Acknowledgements & Introduction

1. Epistemology, Ideology, and Fictional Forms
1.1. The Problem: The Classical Persian Fiction
1.2. The Necessity: Form
1.3. Form as Ideology and Epistemology
1.4. The Novelistic
1.5. Examples and Extensions
1.6. Classical and Novelistic Ideology/Fiction
1.6.1. Chronotope and Narrative
1.6.2. Unreal Possible and Real
1.6.3. Ideology, Authority, Communication
1.6.4. Form in Social Space
1.6.5. Form, Culture, Class
1.6.6. Realism, Idealism
1.7. Formal Dominance, Literary Transformation
1.8. The Elephant Principle

2. The Persian Novel in the Periphery
2.1. Imported Literary Form
2.2. Fundamental Principles
2.2.1. The Reiterative
2.2.2. The Associative
2.2.3. The Evaluative
2.3. Forms, Contexts, Imitation
2.4. Critical Obstacles
2.4.1. Modern Irrelevance
2.4.2. Terminology
2.4.3. Rival Discourses
2.5. Models and Formulas
2.6. Specificities as Variables
2.7. Literary Critical Position

3. The Serious Century and Hedayat’s Grim Laughter
3.1. The Blind Owl
3.2. Critical Receptions
3.3. The Satirical Seriousness of Trafficked Phrases
3.4. The Transcendental Bluff
3.5. Narrational Unreliability and the Brag’s Truth
3.6. Evacuating God and the God’s Position
3.7. Meaning and Adequacy

4. The History of the Novel in the Periphery
4.1. Persian Historiographies
4.2. Blank Historical Spaces
4.3. The Popular Novel
4.4. Further Notes
4.5. Women without Men
4.6. The Reception
4.7. Says but Means

5. The Other Serious Century and Pirzad’s Social World
5.1. I Will Put out the Lights: Deceptively Simple
5.2. The Popular and the Poetic
5.3. Putting out the Tragic
5.4. Labor and Authenticity
5.5. Tact and Social Compromise

Conclusion & Bibliography

[Please do not quote this document-in-progress without my information. Thank you.]

There seems to be something wrong with the Persian novel; something which is quite ubiquitous, but pretty vague: it is felt, but it evades articulation. On the one hand, many of the novels that are produced fail to meet the reader’s “literary” expectations and leave them with a sense of dissatisfaction (or so it seems). On the other hand, critical evaluations are nearly always short of convincing and depend on the personal impressions of the critic rather than on a conceptually sophisticated critical system (or so it seems). At the same time, both separate culture and society and introduce the infamous gap between intellectuals and ‘ordinary’ people, implying that intellectuals do not have a significant social influence (or so it seems). Besides, in spite of the fact that this tradition claims its “masters,” there is no trace of the Persian novel on the international level and its globalization has been delayed (or so it seems). This latter case always dismays an Iranian student/scholar of literature because no Iranian novelist has ever been awarded a significant international literary prize and, except in orientalist communities, Iranian novelists are almost absolutely unknown. However, it is not necessary to go beyond national boundaries to see what a global presence means: comparing the status of the Persian novel with Iranian cinema, both nationally and internationally, can reveal aspects of the problem.

A question that has been constantly asked in the past decades is what delays the globalization of the Persian novel: is the problem textual and in the quality of works, is it extra-textual and in the networks that contribute to the globalization of a novelistic tradition, or is it a combination of the two? Whatever the causes, what are the solutions? In spite of its urgency for literary studies in Iran, this issue has never been adequately responded to; neither those who assert quality for Persian novels nor those who argue the reverse have ever articulated their arguments clearly to say what they mean by literary “quality” or to justify their comparative methods. Similarly, those who blame the asymmetrical political structures of the world always fail to answer why, for instance, Iranian cinema has, quite unlike the Persian novel, capitalized on its successes to emerge as a distinct and respectable cinematic tradition in the world. In any case, what is common to all attempts to formulate and analyze the problem is that, trapped in the particular samples they select, none ultimately emerges from its particularism to develop a methodology with which to study the Persian novel by considering the text, the context, and the genre.

