A Political Review of Iranian Contemporary Poetry
By: Mohammad Ali Ghazalsofli, 1998
A comprehensive review of literary themes from constitutional revolution up to now reveals three literary inclinations or styles each of which portray the literary atmosphere of these periods.
First of all a modern or liberal school of thought developed according to the exigencies of periods before and after constitutional revolution during transition from a traditional society to a society which could accept and digest the revolution. Though incorporating certain secular tendencies, this kind of literature urged the need for modernism and defended political and social liberties.
The second theme was defiance of the existing conditions. Such a school of thought was actually encouraged and developed by Reza Shah's 20 years of despotic rule.
The third literary theme was a sort of revival and resistance literature. Although such a feeling has its root in pre-contemporary history of Iran it was revived during Reza Shah's reign and gained momentum during years 1953 to 1961, leaving its impact on the Iranian literature.
In an examination of the contemporary Iranian literature each of these inclinations are analyzed in three different periods.
A review and identification of indicators of literary theme in the contemporary Iranian literature is influenced by new literary and sociology perspectives of art an example of which has been mentioned in Janet Woolf's Social Production of Art. With a new glance at the sociology of art I am trying to review the contemporary literature of Iran in this article and cast a new glance at the opinions raised in these literary texts. My reasoning is like that of Woolf who says: "Many people participate in production of a literary work and social factors and ideological thoughts influence the works of a writer or painter in a country and that the audience and readers play an active and participatory role in creation of works. Thus, the writer is pushed into the margin in a very conspicuous manner." (Woolf, 1994, p. 33).
Such a structuralism perspective does not mean a limitation of literary texts but shows that a number of the literary products in contemporary Iran were surely influenced by the events of the time. Under such circumstances literary themes and artists undertook a sort of responsibility not in a realistic or socialistic manner to justify the desires of a despotic regime or to echo a critical realism that Maxim Gorky exhorted, but to show a sort of Iranian artistic conscience that grieved for the masses during the constitutional uprising and after that period and understood matters according to the conditions of the time. If we see that after 1953 such an ardor led to a sort of disintegration and seclusion among poets and writers it is because no suitable environment existed for them to give a vent to their feeling. For that reason we believe that the writer is the product of social and ideological factors and is constantly being restructured and revolutionized by such factors and not existence which is above all these factors or inner conscience which belongs to the self only (Woolf, 1994, p. 161)."
Now in a review of the contemporary literature my emphasis is laid on political examination of the matter with an eye to the three literary schools with the advent of the contemporary Iranian history in which we cannot avoid the constitutional uprising era. We will commence our article in three historical periods i.e. the Constitutional era, Reza Shah's reign and from 1941 to 1953. While reviewing these three periods in detail, we will zoom on several outstanding literary figures such as Bozorg Alavi and Sadeq Hedayat.
Constitutional Revolution and Literature
The grounds for constitutional revolution were prepared in the beginning of the reign of Nasseruddin Shah, the Qajar king. At those time the ardor for revolution was further intensified with the various amendments made due to Nasseruddin Shah's frequent trips to Europe and travel to Europe by Iranian immigrants, as well as two trips to Iran by Seyed Jamaloddin Assadabadi when he vehemently campaigned against the despotic system. The need for amendments to the politics and the exertions of Assadabadi's followers had a definite impact in public awakening in Iran. Meanwhile the intellectuals and literalists who had long since witnessed the physical and spiritual poverty of the country and were anxious about the conditions in Iran and had found suitable grounds to operate abroad, started to enlighten the people and to train their thoughts by books and articles.
Of influential figures who played an important role in the awakening of the Iranian people and spreading the seeds of revolution one was Mirza Melkom Khan Nazem ad-Dowleh Isfahani who is said to have founded the freemasonry movement in Tehran as well as Qanoon (law) newspaper in London at a later time. His different and useful essays revolutionized the Iranian thoughts. Translations of essays and plays by Mirza Fathali Akhoondzadeh, essays and poems by Mirza Aqakhan Kermani, books by Hajj Mirza Abdolrahim Talbof who taught basics of science and sociology in a simple language, Hajj Zeinolabedin Maragheyi's social novels, Farsi magazines and papers published in Egypt, India and Istanbul, commercial transactions between Azerbaijan and Ottoman Empire and Caucasus and especially the Japan-Russia war in February 1904, Russia's defeat from Japan which shook the Iranian public opinions, emergence of useful newspapers and magazines in Caucasus and their circulation in Azerbaijan, were all factors which gradually and at each era penetrated into the corrupt social structure of the Iranian social system and alarmed the ruling elite in Iran whose antiquated bureaucratic system exposed the country to the threat of immediate occupation by the Russians and English. These factors prepared the people to accept a fundamental revolution in the administration of nation and to employ a new living style. Thus a fervent desire to revolutionize the ancient, decadent and disintegrated social system in Iran led to constitutional uprising (Arianpour, 1993, vol. 1, 225-226).
Before the constitutional uprising and as a prelude to the revolution, many scientific, recreational and social and political books were translated about political and social issues and about the need to expand modernism. Baqer Momeni has classified three types of literature which moved with the conditions of these years:
The desire for rapid progress in the society led to the translation and publication of various books such as The History of Peter the Great, Charles the Twelfth and Alexander of Macedon by Voltaire, novels such as the Three Musketeers and Conte Monte Christo by Alexander Duma, Telemak by Fenelin, Robinson the Cruiser by Daniel Defoe, Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift and the Story of Hajji Baba from Isfahan by James Mourier, translated by Mirza Habib Isfahani. All of these eventually led to the declaration of constitutional monarchy by Muzafaruddin Shah who was a different personality among the Qajar kings. For that reason a freedom lover such as Nazemoleslam Kermani pays glowing tribute to Muzafaruddin Shah in his History of Iranian Awakening. Kermani says: "The appearance of novels and translations of foreign books such as the Three Musketeers and Conte Monte Christo, etc. and their release from detention was during the time of Muzafaruddin Shah..."
