaces – mainly Tehran, Isfahan, Paris – and cultures as well as with their political aspects. These connections are more salient in his realist and satirical works in which he takes critical perspectives on the city, mostly on its cultural, social, and political aspects. It turns out that Hedayat looked at culture, worldviews, beliefs, monuments, etc., with a skeptical and critical lens at the same time as he maintained his relation with them and was a part of them.
Hedayat, Sadegh
Mehrdad Bidgoli
University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran
This entry looks at the life and work of the Iranian
pioneering modernist writer Sadegh Hedayat in
the hope of nding out how the city, culture, and
folklore inuenced him and how he inuenced
them in turn. Hedayats life and work was pre-
sumably not irrelevant to the city, and there is
evidence to support that both himself and his
writings are connected with different urban
spaces mainly Tehran, Isfahan, Paris and cul-
tures as well as with their political aspects. These
connections are more salient in his realist and
satirical works in which he takes critical perspec-
tives on the city, mostly on its cultural, social, and
political aspects. It turns out that Hedayat looked
at culture, worldviews, beliefs, monuments, etc.,
with a skeptical and critical lens at the same time
as he maintained his relation with them and was a
part of them.
Sadegh Hedayat (19031951), the Iranian short
story writer, novelist, and translator, was born in
Tehran into an aristocratic family. In 1909, he
began his elementary education at Elmiyeh
School and later showed his abilities in composi-
tion. Then he moved to Dar ul-Funun school, and
around 1916 he was reportedly diagnosed with an
eye infection halting his education for about a
year. He later began (1919 [1298]) and nished
(1925 [1304]) his high school at a prestigious
French school located in Tehran (St. Louis
school), where he also taught Persian to a French
priest (Hedayat 2017: 22) and became acquainted
with French language, world literature (mostly
French), and metaphysics (see Katouzian 1993b:
2830), all becoming, perhaps, the bases for his
later modernist orientations and the creation of
many of his opaque and mysterious atmospheres,
settings, and characters.
Soon after Reza Shahs ascending to the
throne, Hedayat, along with a number of other
Iranian students, was sent to study in Europe in
1926. This was the beginning of his direct expo-
sure to different cities, peoples, and cultures. He
stayed for some time in Belgium and then moved
to France, where he also tried to commit suicide in
a river in 1928, but was saved; he soon abandoned
his studies in architecture and devoted himself to
writing. In 1930, Hedayat returned to Tehran and
began working in Bank-e-Melli which at the time
was the central bank of Iran. It was around this
time that he became a close friend of writers
Bozorg Alavi, Masoud Farzad, and literary
scholar Mojtaba Minovi.
Hedayat had previously published an essay in
French Le Magie en Perse(1926), a short essay
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020
J. Tambling (ed.), The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Urban Literary Studies,
Death(1928), a collection of Khayyams verses
Tarānehā-ye Khayyam (1923), and two books
Man and Animal (1924) and The Benets of Veg-
etarianism (1927) in which he criticized people
for their treatment of animals. Around 1931, he
published Buried Alivea short story collec-
tion and Parvin, the Sasanid Girl a historical
play. He also published several short stories and
translations in some collections and journals. In
1932, he traveled to Isfahan and published his
travelogue Isfahan, Nesf-e-Jahān(Isfahan, Half
of the World), cand the important short story col-
lection Seh Ghatreh Khoon (Three Drops of
From 1932 to 1936, Hedayat worked in several
different jobs and published a short story collec-
tion Chiaroscuro(1933) and the satirical/comi-
cal collection of anecdotes Vaq-vaq-Sahab
(Mister Bow-wow) with Masoud Farzad (1934).
Hedayat also published another historical play,
Maziar, this time in collaboration with Minovi.
In 1936 (1315), he traveled to Bombay where he
came to learn the ancient Persian language Pah-
lavi and published The Blind Owl in 50 hand-
written copies and sent them to his close friends
in Europe, chiey among them was Mohammad-
Ali Jamalzadeh, known as the father of modern
story writing in Iran.
