“So that terror disappears from my face”: a conversation with Mehdi Navid

Mehdi Navid is the author of the experimental novelette ‘The Book of Sounds,’ forthcoming from the Operating System in a Farsi-English dual language volume, translated by Tina Rahimi.

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the cover of ‘The Book of Sounds’, featuring work from artist Iman Raad (http://imanraad.com)

Greetings friend! Thank you for talking to us about your process today! Can you introduce yourself, in a way that you would choose?

I was born in 1981 in Kermanshah, Iran. I am based in Tehran, Iran. I have worked for about twenty years as an author, translator and editor. My works include a collection of poetry in Persian titled تو‭ ‬نيامدي‭ ‬بهنگام‭ / ‬جاي‭ ‬تو‭ ‬سر‭ ‬شب‭ ‬آمد‭ ‬[You Didn’t Arrive in Time / Dusk Fell Instead] published by Bon-Gah publications, an unpublished novella, بطري‌ها‭ ‬و‭ ‬بدن‌ها [Bottles and Bodies] and an unpublished novelette كتاب‭ ‬اصوات [The Book of Sounds]. I have also translated numerous works from Samuel Beckett, Richard Brautigan and William S. Burroughs to Farsi. I worked as literary general editor for Ney Publication Company, and Rokhdad-e-NoPublication House. I also worked as a journalist for Karnameh Magazine. Currently, I am editor-in-chief of Pagard Publications.

Why are you a poet/writer/artist?

Everyone belongs to a certain class in society and his/her life is prone to certain events which determine their path in life; I am not an exception to this rule.

When did you decide you were a poet/writer/artist (and/or: do you feel comfortable calling yourself a poet/writer/artist, what other titles or affiliations do you prefer/feel are more accurate)?

I think I was sixteen or seventeen when the density of literature riveted its significance in my life. Everybody has their voice in this world and has their means to express it. Literature has always been the means by which I express myself. It is better to say that literature was a means by which terror disappeared from my face.

What’s a “poet” (or “writer” or “artist”) anyway?

Defining this is contingent on the circumstances; the artist, author or poet’s estimation of their job varies depending on the time and the place they are in. It is always in transformation.

What do you see as your cultural and social role (in the literary / artistic /creative community and beyond)?

I mentioned before that I write so that terror disappears from my face. Literature in the first place is contingent on the individual, and after the author is done working it can be contingent on the society, of course if others are able to communicate with the work. Then we can investigate to see whether that text (and not its author) has the potential to take on a socio-cultural role or not (and the perspective from which we view the socio-cultural role is by all means important).

Talk about the process or instinct to move this project into a body of work. How and why did this happen? Have you had this intention for a while? What encouraged and/or confounded this (or a book, in general) coming together? Was it a struggle?

I do not know how it happens. I mean I have not thought about it. Each time it has a different form and method. It is the beginning which matters; it is the point of reliance. For instance, when I write a poem a conception or disposition takes over my mind that reaches its destination once it settles. But when for instance I intend to write fiction-since it has a different form-I arrange the plot beforehand, however that plot is marginalized in the process of writing and the text takes on a whole new angle. I usually do not change the text much; I do not have a first, second, third draft. Everything must mount on one another brick by brick in a very orderly fashion so that the wall is built.

What formal structures or other constrictive practices (if any) do you use in the creation of your work? Have certain teachers or instructive environments, or readings/writings/work of other creative people informed the way you work/write?

Maybe it would be more accurate to talk about my strategy in writing that to say what or who inspired the structural form or the content of my work.

For me each work depending on its material circumstances defines its own structure. And naturally this type of approach stems from my lives experience. It is better to say that my work is a kind of experimental work; it is not a trial and error kind of thing, it is not right or wrong, it is a matter of borders, a border which it creates by itself, quite like our life which describes its border and proceeds on the edge.

The work itself decides what form it is going to take on to express itself, what parts it is going to put on display more conspicuously and what parts to keep in the shadow. As a result, the structural form and the content of each work, in my opinion, emanates from the lived experience of the author or artist and their circumstances.

Speaking of monikers, what does your title represent? How was it generated? Talk about the way you titled the book, and how your process of naming (individual pieces, sections, etc) influences you and/or colors your work specifically.

The title of The Book of Sounds refers to the work I have done in the text; a struggle to create sounds in the texture of the text. I intended to make the reader hear the sounds in their mind’s ear and thence approach the text.

What does this particular work represent to you as indicative of your method/creative practice, history, mission/intentions/hopes/plans?

The Book of Sounds specifically intends to build a tangible whole by means of insignificant, trivial and marginal details-which are not usually deemed significant in typical fiction-this is its fictional universe; by means of sounds, by means of personification of objects, dispositions and atmosphere, etc.

What would be the best possible outcome for this book? What might it do in the world, and how will its presence as an object facilitate your creative role in your community and beyond? What are your hopes for this book, and for your practice?

I hope this works is seen and read and I hope I will be able to get feedback from the readers. This book is a microcosm of the contemporary Iranian fictional literature which is kind of a minority in today’s world literature.

Let’s talk a little bit about the role of poetics and creative community in social activism, in particular in what I call ‘Civil Rights 2.0,’ which has remained immediately present all around us in the time leading up to this publication. I’d be curious to hear some thoughts on the challenges we face in speaking and publishing across lines of race, age, privilege, social/cultural background, and sexuality within the community, vs. the dangers of remaining and producing in isolated ‘silos.’

Unfortunately what is ignored in social activism and entraps it into a vicious circle is ignorance about the pertinent forces in the historical and geographical state of affairs and depleting it of the political precept (especially in developing countries). Transcribing social activism in one society and implementing it in another is indicative of ignorance about the potential, possibilities and pertinent forces in that society (which is what we are witnessing in developing countries). Or a social activity insists on repeating itself so much that it becomes threadbare and is not compatible with the circumstances of the society anymore.

But I believe that creative work goes beyond socio-political activism; it is unequaled. And it is the collectivity of the creative works that makes the societal atmosphere seethe. Before the formation of movements against racial, gender and class discrimination, the creative and unequaled works of art were at the frontline in uniting minorities and affecting public opinion. Thus, I think that the creative work should create gaps in the dominant order, it should make it problematic.

Mehdi Navid (b. 1981) is an Iranian author, translator and editor. His works include a collection of poetry in Persian titled تو نیامدی بهنگام / جای تو سر شب آمد [You Didn’t Arrive in Time / Dusk Fell Instead] published by Bon-Gah publications, an unpublished novella, بطری‌ها و بدن‌ها [Bottles and Bodies] and
the novelette کتاب اصوات [The Book of Sounds]. He is currently working on two novellas, one concerning an infamous historical incident which occurred in Iran the 90s involving a number of Iranian authors and another on the assassination of secular intellectuals and writers in the mid-nineties, which is known as chain-murders. He has also translated numerous works from Samuel Beckett, Richard Brautigan and William S. Burroughs to Farsi. He worked as literary general editor for Ney Publication Company, and Rokhdad-e-No Publication House. He also worked as a journalist for Karnameh Magazine. Currently, he is editor-in-chief of Pagard Publications.