- Scientific literature whose foundations had been laid by the government and the ruling elite and which achieved unprecedented growth after Nasseruddin Shah.
- Recreational literature or evening amusement which addressed all the classes of the community. Books such as Amir Arsalan, The Three Musketeers, The Compulsory Physician and the Story of Napoleon were ardently cherished by both aristocrats, medium class and the lower classes. Meanwhile one must not forget that such types of literature had an eye to politics as well.
- The political and social literature of the constitutional era was considered so important that Momeni says if they lacked radical political views they were regarded as being unrelated to constitutional period. This novel and tradition-breaking literature which was in fact the fruit of the middle class city bourgeois gave birth to revolutionary slogans according to their themes. From that angle Fereidoon Adamiat also refers to a series of literary works related to the constitutional era which criticized the existing ruling system. Adamiat mentions articles and essays such as Criticism of Name by Mirza Ebrahim Badayenegar, Menhaj al-Ali by Abutaleb Behbahani, The Political Condition of Iran and Sheikhe Shookh (The Merry Sheikh) by Mirza Hussain Khan Sartip as examples of political and social literature of the time. From the same source we will quote passages from Sheikhe Shookh as an example to show how the literature of that era understood the need to transit to a new period and welcome change in the structure of the system. In one chapter of Sheikhe Shookh, the book says: "Condition in Europe differs from those in Iran. In Europe facilities exist for learning whereas in Iran no such institutions exist. Learned and knowledgeable people are respected abroad whereas in Iran they are debased and humiliated. Books and schools exist in Europe whereas in Iran knowledge is obsolete. In Iran one can see pigeon and monkey houses but no public library. Then how can lovers of knowledge be educated? (Adamiat, the Thought of Freedom, 1961).
During his reign the government became constitutional monarchy in Iran... and the people became enlightened and awakened about their rights... (Nazemoleslam Kermani, 1953, p. 427)."
The emergence of revisionist and combatant literature during those backward times in Iran was due to the presence of two kinds of writers; Domestic writers such as Rezaqoli Khan Hedayat, Etemadolsaltaneh, Aminoldowleh, and Yousef Khan Mostesharoldowleh all of whom were seeking a single expression which was the lost `freedom' and the need for rule of law. The second group including Talebov, Zeinolabedin Maragheyi and Mirza Melkom Khan resided abroad.
I believe the assembly of these two groups of writers led to the formation of a sort of abstract realism which became a suitable instrument in the hands of the Iranian people so that through that realism they could tear off the veils from their political and social life, incite their spirits to overturn their existing life and build a new system or to revolt.
What Chekhov has said finds a suitable meaning here: "If you teach people in what a degrading situation they are living, perhaps they might crave for a better life. Baqer Momeni makes a fit expression of that spirit of struggle in the constitutional literature by saying: "Due to combatant and progressive nature of the bourgeois at that time the philosophy of literature in that period is mostly materialistic even where it focuses on religion. It is a protestant literature which breaths novelty and fighting superstition." (Momeni 1975, Pp. 6-7).
Of course alongside these slogans there is a continued stress on love of freedom and repetition of that forgotten issue. For example in his book Ahmad or Talebi's Vessel (Safineh Talebi) Talebov repeatedly underlines the need for freedom and bases his reason on the following sentences which he repeats many times: "One must die for the cause of liberty." Besides slogans about freedom, patriotic aspirations and love of modern sciences and techniques was popular at that time. As if a community departing from its traditional past needs to look at such material according to the exigencies of modernism. This reminds us of West's experience during the seventeenth and eighteenth century when lovers of encyclopedias such as Voltaire and Goethe produced various works in that field and invented the novel which can better describe the political and social aspirations of the age.
For that reason many writers believe that the novel was born in Europe simultaneously with renaissance. Therefore compared with Europe's experience, during the constitutional uprising Iran transited from poetry to novel. Different slogans in the constitutional literature according to the requirements of the revolution incited the country to rapidly abandon monotonous tones echoed in books such as The Policies of Talebi or Ebrahim Beig's Travelogue and to seek better and more progressive themes to respond to the community's desire for modernism. It seemed as if the age of poetry was over and it belonged to the age of tradition and the special exigencies of such ages.
In such a definition not only in Iran but in many other communities poetry is explaining the traditions and indicators, but as Hegel says the novel is a new bourgeois epic which transits to a new field of modernism that adapts to the revolutions happening in the 16th and 17th century in Europe. In a letter to Louis Kouleh, Max Flauber says; "It was but yesterday that prose was borne... Undoubtedly poetry is a prevailing format of the past literature."
It is in harmony with Europe's new experience that Arnold Kettle's letter to Louis Kouleh says: "Novel is the fruit of disintegration of feudalism and the offspring of the revolutions of 16th and 17th century. In this connection also Ian Watt says: "Novel marches in harmony with the philosophic reality of the eighteenth century (Mirriam Eliot, 1992, Introduction). As if the pulse of history beats in novel and it is the novel that digs a tunnel into truth and reveals the existing realities and that which is hidden behind the definite events. Bazaof, the hero of Turgenov's Fathers and Sons ruthlessly attacks the aristocratic values of the old Russia and reveals the social realities of that age. Dostoevsky heroes always portray chaos and turmoil in the community affected by social, cultural and sports crises. With his deep realism Balzac declares the decline of feudalism and unavoidable victory of capitalism and in his Madam Buvary, Flaubert reveals the catastrophe of the bourgeois idealism. Since all the heroes of the precious literary classic texts describe the realities they have survived and continue to breath in our present environment.
