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Wake up
A pedagogical approach to the defense of "Dardedel"

By Jolita Kavaliunas
October 9, 2003
The Iranian

As a professor of modern languages and literature, I've written and read numerous scholarly articles and book reviews. Literary criticism is one of my specialties. I have presided over committees awarding literary prizes; I have translated prose and poetry. As a matter of fact, my translation of one of Manoucher Parvin's poems has recently appeared in the Lithuanian press. I've published scholarly articles, creative pieces, and a book translation, in the languages of Lithuanian, French and English. At the present, I'm a Professor Emeritus at the University of Akron.

Dardedel: Rumi, Hafez & Love in New York embodies a beautiful love story between the charming and brilliant Mitra--a goddess--and the reincarnated legendary poet Hafez--a creative rebel! Rumi changes into a variety of characters at will. His wisdom illuminates the novel like sunshine! Professor Pirooz represents the modern man. The novel is packed with dazzling ideas, amusing subplots and unexpected turns of events. And it makes the reader laugh out loud, or sob!

Because of my favorable evaluation -- and I'm not alone in that -- I take exception to Ms Davaran's unsubstantiated negative comments about Dardedel [Khoda Hafez Rumi, A bridge to nowhere].

Ms Davaran defines herself as a student in the Near Eastern Studies Department at University of California, Berkely. She is writing a dissertation for a degree in this field hoping to become an expert in it. But let us assume that she submitted her review of Dardedel as partial fulfillment of requirements for my class. As I read the paper, what first struck me is that her "book review" is also an "author review." This is unacceptable. Only the text should matter and only the text should be reviewed. What is more, she should not show disrespect to its author, a distinguished scholar whose publishing record includes a number of books and poems.

Then, I would raise some questions and ask for evidence to substantiate her conclusions. Let us imagine a discussion in my office: Ms Davaran, your analysis is based on two pillars, or criteria: first, the authority, or "expertise," of the author to write the novel, and second, the "authenticity" of the work itself. In fact, you advise Professor Parvin not to do again what he is not able to do now--namely, to write novels or translate literary works from the Persian to the English.

I assume the above criteria of "expertise" and "authenticity" also apply to your own work--your" expertise" to write book reviews, your "authority" to decide who should and who should not write novels, and, finally, the "authenticity" of your own text. That's fair enough, wouldn't you agree? How can one fail to apply one's own rules to one's own works? And so should Davaran, as well.

I. Authority, or expertise of the author
A. You, Ms Davaran, claim that Parvin's translation of Rumi and Hafez are inadequate, to put it mildly.

1. Are you an expert translator with a body of published work?

2. Have you ever contributed to theories of translation, which is a field in itself?

3. Have you provided any analysis of Parvin's translations in any one of the pages of your assertions/criticisms.

4. If your answer is negative to all of the above questions, then you should not engage in "translation criticism" because you yourself lack expertise, and thus, according to your rule, lack credibility. As you say yourself, one must do what one is capable of doing. By the way, did you notice that the acknowledgment of "Dardedel" contains the name of two renowned translators?

B. Ms Davaran, you do object to the way God speaks in Dardedel.

1. Do you have the "expertise" to determine how God should speak in a modern language -- in this case, English -- in the 21st Century? Has God revealed to you how he speaks these days? Where and how did you acquire this "expertise?" By revelation?

2. Or do you perhaps imply that God should speak to Pirooz in a way approved by you, or like he supposedly spoke in olden times to prophets? Give God a break. Maybe He is modernizing so as to be better understood by Pirooz, realizing that His previous manner of speaking wasn't all that effective! Just as he spoke the spoken language of the time of the prophets, so he speaks the spoken language of today. This is your problem with God, not with Parvin's work!

Ms Davaran, your "credibility" is at stake here. Why prescribe, if not pontificate on, God's manner of speaking in the novel? Your opinion of God's spoken word in the present is no more valid than that of any other man or beast! But God is still very articulate in Dardedel, even when he is merely "dardedeling" with Pirooz!

C. You do highly praise Parvin's knowledge of various sciences. But this is not a credible compliment unless you provide evidence about your own expertise in the sciences. Are you a scientist of a level to be able to evaluate the work of proven scientists? If your answer is negative, then you are again in violation of your own criteria of what one can say or write. You simply lack" credibility," according to yourself! There is no way for you to know that Parvin's scientific knowledge is so compelling--if I am to assume that this assertion is from your own "inner voice?"

D. Conclusion on the authority or expertise requirement for writing a text.

Ms Davaran, I am still using your criterion of "expertise" as a necessary prerequisite for writing a text. Let us consider or put on an" expertise" scale the individuals involved: on one side we have the author Parvin, an ingenious polymath, together with several of his readers: Jerry Clinton from Princeton University, recipient of the highest award for his translation of Ferdowsi; Rob Levandoski, a new shining star in American literature; and my humble self with a lifetime of experience in literary criticism. On the other side we have you. Who, do you think, needs more credibility? You or all of us collectively? Note that in asking this question, I am only following your line of reasoning.

