A Deconstructive Reading of Boof-e-Kur

Nargess Montakhabi

 

One of the most widely disputed works in Persian literature has been Bufe Kour, which never ceases to cast shadow on the readers mind due to it’s unique and stirring narrative techniques. Written in 1942, it parallels works of Modernist writers such as T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland or James Joyce’s Ulysses regarding diversity of meaning and manipulations of time and space, however the Modernist qualities of this masterpiece do not instill the fact that Hedayat was utterly cognizant of the newly-developed trend in Western literature, in a time that Kafka and Joyce were not still publically recognized, Bufe Kour emerged as the first Modernist work in Persian literature with all it’s authenticity and origionality.  Of the Modernist qualities of the work we can mention the limited manifest content, multiple and underlying associations of the latent content, futility and anarchy of the narrator and the fragmented discourse of the narrative.  However these qualities subjugate to the narrative techniques,setting and characterization, such factors are of a greater priority throughout the work than the modernist disposition.

 

In this respect, M. A. H. Katouzian in his book, About Hedayat’s Bufe Kour, assumes that the novel is composed of two narratives, “the first one is the story of the narrator and the angle that occurs (in spite of the fact that plot does not embody common and run_of_the_mill actions according to our conceptions of actions formed by other literary works) in the present time,about 1921/1300, in Tehran.  The second story is that of the narrator and the whore (لکاته) in the ancient city of Rey before the Mangul invasion, this part ends with returning to the present time”.  These two narratives are so tightly intermingled that some readers cannot detect the crucial landmark and become prone to misinterpretations. The complementary role of these two sections makes the whole work assume a perennial integrity which is not tarnished by the unpalpable dividing line within the narrative, also the narrator serves as pivot around which the two segments are centered.  As the sole speaker within the narrative, he is the only link between the reader and the depicted world.  In this regard, as Katouzian claims, this novel could be labelled as a monologue, but the fact that in many cases the narrator contardicts himself, gives the work dialogic qualities which are quite diserpant from the dialogic patterns of Dostoevsky’s novels.  Here the multiplicity of ideas and introspections is bound to the single voice of the narrator and this sort of polyphony reverbrates throughout the narrative.  Furthermore such dialogic features are not discernable in the manifest content and can be detected in the latent content by means of a thorough reading between the lines.

 

As mentioned, the narrator is the only speaker and hence the sole fully_developed character, whose observations and thoughts are the only access for the reader to creep into the fictive world of the novel.  According to Katouzian, the other characters (if we can call them characters) with some distinguishable features are the old, stooped man ( (پیرمرد قوزی, the woman and the dignitaries (رجاله). The old, stooped man is successively projected as the old man accompaning the angle, the hearseman, the narrator’s father, his uncle, his fahter_in_law, the pedlar ((خنزرپنزری and eventually the narrator himself, all with the same idiosyncracies. But despite their haunting presence throughout the narrative, none of these characters are fully delineated, they are neither characters nor types, just projections that divulge narrator’s divergent states of mind he is oscilliating amid them.  The woman is projected as the angle (Katouzian’s word that is going to be used in this essay) , the whore (narrator’s wife), the narrator’s aunt and his brother_in_law.  Here the woman is portrayed at the extremes of a angle or a whore, heaven or hell who turns out to be a type other than a character.  The last of the characters are the the people, who according to the narrator’s worldview, represent common people.  They are not only corrupted and capricious, but also narrow_minded conformists who collaborate on injustice and vice.  They abstain from paying the fatal price of being a human, the price that the narrator pays.

 

However, meager characterization does not obstruct the overwhelming impact of the narrator’s world on the reader’s mind, the world that is serfeit with contardictions, frustarted desires, love, essance of life and many other associations.  It is via this world that the narrator discloses his invincible difference with the outsiders and assumes a very different role as  a human being.  Hence a close dissection of his microcosm, also his thoughts and assumptions would cast light upon the macrocosm that Hedayat is trying to put forward.  In this regard, since deconstructive criticism tries to uncover the contradictions within a work and since this novel is seething with negations, a deconstructive reading of the narrative culminates into a more comprehensive grasp of the narrator and his conflicting world.