During the constitutional era in Iran if a literary text was chosen for translation it should contain such critical themes within its context. Although the Qajar princes did not give credit to such material Ebrahim Beig's Travelogue or "His Fanatic Blight" by Maragheyi describes the life of a young Iranian who has been educated abroad and after many years he returns to his home, full of hopes and ardor. But when he observes the deep gap between the life style of his country and that of the advanced world (i.e. West), he grew astonished and sick. Here we will hear selected passages from the hero of that book in which he criticizes the despotic atmosphere of the social system and backwardness of Iran at the time.
"I did not see any person in Iran he would use his pen to reveal the faults of the government or the people. Curses be on the soul of the poets. The only thing they do is to discover and eulogize a Pharaoh or Nimrod like despot. The sages are immersed in filthy illusions and the clerics have not yet solved the question of purification of body." But at the same time the hero of the book grieves his absence from his dear homeland.
In another chapter in the Travelogue which is in fact a comprehensive encyclopedia of the Iranian condition during the end of 13th century A.H. (19th century A.D.), written in a biting and bold language, we read the following passage: "The coachman said, this side is the Iranian territory and that side is Russia. I told him let us wait a minute, I have some business here. The coachman who thought I wanted to go to toilet said: "Wait for a while, running water is in close distance." I said: "I don't need water, I want to touch the earth."
Then he stopped the coach. I dismounted form it and took a fistful of dust, smelled and kissed it and spread it on my eyes and said: "Oh my pure land and the gem of my doleful eye. Thanks God I saw you again and my eyesight illuminated with your blessed image. You have been the refuge of the needy and the tomb of my ancestors. It was you that raised and nourished me in your affluence. I cannot return or reciprocate your goodness but with kindness. If the Iranian government was a real government it would have ordained law and order and equity and would have not sold the peasants to the lords like animals. We are always to be ruled and ordered by foreigners. If they did not have a grip on every thing we would have surely returned to Iran...." (Arianpour, 1993, p. 311).
Another part of the anti-despotic literature which exhorted a new way of life and civilization was produced by a man called Prince Melkom Khan Nazemoldowleh. He was the propagator of civil society in Iran at those time and believed that by chanting slogans for "the refinement of human beings and the Iranian nation in particular" he could instill a new civilization and enhance the knowledge and awareness of the Iranian masses. But neither his exalted opinions or his organization could survive under the conditions of the time. Anyhow as mentioned by Nazemoleslam Kermani, Melkom Khan also must be classified as one of the leaders and pioneers of freedom movement who awakened the people. What Melkom Khan did in Iran is said to resemble the things that Voltaire, Rousseau and Victor Hugo did in France. The literature produced by writers such as Melkom Khan, Talebov, Seyed Jamal and others during the constitutional era served as a revolutionary slogan. However with all these efforts the constitutional monarchy failed and was very soon replaced by despotism in the turbulent days of those times, as it was the historical fate of this country to end with despotism. At this period there was exhortations about modernism from the mouth of a new sort of intellectual despot and among such figure Reza Shah grew famous.
Reza Shah's Reign and Literature
During the 11 years after dismissal of Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar and opening of the Second Majlis (parliament) twenty governments had succeeded each other but none of these governments wanted or were able to take effective steps to amend the administrative structure of the country or respond to the people's aspirations. Everybody was tired of the ongoing situation and all felt that the country needed a strong centralized government supported by a strong army in order to rid the country of the chaotic situation. And such a vain wish was fulfilled by a simple soldier. Reza Khan who had been minister of war in Gavamolsaltaneh's cabinet retained that post in succeeding governments as well. With the beginning of the Fifth Majlis term his opponents had been reduced considerably and he managed to be appointed as prime minister. At this juncture Ahmad Shah, the last Qajar king, was forced to travel abroad apparently for medical treatment but actually under pressure. Thus the ground was prepared for ascension of Reza Khan to the throne. Many intellectuals and writers at the time introduced themselves as advocators of change and in fact they welcomed Reza Shah who was a new face in the government.
Of course under the circumstances and before, Reza Shah had displayed his true character and such a support was not without reason. Perhaps the most important reason for such a support was that the government's new slogans coincided with literary modernism. During that time by publishing various magazines and publications the Iranian intelligentsia were trying to adverse such ways of thinking. In fact all these efforts were a prelude to the development of a specific literary theme which supported novel literature and ended with a literature which defied the existing conditions in order to represent Reza Shah as a progressive figure and lover of a strong Iran like that which existed before the birth of Islam.
Magazines such as the Age of Revolution, The Era of Revolution, Iran, Vatan (homeland), Free Language, Iran's Kokab (Iran's star), The Voice of Tehran and Tamadon (civilization) in Tehran and newspapers such as Tajaddod (modernism) in Tabriz, The Jungle and the Red Revolution in Rasht, Estakhr, Golestan, Baharestan and Asre Azadi in Shiraz and Rahe Nejat (the way of salvation) and Akhgar (embers) in Isfahan along with publications such as Daneshgah (the university) by Malekolshoara Bahar, Gole Zard by Mirza Yahya Khan, Farhang by Rasht Cultural Association and Azadestan which published only three issues, along with a large quantity of slogans in support of modernism that grieved for Iran's past grandeur and that were even reflected in many of future novels and stories, one way or other supported the new literary theme at the time and justified the special circumstances that put Reza Shah on the throne. Therefore it must not be surprising to hear from Sepanlu that the Iranian literature from 1921 to 1936 when Hedayat's Blind Owl (Bouffe Koor) was printed, was wholly erased of politics (Sepanlu, 1992, p. 23). Until 1936 when despotism reached its climax Reza Shah's literary jargon propagated a non-political past nationalism. Patriotism, good morals and love of amendments were the leading objectives of the literary themes of the time. At the beginning even those intellectuals and writers who in later years became Reza Shah's bitter critics were fascinated by his slogans and published many such material. The political and cultural conditions during Reza Shah's reign and the mounting censorship and strangulation, pushed the literature towards another path. Influenced by western sentimental romanticism historical research, Iranology and sentimental stories and epics of bravery became increasingly popular in Iran. As a whole from 1922 to 1941 the progressive and combatant social literature of the revolution era was replaced by sentimental criticism of individual immoral deeds and a love of past Iran replaced a progressive patriotism. The pressure of the censure stopped the growth of story writing and the romantic and melancholy themes replaced the angry and lyrical stories that were popular during the constitutional period (Abedini, 1987, p.79).
