Heterogeneity of Iranian Modernity in Ja’far Modarres Sadeqi’s Nakoja-Abad (Nowhereland, 1990)

By Razi Ahmad
Submitted to Session P5012 (Literary Configurations of Secular Modernity, 2017 Annual Meeting
Since nineteenth century, Iranian writers and intellectuals have been preoccupied with the question of Iran’s appropriation of European model of modernism and political nationalism, at the center of which lies a new understanding of the meaning of time and space. Anderson in Imagined Communities famously calls the modern nation a “sociological organism moving calendrically through homogenous empty time.” By employing Chatterjee’s concept of heterogeneous time, i.e. co-presence of multiple times, and engaging in discursive analyses of representation of myth, history and modernity, the paper argues that such a conception of linear calendrical time is challenged and a local Iranian alternative is presented in Ja’far Modarres Sadeqi’s novels, especially Nakoja-abad (1990). In Nakoja-abad, the protagonists Ardashir and Dara traverse between two times and spaces disrupting the constant, stable and organized chronotope of linear progression.

The modern day narrator (in Reza Shah’s period) is stranded in a deserted place during one of his trips back to Tehran because his car, symbol of the fast-paced ‘mechanical’ modern life, runs out of fuel. He walks behind a hill looking for one of his co-travelers and finds himself lost in the ancient world. The road, the car, the ‘modern world’ he was in just moments ago, all disappear; he miserably fails to make a return despite circling around the hill numerous times. The moment he enters the antiquity, his watch stops working, signifying beginning of a new time—disrupted and away from the modern calendrical time based on monotonous second, minutes and hours, to a cyclic time counted by days, nights and the moon. In the new time-space, he meets one of the ancient Iranian kings Dara. Later, the novel blurs the ancient and modern times so much that Dara and his son travels between the two ages back and forth without any obstacle. The homogenous empty time that linearly connects past, present and future gives way to a temporal labyrinth as the novel’s characters crisscross the two worlds, historically situated in different ages. In doing so, the novel presents the Iranian nation simultaneously living in multiple, traditional and modern, times, called by Chatterjee 'heterogeneous time of modernity' and offers—through the mediation of material artefacts, cultural symbols, and literary imageries— new alternative lived realities of modernity at its own national indigenous terms. Safar-i Kasra (1989) and Kallah-i Asb (1991) are among other novels by Sadeqi that portrays heterogeneity of Iranian modernity.