In 1937, Hedayat returned to Tehran, and from
1938 to 1941, he joined the Ofce of Music and
the editorial staff of Journal of Music where he
published a few of his Pahlavi translations and
cultural and folkloric research. In 1941, he nally
got a permanent job as a translator at the College
of Fine Arts and published parts of The Blind Owl
in the Iran Magazine (later the full novel was also
published; see Hedayat 2017:2829). The follow-
ing year, he published The Stray Dog collection,
and until 1945, he worked with a few literary
journals, published his other translations from
Pahlavi language and the satirical novel Haji
In 1946, his short puppet-play The Legend of
Creation was published in France, and in 1948, he
wrote an introduction to a translation of KafkasIn
the Penal Colony by Hassan Qaemian. Later in
1950, he translated KafkasThe Metamorphosis
from French with Qaemian, and then moved to
France in December 1950, in the hopes of nding
a job and staying there (he received medical leave
(citing psychosis) to go there (see Hedayat 2001:
199)). Four months later he committed suicide in
his apartment in Paris. These obscure and dark
months comprise Hedayats ultimate struggle with
life and death, which ended with the latter win-
ning. (His brothers note on Hedayats last days
entitled The Last Novelis a mixture of imagi-
nation and reality, and gives a few ne impres-
sions on Hedayats suicide (Hedayat 2017:
Hedayat is said, by many, to be the greatest and
most inuential writer of contemporary Iran (e.g.,
Shayegan 1992: 407; Katouzian 2008). His life,
works, and legacy have been continually studied
and rethought by researchers; The Blind Owl
(1936,rst translated into French in 1953 and
English in 1957) being his, and modern Irans,
greatest modern work (see, among many,
Mesbahipoor Iranian 1980: 95; Tahbaz 1997:
47). The signicance of ancient and contemporary
culture in his work has also been studied by a
number of researchers. A look at his life as well
as representations of the city and urban spaces can
hint at Hedayats cultural split and his critical
look, especially concerning his country and its
people. I devote this entry to a few general
remarks on Hedayats more notable works in rela-
tion to the city. Having in mind his unease regard-
ing, among many things, the political oppression,
censorship, superstition, a distorted culture, and
the syncopated and forced social and political
modernization of Iran in the early decades of
1300s (1920s1940s), it seems that the city
(in almost all its aspects) and Hedayat were
The city culture, society, folklore, religion,
urban spaces, etc. cannot be ignored when it
comes to Hedayat who was a sympathetic, respon-
sible, cautious, and sensitive gure
(Shariatmadari 1975:2930) about his own soci-
ety and perhaps even about the cosmopolis. The
city is usually one of the main themes for mod-
ernists in general and surrealists and expression-
ists in particular. Jeremy Tambling points out that
surrealism is (in)directly related to aspects of the
city (see his entry on Surrealism) and Richard
2 Hedayat, Sadegh
Murphy (2006) also rightly asserts that the city
becomes a paradigm for the Expressionists
experience of contemporary reality(198).
Hedayat early on came to know of the gross
gaps between the culture, beliefs, and worldviews
of his own people (which were, he thought, hol-
low, prejudiced and inked with ignorance, super-
stition, triviality, and obscenity) and that of the
developing and modern countries in Europe as he
was gradually internalizing surrealism and
expressionism in the late 1920s and 1930s. The
city, culture, society, and people were scarcely left
out by him.
Tehran has been the capital of Iran for the past
250 years. During Hedayats lifetime, Tehrans
population was estimated between 250,000 and
300,000 inhabitants (around 1938). The capital is
located in the north of Iran, below the Alborz
mountains, and has an irregular octagonal shape
(Shahri 1992a: 13), surrounded by Semnan (east),
Sari and Mazandaran (north), Qazvin and Markazi
(west), and Qom (south). It originally had ve
main neighborhoods and 12 main gates surround-
ing it, and was located near the ancient city of Rey,
which is referred to especially in the second sec-
tion of HedayatsThe Blind Owl.