Anyhow this is one side of the literature of those times which regretfully exists in all political regimes. In other words against a certain group of intellectuals and artists which supported the reigning system another underground literature developed which never surrendered to the conditions and requirements of the time and fought with such conditions. Thus it is natural in every regime for some writers or artists to fall in love with the regime's rhetoric and jargon. According to Gabriel Garcia Markuez these are a group of writers that play the role of flatters and supporter of every type of regime and enjoy affluence. But according to Kasravi the dissidents who themselves were divided into two opposition groups distanced themselves from the society or in fact abandoned the field. With the arrival of the black winter of despotism these writers were forced to go into a compulsory winter sleep. "Of scholars who under the circumstances left the field one must refer to Eshqi, Farrokhi Yazdi and Bahar. The Seyed Ashraf (Nasime Shomal) newspaper which had abandoned political themes had grown mentally unstable and was forced to close down. The people could not understand why that faithful and simple poet did not enrich his paper with his excellent poems. Lahooti had also escaped and sought refuge in the Soviet Union. Aref who had repented of his past performance had secluded himself in one of the valleys near Hamedan. He had no contact with any living creature but his dog and called every human being as devils and liars and evil-minded. Dehkhoda had also abandoned politics. Thus the sweet Iranian literature and poetry of the constitutional era was faced with the bleak and satanic Reza Shahi period (Shafii Kadkani 1984, p 346-7)." The second dissident group which started an underground literature did not abandon the field of battle for different reasons, but the Reza Shahi literary jargon was deplete with debasing love lyrics, cliche ethical rhetoric, praise of Reza Shah, debate on the evils of gambling and narcotics, condemnation of drinking, exhortation of physical sports and as Kadkani says it was so shallow and degrading that you could not find one person like Gha'ani or Soroush in it (Shafii Kadkani, p. 348).
Despite such a political and social atmosphere a number of poets and writers started to modernize the literature but to tell the truth modernism in literature did not conform with the modernism preached by Reza Shah's regime. In his preface to 'Once Upon A Time' Jamalzadeh has a apt remark about that sort of literature. He says "Regretfully departure from the classic literature of the past in Iran is considered destruction of literature and generally the same Iranian political despotism which is famous in the world prevails over our literature . In other words when a writer starts to write he addresses only the sages and scholars and does not mind ordinary people at all. They even neglect to consider many people who have the gift to read and write and can read and understand a simple language. In short these writers are not after literary democracy (Arianpour, p. 433)." One can conclude that the war between the old and new literature was a sort of clash between an old and outmoded community with a modern community. As Victor Hugo says if the surest result of a political revolution was a literary revolution many writers would be willing to help such a revolution triumph. The most famous literary Iranian figure at that time was Ali Esfandiari, better known as Nima Youshij, who after publishing his first poem called The Pale Story in March 1922 rapidly echoed the social conditions of the time and criticized the oppression. For example in his Oh Night, Ah Dreadful and Horrible Night, Till When You Must Burn My Body, Pull Out My Eyes, Unveil Your Face and Let Me Die For I'm Sick of This Life, he skillfully portrays the society's grief, sorrow and pessimism.
In his second series of poems such as Qoqnoos or Ah People Nima so bitterly laments for the oppressed community and lashes out at the Reza Khani dark and suffocating atmosphere that his night is lengthened into an eternal night which is connected with all the nights in our history.
In a commentary about Nima's poems Anvar Khameie says Nima's spirit of struggle with the ruling regime and his link with the suffering masses is clearly visible. According to Khameie "The subject of the majority of Nima's poems is the suffering and poverty of the laboring people and their numerous calamities such as hunger, unemployment, deprivation of their natural rights. He criticizes oppression, crime and exploitation of the masses and in none of these poems one can see a praise of royal system, nobility, khans, employers and wealthy aristocrats (Anvar Khameie, 1989, p. 15-16)."
With Reza Shah's departure from Iran in September 1941 during the short dawn of limited freedom Nima's works grew into a poetry of hope and victory. His poems became a platform for liberty. Such feelings are well expressed in his poem called The Blotted Morning which says:
"I was watching the departing illuminated dawn,
With the lapse of time and once Reza Shah assumed power the hope for liberty faded. Once he was firmly established in the capital, the capital's atmosphere was utterly strangulated as described by Bozorg Alavi in his novel called The Eyes: "Tehran is suffocating. Nobody is breathing. Every body is afraid of another person. Families are afraid of each other. Children fear their teachers; the teacher fears the janitor and the janitor fears the hairdresser. Everybody is afraid of himself and his shadow. The people can see the shadow of the government thugs everywhere: in their house, in the mosque, behind the shop counter, in the school, in the university and in the bathhouse. When the royal anthem is played in the cinema the people watch their neighbors lest a crazy fellow should forget to rise and create problems for the audience. A deadly silence prevails all over the country. Everybody pretends to be happy. The papers had nothing to write but to praise the dictator." According to Katozian despite the suffocating political and social atmosphere nationalism, romanticism and modernism found an opportunity "to praise the pre-Islamic Iran, severely criticize Islam and Arabs, and to crave for rapid westernization of the Iranian community (Katozian, 1993, p. 14).
and I sang with the merry of this early warbler of dawn;
and in secret somewhere in the desert
I gazed all the time
at the flying colors of this star,
and thus I uttered with an expressive tongue:
the golden harbinger of hope will come;
and these evil fated folk's grief
will come to an end..."at the end of separation...."
