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Unformatted text preview: Reading Lolita in Tehran: Reading Lolita in Tehran
Fictions of the Islamic Republic
IAH 207: “Dangerous Art” November 14, 2011 Reading and Freedom
Reading and Freedom Recall Sartre on the relationship between reading and freedom: Writer appeals to reader’s freedom, the latter’s willingness to take up the book and become involved in its creation How does this relate to Nafisi’s recollection of Iran? The novels become a source of freedom: relation between the “open spaces the novels provided and the closed ones we were confined to” (19) Great works of art are acts of “insubordination against the betrayals, horrors and infidelities of life” (47) Literature makes one uneasy, a stranger in one’s own home (Adorno’s definition of “morality”) (94) Literature as a form of empathy (11718) and the novel is “democratic” by its very nature (132) The Republic as a Fiction
The Republic as a Fiction But the Republic is also a “fiction,” perhaps a competing fiction: “totalitarian society, where you are completely alone in an illusory world full of false promises” (23) Ideology and myth: Political meaning found in all acts and gestures (25, 159) Importance of state rituals (77), including acts of mourning (90) Khomeini himself as a myth and a mythmaker who destroys dreams (246) Two Islamic Republics – that of words and that of reality (274) True reform as a fiction (2746) Refusal to “read” the fictions of the Republic – everyday life as a form of “lying” to the regime (17) Citizens as Readers of the Republic
Citizens as Readers of the Republic Yet as “readers” of Republic, they become complicit in these fictions: Recall that for Sartre, the reader also assumes responsibility for it when taking up the book “Was it any consolation, and did we even wish to remember, that what [Khomeini] did to us was what we allowed him to do?” (28) “The worst crime committed by totalitarian mindsets is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes” (76) The solution for this crime is the mantra “by myself” (77) Moreover, there is the ironic possibility of defiance and subversion through silent resignation, an expression of “indifference to the regime’s demands” in a time of war (209
10) The chaos of war even offered a strange form of liberation Book Banning
Book Banning One revolutionary goal was to forbid access to “decadent” and “bourgeois” Western literature, the dissemination of which was construed as “cultural imperialism”: Many students have photocopies of Lolita because it is difficult to find the book (39) The “blind censor” was the first wave of banning (39) The government then prevented many Western books from being sold (3940) Closed down foreignlanguage bookshops and blocked distribution of foreign books (91) Fires set to publishing houses and bookstores selling “immoral” books (136) Even great national poets like Rumi and Omar Khayyam were censored or banned (136) Coopting Culture
Coopting Culture Understanding the power of culture and intellectualism, the regime attempted to utilize them rather than completely suppressing them: Sending intellectuals underground dangerous – better to coopt them and keep them in the open (1767) Regulation of cultural events – farcical Gipsy Kings concert (299301) At the same timewe see continued persecution of some intellectuals: Imprisoning of writers because they are competing “guardians of morality” (136) Various attempts (some successful) on writers’ lives, torture and effective banishment (3089) Nafisi proposes free access to the imagination as an explicit right within the Bill of Rights: “genuine democracy cannot exist without the freedom to imagine and the right to use imaginative Oppression of Women
Oppression of Women The Revolution looked toward a mythical past by reintroducing shari’a as a counter to Western decadence. But of course it served as a basis for curbing women’s rights: Oppression within family: Sanaz controlled by younger brother (1516) Oppression in streets: “Blood of God” – patrol streets looking for transgressing women (2627) At university, women would be checked at the “green gate” (2930) Even subject to “virginity tests,” as was Sanaz (73) Myth of Islamic feminism (262) – how do we reconcile the rights of women with eschewal of cultural imperialism? (example of sati) Compare to France’s recent law forbidding the wearing of the veil in public: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worldeurope13031397 The Veil
The Veil Wearing of the veil becomes a political act of obedience rather than a personal act of devotion Steps toward implementing the required veil in public places (167) Mahshid had worn the scarf as an act of devotion, but “when the revolution forced the scarf on others, her action became meaningless” (13) – see also Nafisi’s mother’s stance (103) Nafisi’s grandmother’s chador as a shelter (192) Belief that the Republic damages Islam (109) and induces fear of losing one’ faith (3278) Veil as a sign of revolutionary victory (112) Refusal to wear veil as sign of imperialist complicity (152) “Existential” dilemma for Nafisi in wearing veil – loss of identity (165) Eventually, she compromises by wearing veil in exchange for intellectual freedom (183) Home vs. Republic
Home vs. Republic Nafisi’s home is established as an important antispace to the outside world of the Republic: Clear separation between the dictates of public behavior and the freedom of the home, where the veil can be left aside. Room allows for “color” in a black and white world (4, 24) Room is a “place of transgression,” because of their ability not only to dress in whatever fashion, but also to discuss controversial works of literature (8) The home is a place which would give Nafisi the freedoms denied to her in the classrooms of the university, which is in effect part of the Republic (10) The home would be safe from the “blind censor,” who is the “poet’s rival in rearranging and reshaping reality” (25) But each (inside and outside) is ultimately an “absurd fictionality” between which they attempted to live “reality” (26). See also 60. What does this mean that the home is also a fiction? What is Why Read Fiction?