 

According to deconstruction, due to unstability and dynamism of language, ultimate meaning is not attainable in literature or any other aspects of life and “meaning is produced by the play of the language through the vehicle of the reader.”(Tyson, Critical Theory Today. P.252).  Hence the undecidability of meaning is inevitable and the multiplicity of the meaning reveals the very nature of human unconscious with all it’s gaps, pluralities and contradictions, which are patterned through the binary oppositions. These hierarcial binaries with their supplementary relations are transposed by deconstruction to awaken the reader’s mind out of it’s conventionality and trigger a pristine worldview. Therefore, by the deconstructive reading of Bufe Kour these thematic binary oppositions which mostly represent the narrator’s ideaologies, are going to be detected.  Then the unstability of such idealogies are going to be revealed via the narrator’s unconscious ambivalences toward his own conceptions.  But it should be mentioned that narrator himself contributes enormously to the deconstruction of his own ideas by his contradicroty introspections, denial attempts of his own instinctual desires and many other points that are going to be discussed.  On the whole the ultimate appreciation of this work or any other literary piece is impossible but the deconstructive approach  can illuminate the facts that might have never been noticed or might have been fettered by the osive conventionality of human communities. 

Bufe Kour depicts a myriad of human experience not through the common literary conventions of interaction and conversation or adventure.  It’s sole speaker takes the rein of the narrative’s world and by confinining this world to his own thoughts and introspections, forges a wide range of associations and meanings, which are contradicted or negated not only by his own stream of thoughts, but also by his own words that are unconsciously deconstructive.  In this respect Jacques Lacan’s dictum exclusively illuminates the role of the unconscious in this work: “The unconscious is stuctured like a language.” (Abrams, P.267). Also he asserts that “all process of linguistic expression and interpretation, driven by desire for a lost and unachievable object, move incessantly along a chain of unstable signifiers without any possibility of coming to rest on a fixed signified, or presence.” (Abrams, P.268).  Tensely manipulated by the unconsciuos, the narrator’s personality is not easy to find out and the only comprehensible facts about him are his eccentricities and his difference from the other ordinary people.  Hence the very nature of the narrative and the narrator’s own conflicting unconscious would call for a deconstructive reading of the text.

 

As mentioned in the prelude,  the first step is to detect the thematic binary oppositions that would lead to the appreciation of the narrator’s personality.  Of these oppositions death/life, spritual love/physical love, nonconformity/conformity, celestiality/terrestriality  determination/free will are more dominant.  By the deconstructive reading of the narrative, the privileged poles of these oppositions are going to be suplemmented.  The first of these oppositions is death/life.  Throughout the novel, particularly in the second section, the narrator yearns for his death as a loophole for all his agonies and vicissitudes.  Edgar Allan Poe’s death wish finds it’s most vivid and undeniable substantiation in the narrator as he calls for death: “مرگ مرگ…کجایی؟ “(P.77).  Deemed as a solace to his lost life and hopes, death is not abhored by the narrator, on the other hand, it is the only thing that sheds light on his gloomy hours of isolation.  He  believes that the poisonous red wine left for him by his mother would lead to his redemption and everlasting consolation: “ شراب ارغوانی اکسیر مرگ که آسودگی همیشگی می بخشد. “(P.58).  Hence he embraces death so contently that seems bizare to common poeple: “.مرگ به نظرم اتفاق معمولی و طبیعی آمد” (P.59).  Even his death wish reaches it’s climax when he evinces a covert spurt of ecstasy in noticing tokens of death in himself and this state of mind leads him to an unsurmountable belief in death: “از این حالت جدید خودم کیف می کردم و درچشم هایم غبار مرگ را دیده بودم . “(P.64).  His shadow has no more a head, which foreshadows his impending death even if it’s just a superstition: “اگر سایه کسی سر نداشته باشد تا سر  سال می میرد.“(P.76).  Not beliving in life after death, “تنها چیزی که از من دلجویی می کرد امید نیستی پس از مرگ بود.  “(P.94) he despises wordly existance: “فکر زندگی دوباره مرا می ترسانید و خسته می کرد. “(P.94).  M. F. Farzaneh, a friend and critic of Hedayat, in his book Acquaintance With Sadegh Hedayat asserts that the narrator’s obsessions with death are depicted through the angle of the first section; “death is in it’s perfection.”(P.379).  Farzaneh’s other conception of death in Bufe Kour, is that of the redeeming force in face of “societies superstitions, suppression and hypocrisy”(P.398).  But no matter how death represents itself to the narrator, it is the inseparable part of his life and the major theme of the novel.   