The prevailing nationalist romantic sense was mingled with a sense of wrath for cultural deterioration, backwardness, exaggerated glorification of the factual and fanciful achievements of ancient Iran, opposing European imperialism and in the meantime falling in love with the new European culture. These nationalists distanced themselves from all past traditions, a giant part of Iranian heritage and even Iranian classic poetry. They even resented or were ashamed of such traditions, but in the meantime they were proud of the ancient Iranian civilization and expressed it in romantic terms. The Iranians were annoyed with the European behavior and customs and were afraid lest the Europeans should look with humiliation at their shape, clothing and life style, but in the meantime they were proud of Cyrus, Darius, Anoushirvan and the Arian race. They loved Europe and European life style but at the same time were anti-imperialists. They were both proud of themselves and defied themselves. Such a contrast is an expressive picture of the literary genre of the that period which defied the existing conditions and in many fields such a literature conformed with the Reza Khani literature. Before his Blind Owl (Bouffe Koor), which appeared in 1936, Sadeq Hedayat's works easily conformed with nationalism/romanticism themes. His Neyran (1931), Parvin, the Sassan's Daughter (1930), Maziyar (1933), The Last Smile (1933) and his travelogues such as Travel to Isfahan (1932) were influenced by such a literature. It was perhaps due to the arbitrary requirements of time that historical novels found much favor in public eye and such works flooded the market.
In the majority of novels and stories there was a sort of search for identity and security and this search grew to the most important pre-occupation of the Iranian intellectuals until 1941 (Abedini, 1987, p. 27)). But Abedini believes that the historical novels aggrandized historical figures in an exaggerated manner without analyzing that figure's personality in relation to the society or the historical conditions that he lived; neither did the novels evaluate the revolutionary path of the community. In other words because of treating the subjects too superficially they neglected to focus on the fundamental historical changes. As a whole the literary themes of that period was symbolic and as Russian Pelkhanov believes "When the art of a community is on the decline, it focuses on symbolism. In fact symbolism represents a poverty of culture. Such contemplation which is equipped with an understanding of reality never needs to wander in an unbounded desert of symbolism (Abedini, 1987, p. 110).
The incidents narrated in historical novels represented an escape to past and they walked in harmony with those who always contrived to resist the historical gap between past and present and walk in line with the national capitalism interests which had sensed the dangerous conditions of the society. For that reason instead of appealing to the people and to the future they returned to the past and they sought large highways in the cavity of history in order to appease their own ambition.
Such a literature lamented Iran's lost grandeur. Historical novels such as Shams and Tafra by M.B. Khosravi portrayed the chaotic condition of Iran following the Mongol invasion.
Part of the literature zoomed on racism and expressed wrath against Arabs as the destroyer of Iranian ancient grandeur. Such feelings are notable in Mirza Agha Khan Kermani's works and the former works of Hedayat, Alavi and Jamalzadeh. Anyhow the only victorious figure in this scenario was Reza Khan himself who succeeded in employing the negative historical romanticism and every sort of literature and verse and prose for his own ends once he accumulated power. Reza Shah encouraged a sort of social romanticism mingled with romanticism and his agents propagated such works by supporting historical dramatic plays and novels.
Among such literature one must differentiate the social novels and criticism from historical literature. The social novels which had a half a century life was very successful in unveiling the big atrocities and crisis in the society. In that branch one might refer to Moshfeq Kazemi, Hejazi and Mohammad Masood. Through such novels which after the First World War had achieved enough growth, these writers portrayed the characters of staff employees and courtesans and criticized their social environment. Surely Moshfeq Kazemi was a pioneer in that field. By setting examples of women who had been deceived in a rich family and fallen to the abyss of corruption and under the cover of intellectualism the novel tries to attack the social morals of the times. The personality and performance of Mahin in the 'Horrible Tehran' and 'Ziba' (beautiful) in Hejazi's novel can be compared to Flaubert's Madam Buvary. Therefore one can say that among Persian novels of the time like a skillful reporter Ziba narrates a bureaucracy sans tradition in Iran and a chaotic society after the constitutional revolution (Abedini 1987, p. 40). Such a feeling among writers intensified when the refreshing constitutional atmosphere was clouded and destroyed by the black clouds of Reza Shahi despotism. Since these writers had no means to struggle, they aggrandized the ongoing disappointment in social novels. Mohammad Masood (1861-1947) was one of these writers. He relates the story of young people whose lives are wasted in futile occupations and constant visits to recreational centers and the streets of Share Now (the prostitutes' district in Tehran ). He describes the realities of a community in which the young generation recourse to their last resort which is suicide lonely and fearful and under the pressure of a despotic regime. According to Abedini: "Influenced by French romanticism the writer composes an mourning elegy for the poor class but being ignorant of their inner feelings he gives a natural tincture to their gloomy and disappointing life." (Abedini 1987, p. 43). Anyhow should one desire to give credit to such novels and literary pieces against historical novels, one might say that the main theme of these works was to display the desires of a new born medium class which wanted rapid change in the society in order to achieve a meritorious rank.
