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The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat, translated by Iraj Bashiri

Bashiri's Introduction

The following is my third revised version of the translation into English of the novella, The Blind Owl. The first version (1974) was a literal translation. It accompanied a structural study of the novella entitled Hedayat's Ivory Tower: Structural Analysis of The Blind Owl. A working translation, it served as the basis for my work that continued on the novella in subsequent years. What prompted that translation, in spite of the existing D. P. Costello translation, was that Costello had not adhered to the exact text of Hedayat. As a result, I thought certain crucial clues for understanding Hedayat's intent in writing the novella were missing. For instance, Costello had used the word "cobra" as a translation of Hedayat's "mar-i nag" (Nag-serpent). On the surface, "cobra" is an apt translation, especially for those who read the novella for entertainment. But for those who intend to understand the meaning of the work through an analysis of its various aspects, it is an inadequate translation. As we know now, the Nag-serpent plays a pivotal role in the whole story, by inference in Part One and, physically, in various forms in Part Two. The Nag-serpent gives the novella its backdrop and conveys the overall message of Hedayat, a message of liberation modeled on the life of Gautama Buddha. In fact, it is the element in the story that inspires awe and mystery, and imparts depth. These, and other India-related concerns, prompted me to provide a literal translation with my working analysis. The incentive for publishing the 1974 literal translation, therefore, was to facilitate communication about the analysis rather than to present a new translation.

In an effort to understand the works of Sadeq Hedayat better; in fact, to gain an overall view of his world, I teach a course on Persian Fiction and in it, alongside the works of other authors, I use the works of Hedayat. Analysis of Hedayat's short stories and discussion of those stories over decades, especially discussion of The Blind Owl in the context of the Bardo Thodol, have enabled me to enhance both my analysis and my translation of The Blind Owl. A revised analysis appeared in The Fiction of Sadeq Hedayat (1984) accompanied by a revised translation in The Blind Owl and Other Hedayat Stories (1984). For all intents and purposes, I considered the revised translation to be the final version.

In 2011, I received a request for a literal translation of the novella, a sentence-by-sentence literal translation to be used in a series of instructional materials covering a wide spectrum of languages, including Persian. The format was a presentation in which a sentence from the novella on the left side had the literal translation of it in English on the right side. I completed that translation within a year and sent to those who had requested it. While preparing this literal translation, I noticed that I had left out some words and felt that I could add those to the translation. I also saw a number of inadequacies in the 1984 translation that I could improve upon. This third revised edition, therefore, is the result of incorporating elements from the new literal translation into the 1984 translation. Fortunately, the "Working Papers" web format allows such changes. I feel that we are now closer to a complete translation of The Blind Owl.

Iraj Bashiri