Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Man Out of Place | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Flowers bloom on trees on the Champs de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, France, in this April 2013 file photo. (EPA/IAN LANGSDON)

Flowers bloom on trees on the Champs de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, France, in this April 2013 file photo. (EPA/IAN LANGSDON)

On April 9, 1951, Sadegh Hedayat entered his rented apartment in Paris, plugged all the doors and windows with cotton, and then turned on the gas valve to liberate himself from all the wounds that had been gnawing on him in seclusion. Two days later, his body was found by police, with a note left behind for his friends and companions that read: “I left and broke your heart. That is all.” The prominent Iranian writer and intellectual had torn up all his unpublished work a few days before his suicide.

Born into an aristocratic family in Tehran in early 1903, he attended a Catholic school in the city before continuing his education in Belgium and France, where he became familiar with French language and literature. In 1928, Hedayat attempted to commit suicide for the first time by throwing himself into the River Marne, but was rescued by bystanders.

His stories are mostly written in a critical realist style, and he is recognized today for his role in introducing modernist and surrealist techniques into Persian fiction.

Six decades later, Hedayat’s life and his motive for suicide are as significant as his influential literary works. He is considered to be the first prominent Iranian author and literati to commit suicide. His way of ending his life has bolstered his image with both the general public and intelligentsia, but the true motive for his suicide still remains something of a mystery.

Many assume that Hedayat’s philosophical despair drove him to suicide. They argue that his thinking about death, a recurrent theme in almost all his works, stemmed from his innate depression. Some go further, claiming that the lack of homogeneity in his works may indicate signs of bipolar depression.

He wrote, “Nobody resolves to commit a suicide. [The drive to commit] suicide lies within some people; within their nature and quintessence. There is no way to evade it. It is the destiny that rules. However, it is I who have shaped my destiny. Now, I cannot escape from it. I cannot escape from myself. So what can I do? Destiny overrules and overpowers me.”

However, there are others who posit that it was the particular characteristics of his era that contributed to his suicide. Psychoanalyst and writer Mohammad Sanati sees the motive behind Hedayat’s depression in the contrast between the intellectual and modern aspects of his personality and the extremely traditional society in which he lived. As a result, he was again at odds with the other intellectuals of his era, who despite considering themselves materialists and Marxists nonetheless had a “mythomaniacal” subjectivity—their tendency was to mythologize almost every phenomena.

His friends’ testimonials confirm that Hedayat was a tactful, discerning, sensitive, satirical man with a lively, bouncy and benevolent demeanor. It is the myths surrounding Hedayat that project a grim, stern image of him. Sadegh Hedayat, as manifested in his stories, monographs and statements, as well as in the memories of those knew him well, was an intellectual that yearned to live in a society liberated from all myths and superstitions. Ironically, his society, led by its intellectuals and government, expelled him and portrayed him as a debauched addict, a homosexual, a woman-hater who was beset with jealousy, deepening his feelings of alienation.

The majority of the intelligentsia of his time were either members of the Tudeh Party, or were at least in sympathetic to it. Hedayat’s separation from the Tudeh Party acted as a catalyst for his strained relationships with other intellectuals. This can be clearly seen in some of his correspondence.

“Since Ettelaat Haftegi weekly magazine [insulted] me last week, my antipathy against these individuals has become a thousand times deeper. In summary, they had portrayed me as an alcoholic, women-hating, malicious, atheist vegetarian. It was a canard to conspire against me; let’s see what will be the end of it,” Hedayat wrote.

He followed this complaint with a diatribe against his era: “In this stinking, repugnant environment, one has to suffer the full consequences of his actions [if he wants to stay out of the mainstream]. On the other hand, these people are completely rightful. Whatever they say or do is not enough. When one is stuck between the rabbles and sons-of-bitches and do not consent to aid and abet them in theft, blandishment, deception, flattery and impudence, he is sinful. He has to recompense for this fault even if his eyes are struck blind.”

Although many people say that his first suicide attempt was due to his depression, his friends affirm that it was not that serious, and was mostly inspired by romantic disappointment.

After that, Hedayat returned to Iran, where he published Mister Bow-Wow in 1914. Ali Asghar Hekmat, then minister of culture, took him to court and made him pledge not to publish in Iran. Hedayet became so depressed that he went to Bombay and published The Blind Owl there for the first time in an edition of fifty copies.

Financial problems, his struggle to publish his work, the crisis-ridden society after the Second World War, and most importantly his perceptions of the ignorance and naiveté of his community, persuaded him to leave Iran for Paris in pursuit of outlets to publish his work, despite his satirical writing style and humorous, sanguine spirit. When he was faced with new difficulties in Europe, he did not want to return to the same society he had escaped from. This time, instead of silencing and isolating himself or deriding his society, he opted to end his life.