 

Up to this point, the privileged pole of the death/life binary opposition has been scrutinized and the narrator’s ideaologies about death, how he deals with it, his frustrations in life and his seclusion have been disclosed.  However there are some hints in the narrative corroborating the fact that the text itself decenters the privileged element (death) and life, the unprivileged one comes to the surface.  That is to say, the narrator is not utterly entailed by death, life with all it’s zests and hopes has surreptisiously creeped into his world, indicating it’s presence via the narrator’s unconscious predispositions.  In this respect, the text itself procures some clues to verify the narrator’s intrinsic leanings towards life, his fear of death and other contradictions.  The very first word that initiates the novel is life “زندگی” which signifies the fact that his concerns for death, ephemerality and frustration can never be parted from life, they can instill their presence in his mind only within the context of life, in other words if he were not immensely obsessed with life, he could not have found it’s sordid realities such as fatality and frivolity.  The facts that he is writing about his life and trying to put into words the metaphysical experiences he has underwent,  substantiate his fervant yearning of gaining immortality.  Throughout the human history, writing about one’s own life has always been an unconscious means of living on after death.  So in spite of the fact that the narrator justifies his words by saying: “فقط برای این است که خودم را به سایه ام معرفی بکنم. “(P.10) or by claimingخودم را بهتربشناسم.”   می خواهم می“(P.11), he is unconsciously demonstrating his bias towars life and immortality.  Even his purpose of narration presented as self_knowledge: میترسم که فردا بمیرم و هنوز خودم را نشناخته باشم.” “(P.10), originates from a mind that is still illuminated by the dazzling light of life, how would self_knowledge suffice to a chagrined mind?  In this regard, red wine as the universally_ accepted emdodiment of Christs’s blood and therefore the symbol of his resurrection, serves as a palpable evidence of the narrator’s unconsciuos belief in life after death and resurrection. As mentioned in the novel, his mother being an Indian dancer in a temple, has left him a poisonous red wine and the narrator believes that it is the essenace of her being or in other words she has resurrected into the red wine.  Throughout the narrative he oft intends to take a sip of the red wine that unconsciously renders her mother’s resurrection in his body. Also as his wife being pregnant, he broods over his own childs drinking of the fatal wine, which again instills his own resurrection and immortality through his child, even though he is not the biological father.  Of the other tokens of his obsession with life that outweighs his death wish is a profound concern for other poeple and their organic needs which directly reflects his own natural demands: “آیا این مردمی که شبیه من هستند که ظاهرا احتیاجات و هوا و هوس مرا دارند… “(P.11).  As this sentencs signifies his instinctual needs never cease casting shadow upon his mind and within the narrative he reveals such inner impulses through the craving of maintaining his dominance over his wife by having sex with her, drinking wine and using opium or sensuously describing different parts of the feminine body(Ps.15/16).  Even his assertions about his discrepencies with the common poeple which are going to be explored in celectiality/terrestriality opposition, cannot thoroughly eclipse his affinities with them and such forementioned affinities are the best way to show his inner vitality which is constantly denied by him.  The most vital of such common human impluses is the sexual desire that instantly emanates form the sense of existance, that is to say, a person totally shattered by disappointment can never be stirred by any sexual or instinctual impulses.  The last point is that he is not utterly separated from the outside world; he is still in touch with “دایه ” and the two windows connect him to the society: “  دو پنجره مرا با  دنیای خارج و دنیای رجالها مربوط می کند. “(P.51).  Therefore his high concern for the outside people or life undermines his total obsession with death.

 

Having decenterd death as the priviliged element in the binary opposition of death/life, the whole narrative reveals the narrator’s duality towards the essance of life.  Hedayat’s exsistantialism is tangibly illuminated in this novel as the narrator oscilliates between life and death and endeavours to give meaning to his own existance and uncover the essance of life.  According to Farzaneh the narrator’s childhood memories which are rife in this work and are also wielded in Zende Begur.  Decentering death would demonstrate the narrator’s nostalgic sense of life and hope of rejuvenation.  Such memories are his last access to be reminded of the real meaning of life.

 

