A bridge to nowhere

The one who says us, does not mean you and me Bertolt Brecht

In response to Rob Levandoski's “He is us“, I had always assumed that expressing wrath in the face of a literary review was a Persian characteristic. I now stand corrected. In his response to my “Khoda Hafez Rumi“, Mr. Levandoski-although acknowledging the right to express differing opinions-nevertheless deigns to respond with epithets like “ridiculous,” “silly,” “absurd,” “false,” and several others that I had elected not to use in connection with his dear friend's beloved novel. [Manouchehr Parvin's Dardedel: Rumi, Hafez & Love in New York]

Mr. Levandoski, therefore, has not only flaunted the law of karma that I attempted to respect in my initial review, but he has demonstrated a lack of respect for intellectual exchange that has of late become all too common in this country. Many times Mr. Levandoski appears to be angry not at what I actually wrote, but at implications that he has chosen to find in my review. For example, I had written that “while the author addresses them [the poets Hafiz and Rumi] as
'Hafiz jan' and 'Rumi jan', they most often refer to him as 'professor'.”

Mr. Levandoski asks how they should be addressed-“The great poet Rumi jaan?”-and
then calls it “silly” that I ever suggested anything of the sort. Needless to say that I did not suggest this. Moreover, Mr. Levandoski has completely missed my point-the emphasis was not on how Pirooz addressed the poets, but rather on how they addressed Pirooz. In another instance he is angry at me, and apparently Henry James as well, for calling Dostoevsky and Tolstoy inauthentic. As scrupulous as James was, he never called either Dostoevsky or Tolstoy inauthentic, nor did I suggest that he had done so.

I wrote that James criticized (I should have added, “even”) them for using omni-potent, omni-present narrators. Ever since James, questions surrounding of narrator and viewpoint have been at the core of novelistic innovation and invention. I held that it isn't necessary to adhere to a Jamesian-or any other-theory: “some great modern and post modern authors have defied Jamesian rules, but always by going beyond it.”

To be ignorant and immune to the literary discourse of one's own era should not be considered a badge of honor. Had Mr. Levandoski opted to read and quote me accurately, he could have saved himself from having to hold forth on the “absence of ultimate truth” and the importance of “subconscious and unconscious.” Not that I would wish to prevent someone of Mr. Levandoski's obvious erudition from reaching his audience, but my point involved the novelistic quest of great writers to try to catch and discover voices other than their own, notwithstanding scientific or psychological theories of truth.

Mr. Levandoski writes: “In another mystifying criticism, Ms. Davaran declares that Professor Pirooz is indeed Dr. Parvin himself in literary disguise. That is not much of a revelation.” This is actually not so” mystifying”-had Mr. Levandoski taken it upon himself to read the entirety of the passage in question, he would have found that I quoted Dr. Parvin himself on this matter.

Mr. Levandoski asks about my theory of translation and wants me to cite a few examples of Dr. Parvin's bad renderings. As any one who has ever translated anything knows, while a translator should be good at the language that she or he translates from, it is imperative to have mastered the language that one translates into. This is all the more crucial when the text in question is literary in nature. For this simple reason, despite my years of studying English literature and living in the U.S., I don't allow myself to translate from Persian into English, unless the text is simply not a literary one.

Poetry, of course, is another story altogether. In one of the recent issues of Iranshenasi, Professor Shafii Kadkani-a famous poet and scholar of Persian Classical literature-writes about the seriousness of translating classical poetry. He related how he took an entire semester to
translate half a line of Hafiz (“beh may sajjadeh rangin kon garat pir-i mughan guyad”) because each word is so densely imbued with history, philosophy, religion, literature, and culture.

So instead of citing Dr. Parvin's many flat, insipid, and monotone translations, I refer you, Mr. Levandoski, to the book itself. Read it, if you will, more closely than you read my review. Can you discern any difference in the rendering of Hafiz and Rumi? If you were to read translations of English poetry in which Byron, Cummings, and Dr. Seuss had exactly the same voice-and a poor one at that-you might be inclined to think that the translator had done an inadequate job, whether or not you could do a better one yourself.

Mr. Levandoski suggests that because Hafiz and Rumi are so popular right now (and it should be noted that much of this mass consumption is driven by “translations” made by one who has openly professed ignorance of the Persian language in which Hafiz and Rumi wrote), it is the right time and the right place to use them as a bridge between east and west. But I find it painful to watch as hoards of would-be poets take pen to paper and change the poignant, precise, and beautiful words of Hafiz or Rumi into soulless, prosaic, meaningless platitudes.

Mr. Levandoski asks whether these poets themselves wouldn't prefer to be translated, even if poorly. Unlike Dr. Parvin, I can't really claim to know what Rumi and Hafiz would want. But if I had written some of the world's most beautiful poetry, I would rather it remain untranslated than poorly translated.

Mr. Levandoki wrote: “who is Ms. Davaran to say that 'God, like Hafiz and Rumi' wouldn't admire free verse?” The regularity with which Mr. Levandoki misquotes my review takes on an almost monotonous character-having been unable to speak for either Hafiz or Rumi, I certainly would not attempt to represent God. This apparently separates me from Mr. Levandoki, who within three sentences has apparently forgotten himself and claims to know that of which God would approve. This is the general tenor, attitude, and reasoning (or lack thereof) that marks Mr. Levandoski's article.

Mr. Levandoki's general argument, buttressed by his disencumbrance with the actual text of my review, represents one instance of a class of arguments referred to by logicians as Argumentum ad Verecundiam. Because he is Dr. Parvin's friend and because he has written books reviewed in the New York Times, Mr. Levandoski is in a position to put his stamp of approval on this work, and how dare anyone else criticize it? This approach, however, effectively closes the door on honest review and dialogue.

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