Reading literary nihilists in Tehran

One might be tempted to think that literature commonly characterized as absurdist or nihilist would not get much official attention in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Still less would anyone think that it could serve as a springboard to reaching the rarefied heights of literary prizes.

Yet, as absurd and potentially nihilistic as it sounds, that is precisely what has happened with the recent granting of Iran’s Golden Pen award to Shahriar Zarshenas for his critical work “An Introduction to Literary Schools and Approaches.”

The first chapter of this not very dramatically titled book, however, the more intriguing sounding “A Glimpse on Absurd Nihilism and some of its Manifestations in Literature” is already being expanded into a larger work and, according to the Iran Book News Agency (IBNA), “could win the 8th Golden Pen (Ghalam Zarrin) literary award.”

(I can well imagine Hollywood producers plotting a film’s Oscar-worthiness far sooner than they should, but predicting awards for works of literary criticism before they are even finished! This is something utterly new to me.)

The book is set to cover many of the names you would expect: Kafka, Dostoevsky, Camus, Beckett, Ionesco, and Pinter, and the author indicates what will undoubtedly be an exposé of the nihilistic roots of postmodernism as well as the full range of this nefarious influence.

“I am aware that nihilism and the roots of it are not limited to few faces and it is also found in the works of writers such as Marguerite Duras, Milan Kundera, Saul Bellow and many other that I hope I can work on them as well in the future,” Zarshenas told IBNA.

The fact that the book is going to be published by the Research Center for Islamic Thought and Culture leads me to think that there will not be much space given to the pro-nihilism side of the debate. But I wonder if the book might not end up providing a list of attractive names for young Iranians to search out and read. So while the influence of this strain of writing is harder and harder to find in the West maybe we can look forward to a mass of absurdist, nihilist writing and theater as being Iran’s next great export.

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Categories: Literary Events, Writers


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