Dar ul-Funun, where Hedayat is said to have
studied for some time, was located in the Naserieh
Street (todays Naser Khosrow Street), between
Shamsol-emareh and the Toop-khaneh square. It
was one of Amir Kabirs (Irans well-known
prime minister at the time of Naser-u-din Shah
Qajar) epoch-making reforms (Shahri 1992a: 37)
with many well-known alumni (later the school
was turned into a college with such alumni as Ali-
Akbar Deh-Khoda, Mojtaba Minovi, Jalal Al-e
Ahmad, and many others). The school was
famous for providing modern languages, sci-
ences, and other elds of study and was mainly
preserved for children of politicians and the afu-
ent people (3741). Hedayat studied there when it
was a high school until he was diagnosed with an
eye infection that halted his studies, he went to
St. Louis high school the next year. St. Louis was
one of the best schools in Tehran with regard to its
teachers and educational excellence. Hedayat
excelled there, especially with regard to his expo-
sure to French language, literature, and
Another aspect of the city worth mentioning is
the Pearl Cannon, a monumental cannon which
had absorbed many superstitious beliefs among
the populace (this cannon was moved around the
middle of the Pahlavi period). It was named
PearlCannon due to a pearl necklace that
hung from its barrel. Jaffar Shahri describes it as
(The Pearl Cannon) was a grand, bronze cannon set
on its two wheels upon a platform and was located
in todays Ark square, across the Ministry of Infor-
mation [People would] resort to it, walk under it in
the hopes of luck, sit on its barrel and glide...
(1992b: 364)
The Cannon, we are told, was made during the
reign of Fath-Ali Shah Qajar and was not used for
ring at all (364). Hedayats satire The Pearl
Cannon (more precisely The Morvari Cannon)
uses this monument highly symbolically. It can
be read as a phallic object as well as representative
of power or totality.
Another signicant aspect of Tehran with
regard to Hedayat was its cafés and teashops.
People had a long history of gathering in teashops
and cafés to spend their time, playing games,
smoking cigars and drugs (mostly opium), drink-
ing, and so on (see for instance Shahri 1992a:
64, 270). It was Hedayat who used cafés not just
for leisure but for other purposes such as meet-
ings, working on essays and stories with his close
friends. With Hedayat, cafés and teashops were
later adopted for different utilities.
The people of Tehran were said to be (perhaps,
to some extent, still are!) too hedonistic, carefree,
and supercially jovial and shallow (Shahri
1992b: 383), those who used every opportunity
to waste their time playing games of cards, using
drugs, drinking, and smoking cigars and water
pipes (hookah) excessively. Hedayat did not like
extreme and obscene behaviors in people and
criticized them in many of his works (parts of
The Blind Owl include resentful remarks about
those who are empty of essence and pursue carnal
Hedayat, Sadegh 3
desires). Hedayat usually maintained his distance
from these people, although some of these
vagrants loved him (an interesting anecdote
about one such occasion with a promiscuous rab-
ble in one of Hedayats café sittings is famous (see
Katirai1971: 336339).)
Hedayat valued his country, its cities and cul-
ture (especially Tehran), and the Persian language.
He is said to be have been a nostalgic person, one
who lamented his countrys obscenity and mis-
fortunes and longed for its lost values (the early
Hedayat more precisely). Even so, he hated the
claustrophobic atmosphere of Tehran and Iran,
especially in his later years when life was becom-
ing unbearable for him. Thus, he later preferred
Paris not just for its urbanity or niceties, or more
bearable atmosphere but more importantly for its
freedom and openness. This was the reason for his
decision to leave for Paris, where he might avoid
suicide (Katouzian 2008: 6). He would want to
breathe freely for a while in his remaining years
(see Katirai1971: 289290), but circumstances
went against his will.
Rabeh Literary Circle
Beginning in 1930, shortly after his return from
Paris, Hedayat befriended Minovi, Alavi, and
Farzad. They were all educated, high minded lit-
erary and scholarly gures. These four men were
the earliest Iranian modernists who were more or
less familiar with the movement and its develop-
ments in the west. A few years after 1930, these
four modernists formed a more organized and
maverick literary circle and rather accidentally
adopted the title known as Rabeh(a made-up
Arabic word for fouror foursome,then used
derogatorily), as an opposition to the classicist,
conformist, and conservative circle known as
Sabeh(consisting of seven famous poets and
The Sabeh group chief among them such
poets as Mohammad Taghi Bahar and Badi-u-
Zaman Foruzanfar and Said Nassi were con-
sidered veteran classicists who dominated the lit-
erary scenes and valued classical literature,
preventing innovations and creations which
radically departed from the classics. Hedayat and
his friends highly advocated and longed for a
break with the past and emphasis on creativity
and innovation, and this was the main root of
their drastic oppositions to the Sabeh gures.
