Hedayat’s last message

While many nations nowadays are desperately searching for their own cultural roots, they tend to consider their cultural icons as ‘pure’ and undivided original. Apart from the fact that seeking cultural purification somewhat has its similarities with the original idea’s of Nazi philosophy and fascist nationalism, it also is quite useless.

Whether it is a consequence of the social and economical pressures caused by migration, or a search for meaning and identity, certain nations – and especially weak states that need a new ‘social glue’ to have the support of the people – start this search of original identity.

The irony of culture is however that it never can be pure. Culture in its broad definition is dynamic. It constantly changes in line with the development of the people carrying the values of that culture.

My personal opinion is that we lose a valuable opportunity for inter-cultural analysis when we become blind for existing cross-cultural influences.

Literature is one of the best examples to show cross-cultural influences and its success for cultural development. In Sadegh Hedayat’s “The Blind Owl” (1937) the author tells a story in an Iranian setting, using Iranian symbols and Iranian values. But in fact it’s almost a copy of Franz Kafka’s “Die Verwandlung” (1915).

The similarities between the works of these two authors can mainly be found in the style of their storytelling. They both use fantastic symbolic scenes to express their criticism on social and political matters. The way these two authors write in a matter-of-fact way about impossible fantasy- like occurrences typifies their writing style. Both authors were unique in their own countries and in a way just as controversial.

Hedayat was considered Iran’s first avant- garde writer and his work was forbidden for publication in his own country. After his death his work received the recognition and respect of the Iranian people. Kafka’s influence in Hedayat’s work is understandable when considered that he was the first Iranian translator of Kafka’s novels.

Kafka’s recognizable style that influenced Hedayat in his books could be seen as a welcome injection of German culture. Culture in its narrow definition, or the tangible sources of culture, are the outcome of the values of culture in its broader definition. Therefore we can conclude that Iranian culture unconsciously was influenced by German culture through Kafka. Kafka on the other hand could have been influenced by Nabokov (consider the similarities in Nabokov’s “Invitation to a beheading” and Kafka’s “Der Prozess”). Hence we can never speak of “pure cultures”.

This single example, which is molecular in comparison to other intercultural influences, should be cherished and acknowledged rather than denied. Iranian cultural puritans who would rather consider the older and perhaps more traditional Iranian authors or poets as icons of Iranian culture, would deny a major element of cross- cultural influence that became a major part of Iran’s literary wealth.

Sadegh Hedayat opened a new perspective for the Iranian reader and created a new genre in Iranian literature that shouldn’t be forgotten. His influence in Iranian culture portrays the success of cross- cultural influence and a solid argument against cultural purification.

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