Why Read Fiction?
If the home is merely another form of “absurd fictionality,” then why read more fiction within this setting? A form of escape (“colors of my dreams” 11) from the “absurd fictionality” of the Republic – see 3839 Gives a “different color” to the world (6), perhaps one that allows one to tolerate everyday life Provide “open spaces” – “readers were born free and ought to remain free” (19). While bodies might remain confined, minds do not necessarily have to be. Fiction offers the “epiphany of truth” if not reality (3). “Perhaps one way of finding out the truth was to do what we did: to try to imaginatively articulate these two worlds and, through that process, give shape to our vision and identity” (26) Lolita
Lolita “The desperate truth of Lolita’s story is not the rape of a twelveyearold by a dirty old man but the confiscation of one individual’s life by another” (33) – Humbert is the quintessential dictator (4849) Nabokov had taken revenge on the Ayatollah and other oppressive men by exposing all solipsists [those concerned only about themselves] (33) “we were not Lolita, the Ayatollah was not Humbert and this republic was not what Humbert called his princedom by the sea. Lolita was not a critique of the Islamic Republic, but it went against the grain of all totalitarian perspectives” (35) Like Lo, Iranians saw themselves as “double victims” since in addition to their current lives, their pasts were taken from them (41, see 76) “what linked us so closely was this perverse intimacy of victim and jailer” (37) – ultimately there’s the need to recognize the complicity of victims and find the mantra “by myself” (7677) The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby The Great Gatsby put on trial as an immoral novel, especially because of its representation of American values (12021) Prosecution: Koran the model of what literature should be (124) The novel understood as a form of “cultural aggression” – cultural imperialism on the part of Western countries (esp. the U.S.) imposing its system of values (126). Only good: Gatsby exposes the immorality of the U.S. (127) Defense: A novel is moral if it “shakes us out of our stupor and makes us confront the absolutes we believe in” (129) and “prevents you from the selfrighteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil” (133) Iran connects to Gatsby in its concern with the “loss of dreams” revolution had “come in the name of our collective past and had wrecked our lives in the name of a dream” (144) Jane Austen
Jane Austen The works of the apparently apolitical Austen are seen as the most dangerous in the Republic Republic banned any works that had a sense of interiority (277) “Every great book…became a potential threat and menace not so much because of what it said but how it said it, the attitude it took towards life and fiction. Nowhere was this challenge more apparent than in the case of Jane Austen” (289) One possible reason: Austen’s heroines “embrace the elusive goal at the heart of democracy: the right to choose” (307) Another possible reason: the personal, private lives of citizens becomes the most critical site for politics (273, 280) Earlier Nafisi had believed that the political had “devoured” the personal (237) But ultimately she finds that “war and revolution had made us even more aware of our own personal ordeals” (262) Transformative Impact of Novels
Transformative Impact of Novels Nafisi agrees to teach because she realizes it will help young (17980) and it is “immoral” to not do what one loves (182). How does teaching novels help her students in Iran? The novels of Nabokov reveal the logic of totalitarianism. The Great Gatsby teaches about the loss of dreams The novels of Henry James demonstrate that for the individual selfrespect, if not happiness, is a goal to be achieved. But novels, like those of Austen, also transforms concepts about relationships between individuals (194) Empathy lies at the heart of the novel, and the modern villain is one who lacks it (224) – evil is the inability to “see” others (315) Novel is “democratic” in that it offers a variety of voices (what Bakhtin would call the “polyphony” of a novel) (2689) This variety of voices also tends to subvert the idea of absolutes Fiction against Fiction
Fiction against Fiction Perhaps this is what Nafisi means when she describes literature as making one uncomfortable and a stranger in one’s own home (94) The fiction of literature confronts the fictions of the Islamic Republic (and every ideology employed against subjects – even those in the U. S.) by revealing the fictionality of the absolutes we uphold. “my girls…by refusing to give up their right to pursue happiness, had created a dent in the Islamic Republic’s stern fantasy world” (282) “Home” is therefore destabilized because what we thought we believed in now comes into question. What “absolutes” do we in the U. S. (or as world citizens) maintain that fiction might confront? To what extent have the works of literature we have read in this class made us feel uncomfortable about what had been certainties for us? ...
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This note was uploaded on 01/13/2012 for the course IAH 207 taught by Professor Johns during the Fall '08 term at Michigan State University.
- Fall '08
- Lolita, Lolita