Today’s Iranian cultural scene continues to be tainted by the presence of some lumpen “intellectuals.” There are lumpen writers and poets, both inside and outside Iran, who create works using offensive and obscene terms and concepts, and publish them on the Internet. Inside Iran, there are lumpen writers who give reactionary political speeches and interviews in support of this or that faction of the Islamic regime and have lumpen personalities (behave and act and talk in vulgar manners) without reflecting them in their literary works, which are under scrutiny of the Islamic censors. As mentioned earlier, one such writer, who does not write obscenities, but whose statements, behaviours and actions are lumpenist, is Mahmoud Dowlat-Abadi, the well-known novelist.
However, before explaining Dowlat-Abadi’s lumpenist ways, we need to realize that the writer himself has been victim of cultural lumpenism, albeit of a totally different kind that he practices himself.
In a detailed interview with the reformist newspaper “Green Word”, entitled: “Mahmoud Dolatabadi: the slogan of Cultural Government, Non-Governmental Culture is a very important point”, the novelist complains of total lack of ethics among the intellectuals. He says:
“…they stole my scenarios. They made films with them and got awards as well. They stole from my books as much as they could. And all of this happened with the knowledge of the public administration. I frequently visited the TV Station and got no response. I went to the Ministry of the Islamic Guidance, to no avail. Once, Mr. Farid-zadeh invited the one who had stolen my scenario, and showed the film in a meeting that I attended. He showed the book as well and told the filmmaker: You took the story from that book, changed its setting and made the film. So, you must pay penalty to Dowlat-Abadi. And that man never paid the penalty. …”
Then he rightfully adds:
“In a society where traditional morality is destroyed and the law does not replace the traditional morality and anarchy prevails under the State management, well, my rights and those of people like me are obviously wasted.” (11)
Considering how well Dowlat-Abadi is aware of the corruption of the intellectuals of the regime and the regime itself, one wonders why he is so adamant to support this regime and remain one of its lumpen intellectuals who is occasionally used and abused by other lumpen intellectuals. (Here, I remember the story of a famous female filmmaker who used a female writer’s scenario without her permission to make a film, and was sued by her). It seems that in Iran, lumpenism among the artists and writers is not an exception, but a norm. And as we will see, Dowlat-Abadi does not realize that he himself, in his own way, is part of this lumpenist culture he is criticizing.
Who is Mahmoud Dowlat-Abadi?
Mahmoud Dowlat-Abadi is a famous Iranian novelist of rural life. His most important works are Missing Solouch (1979), “The Lives of the Old” (1991), and his monumental novel of 3,000 pages in 5 volumes and 10 books, “Kelidar”, an epic of rural decline that he wrote between 1977 and 1984. Dowlat-Abadi was born in a poor, rural family in the village of Dowlat-Abad, near the city of Sabzevār, and began farming, herding and doing other menial jobs since the age fourteen. However, he lived most of his life in Tehran and became a theatre actor for a short time before devoting his life to writing. Never having finished the high school, he is a self-taught man with a mostly traditional and male-centered outlook on life. He considers his father his “only teacher” and says “He taught my life, my mentality and will, my work and my future with the simplest of words: – Pull yourself; – Men do and don’t talk”. (12) Dowlat-Abadi is now 71 years old, married with three children and several grand-children.
Most Iranians put this writer on a pedestal. For instance, in 2009, a journalist from the reformist newspaper “Green Word” called him: “The greatest living writer since the Constitution Era, who has a prominent position both among people and among serious readers of literature.”(13)
I have read two of Dowlat-Abadi’s novels and a part of his “Kelidar”, and find him to be rather a “very good storyteller”, but not a “great” writer. In his two works, “The Days of the Old” and “Missing Solouch” which I have read in Persian, he often focuses on appearances, does not pay much attention to his characters’ inner world. His characters are rural people with outdated values living a rural lifestyle with which I cannot identify and using Sabzevāri vernacular, with which I am not familiar. All of these points make reading his otherwise well-written works a bit tedious after a while. However, in this article, I am not at all focusing on the quality of his body of writings, but about the lumpenist nature of his body of social and political statements, behaviours and actions.
Dowlat-Abadi and Cultural Lumpenism
The Iranian cultural lumpens have their own special characteristics, some of which are: being disinterested in politics out of their penchant for conformism, conservatism and opportunism; being attracted to reactionary and fascistic forces, thus being in favour of different degrees of repressive measures against people; being unstable and switching political sides and allegiances; being politically opportunistic and unreliable; being narcissistic and megalomaniac while exhibiting a façade of humility; having a despotic character and creating an atmosphere of fear and domination around themselves; encouraging mutual flattery with their fans; being misogynist; idealizing traditional values and obsolete lifestyles; being vestiges of the pre-capitalist era; being uprooted and displaced from their rural origin; and not having the capacity for theoretical thinking.