A number of anecdotes in Mister Bow-wow sati-
rize this prevalent attitude of the time.
Hedayat is said to have been the centerof the
Rabeh literary circle (Shariatmadari 1975:
3233). Like the Bloomsbury Group in England,
the Rabeh circle was not established for the mere
sake of friendship, entertainments, or get-
togethers though these were among their pur-
poses but more seriously for the sake of working
as a team(Hedayat 2011). It should be noted,
after all, that there was no strict ofciality with the
title Rabeh: Hedayat himself was against any
political or social categorization or orientation and
would smile at the title Rabeh(see Tahbaz
1997:2931). Prior to any such formalities, the
members were more importantly comrades
cooperating, exchanging ideas, and trying to con-
tribute defamiliarized, new literature.
Hedayat and World Literature
Hedayat was familiar with classical (mostly Per-
sian) as well as modern literature. He was also
evidently knowledgeable of early-twentieth-
century modernism. It is indicated that he was
well-versed in French language and literature,
and knew enough English as well. He would
even read, for instance, such modernists as John
Dos Passos (Hedayat 2001: 62) and James Joyce
(68), as he says in letters to his close friend Hassan
Shahid Nurai; many of his own works are clearly
surrealistic and expressionistic in style and con-
tent (e.g., The Blind Owl or Three Drops of
There is also evidence that Hedayat was under
the inuence of Ferdowsi, Sadi, Haz, Khayyam
(all of whom had lasting inuence on European
literature as well), and Goethe, Dostoevsky, Bau-
delaire, Freud, Camus, Sartre, Kafka, and Rilke.
The grossest inuences seemingly came from the
surrealism and expressionism of the latter two
gures. Manouchehr Mohandessi, half a century
4 Hedayat, Sadegh
ago, exposed us to a few passages of The Blind
Owl and their afnities with RilkesThe Note-
books of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910), afnities
that cannot be said to be plagiarism as the subject
matter of one greatly differs from the other, yet
they hint at Hedayats signicant receptions.
There are, moreover, salient existentialist and psy-
chological aspects in Hedayats works as well. In
his work there also appears, directly or indirectly,
names of philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle,
Khayyam, Montaigne, Pascal, Descartes, Spi-
noza, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Sartre, and
Camus. He sometimes directly refers to them or
their works, and occasionally evokes their works
through his expressions and language.
Hedayat and the City
The relationship between Hedayat and the city can
be discussed roughly in terms of two periods: the
early Hedayat and the late Hedayat. It must be
noted that there is much overlapping because
Hedayats career had many ups and downs and
he underwent many changes of perspective and
interests. He was said to be more positive for some
time after his acquaintance with the Rabeh peo-
ple and for some time after Reza Shahs dethrone-
ment, but these periods did not last long.
The early period (19261935), comprises the
still young and perhaps hopeful Hedayat (though
hopefulseems a somewhat unt word to ascribe
to him), and the later period (19351951) com-
prises the darker Hedayat who is much more
restless, depressed, and agonized (see for instance
Katirai1971: 266270). Homa Katouzian
describes him as suffering from personal tragedy,
the social isolation and the universal alienation
(2008: 7). It is still noteworthy and ironic that a
few of Hedayats famous works were written in
his early period. They include short stories such as
Buried Alive,”“Davud the Hunchback,”“Abji
Khanoum,and the romantic short story Maud-
lin,all of which appear to have been under the
inuence of the unknown complications sur-
rounding his unsuccessful suicide attempt in
1928. But these are not among his realistic, criti-
cal, and satirical writings (see Katouzian 2008:
611), which have more relevance to ideas
concerning the city.
