Monday, 20 June 2011

the blind owl [sadeq hedayat]

I discovered this book in the Calder bookshop across the road from The Young Vic. The blurb referred to the writer as the Iranian Kafka. He's not. He's something else altogether.

The Blind Owl is a short, very dense text, of just over a hundred pages. It's narrated by a lunatic, a lunatic possessed by a cold thread of reason. The first forty pages of the book contain some of the most brilliant, hallucinatory writing I've ever come across. The last sixty aren't bad either. Hedayat employs horror, humour, repetition and acute powers of description to describe one man's madness as told by himself. You could say it emerges from a style of writing pioneered by Dostoyevski, specifically in works such as The Double, (so much in twentieth century literature seems to come from Dosteyevski) or, as mentioned in the forward, the French poets maudits, with their delirious introspection. From an Anglo-Saxon point of view, it feels like it might be the direct heir to Coleridge's Kubla Khan: this is what it's really like inside the pleasuredome, in a land where time drips off the walls and every bead of sweat contains a world refracted within.

What marks out Hedayat's text in particular is the remarkable use of repetition. Which serves as both a source of stability in a world where events seem to obey no temporal logic and also the source of a kind of comic damnation. It's all going to come around again, it's never going to change. Trapped as we are in the same old patterns (script after script; flaw after flaw; fight and flight, etc) the simplicity of Hedayat's device works to remind us that the narrator, for all his opium habits and exotic strangeness, is one of us, human, obedient to the inescapability of fate.

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