Throughout the present article, I am going to describe this range of lumpenist traits and present Dowlat-Abadi’s words, attitudes and actions as cases in point.
*1. Dowlat-Abadi’s being a pseudo- intellectual
Lumpen intellectuals are not interested in new ideas or having a fruitful exchange of ideas with the critics. They thrive on mutual flattery and encourage it. They expect to be flattered by their protégés or fans and flatter them in return, and their language is accompanied with flattery of others with the purpose of giving the impression of modesty: “I’m your servant, I die for you, and I’m the soil under your feet.” Because as he has no power and cannot gain power, he is essentially a eulogist of power, he is “like a dust.”
In the 1994 literary gathering, I personally observed this tendency in Dowlat-Abadi, that is, his enthusiasm in welcoming constant flattery from his fans and his hostility towards anyone who critiqued his works as described in my other article about him (14).
*2. Dowlat-Abadi’s narcissism and megalomania
Lumpens are narcissistic and suffer from inferiority complex and other emotional issues, which cause them a lot of pain.
In 1986, Dowlat-Abadi became a candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature for Kelidar. He complained that there was not enough publicity about his candidature in the Iranian media: “In the last 20 years that I have been a Nobel Prize candidate, only once this matter was reflected in our press.” (15)
In a 2007 Radio Zamaneh interview (16), we read the following dialogue about his candidature for the Nobel Prize.
*Radio Zamaneh: “Last year there were discussions about the globalization of the Persian literature and granting of the Nobel Prize to an Iranian writer or poet took place. Now, let’s judge it fairly. Does the present Iranian literature have a place that could instigate the selection of the Nobel Prize from this country?”
*Dowlat-Abadi: “I don’t judge; but personally I have accurate information
that in the year 1986 (1364-1365), the candidature of Mahmoud Dowlat-abadi
from Iran reached the media; and since that time, I went to the feet of Nobel one, two, three more times. However, it went to another. I personally claim that I am more of a writer than many writers who obtained the Nobel Prize.” This arrogance, narcissism and self-flattering is another aspect of Dowlat-Abadi’s lumpenism.
In the interview with the “Green Word” newspaper, Dowlat-Abadi was asked the following question.
“Green Word”: there are other issues concerning the governmental management of cultural affairs, and that is, we often witness that even this public administration is neither public nor regulated, but has become a personal management, which includes rather biases, personal perceptions and misunderstandings that sometimes exist between governmental managers and artists. What examples have you had in dealing with this problem?
Dowlat-Abadi: “I did not want to point out this issue, because nationalistic sentiment – not chauvinistic – truly still exist in me and I would not want to say that someone with the position of a Minister or Deputy Minister could be so low as to be, for instance, resentful of the writer; but it is actually so. … The type of behavior we see on the part of the authorities creates the illusion that as if the gentlemen are hurt by a masterpiece that is created in art and literature of the country ….Recently I heard, again from an unreliable source, that they have read “Colonel” and have said that Dowlat-Abadi’s masterpiece is not “Kelidar” or “Solouch” or “Days of the Old”. Dowlat-Abadi’s masterpiece is “Colonel” and we have put it into a trunk and closed its lid, because it is not possible to take out one word from it or to add one word to it. So they understand well. Events of the book “Colonel” refers to our history and the Revolution’s surgeries anyway and these are facts that are not covered.” (17)
The image of “perfection” that Dowlat-Abadi depicts of his own work by quoting some mysterious people having said “it is not possible to take out one word from it or to add one word to it”, as if it is the Bible or the Koran for the believers, is itself a masterpiece in self-advertisement.
*3. Dowlat-Abadi’s despotic character
Cultural lumpenists have also a tendency to create an atmosphere of fear and domination and despotism around themselves wherever they are, either in order to appear very important or because they are very authoritarian and think highly of oneself. I personally observed this pronounced tendency in Dowlat-Abadi’s manners and behavior during the 1994 literary gathering in Tehran (18).
*4. Dowlat-Abadi’s being a vestige of pre-capitalist era
Typically, lumpens are the remnants of the pre-industrial and pre-capitalist society.
Born in a rural family and in a rural community, Dowlat-Abadi’s jobs in the villages, towns and cities were working the land, shepherding, being a shoemaker footboy, and smoothing curved nails (a work that is still being done by Dowlat-Abad’s and other Sabzevār villages’ youth). And later, helping his father and brother as a gear twister of cotton shoe stretching couch workshop, being a bicycle-maker, a barber, etc. He travelled to Mashhad and then to Tehran and during this period assumed other jobs such as compositor printer, slaughterhouse barber, theatre programs claimant, prompter cinema usher, Keyhan newspaper salesman, etc.(19) Dowlat-Abadi has been a hard-working man, but his work experiences as well as his personal interests have been mostly related to pre-capitalist times.