The second of the binary oppositions is celestiality/terrestriality which is tightly corresponded to nonconformity/conformity opposition.  The narrator considers himself different from the common people, “رجالها” .  These poeple as mentioned in the prelude subsume the conformist community in which the narrator lives.  This community is composed of: “سیرابی فروش،  فقیه،  جگرکی،  رئیس داروغه،  مفتی،… “(P.62), but these are just titles, for the narrator they are all the same: “ولی همه شاگرد کله پز بودند. “(P.62) and are nefariously delineated as: “بی حیا احمق و متعفن“(P.62).  He assumes a great independence from this community: “.…احتیاجی به دنیای رجالها نداشتم “(P.67) by proclaiming their neider:”  یک دهن بودند که  یک مشت روده به دنبال آن آویخته و منتهی به آلت تناسلی شان می شد.“(P.70).  Eventually they are described as: بی حیا پررو گدامنش معلومات فروش چاروادار و چشم و دل گرسنه .” “(P.94).  These features are that of a highly conformist society in which individuality surrenders to the mass.  Even his birth puts forward an ironic superiority over that of the common peers; his father falls in love with the virgin Indian dancer but getting pregnant, she is expelled from the temple.  The narrator’s uncle falls in love with the dancer which culminates to the snake and the dungeon test.  After the test no one can identify the surviver or the real father due to the fact that the narrator’s father and uncle are twins.  Symbolically, such birth makes the narrator a Christ figure and augments his difference with other members of the community.  Religion, the highest form of conformity, is of no significance for him: “…دولا راست شدن در مقابل یک قادر متعال…در من تاثیری نداشت. “(P.84).  He has forgotten the language through which he could communicate with other people and on the whole, he has awakened from his mundane slumber into a world that has forfieted it’s run_of_the_mill workadays: “یک دنیای آرام ولی پر از اشکال افسون گر و گوارا……” (P.44).

 

Privileging celestiality and nonconformity over terrestriality and conformity, the narrator defies any sort of bond with the sensous and ephemeral world of the common people.  However, he unconsciously manifests some of the attributes he has been abstaining from.  One of the major terresterial and conformist facets that he rebukes, as mentioned in the last paragraph, is the sensuousness of the community.  But he himself tends to be sensuous as he magnifies feminine beauty in terms of sexual discourse (Ps.15/16/24/55).  Also his desire of having sex with his wife leads him to a disparaging self_abasement; he tries to make friends  with his wife’s lovers in order to learn their charming conduct that he lacks.  He assumes that the only affinity between him and the common people is the love of his wife: “رجالها هم مثل من ” از این لکاته…خوششان می آمد.(P.69). So is he really aspiring towards the sublime?  His final metamorphosis into the old man has been foreshadowed by the fact that he has denied his own instinct’s true calling, but throughout the narrative he has not been able to subjugate such impulse. The other sympton of his normality and non_celestiality is his dual reaction to death.  As mentioned before, he embraces death willingly as the only refuge in his life but later he cannot conceal his fear of it, which is shared by all the common peolpe: “… ترس از مرگ گریبان ” مرا ول نمی کرد.(P.86).  Even he himself notices that the way he has chosen is not redemptive and is going astray towards degradation: “من در عالم نبات سیر می کردم. “(P.99) and this process of transformation is intensified as he tries to change his countenance by some soot which symbolically represents his descent.  The end of the narrative with it’s climatic features, is the direct rejoinder to his own claims of superiority and nonconformity.

 

So the narrator, via his introspections has decentered the microcosom of his own self.  His disability to comply to the norms of society parallels that of his modernist contemprories such as Yushij, Akhavan Saless and Shamloo.  This kind of intertextuality, amongst these authors, embodies the protagonist’s seclusion, non _allegiance and ordeal by which the reader’s world is defamiliarized.

The next of the binary oppositions is spritual love/physical love.  As an unorthodox man aspring towards inner perfectionism, love is the Platonic ladder leading to excellence.  The first part of the narrative where the angle appears to him, serves as the embodiment of his ideaologies of a perfect, seraphic love.  The angle instills in him a heavenly equillibrium and infatuates him to the ascend towards sublimity: “آن دختر اثیری تا آنجایی که فهم بشر عاجز از ادراک آن   است تاثیر خودش را در من گذارد.“(P.17).  Such Platonic love succours him to overcome his religious doubts: “او بود که حس پرستش را در من تولید کرد. “(P.19).  She is the key to the all unsolved problems: “…یک نگاه کافی بود که همه ی مشکلات فلسفی و معماهای الهی را برایم حل کند. ” (P.20).  As starkly juxtaposed to the image of his wife in the second part of the narrative, the angle represents the narrator’s concept of an ideal woman, who is an inspiration towards sublimity.  Therefore, in reality she does not exist, in other words, being stymied by the his  wicked wife in the past, he has created an ideal illusionary world in which he can win a perfect woman’s love.  But gaining such a Platonic love is never viable and at the end he finds himself  in the vicious world of the past.