II. Authenticity of the text
A. Now let us examine your "authenticity" criterion and how it applies
to your own work, Ms Davaran.

You use Henry James "inner voice" authenticity test as if it were the word of God. First of all, modern psychology refutes that there is such a thing as a unique "inner voice" because individuals often compromise truth for the sake of self-preservation, are confused, hallucinate, or simply contradict themselves. The subconscious and consciousness mix in the "inner voice" in a variety of intractable ways.

In fact, there are several persons/identities in each body, in each one of us in various degrees! The criterion of "inner voice" as acid test of authenticity is discredited and thus, disregarded by many great contemporary writers who comfortably use the third person narrator or omniscient narrator. Also, sharp eyes/minds like Rumi, Dostoyevsky, Parvin, or a psychologist can see in a person more than the person can see within himself or herself.

B. But let us say James' criterion is valid. Let us examine its implications and see if you still approve of using it.

1. Ms Davaran, I wish to point out to you that James' criterion for authenticity not only refutes the great works of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, as you pointed out, but also Rumi's stories as well! Do you realize, or are your conscious of the fact that, armed with James' criterion, as you refute Parvin's fiction, so you refute virtually all the masterpieces of the past, including stories in the holy books whenever authors (!) speak for characters?

2. If your answer is yes, then how sad it is that blind subservience to James has led you to set afire the great literary treasures of human history. Are you aware of the implications of your reasoning?

3. If the answer is no, that you did not really know what you were saying, then you have contradicted yourself in your review of Dardedel. Unless you write comedy, self-contradiction in any text is a quick ticket to lack of credibility in the text, which in this case, your review of Dardedel proves to be.

I do not wish to burden you with more refutations of your critique, Ms Davaran. Some of your points are silly, as reported by other respondents. Let me add that Parvin has made significant creative contributions in several fields. He is an exceptional intellectual. You can be as critical of his work as you may, but why such harsh personal remarks against his person? Has he in any way harmed you prior to, or after your review of his book? Should I insult you for your failing review? I have given the grade of F to a student's book review occasionally, but never have I insulted the student into the bargain.

Directly or indirectly, your book review implies that you are an expert in the fields of translation, various sciences, literary criticism and theology, without providing any evidence for this implication. You only claim to be a university student working on a degree in the Near Eastern area. Which claim is true then, the implicit or the explicit one? There seems to be a confusion of sorts, or a self-righteousness of sorts. Even though Parvin's Dardedel as well as his previous novels are praised by professional critics, you implicitly command him not to write any more novels.

Why do you want Parvin to stop writing, to act as if he were already dead? Is this being considerate? Ms Davaran, even God does not do this. Do you not know that some people are born with extraordinary mental and physical gifts? Did not Omar Khayyam produce great poetry, contributed to mathematics and astronomy simultaneously? Would you have ordered him to specialize and do what he knows best? And now and then individuals like him sprout here and there. Are we not to believe in genius because we cannot imagine how they do what they do?

The Emory University Report writes that Parvin, as a boy, would simultaneously play several games of chess blindfolded. In record time he received his Ph.D. in economics at Columbia University without having taken one single undergraduate course in the field! He has won many awards. Parvin has gained praises for his literary work in English, which is quite a feat considering that English is not his mother tongue nor is literature his background! His first book was in electronic engineering; it was published when he was in his early twenties! I wish that he would break his silence and provide us with a list of all his accomplishments.

Since you admit that you do not know Parvin's previous work, how can you allow yourself to question his credibility? Proof through ignorance, accusations and assertions? Ms Davaran, you wrote: "[...] I thank Dr. Parvin for giving me the chance to sting." This comment sounds sadistic on the surface, but since it would ultimately hurt your reputation, it is really masochistic. Do you think a book review is an appropriate place for demonstrating psychological abnormalities? Do you not think these kinds of problems are more suited to be discussed on a psychiatrist's couch? Your statements are the very karma you mentioned fearing in your review. They will haunt you.

Should we attack Parvin who, like many geniuses in the past, is different and seems to effortlessly move from field to field making major contributions to them? I've learned that Hafez' home was sacked by the common people and some of his poems were set afire. And out of fear he himself set fire to some of his other poems. Ms Davaran, the person who signed your book review--you yourself--hurt herself more than the author she reviewed. Please get in touch with reality before you hurt yourself again. Please accept the following advice from an experienced and caring professor.

Remember that Parvin will not be defined by your little unkind "author" review. He--his life's work will be defined by history. And remember, too, that your book review, just like my entire collection of scholarly papers and book reviews, will soon be forgotten like us ourselves, thank God. But Dardedel will live on. It will bring delight to, and foster understanding in, generations to come, and Parvin, the author, will live on with it.

One of the numerous ideas, put beautifully in Dardedel, applies to you, to us, and to all of mankind: "Wake up before you can never wake up."As a professional critic, I feel an obligation to clarify and finalize this debate concerning this special book--Dardedel.


Jolita Kavaliunas is Professor Emeritus at the University of Akron.

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