Hedayat's last message

The irony of culture is however that it never can be pure


Hedayat's last message
by Tina Ehrami

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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Dear Namdar, Thanks for the

by Tinaehrami (not verified) on

Dear Namdar,

Thanks for the tip, but I didn't pretend to know Hedayat's actual message in my article. I've heard reviews about the book you recommended and know its core. My actual intention was to draw attention towards intercultural influences and the injustice which is being done through cultural purification. Hedayat was just an example.




Hedayat's Real Message in Boof-e-Koor

by Namdar (not verified) on

Dear Tina,

If you want to get the real message of Hedayat's Boof-e-Koor (The Blind Owl), I recommend you read Dr. Mashaallah Ajoudani's acclaimed book: "Hedayat, Boof-e-Koor va Nationalism" (//ajoudani.com/index.php?option=com_content&t...), which was published in London in 2006 by Fasle Ketab. It's an excellent reading on Hedayat's real perception of Persian history and culture.





by Nazanin_S (not verified) on

I absolutely agree with you, Tina. Traditional Iranians, especially those living outside Iran think that Iranian culture is nothing more than Hafez and Sa'adi. They're too affraid to accept a 'novin' writer as Hedayat as a part of their cultural identity.

to Asheghe Agha and other oghdei men who obviously haven't had sex for the last 10 years: go ejaculate somewhere else!!!


self evident thesis

by toziheh vazehat (not verified) on

"All cultures borrow and adapt customs and such from past and contemporary cultures; Thus, I do not fully understand the intent of this article, as articulately as it was written."

rightly said, This is self evident. All contemporary persian writers are well read in western literature.
They have been all reading extensively masterpiecs of world lit and they have been influenced by them.
No one denies that. So what is the point of this article? It is stating a 'self evident' fact.


Kuti Kuti KutKut (CUT CUT)

by Ashegh Agha (not verified) on

Na'zat Ba'sham azizam !


All cultures borrow and adapt customs and such from past and contemporary cultures; the emphasis is on the assimilation into their own that makes it part of their cultural heritage. Thus, I do not fully understand the intent of this article, as articulately as it was written.


Thanks for the article. I

by Anonymous0 (not verified) on

Thanks for the article. I have only read some of Hedayat's writing as a kid, and have never read Kafka's, so I can not compare the two. Having read the two sides of the argument here, has raised more questions for me. I wonder if there are any unbiased links about his life, influences and works.


Copy or influence?

by Abarmard on

You said it correctly at first that there is no purity in cultures. Cultures are adaptations and that is carried into arts also.

Now I would argue the difference between copying or being influenced by an era of writers from a certain region. Our modern poetry starting from Nima also falls in the same category as influenced, not copy. 


Apart from the fact that

by Anonymous60 (not verified) on

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.

Keen observation. Often, the IRI exploits this artificial construct to indoctrinate the illiterate masses against the West. This whole notion of Western vs. Eastern cultures is also absurd. Victorian era England looked pretty similar to the Islamic Republic of today minus the stoning...but wife beating was the norm in Victorian British Isle.


I agree that the culture can

by persian (not verified) on

I agree that the culture can not be considered as a pure phenomenon, particularly in the contemporary world, while many intellectuals and elites have been influenced by other cultural aspects from other nations. Bringing the Hedayat's "blind owl" as an example to support the idea, however you could also refer to the eastern indian cultural icons depicted nicely in the story. Although, hedayat and Kafka 'phylosophically' are in a same boat, hedayat masterfully kept the original elements of eastern cultur.

Azarin Sadegh

A note about your assumption

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear Tina, 

My note is only about the line in your article regarding Hedayat copying Kafka. I rather only focus on this line, but I understand what you are trying to accomplish and I absolutely agree that there is no pure culture anymore in this world of communication. 

But, I think it is absolutely unfair and totally wrong to say that the Blind owl is a copy of the Metamorphosis.

Hedayet never denied his admiration for Kafka, and he was the first one to introduce Kafka's work to the Iranian readers. I also remind you that the Kafka we know in Persian is the Kafka written and translated by Hedayat himself. How much a translation is supposed to be faithful to the original work, it is another subject to discuss.