For the early Hedayat, despite his ever-present
pessimism and feelings of melancholia, one can
refer to his search for meaning in romantic nation-
alism and the beginning of his deep inquiry into
folklore, ancient Iranian civilization, culture, and
literature (his important travelogue belongs to this
period), while the late Hedayat is a deeply
depressed gure with advanced melancholia and
disillusionment; in his late period we have sharp
realism, pungent satirical writings, and bitter
social, political, and cultural critiques which cul-
minate in his later works Haji Aghaand The
Pearl Cannon. Even so, his café discussions and
activities with the then expanded circle (added to
it were Hassan Shahid Nurai, Hassan Qaemian,
Sadegh Chubak, Parviz Natel-Khanlari, and a few
others) were not abandoned until his last couple of
The urban space, culture, and Hedayat are at
times interwoven. He was familiar with his sur-
roundings and was simultaneously under direct
inuence of (mostly ancient Iranian) culture
early on in his writing career. He is said to be
one of the rst Iranian researchers to have delved
deep into Irans ancient and modern culture and
folklore. First indicated in his Neyrangestan
(ca. 1933), he exposes us to a range of idioms,
proverbs, (fairy)tales, myths, traditional, religious
and local superstitions, habits, beliefs, and orien-
tations (Hedayat 1933,1999:917). Later on, he
expands the work to include other tales, mythic
and folkloric beliefs, and narratives, and these are
all packed into a single book edited and published
after his death by his nephew Jahangir Hedayat
(1999). As such, Hedayat received and researched
the culture and background of his people and
country (still not to say of Europe) to a great
extent. The cities of Tehran (mainly), Isfahan,
Shiraz, and also Paris (to a lesser extent) are
unique points of reference.
Hedayat is said to have stayed in Shiraz for
some time after traveling to Isfahan (Hedayat
2017: 16). His short story Dash Akol(Hedayat
2008:7584) is a tragic narrative set in Shiraz and
briey refers to some features, beliefs, and tradi-
tions of that city and Iran more generally. Equally
Hedayat, Sadegh 5
importantly is Don Juan-e Karaj(one of the
stories in The Stray Dog collection); Hedayats
anonymous narrator talks about his recent trip to
Karaj the northwestern suburb of Tehran, today
itself the center of Alborz province. While it is
mainly a story of love affairs, promiscuity, and
interpersonal relations, we also read about a few
of Karajs qualities such as its inns, cafés, and
local people as well as the surrounding nature.
In many of his realistic and/or satirical short
stories and novels (especially in Madam Alavieh
Alavieh Khanoum,Haji Agha, and his satire
The Morvari Cannon), Hedayat takes a highly
critical, at times darkly comic, approach. There
are many political innuendos, satirical passages,
and cultural and social critiques in these writings,
his novel Haji Agha and satire The Morvari Can-
non being among the best. Instead of trying to
provide theories of reform, Hedayat takes on crit-
ical and satirical standpoints. He depicts, most
importantly, the dark sides of politicians and con-
servatives. He also satirizes people, their deroga-
tory and even obscene usage of Persian language,
their ignorance, superstitions, and other naked
aspects of their lives. Hedayats street language
in these tales, sometimes infused with structural
and syntactic errors, has been criticized by some
readers, but it is apparent that he adopts this per-
spective on purpose. The deeply colloquial lan-
guage seen in some of his realist/satirical stories
a language that makes a well-crafted and loyal
translation of these works almost impossible
graphically demonstrates prevalent conditions
and circumstances of the laymen, the difculties
of their lives (perhaps the outcome of their own
ignorance or obscenity) as signicant aspects of
the civil life of Tehran.
Having received such inuences, how could
Hedayat have inuenced the city and the culture
of his people? There are monographs and theses
by Iranian students and researchers which reveal a
range of cultural, literary, and even linguistic/lin-
gual innovations and inuences of Hedayat (see
Amir-Arjmand 2017; Muallemi 2008). He is also
known as the earliest practitioner of café sittings
in its modern sense, a cultural and literary activity
he set up in Tehran and continued in the second
half of his life. According to his biography and his
friendsand researchersindications, Hedayat
spent around 5 to 6 years of his life abroad (half
of this in the French cities of Reims, Besancon,
and mostly Paris), but during this short time
abroad (especially 19271929), he imported a
literary/cultural activity (café sitting) from Paris
to Tehran that proved important both in his own
time and for the later generations. He spent most
of his life in Tehran and was deeply in touch with
it and inuenced by that city which was (and still
is) the heart of Iran. In a short series of notes on
Hedayats café spots in Tehran during 19411950,
we gain a sense of many cafés and their back-
grounds and features Jaleh, Ferdowsi, Continen-
tal, la Mascotte, Behjat-abad teashop (Ghahveh-
Khaneh Behjat-Abad), etc. and other interesting
anecdotes (Katirai1971: 333348). We are told
about both jokes and serious literary occasions, of
games and music (most importantly of the
Kamancheh, an Iranian musical instrument), of
coining (sometimes comic) words and expres-
sions by Hedayat, and so on. But even though
people of that time paid little attention to these
activities, Hedayats legacy had a lasting inuence
on the later Iranian literati. Even today, such gath-
erings are still popular in Tehran and other cities,
especially among students of art and literature.