What aggravates the problem is the status of literary studies in the Iranian sphere; in spite of the development of academic institutions that have stimulated a slight curiosity in sciences in the past decades, literary studies has not been successfully established as a modern and relevant discourse with scientific methods and research goals. As a result, it is not considered as a scientific discipline proper; literature seems to have become a decorative discourse, an added value, a cause for prestige, but it is not attributed a “real” value in and of itself. At the same time, the position of the novelistic in the Iranian market itself is an issue: on the one hand, ‘serious’ novels (as they imagine themselves to be) do not have a significant share of the circulating social discourses and, on the other, state control always intervenes in the formation of a market around their discourse(s). What is more, even the concept of ‘serious literature’ itself is in crisis, which is a symptom of socio-cultural crises the Iranian society is undergoing. In this regard, it would not be far-fetched to relate the literary crisis in Iran to many anxieties that have arrested its culture and seem not to let go; the Persian novel is only one of its embodiments. By all accounts, it seems to me that the fundamental problem of literary criticism in Persian is knowledge, as it is afflicted by an amateurism which, despite good intentions and hard work, constantly fails to develop into a knowledge producing institution that responds to urgent questions scientifically and accumulates the opinion of experts to come to a better grasp of its own condition.

This dissertation is an attempt to deal with the problems of the Persian novel. It deals with fundamental questions about the novelistic in the Persian literary system, the literary discourse in the Iranian social sphere, and the modern Persian literature on the global scene. But in order to carry out the investigation, the notion of the “Persian novel” should be delimited in various ways. In this regard, it is necessary to bear in mind that even though Persian is the official language of Iran and has been the dominant language of literature for more than a millennium, it is not the (first) language of all Iranians. There are other languages used by considerably large communities (i.e. Turkish, Kurdish, Lori, etc.) which are rarely acknowledged in literary history or considered in criticism. However, while our focus on Persian is motivated by the fact that it is the dominant language of literature (specifically novelistic productions) in the present Iranian sphere, it does not cancel an interest in literary productions in other Iranian languages, even though none appears in the limited space of this study. Consequently, when the social aspects of the novelistic in Persian are discussed, it is informed by the fact that Persian, the official lingua franca, is not the language of the nation.

At the same time, while Persian is also a language of common use in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, in our use the “Persian novel” does not refer to novels that are produced in these two countries. Rather than an intentional neglect, they have been left out of this study to avoid the error that has trapped the Persian novel produced in Iran in a critical malpractice: a critic who is not restricted by the material conditions of a specific context is not in the position to define the cultural conditions of that context or to evaluate the adequacy of its literary/novelistic products; in this regard, the Iranian experience shows that in such cases irrelevant and non- democratic issues are prioritized in criticism and literature becomes an elitist space. In the same line, the “Persian novel” in our use also excludes novels written by Iranians in European languages because they assume a European audience, circulate in a different linguistic and cultural sphere, and do not significantly participate in the ideological spaces of the current Iranian society.

Another issue that requires clarification concerns the use of Iranian, as a national appellation, in this dissertation. Even though a national designation could connote an identity, in this study it rather signifies material conditions that shape and determine the variables of the context in which the Persian novel is produced. The contextual specificities of Iran’s position are determined by the international distribution of material conditions, some of which have been discussed in due course in relationship with literature. Nevertheless, despite the fact that these conditions shape the political, socio-cultural, and literary history, and even though we have emphasized the significance of considering them in literary production and criticism, the national appellation does not signify an identity and is by no means essentialist.

With this in mind, the problems of the Persian novel have been approached from two perspectives: first, in terms of the actual existence of genuine novelistic products and, second, in terms of the critical recognition and articulation of novelistic authenticity; the former is a textual and artistic and the latter is a philosophical and theoretical issue. In this sense, whether or not a specific novelistic tradition/product is critically recognized or globalized does not affect the creativity of the produced literature; however, it can affect the institutionalization of literature and literary studies. The problem of recognition is posterior to production and is related to the networks which produce and disseminate knowledge about a novelistic tradition and make it available to specific audiences. But before we can actually revisit these knowledge-producing networks, we have to reevaluate the discourse that produces the knowledge; this, however, demands displaying that genuine novelistic products do actually exist. If we do this, it will then be possible to revisit the way the Persian novel participates in world literature to discover what factors trouble its globalization and to propose ways of elevating them.