*5. Dowlat-Abadi’s uprootedness and displacement from his rural past
In the 1994 literary meeting in Tehran, when I first observed Dowlat-Abadi’s unusual behavior of leaving his chair, during the break, to sit on the bare floor to have cheese and bread with tea, I assumed that he was trying to show off his humility, which is one of our cultural hypocrisy. But now, knowing more about the Iranian lumpenism, I have a different view of his behavior.
This writer had lived most of his life in Tehran, in the company of theatre actors, playwrights, filmmakers, poets and writers. Yet his manners still evoked those of the city-dwellers who were born and raised in rural areas, and were now but “uprooted individuals cut off from the economic and social class with which they might normally be identified” as the Merriam-Webster dictionary define them. Plus, the fact that most of Dowlat-Abadi’s novels are about rural lifestyle while he is living in the big city of Tehran, would be a stronger indication of where his mind and heart are.
*6. Dowlat-Abadi’s idealization of the traditional rural life
The flow of literature that deals with the issues of rural-living took shape in the 1960’s with the social and cultural transformations brought by the Shah’s “White Revolution”. Issues such as Land Reform – putting forward the ideas of “Westoxication” and return to traditional rural life, which were historically reactionary, became resources for the creation of new works by some lumpen writers.
Mahmoud Dowlat-Abadi is a prolific, realist writer of stories about rural people and rural life in decline, which he draws on his personal experiences. In his novels, he uses archaic and obsolete words, phrases, expressions and style of speech in order to re-create the mode of the past. He idealizes and glorifies the rural men and reveals nostalgia for a backward past. He does not seem to be happy, as he often talks about writing as a means of escaping his pains (20).
This is not surprising, as in general, since lumpens have roots in city margins or in rural areas, they prefer to live in the margins. When they enter the city civilization, life becomes harder for them.
In an article entitled “Mahmoud Dowlat-Abadi’s Plays”, we read that in the play “Impasse”, “although Dowlat-Abadi has a dignified and firm language and prose, he cannot achieve a strong and compelling prose in urban literature as much as he can in rural literature and its related prose. As he himself believes, rural and tribal and traditional themes dominate the urban themes in his works.” (21)
*7. Dowlat-Abadi’s lack of capacity for theoretical thinking.
One of the characteristics of lumpens is that they do not have capacity for theoretical thinking. In the case of Dowlat-Abadi, as mentioned earlier, in “Iran” newspaper of September 8, 2002, Dowlat-Abadi expresses a strange opinion about the social conflicts that prove his inability for theoretical thinking. He says:
“All elements must be present. From the beginning, the problem has been that some people say those in front of us should not be. Well, where should they go? Tajikistan? Africa? How could they not be?” (22)
What Dowlat-Abadi expresses simply doesn’t make sense. Who is saying other people should not be? He doesn’t seem to understand that the idea of “certain others should not be in a position power to repress people” is not the same as “certain others should not exist in the society or should not be alive.” He asks, “Where should they go?” Doesn’t he know that those opposed to the despotic rule of Khamenei, and those for a secular and democratic regime are in prison and not in Africa? Does he think that the opposition wishes the Islamic rulers not to exist as human beings? Can’t he think that these rulers could be in the society as ordinary citizens doing productive jobs instead? Or better, in prison after their trials for crimes against humanity.
For Dowlat-Abadi, the solution to the social conflicts is for all the Iranian people, from the reformists to those who are for democracy and freedom to live together under the Islamic constitution that he has voted for. Indeed, this opinion confirms that lumpens are politically ignorant, backward and opportunistic. How absurd and ignorant Dowlat-Abadi’s statement is and how more confused and volatile can anyone be?
In the same newspaper, to the question of “what is the duty of the elites and intellectuals in this space, especially to prevent the occurrence of gaps in the society”, Dowlat-Abadi replied:
“First they should be thankful. They should be thankful that they can speak their opinions. I too am thankful in the next step; in the next step if it is not considered interference, everyone can express their point of view of how the social fabric is being eroded.” (23)
I wonder if Dowlat-Abadi expects our political prisoners most of whom are intellectuals should be the first in thanking the Islamic Republic for this freedom of expression it has bestowed upon them.
*8. Dowlat-Abadi’s sexism
One of the major traits of lumpens is their misogyny. Dowlat-abadi has shown a strong dislike for feminism, an unstable and changing positions on Iranian women including indifference to their condition. As you may read in my other article about him he has publically said, in a 1994 Literature gathering in Tehran:
“Women’s patience and compliance and loyalty have been valuable in the olden times and it seems that in the modern times, for some, women’s loyalty has no longer the former value. But patience and compliance and loyalty are eternal values that will have their place in the new circumstances as well.
“… This “jittery issue” about women and men in America, which is a game and is called feminism, is wasting human energy. I do not think that in this novel (The Time of the Old) one should give oneself the opportunity to address this point. Human in general is so trampled that it is no more possible to pay attention to this matter that which one is more trampled, woman or man. And in any case, loyalty and adaptability and carrying the heavy load of life, even if it is more than that of man, are not bad.” (24)