Hedayat also had a deep concern about folk-
loric culture and literature. He meticulously
researched the origins of folkloric studies
(Hedayat 2000: 495540) and imported that line
of research to his own country (rst with
Neyrangestan). He believed that humanities as
best masterpieces”–in a range of areas such as
ne arts, literature, philosophy, and religion
have their basic roots in folklore and folkloric
literature and culture (Hedayat 2000: 496).
These traditions are responsible for revealing
many aspects of the people and the city life of a
nation. Hedayat thought that, as a great part of this
has been forgotten and eliminated, there was a risk
of losing the remaining bodies of folkloric knowl-
edge, especially in ancient nations such as Iran.
He saw them as worthy of attention and as valu-
able sources of Irans identity (503). Hedayat was
perhaps the rst to set this standard and this sig-
nicant concern among Iranians, having them
value their nation and guard its folkloric (and
6 Hedayat, Sadegh
thus cultural and literary) legacies and ultimately
its identity.
Hedayat: An Escapist or a Flaneur?
Instead of being an escapist who would want to
avoid the city and all its contradictions, obsceni-
ties, and misfortunes, Hedayat can be said to have
held a few features of the aneur: the one who
would like to roam the city, observe and experi-
ence the beauties and vulgarities of his surround-
ings, while looking for a way to expose himself
(and us) to them. If he was sometimes a aneur, he
is a special version of it, perhaps a critical-minded
aneur and not a carefree or vagrant one. As we
know, he maintained a critical look on the city and
later depicts and satirizes its obscenities and dark
sides in his realistic and satirical works (e.g., Haji
Agha, The Morvari Cannon).
In a recently published book, we read about
Hedayat and his brother Issa in Paris who was by
then a military student in France as they roamed
the city and its surroundings, visiting various cul-
tural and historical places (Hedayat 2017:
97117). He is said to have stayed in Cachan
commune in Paris. As Jahangir Hedayat tells us,
the two brothers had plans for 36 days in 1927:
sight-seeing, parties, tours, café sittings, cinemas,
and clubs were among the activities despite their
tight budget. This is perhaps the peak of the early
Hedayats reception of inuences from a signi-
cant city like Paris.
Further, as mentioned earlier, we also read
about Hedayats roaming Tehran from alley to
alley, street to street, and café to café. He was
mainly known as an introverted gure who pre-
ferred indirect contacts, but we are also certain
that he was by no means a purely solitary, misan-
thropic, and home-staying person. He would
always keep in touch with his friends, with the
city, its urban spaces, and its people with observ-
ing eyes. The early Hedayat perhaps found con-
sole in the city, as well as in art.
But the late Hedayats sense of absurdity and
melancholic disappointment seems very evasive.
It can be speculated that little by little he
underwent national/universal, personal/social,
cultural/political, ontological/epistemological, or
psychological turmoil; but as his narrator in Bur-
ied Alive says, nobody has understood whats
wrong with me. Theyve all been fooled!
(2008, 103) and perhaps these are Hedayats
own words to us! Moreover, his avoidance of
political parties (such as the communist Tudeh
party which Alavi served as a member) marks
not his conservatism but rather his complete hope-
lessness and disappointment (see, e.g., Katirai
1971: 335). But at least, the late Hedayat seem-
ingly felt (though only partial) console in art more
than the city; when he roamed Paris in the last few
months of his life, he mainly had nostalgic feel-
ings about its past, the time he had studied there in
the late 1920s. It was only art which now seemed
at least a way of discharging parts of his unknown
and unknowable impostume from time to time.