But investigating the existence of genuine novelistic products in Persian is slightly more complex than it seems, partly because the evolutionary transformations that led to, say, the English novel cannot be traced in the history of the Persian novel; what is more, that this novelistic tradition is preceded by a long non-novelistic tradition of fictional narrative is an added factor to reckon with. Furthermore, and this is where this research starts off, despite the century-long history of the novel in Persian, the novelistic is not the dominant literary concept yet; exploring the causes and significations of this fact requires a comparative perspective in which the Iranian context is juxtaposed with a context where the novelistic is dominant. As such, investigating the novel comes to mean more than the study of a narrative form and will allow us to conceptually reexamine the Persian novel in terms of its socio-cultural functions and their implications. The comparative perspective will also contribute to outlining a methodology with which to produce knowledge about the governing rules of Iranian reality from a literary point of view.

The arguments are presented in five parts. In Part I, a working frame has been established that outlines our understanding of the novelistic and differentiates it from classical Persian fictional narratives by discussing the ideological, epistemological, and socio-cultural implications of literary forms. However, since defining the novel, one way or another, is always an inadequate approach, the genre has been differentiated from classical Persian forms around the issues of knowledge and medium: every narrative form is the product of epistemological developments and ideological shifts that formulate its perspective; as such, the novel is an ideology itself by virtue of the fact that it highlights specific aspects of experience and downgrades others to communicate a specific knowledge about the world without and to legitimize its literary notion(s) accordingly. On the other hand, it is significant to bear in mind that the correlation of the literary and the social is always settled in ideological conflicts that are fought in the social sphere for dominance: the class which manages to dominate the social comes to define the literary/the artistic. This double perspective intends to incorporate the textual as well as the social in literary criticism; as such, while it is aware of aesthetic qualities, it does not fail to consider the politicization of cultural products, but avoids overestimating them. At the same time, since the ideological implications of the novel are tied to the history of European modernity, this part will shed light on the transformations of Iranian culture (through its literature) in the frame of peripheral modernity. As a result, questions of science and knowledge become central to our study and other cultural discourses appear as significant players on the literary scene.

Part II builds on the differences which have been established between the novelistic and prior narrative fictional forms in Persian; since the novelistic appears in Persian belatedly and under the European influence, this part seeks to tackle the problem of imitation. Dealing with the problem of genuine creativity in a “foreign” genre adequately requires us to transcend two traditional positions: one proposes that the form and the local material are incompatible and the other poses them to be unconditionally compatible. The former neglects the inevitability of cultural exchange and leads to a blind nativistic criticism which carries authoritarian seeds within itself; the latter ignores the significance of form in literary analysis and produces a socially disengaging criticism. A sound methodology shall introduce solid grounds of comparison between different literary works and traditions and will show how it is possible to creatively produce and independently study the novel in Persian. Its added value will be the ability to tackle the dual problems of quality and globalization without falling in the traps of a traditional ghetto or a colonial approach.

Part III develops the theoretical arguments of the second part and gives them a practical turn. At first, the reception and dissemination of knowledge about a significant and pioneering novel in Persian has been meta-critically evaluated; then, a rereading of the same novel in the light of developed principles will substantiate the theoretical assertions and will outline a critical discourse that can adequately and independently address the novelistic and explain its necessity in the Iranian context. In this regard, we will see why the gap between production and criticism devalues creative and sophisticated products and impedes the development of the Persian novel.

Part IV challenges the historiographies of the Persian novel in the light of the arguments of preceding chapters; these historiographies are either unaware of the significance of literary form or, through methodologies they introduce for analyzing Persian novels, aggravate a colonial alienation or a national narrow-mindedness. In this line, another meta-critical evaluation of a Persian novelistic sample will show that the critical discourse is not fine-tuned to deal with the novel in Persian and we will see how a malfunctioning critical practice systematically appropriates the literary for other uses and imposes ideas on the novel that will never be substantiated by the text itself. This testifies to the fact that the critical discourse on the Persian novel, which is ironically the one that contributes to its participation in world literature, is not dependable.

Part V offers another corpus study based on the principles developed in the previous parts and will show how original and significant products are invisible in the dominant critical discourse which is formulated in the narrow space of a national bubble.

The ideas and principles that are developed in this dissertation are attempts that aspire to formulate an independent literary critical approach to the Persian novel. They are suggestions for future developments in the hope that the production and dissemination of knowledge about literary and cultural products will be scientifically systematized and professionally institutionalized; it is also hoped that critical practice will transform by taking its premises more seriously and by formulating certain goals that are relevant to our contemporary concerns to achieve a more appropriate social position for comparative literature and literary criticism in the Iranian context. In any case, it goes without saying, the offered responses to our research questions are by no means exhaustive and, as such, other independent critical efforts that can contribute to a rigorous literary study of Persian novels are anticipated.