Systems and accidents in 20th century magical realist literature: Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children" and Sadegh Hedayat's "The blind owl" as critiques of modern nation-making experiments


  • Tadd Graham Fernée Independent Researcher



Magical Realism, modernity, Salman Rushdie, Sadegh Hedayat, India, Iran, nation-making, postmodernism


This article compares two major 20th century magical realist novels - Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and Sadegh Hedayat's The Blind Owl - as critiques of modern nation-making practices, in Nehruvian post-independence India and Iran under Reza Shah Pahlavi. The analysis centers the interplay of accidents and systems, in political constructions and contestations of modern self, history and knowledge. The works are assessed in terms of two aesthetic paradigms of modernity: Baudelaire's vision of modernity as traumatic deracination involving new creative possibilities and freedom, and Cocteau's vision of modernity as an Infernal Machine where a pre-recorded universe annihilates creative freedom. The political significance of these aesthetics are evaluated against the two distinctive nationalist narratives which the authors set out to contest in their respective novels. Both novels offer important critiques of violence. Yet both reveal a Proustian aesthetic of nostalgia, rejecting organized political action in the public sphere to celebrate imaginative introversion.

Author Biography

Tadd Graham Fernée, Independent Researcher

Tadd Graham Fernée, PhD in Comparative History (Jawaharlal Nehru University, India), is an independent researcher. In 2014-2015, he was guest lecturer in the English Studies Department, NBU. Tadd is the author of Enlightenment and Violence: Modernity and Nation-making (Sage, 2014) and co-author of Islam, Democracy and Cosmopolitanism: At Home and in the World (Cambridge University Press, 2014). In 2010, he was a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India. He was subsequently a researcher for New York University.


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How to Cite

Fernée, T. G. (2015). Systems and accidents in 20th century magical realist literature: Salman Rushdie’s "Midnight’s Children" and Sadegh Hedayat’s "The blind owl" as critiques of modern nation-making experiments. English Studies at NBU, 1(2), 55–70.