Kafka always wrote in German and even if he was from Bohemia or Czechoslovakia, still his works is known as part of the German literature. Since I don’t know German, when I read the metamorphosis in another language, it was in French. That’s how I really think the translation of Kafka’s work by Hedayat is painted with Hedayat’s voice.

But still there is a world of differences between these two great authors. Literature has this contagious nature. It is the voice of its time, or the expression of an imaginary world, yet to come.

Kafka wrote his books before and during the First World War. Hedayat wrote his books before and during the Second World War. So no wonder there are similarities between their works. I think it has been also mostly mentioned that Hedayat's dark world is very close to Poe’s. But if you read other books from other authors from the same period in history, you would definitely see similarities and it is shouldn’t be called a copy. Otherwise all authors have copied the Greek Myths and tragedies. Isn’t most of the literature about Love, or Hatred or Betrayal or a few other basic repetitive concepts of life?

Kafka's book is heavily influenced by his real issues with the concept of Justice, God and the Religion. Being raised in a Jewish family and Jewish tradition, it gave him this sense of being part of a minority, a foreigner, and never belonging to where he was. Plus, being raised by a strong dominant father that he loved and he feared at the same time, he always expressed this heavy guilt and sin in real religious terms, because of his doubts in God and in his father’s faith. And worst of all, this certainty that haunted him as he knew for sure that he would never be able to reach to that comfort zone where he could become his father. I think Kafka always lived somewhere between fear and despair. Fear of being crushed by his father/God and the huge weight of emptiness of any kind of purpose, feeling almost like a vermin.

Compared to Hedayat’s more recent works, Kafka never expressed an open war against the religion. But Hedayat’s dilemma is mostly of an existential nature (that unfortunately lead to his suicide) and his obvious position against the religious establishment is so far from this sense of guilt strongly present in Kafka’s work.

I suggest that you read other works by Hedayat to get the whole picture of this great Iranian author who was the original voice of his time and the voice of the years to come, even after his tragic death.


Azarin Sadegh 


Birth of a Rare Super Star in Iran

by Abol H Danesh (not verified) on

In my view after passage of so many years Iran finally has given birth (fir the first time) to the most gifted and rarest literary icon as present to the world.

In my view such birth takes place perhaps every five to six hundred years...

The world should stay in patience resolutely until Tina brings forth her next creation in beauty ...

Tina surely is way suprior to a thousand year old red wine...


Broad generalizations based

by MoteAjeb! (not verified) on

Broad generalizations based on vague and ambiguous presumptions.

Kafka (influenced by Nobokov ?) who was bearing German culture (?!) influenced Hedayat so much that Hedayat could be considered a mere translator/conveyor of Kafa (?!).

Then in turn, all persian writers after Hedayat were influenced by Hedayat so they were all unconsciously influenced by a Kafka and therefore by German culture and Nobokov. (?!)

Ya hazrateh Gergis...May God give us some patience!



by KAFKA'S SPIRIT :) (not verified) on

Kafka was born in Prague, Bohemia (Czechoslovakia), why would you consider his possible influence on Hedayat, as "German influence" in Iran? Reading Kafka, clearly gives you far more feeling about Czech culture and settings than that of German society.

Perhaps you are thinking of the Austria-Hungry Republic and the influence of German culture.

If you read "Neveshtehaye Parakandeh Hedayat" you will find him more Iranian-influenced than anyone you can name today in Iran. His mastery of Persian literature gave him the authority to write about many subjects and many variations.

I am tending to think that Hedayat was only influenced by his childhood culture and Darolfonoon high school, and NOT by German culture... and certainly not by the French, as he considered French as nothing but whores! A brilliant observation when you see decades later, how French Air Force bombed Iran with their Mirage planes for Saddam Hossein during 80's!

And finally, using this sentence in your 5th paragraph: "But in fact it’s almost a copy of Franz Kafka’s" makes one wonder if you are accusing Hedayat of plagerism, not very complimentary.