His The Blind Owl magically contains many dis-
tinct descriptions that match the late Hedayat.
In his last months, however, Hedayat is said to
have destroyed some of his incomplete writings. It
is suggested that he later even lost that positive
sense on art as well. His suicide in this sense does
not seem very surprising. The fact is that almost
nobody could know him; he was really ahead of
his time.
A Few Remarks on The Blind Owl
It is impossible to write on Hedayat and not say
something about the fantastic world of his unde-
niable masterpiece (I will discuss this work in
relation to the city in a separate entry). Although
it is not exactly clear when he wrote The Blind
Owl, according to Bozorg Alavis memoir
Hedayat had already nished this novel before
traveling to India in 1936 (Alavi 1998: 182). The
idea of the book and its production probably go
back to a few years before this publication in
Bombay (he published it there while he was tem-
porarily banned by censorship, probably being the
rst to have been censored in the history of Iran),
perhaps some time after he had written his other
psycho-ctions such as Buried Alive and Three
Drops of Blood.
Hedayat, Sadegh 7
The Blind Owl is mainly read as a surrealist
work (Katouzian 1993a,b; Shamissa 1993: 22)
and sometimes as an expressionist one (Katouzian
2008: 10), and it is certain that both techniques are
actively endorsed and incorporated. The novel is
narrated in a rst-person perspective and consists
of two parts, the rst shorter part happening in the
present and the second seemingly being a drug-
induced hallucinatory recollection in the far past
(the middle ages). Its main theme can be said to be
a romantic loss, and its lovelorn narrator tries to
communicate it as a trauma, or sore, or wound,
even though it is vain, as he thinks, to say some-
thing about these wounds to others (Hedayat
1936: 9).
He thus writes for his shadow (the owl) who
devours his words. Perhaps this is the restless part
of himself which needs to be nourished via some-
thing (maybe art?). The nightmarish and surreal-
ist/expressionist sublimity that we witness in this
work can also be regarded as one way to depict the
sense of loss and absurdity of the modern subject
as well as what he witnessed in modern Iran. Even
so, Hedayat did not perhaps really overcome that
sense; it was arguably a nostalgia or a romantic
sense of duality or contradiction between a harsh
reality and a desirable truth that could hardly be
overcome through something such as art. For him,
to draw upon William Butler Yeats, things had
already (perhaps irreparably for the late Hedayat)
fallen apart.
HedayatsThe Blind Owl and a few of his other
stories such as Buried Alive or Davud the Hunch-
backor Three Drops of Blind are famously called
psycho-ctions by Katouzian. Although these are
different from psychological novels in many
respects, Katouzian has dened features such as
lack of a certain setting (time and place) and a
clear-cut plot, an abundance of subjective
(psychological) descriptions often aligned with
traces of depression and solitude. They are narra-
tives of insufferable fear without clear reason...
sin without Sinai... punishment without crime
(Katouzian 2008: 11). These ctions have several
other unique aspects as well. They are usually
traumatic recollections or dark narratives of
cruxes or splits, stories of loss, of bitter internal
monologues sometimes with traces of the stream
of consciousness with its illogical sentence-
structure and syntax and epiphanic tragicality
and mortality. Hedayats psycho-ctions are
sometimes reminiscent of negative modes of
Proustian remembrances, not exalting but deathly
and dark. The Blind Owl has many afnities with
some of other (post)modernist works, for instance
with some of Maurice Blanchots works, espe-
cially with Death Sentence; both of them can be
considered as narratives of the loss of self as a
result of the loss of the other.
Having put many of his protagonists in claus-
trophobic agonies or unending searches for some-
thing to cling to, perhaps the most salient
characteristic of Hedayats writings especially
his Owl is their unfathomable tragicality; it is
denitely not simply a tragic sensation of life but,
as Katouzian rightly suggests, life as tragedy
(Katouzian 1993a: 88). Hedayat depicts his cen-
tral and anonymous narrators imprisoned in tragic
labyrinths, as disillusioned wayfarers or wan-
derers ripped apart between belonging and
unbelonging, between the self and the other.
