Sunday, June 3, 2012

Review: The Blind Owl

         It's a shame really. I had decided not to write a review of Sadegh Hedayat's The Blind Owl before reading it twice but I just don't think it's going to happen. Not, and I really want to emphasize this, because it is a bad novel but more due to the fact that reading this book is quite a mental ordeal. It is a short book and the writing is not difficult but getting through it is best done either in one sitting or over the course of months by simply opening the book to a random page and reading for as long as you can bear then leaving the book to meditate.  As a bit of background Hedayat was from Iranian aristocracy and worked in the beginning of the century in mostly the realist vein (I haven't read any other works by him) and turned to political satire and commentary before committing suicide in Paris in 1951. The Blind Owl has been banned outright for at least the last decade in Iran and seems to have been a taboo novel for even longer. The novel itself is a lesson in repetition, madness, paranoia and angst. If it were a paining i imagine it might look like Bosch had redone "Nude Descending a staircase No.2": hellish, confusing, and inescapable. I repeatedly wondered if Lynch had read this as a number of themes from his movies are present in the novel: especially the unexplained alterego shifting of "Lost Highway" and the "hypertextual" repetition of "Inland Empire".
         While not outright transsgressive there is something "wrong" about the work: it preaches a sort of sedition against reality. Some authors may play with our notion of reality or meaning but Hedayat rips it to shreds and gives us no toehold from which to form a logical representation of the world he creates. A semilinear narrative exists in the work but it really wouldn't do justice to go through point by point. Rather there are a series of images, objects, sounds, feelings and tastes which are visited again and again by the protagonist(s). The importance of these experiences (if there is any) is never really explained and we are left grasping and wondring forced to make our own (most certainly wrong) conclusions. We get to witness these events from various viewpoints: first person, third person, viewed with fear or with detachment. Who ever is telling us about the scenes, for example an old man's grating laughter, seems obsessed with them, driven mad by them, surrounded by them. The unexplained obsessions in the book bring to mind Basara's "Chinese Letter" though I think Hedayat pulls off the theme with more virtuosity and skill. The narrator(s) are able to be alternately loving and hateful while all the time maintaining emotional neutrality or numbness. One describes his obsession with his wife whom he repeatedly calls "the bitch" who we later learn is a merciless cuckold. There is "the girl" who draws the narrator in with her beauty and gives the him a reason to live. Later when she enters his home we learn he may have killed her. Maybe.
             Central to the novel is an inability to determine one's own actions and past.The narrator may remember undertaking an action, but all evidence points to the contrary. Is this an example of an unreliable narrator or is Hedayat asking us to question the mechanisms of memory or of self concept?  Hedayat has created a lacuna in reality which conveniently sits inside a novel it is a work that reveals itself slowly over time, a dark forest which may hold uncomfortable truths to which we are pulled back incessantly.

1 comment:

  1. dear Sam, could it be that you are not a lover of poetry ? I'm doing some research about this book and your review is the funniest I've come across yet. personaly I found it deeply disturbing because someone gave it to me at a time when I was suffering from burnout - maybe he wanted to finnish me off ? anyway, it seems you are looking for a simple logical story (as was I) but I think this is a poem written out of so deep a suffering that singularity is no longer possible for the mind of the one who undergeos the horror. One man reads the dreamgirl (the object of desire) and the wife as one and the same, as depictions of the love and the hatred hee both feels for a woman by whom he feels betrayed/belittled etc. that seems an interesting point of view to me, so, now that I'm better, I'm going to read it again, because however horrible the subject, as a poem I think its great ! thank you very much for this review, hope you are happy with lots of books that do'nt dissapoint you :)