By publishing the Blind Owl abroad in 1936 Hedayat laid the foundation for a series of critical political works which severely lashed at the existing system. This was a retreat from his former subjects which had pleased Reza Shah's system. At this juncture a number of students returned from Europe, imported new ideas and new desires and when they felt that the environment which they had left was not comparable with the choking environment in Iran from 1936 onward they started to seriously challenge the despotic system. This period which continued until the 50's and 60's even was enriched with a series of features. It contained political and moral messages derived from international and national topics, it echoed anti-imperialism concepts in the literature, it showed a critical eye and it took political stance even in literary and historical researches and it popularized the European novel style (at least the two founders of such schools of thought were students like Hedayat and Alavi). Focus on native structure of literature and art, common and folklore literature and inclination towards radical journalism which prevailed during the constitutional era, were the general themes of that period (Sepanlu, 1992, p. 78).
In order to link the literature of the first Pahlavi with the third period which was the result of 12 years of literary struggles from 1941 to 1953 one must examine Alavi and Hedayat, two graduates who had just returned from Europe. Such an study is necessary for two reasons. To prove that the works of these two writers reflected the social atmosphere of that period. Although with their works these two writers stayed away from the field, but one way or other produced social and ideological themes. On the other hand influenced by the suffocating atmosphere of the time they developed a sort of bitter disappointment and pessimism and that bitter depression prevailed many years in them and obliged them either to abandon their native land or to commit suicide. However these writers displayed their deep resentment of the choking atmosphere of the time. As Sadeq Choobak says life was so gloomy and choking as if one was continually tossing and tumbling in a sewage full of lizards, frogs and snakes. What is surprising is that the despair and depression in such works were mingled with a love for translation of works by Lawrence, Sarter, Flaubert, Andre Gide, Maupassant, Kafka and Bernard Shaw.
Beneath these gnawing despair a deep hatred of the prevailing despotism and a love for their homeland prevailed and this was of course the permanent concern of many Iranian writers even those who resided abroad. I think these writers bore the stamp of the wanderers in their faces. In a letter to Katozian in 1983, Jamalzadeh, one of these dissident writers who died away from his homeland recently, thus gave vent to his grief: "Dear friend, the history of these people has 2,500 pages and when you turn these pages and carefully study each page you can see helplessness, oppression, crime, poverty, despair, bloodshed, plunder and destruction and streams of blood flowing from their bodies. You can see hundreds and hundreds of such tragic stories. The same country and the same people still cherish a hope for a better future and are trying to increase their rial to tomans and avoid being hungry when they go to bed... and if they are religiously devoted, they are sure that they will ascend to Paradise surrounded by angels once they descend into their graves (Katozian, 1995, p.14).
Literature of 1941-1953
"I kindled my lamp while my neighbor came and went in a dark night." Nima Youshij.
Iran's occupation in September 1941 by the Allied forces was a turning point for the contemporary Iranian literature. Iran was occupied by foreigners but against that calamity the people were relieved and pleased to see the grand despot forced out of the country. Thus writers such as Nima kindled their lamp of hope during the traffic of the neighbors, and when Reza Shah left Tehran pronounced their jubilation in the following terms: "When the newspaper vendors were yelling the highlights of the extraordinary supplements about Reza Shah's resignation, for a few moments I hesitated in utter disbelief. Because the fear of the Shah was so strong in public hearts and a belief in the continuation of his reign was so firmly established in people that they did not dare to show their joy when they heard the news of their freedom (Katozian, 1993, p. 200). Thus an Iran which was liberated from a nightmare of 20 years of despair, gradually started to breathe again. The political prisoners were freed, the country's politics started to breathe a little, there was freedom of speech and writing and newspapers and political and guild associations started to mushroom. During this 12 years Iran had a good chance to practice its fledgling democracy. Clash of opinions and dynamism and activity in every field, public protest, political and intellectual formations, variety of thoughts, attacks, arrests and executions were the special features of these 12 years. "During this change a new and assorted literature took shape. The new literature deeply penetrated the people's soul and many intellectuals who felt committed thought they could promote freedom by joining political groups and parties. This was so important that even those who were well known for their pessimistic sentiments such as Hedayat, Masood and Alavi abandoned their seclusion (Abedini 1987, p. 85). During that period an anti-fascism feeling emerged . Meanwhile the Soviet socialist might with its charming rhetoric had to some degree attracted a number of intellectuals. For that reason writers such as Ale Ahmad and Behazin represented the workers and peasantry as influential human elements in social changes in their stories.
Revelations by Mohammad Masood
But part of the works in that period which followed a lengthy period of political strangulation revealed past crimes and pressures. For example Saeed Nafisi who wrote the Half Way to Paradise novel as a political treatise, revealed many outstanding political figures during Reza Shah's period. Also in his book 'The Flowers that Grew in Hell', published in 1953, Mohammad Masood zoomed on the last years of Reza Shah's reign.
Bozorg Alavi's works which are an example of revelations of Reza Shahi oppression and despotism need to be deeply studied. If we must remember Marcel Proust, James Joice and Franz Kafka as the three sacred pillars of new stories, one must refer to Alavi, Jamalzadeh and Hedayat as the trio of the contemporary Iranian literature. After 1941 these writers which revealed three separate literary styles are unrivaled in realistic criticism. One must lament their loss with the following line from Akhavan Saless: "Alas that lofty ceiling of aspirations.... (which has crumbled)."
Bozorg Alavi (Agha Bozorg)
Alavi is the most outstanding figure in the Iranian contemporary literature during years 1941 to 1953 . From the beginning he joined political groups such as Group 53. Along with Pishevari, Maleki and Anvar Khameie, Alavi plays an outstanding role in disclosing the bitter facts about Reza Shah's reign. For these reasons from 1953 to 1978 his books were not allowed to be published in Iran (Yahaghi, 1995, p. 200). Although his collection of works such as 'The Chest', 'Mirza', 'Salariha' and 'A Prisoner's Notes' present him as a social romantic writer the majority of his stories are inspired by political and factional aspirations. The heroes of his books are frustrated human beings who sulk and wander in solitude in foreign countries.
