The Interstitial, Liminal and Hybrid in Simin Daneshvar’s Novels

By Razi Ahmad
Submitted to Session P3576 (Space and Place in Contemporary Middle Eastern Literature, 2013 Annual Meeting
Iranian Studies;
This paper sets out to analyze the interstitial, hybrid and liminal aspects of Daneshvar’s novels Savushun (1969), Jazirah-i Sargardani (1993) and Sarban Sargardan (2001). A discursive analysis of these works shows that Daneshvar, instead of simply creating pre-Islamic-Islamic or Iranian-Western dichotomy, exploits these binaries to create what Homi Bhabha calls liminal and hybrid spaces and identities. If read in the context of political situations in which these works were produced, Daneshvar’s liminal and hybrid characters also emerge as subversive to the official narratives of Iran’s national identity.
The novel Savushun unmistakably derives several motifs from the pre-Islamic legend of Siyavash. However, a close reading also demonstrates Islamic motifs in the novel. For example, the protagonist Yusof, who resembles Siyavash as pointed out by many scholars, shares several characteristics with Imam Husayn and theQur’anic Yusof. Such a transcendental portrayal of the protagonist endows him with a liminal and hybrid identity and defies the pre-Islamic-Islamic dichotomy. It also subverts the Pahlavi state’s ‘pedagogic’ narrative of Iranian identity rooted in ancient Iran.
Daneshvar’s post-Islamic Revolution works Jazirah-i Sargardani and Sarban Sargardan successfully challenge the new ruler’s presentation of Iran as a Shi’i nation. These works reclaim Iran’s pre-Islamic heritage and place it on an equal footing with Islam. This is achieved through, among other things, creation of a liminal character in Hasti, who prefers atheist Morad over religious Salim, gives equal importance to Zoroastrian and Shi’i icons, and insinuates longings for pre-Islamic Iran.
Daneshvar’s literary works also seek to transcend the Iranian -Western dichotomy. Although critical of Western imperialism, her works cannot be categorized as anti-Western. For example, Yusof, Zari, Hasti, Morad and most of the other positive characters are receptive to Western modernity. Indeed, their intellectual growth is shaped by their contact with theWest. Nonetheless, they self-consciously preserve their Iranian ‘self’. Daneshvar also creates many positive western characters, such as McMohan in Savushun and Mani’s Polish wife in Jazirah-i Sargardani. Mani’s wife is even fully accepted as an Iranian citizen, suggesting that one can become part of the nation not only through ‘filiation’ but also through ‘affiliation’. Such representations imply interstitiality between the East and the West.
As in her personal life, Daneshvar refuses to privilege any one ideological, religious, or national group over others in her literary works. She achieves this by creating interstitial, hybrid and liminal characters and spaces in her works.