If we take for granted some of the remarks of
the narrator of The Blind Owl as Hedayats own
philosophical meditations on his being-in-the-
world, we might be able to suggest that he saw
himself incompatible with being and life (1957:
78). He was unable to make sense of what seemed
to him too nonsensical and essentially empty.
Hedayat perhaps saw life as a deathly void in
which he could not locate himself; those majori-
ties who could bear this void were actually voids
themselves or what he called rajjaleh(or rabble:
supercial, carefree, hedonist, and carnal people,
perhaps somehow akin to the Arnoldian philis-
tine). His wanderings, time spent seeking shelter
in cafés with his friends were all inuential and
had lasting effects on later generations of Iranian
writers, but they seemed to himself absurd and
pointless, only forced dangling by the rope of life,
an unbearable thrownness into being. At one
point, Hedayats narrator mentions that it is the
nothingness after his death that played the role of
hope for him to temporarily tolerate being, and
that the very thought of being and living and
anything like lifefrightens him (1957: 78). It
was probably in the hopeless hope and what a
8 Hedayat, Sadegh
contradiction we have here! of that nothingness
that Hedayat tried to kill life and nally commit-
ted suicide.
Benjamin, Surrealism, and Paris
Acknowledgments I appreciate dear Dr. Homayoun
Katouzian for his kindness in reading parts of this essay
and bringing to light some of its mistakes and ambiguities.
I am also indebted to dear Dr. Ali Gheissari and Dr. Arya
Fani for providing me with a few sources and guidelines.
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Further Reading
Hedayat, Sadegh. 1952. Haji Agha. Tehran: Amir Kabir
Publishing House.
Hillman, Michael. 1992. Sadegh Hedayats life:
A chronology. Iran Nameh: Journal of Iranian Studies
10 (3): 414418.
Mohandessi, Manoutchehr. 1971. Hedayat and Rilke.
Comparative Literature 23 (3): 209216.
Natel-Khanlari, Parviz. 1951. Death of Sadegh Hedayat.
Yaghma 37: 106.
Norouzi Talab, Hamid Reza. 2008. Tehran, past & present:
A glance at the features of life, art and architecture.
Tehran: Yassavoli Publications.
Rypka, Jan. 1968. History of Iranian literature, ed. Karl
Jahn. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing.
Hedayat, Sadegh 9
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Hedayat dictionary (vocabulary/idioms, expressions and anecdotes of the works of Sadegh Hedayat)
  • Maryam Amir-Arjmand
Amir-Arjmand, Maryam. 2017. Hedayat dictionary (vocabulary/idioms, expressions and anecdotes of the works of Sadegh Hedayat). Tehran: Nashr-e-Takhteh-Siaah.
Folkloric culture of Iranian people
  • Sadegh Hedayat
Hedayat, Sadegh. 1999. Folkloric culture of Iranian people, ed. Jahangir Hedayat. Tehran: Nashr-e-Chesmeh.
Miscellaneous writings
  • Sadegh Hedayat
Hedayat, Sadegh. 2000. Miscellaneous writings. Tehran: Thaleth Publication.
Eighty-two letters to Hassan Shahid Nura'i (second edition with corrections and additions)
  • Sadegh Hedayat
Hedayat, Sadegh. 2001. Eighty-two letters to Hassan Shahid Nura'i (second edition with corrections and additions). Vincennes: Cesmandaz.
The book of Sadegh Hedayat
  • Mahmoud Katira'i
Katira'i, Mahmoud. 1971. The book of Sadegh Hedayat. Tehran: Farzin Publication.
Sadeq Hedayat: Az Afsaneh ta Vagheiyat
  • Homa Katouzian
Katouzian, Homa. 1993b. Sadeq Hedayat: Az Afsaneh ta Vagheiyat. Trans. Firouzeh Muhajir. Tehran: Tarh-e-No.
The wondrous world of Sadeq Hedayat
  • Homa Katouzian
Katouzian, Homa. 2008. The wondrous world of Sadeq Hedayat. In Sadeq Hedayat: His work and his wonderous world, ed. Homa Katouzian.
Social reality and fictional world: Sociology of art and literature
  • Jamshid Mesbahipour Iranian
Mesbahipour Iranian, Jamshid. 1980. Social reality and fictional world: Sociology of art and literature. Tehran: Amir Kabir Publishing House.