The following article appeared in Toledo Alumni Magazine, Spring 2009, Volume 56, Number 3, published by University of Toledo as part of a feature section titled
Five alumni whose gifts are a banquet in tough times
by Cynthia Nowak and Kim Harvey
Feast for the mind
The life of the mind can be perilous. After all, "intellectual" usually isn't a compliment in American parlance. But author, professor and oft-described-as-a-polymath Manoucher Parvin. PhD (Eng '59) never lets that faze him. "I have been trying to translate myself into American society for most of my life!" he says with a gusty laugh.
Laughter is central to Parvin's personality, part Persian poet/dreamer, part bustling evangelizer for the power of self-actualization. As he once told an interviewer, "How our consciousness is formed and manipulated has been a source of wonderment for me!"
The exclamation marks are necessary; Parvin isn't prone to understatement. During the present interview, he displays the same childlike enthusiasms that must have marked him as a child growing up in Tehran, Iran, during the tumultuous early reign of the last Shah.
"Yes, I am the same person then and now," Parvin says. "You know, I could read books when I was three, and I was very daring. When I was four or five I pretended to be Tarzan. I had ropes set up all over the household and my parents couldn't do anything about me swinging on them!"
He still craves the rush, even as he admits that his hyper-active mind - four novels, multiple poems, short stories and numerous scientific papers to his credit - sometimes singles him out. But, he adds, "You can be marginalized and not resigned to it. It's like getting a disease but fighting it out. "
That scrappiness includes years of service in social causes, plus teaching at Columbia University (where he completed his PhD in economics without ever having taken an undergraduate course in the discipline), at Hunter College in New York City and "a very big state university in Ohio." (Today; he's near Cleveland.)
Along the way, he published, lectured and provided social commentary via TV and radio. He's not any less feisty today "In the novel I'm writing, I've created a new religion. It's not based on faith; its Genesis is knowledge, evidence and science, which are dynamic, not fixed. We don't promise a bungalow in heaven; heaven would be created on this earth, or on other planets, eventually."
Not without reason did he, in his novel-in-verse Dardedel, call himself an imp. "I am an imp!" he says. "I'm a troublemaker!"
He adds, more seriously, "We need people who are not afraid to engage in self-criticism or criticize society in a civilized way that helps us understand ourselves better."
And he reveres love. "That's what attracts me about the historical Christ, who was brilliant, intuitive, a revolutionary. I learned from him about using love as a great force for change. This is also in Sufism and Buddhism, and it's a good signal how they are becoming more popular again, as is Rumi [the 13th-century Persian poet-philosopher who figures prominently in Dardedel]."
As a husband and later a single father who, he says, "nursed my son through the suburban Ohio Public school system," he had ample opportunity to take the measure of human existence. "What is important?" he asks rhetorically before providing the answer: "Love and truth. Those are the forces that have driven me most of my life. In my novels, I'm trying to heighten my consciousness on some important issues and perhaps if I'm lucky make some inroads, then share it with my readers.
"And my best work is the one that hasn't come out