Maybe it was due to his wandering life that recently and before his death he expressed regret for having resorted to factional slogans during those dark and suffocating periods of the Iranian history. In his dialogue with Kadkani (Donyaye Sokhan, 1997) Bozorg Alavi said politics caused him to loose his path. In his "Scattered Notes from Prisons, Alavi refers to the clash of the youth with the despotic system in Iran. But 'His Eyes' is the most important novel which was written in 1952. These works are one of the best stories in the Iranian contemporary literature. In that novel Alavi skillfully portrays 20 years of strangulation in Iran. Many believe that his novel which mostly zooms on the love affair of Ostad Makan (Master Makan) and Farangis was inspired by the life and works of Kamalolmolk, the celebrated painter of Reza Shah's period. Makan is a political dissident and combatant painter and Farangis is a bold lover. Ostad Makan who was allied to an illegal organization fell in love with Farangis, a young girl from an aristocratic family. Farangis' love of painting caused her to be attracted to the painter and to join one of the leftist groups during her education in Iran and Paris. But the painter who had political opinions was continually under surveillance by the regime. However, in the end Farangis succeeded in rescuing him. But the master never understood that self-sacrifice.
Bozorg Alavi who was nominated to receive the international prize for peace in 1951 exited Iran but after a while Iran encountered a chaotic period which ends with a coup d'etat against Mossadeq on Mordad 28. Mossadeq fell. Alavai first returned to the scene but like Hedayat he never returned to Iran and until his death like a tortured conscience watched the tragic events in Iran from above and recorded his sentiments. He reviewed the events of years 1961 until post Islamic Revolution years. Like Jamalzadeh, Alavi died abroad. Regarding Alavi it is appropriate to quote the following lines from Ahmad Shamlu: "Alas our strength and our time was wasted in such a degrading war."
"We were zealously fighting to acquire our liberty and Sadeq Hedayat was the nucleus of our struggles (Mojtaba Minavi)."
Sadeq Hedayat, the great Iranian writer, was born when the Iranian soil was boiling with a desire for constitutional monarchy and committed suicide in the morning of Monday April 8, 1951 in the bathroom of a chamber in a small pension in Boulevard Saint Michelles at Paris. When he committed suicide the halfhearted democracy of the 40s which had followed twenty years of absolute despotism in Iran came to an end.
Hedayat, a student who had been educated at West, could not tolerate to see the backwardness of the Iranian society upon his return to Iran. The Iranian community was suffering under Reza Shah's medieval and illiterate despotism and that backward social state automatically banished Hedayat (Mohammad Bahar Lu, Hedayat's works, 1993). Nevertheless like a man who was always waiting to see a political and social upheaval in his country Hedayat passed three literary stages. The first stage started with radical nationalism in praise of ancient Iran and a hatred of Arabs and Arabic. During that stage although he did not favor the literary jargon of Reza Shah's regime, by portraying a magnificent image of Iran before Islam before Arab invasion, he thought he could bring change in the political conditions in the country. "But regretfully willing or unwilling he was beguiled by Reza Shahi romanticism. Fired with such a zeal he started to learn the Pahlavi language with a strange ardor and translated a series of texts from that tongue and published works such as Parvin, the Sassan's Daughter, and Maziyar. In these works he lamented the splendid government of the Sassan Ian period and not only lashed at the invading Arabs who had changed the Iranian religion but bestowed medals and laurels on the Sassan ian nobility (Mohsen Soleymani, collection of Sadeq Hedayat's works, 1993).
In that stage of literary works Hedayat defied the existing conditions and portrayed a situation that conflicted the existing atmosphere. Among many other writers of that period Hedayat believed that the root of Iran's backwardness and weakness was the Qajar period and Islamic culture. Since the Arabs were the founder of Islam and were the main insurgents that had caused the ancient Iran to surrender, they were regarded as root cause for the deterioration of the Iranian society. Under such a vein the intellectual writers of Hedayat's time believed that Iran had an Arian origin with a glorious pre-Islamic civilization and believed that the existing degradation and chaos was the result of domination of inferior races over superior Iranians and domination of a degraded culture over a superior culture.
Thus to the same extent that they showed positive and non-critical ardor about pre-Islamic Iranian community, they were ashamed of the contemporary Iranian community. The political slogans chanted by Aref, Eshqi, Farrokhi and Lahooti were replete with such romantic and chauvinistic feelings. Emergence of researchers such as Poordavood and Behrooz were the result of such an ardor for pre-Islamic Iran and resentment of Islam and Arabs. Works like Parvin, the Sassan's Daughter and Maziyar from Hedayat, The Last Smile short story, introduction to Khayam's quatrains and Isfahan Is One Half of the World abounds with nationalistic and romantic feelings (Katozian, 1995, p. 80).