 

The deconstructive reading of the narrative reveals the fact that even his yearning for a spiritual love is neutralized by his sexual undercurrent in describing the angle.  As mentioned in the last paragraph, the angle does not have any worldly existance and her pecularities emanate directly from the narrator’s unconscoius which is not utterly confined by the spiritual inclinations.  The description of body is quite momentous in portraying her image but such delineation is expressed through words that magnify her sexual attraction (P.16).  The narrator accentuates her cherubicness by giving her a worldly sexual spell that infatuates him forthwith.  Accordingly, his wife’s unrelinquishment to his sexusl drives is one of the most important factors in leading him to create such a perfect woman and the rhapsodic moment of consummation with her is shattered by the her sudden death. So deprived of satiating his sexual impulses, he maintains such desire in his depiction of the angle.  Hence he does not succeed in underscoring his sextual desires and this covet exists along with his endeavours of attaining spirituality, apparently denying the way that human nature is molded.

 

The narrator has unconsciously decentered the priority of the spiritual love.  In most of Hedayat’s works the underlying sexual desires of the protagonist are juxstaposed to the Platonic notions of love.  They complement one another and there is no hierarchial correspondence between them.  None can be overlooked for the cultivation of the other one.

 

The last of the binary oppositions is determination/free will.  From the very outset the narrator proclaims against his pre_determined existance over which he has no control.  His birth, marriage and present conditions of life are all bound to the ruthless hand of destiny.He marries his wife on the grounds that she resembles his aunt and his aunt reminds him of his mother.  Despite his endeavours to make sense out of his existance, his life is desparately circumscribed by the oppressive forces of nature and society as he asserts:”آیا خمیره و حالت صورت من، دراثر یک تحریک مجهول، وسواسها، …و نا امیدی های موروثی درست نشده بود؟  “(P.107).  He considers himself as the victim “محکوم  ” of the overwhelming duress of life and destination. 

 

However the text does not throughly verify such conception.  There are some graphic clues within the narrative that reveal the narrator’s exercise of free will; he is acting upon his inner yearnings when he decides to write down his own life, that is to say, throughout human history preserving one’s own life and deeds, even if not heroic ones, has always been a direct rejoinder to the overbearing forces of destination.  Although his marriage seems to be a pre_determined one, his struggles to keep his wife and to undrestand her emanate from his desires of confronting the workings of his pernicious life; an illuminating example is his self_disparaging and forced communication with his wife’s lovers.  The conclusion of the narrative pinpoints his triumph of free will over the pre_established destination; he settles upon surrendering to his inner vocations rather than the manipulations of his lot.  In this respect, his metamorphosis to the old, stooped man betokens a new way of life, carnal on the surface but vital and emancipated in depth.  At least he has been  able to thwart the psudo_impeccable sallies of his former life, even though in a prefunctorily deteriorated manner.  Despite the appalling imageries of the last few sentences (warms and bees feeding on the corpse), the conclusion embodies the narrator’s unconscious strivings for the liberation of life from being propelled by the pre_determined constraints.  To the readers with arid life idealogies, such an ending is nothing more than a vicious circle; the narrator ends up where he started without any intellectual advancements, also his metamorphosis is another clue substantiating his psychological debasement.  But for a reader with a more evolving system of thought, the narrator ends up in a new life with new perspectives, an iconclast who counteracts his destination.

 

Having decenterd various thematic binary oppositions of Bufe Kour, we come up with new appreciation of this work and “the logocentric rationality is unfolded”(Modern Literary Theory, P.148).  This process would lead to “the vision of art as a seething cauldron of meaning in flux.”(Tyson, Critical Theory Today, P.259).  Now by revealing the text’s “undecicability” of it’s meaning, we are bestowed by an ever_evolving prospects that are to alter through another reading of the text.  Bufe Kour is not what we want it to be, it promulgates it’s own idealogies that are uninvincible and unstable.  Such thematic idealogies are shattered through the deconstructive approach towards the text and we witnessed that the oppressive role of them can be undermined by the text itself not the reader.  But this is not the end, “the text’s dissemiation of meaning will continue as long as the text is read.”(Tyson, Critical Theory Today, P.289).  It is just an initiator for other perspectives to come into “play”. 

 

 

Bibliograghy

Katouzian, Mohammad Ali Homayun.  About Hedayat’s Bufe Kur. Tehran: Nashre Markaz, 1373.

Farzaneh, Mostafa. Acuaintance With Sadegh Hedayat. Tehran: Nashre Markaz, 1372.

Tyson. Critical Theory Today.

Abrams, M. H.  A Glossary of Literary Terms. New York, 1953.

Modern Literay Theory.

       

 

One Response to A Deconstructive Reading of Boof-e-Kur

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s