During the second stage of his mental and political life Hedayat collaborated with great communist intellectuals such as Bozorg Alavi and Taqi Arani and displayed a rising hatred against western imperialism and optimism towards Soviet nationalism and international communism. When the first congress of Iranian writers was convened by Irano-Soviet Cultural Association in Tehran in July 1946, strongly influenced by a series of communist slogans, the congress echoed leftist slogans. Hedayat's works in that period showed a sort of affiliation to foreign powers, but in the end it attacked despotism and Reza Shah. For example his Hajji Aqa, published in 1945, is a wholly political episode which relentlessly attacks Reza Shah and his regime. In that story, Hajji Aqa, the hero, disinherits his elder son who has been educated in the West and offers pessimistic advice to his younger son who has decided to become a specialist. Whilst being fond of Reza Shah and Hitler, during the occupation of Tehran by the Allied forces, Hajji Aga escapes to Isfahan. But upon his return to Tehran he observes a new democracy emerging although the old intrigues were again at work. He nominated himself for Majlis elections. In the end during a surgical operation while half-conscious he dreams that he has ascended to Paradise and observes one of his sick wives as the doorkeeper of the heaven. When he becomes conscious he agrees that he had been nothing in this world but the doorkeeper of his wife. In this tale while skillfully portraying the Hajji's transactions with different individuals, Hedayat portrays a scene about the old regime and another scene in the new regime. With such thoughts Hedayat wrote a story known as Farda (Tomorrow) in 1946 where he defended a combatant worker but as Sepanlu says "Hedayat's satire is the severest and most despairing manifestation of the intellectual wrath of a writer who is assailed by severe spiritual crisis. This causes Hedayat to pour out the most insulting remarks about the ignorant people who had become enslaved to the despotic system (Sepanloo, 1992, p. 133).
In such a vein of thought and like many other intellectuals of the time Hedayat had found a spark of hope in the Toodeh (communist) Party and believed it was a national and democratic party which could fulfill his aspirations and goals. But when he observes that the Toodeh Party is affiliated to the Soviet Union he breaks away from that party. Since then his sheer mental despair amplifies. Years later when they noted that Hedayat had been crucified to rescue politicians and intellectuals, many writers thought Hedayat would not have been ostracized and rated as despairing and degenerate writer if he had not struggled with the communist party (Sepanloo, 1992, p. 134).
Under such circumstances Hedayat entered the last or third stage of his life which is the stage of excessive pessimism against everything and everybody. In such a vein of thought he conspicuously reveals his Kafkaic and surrealism sentiments in his Blind Owl (Bouffe Koor). For example in his story called Under the Bush he writes: "We have been born to live a few days in this base world and then to burst out and die. We do not accept any historic document and are not proud to find the proper seat of the mankind in this Earth. Neither do we wish to change the pages of the history or build a new system or boast about the strength and bullying power and arrogant tribal khan. Because every ass has the same claim and believes to be the most superior creature in the Earth (Anvar Khameie, 1989, p. 170).
In such a seclusion and loneliness Hedayat is whirling in the fraud and deceit of his environment and, as Taqi Modaressi says, he represents the opinion of a young man who has been born amid fraud, crime, deviation, fear and despair and seeks refuge in his own self to evade these evils. With such melancholic opinions Hedayat believed he was separated from the dark and cloudy environment that prevailed over Iran. He had an orientalist's penetrating eye but "from behind his microscopic vision he was worried about the shaky condition of human beings (Mehdi Foroodgahi, Jameah newspaper, April 9, 1998)."
In short, Hedayat was never at peace, neither in Europe nor in Iran. He loved Iran but Iran of his time did not promise any positive prospect of hope for him. Therefore in a letter dated September 2, 1947 to Noorayi, he wrote: "... How can you show interest in a subject in a country that you must live like a wandering Jew? Had we been caretakers in the Addis Ababa Mosque our lives would have been a thousand times better (Bahar Lu, Jameah newspaper, April 5, 1998)." Anyhow even if he had a feeling of sin or fault he never displayed or understood his guilt and as he himself says: "It were we who made a blunder, but we don't know what mistake did we make, or we have a vague information about our fault. It is the sin of our own existence. As soon as we are born we are exposed to judgment. Our whole life is a continued nightmare which must whirl within the shackles of judgment. And in the end we are sentenced to the severest punishment and once choking day, a man representing the law, arrest us and drives a knife into our hearts and kills us like a dog."
In this we can see a contradiction of character which Sepanlu has traced in Hedayat's works published after 1941. Because Hedayat is concentrating on problems with a despairing and backward attitude. After many years writers like Ale Ahmad said the episodes of the Wandering Dog represented a part of Hedayat's life who in solitude witnessed his own destruction. Ale Ahmad says under such conditions people like Hedayat who were not linked to any particular school of thought or group and could not change their position according to the circumstances of the time, it was impossible to stay in Iran. As an advocate of justice Hedayat says: "I cannot do anything in a community which is made specifically for your life style. In such a community I cannot be of any use. I am proud that I am a useless figure in this well that God has created for you. In this well you only have the right to eat and drink and fatten, but I am condemned to suffocate from your loathsome and stinking stench (Sepanlu, 1992, p. 131).
Hedayat was the living conscience of our time. If this living conscience finds refuge in his own self it is because he wants to escape from an environment of strangulation and fraud where a man is buried alive (Arianpour, 1995, p. 418). "I saw a regiment of soldiers passing, their faces were not visible. It was a dark and horrible night and the soldiers had dreadful and angry looks. When I tried to close my eyes and submit to death I dreamed these fearful and wonderful images."
Bozorg Alavi and Hedayat were patriotic fighters about whom Nima Youshij says: "In the circle of a painful night they renew a thousand hidden woes. Commenting on Hedayat's suicide, Alavi says: "His biggest dilemma was his problem with the society. He thought Iran would get rid of thousand years of despotism after the World War II (Bozorg Alavi, interview with Shafii Kadkani, Donyaye Sokhan, March 1997).
The social and political conditions of those times which promises to bring democracy and freedom had it survived and stabilized, had been changed into another environment which Nima well portrays in his poetry.
Hedayat's exit from Iran was not aimed at committing suicide but to escape from the unsuitable living conditions in Iran. Two months after leaving Iran in a letter to Fereidoon Tavaloli, a poet and satirist of the Toodeh Party, he confesses the whole truth in several bold sentences: "After that big examination that we gave in the name of freedom which was in fact for strangulation of freedom nobody can do anything anymore.. We must just sit down and sip our honors spoon by spoon and praise ourselves! (Collection of Hedayat's works, Sepanlu, 1993)"