[lit-ideas] Re: Reading Lolita in Tehran

  • From: Ceridwen Harris <cmharris@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 01 Apr 2004 09:38:13 -0500

This is so beautiful and so poignant - I would love to read it with you John.


At 04:32 PM 01/04/2004 +0900, you wrote:
>The title of this message is the title of a book, Azar Nafisi (2004)
>Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, London and New York:
>Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.
>Attracted by the title, I picked it up while browsing for plane reading
>in a bookstore in Yokohama the day before Ruth and I took off for our
>trip to Scotland. A first, too hurried, reading in the air between
>Tokyo and Copenhagen, where we switched from SAS to British Midland to
>continue our trip to Edinburgh, revealed that this is a book that
>touches perennial issues--literary, philosophical, and
>political--frequently discussed on this list. The perspective is that
>of the author, an Iranian woman and U.S.-trained professor of English
>literature, who returned to Iran to take up a teaching position at the
>University of Tehran shortly after the overthrow of the Shah at the
>beginning of the Islamic Revolution. Expelled from that position, she
>found another, found another, and then left it as well. She describes
>what happened next as follows,
>"In the fall of 1995, after resigning from my last academic post, I
>decided to indulge myself and fulfill a dream. I chose seven of my best
>and most committed students and invited them to come to my home every
>Thursday morning to discuss literature. they were all women---to teach
>a mixed class in the privacy of my home was too risky, even if we were
>discussing harmless works of fiction....
>"For nearly two years, almost every Thursday morning, rain or shine,
>they came to my house, and almost every time, I could not get over the
>shock of seeing them shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst
>into color. When my students came into that room, they took off more
>than their scarves and robes. Gradually, each one gained an outline and
>a shape, becoming her own inimitable self. Our world in that living
>room with its window framing my beloved Elburz Moutains became our
>sanctuary, our self-contained universe, mocking the reality of
>black-scarved, timid faces in the city that sprawled below.
>"The theme of the class was the relation between fiction and reality.
>We read Persian classical literature, such as the tales of our own lady
>of fiction, Scheherazade, from _A Thousand and One Nights_, along with
>Western classics--_Pride and Prejudice_, _Madame Bovary_, _The Dean's
>December_, and, yes, _Lolita_. As I write the title of each book,
>memories whirl in with the wind to disturb the quiet of this fall day
>in another room in another country.
>"Here and now in that other world that cropped up so many times in our
>discussions, I sit and reimagine myself and my students, my girls as I
>came to call them, reading _Lolita_ in a deceptively sunny room in
>Tehran. But to steal the words from Humbert, the poet/criminal of
>_Lolita_, I need you, the reader, to imagine us, for we won't really
>exist if you don't. Against the tyranny of time and politics, imagine
>us the way we sometimes didn't dare to imagine ourselves: in our most
>private and secret moments, in the most extraordinarily ordinary
>instances of life, listening to music, falling in love, walking down
>shady streets or reading _Lolita_ in Tehran. And then imagine us again
>with all this confiscated, driven underground, taken away from us.
>"If I write about Nabokov today, it is to celebrate our reading of
>Nabokov in Tehran, against all odds. Of all his novels I choose the one
>I taught last, and the one that is connected to so many memories. It is
>of _Lolita_ that I want to write, but right now there is no way I can
>write about that novel without also writing about Tehran. This, then,
>is the story of _Lolita_ in Tehran, how _Lolita_ gave a different color
>to Tehran and how Tehran helped redefine Nabokov's novel, turning it
>into this _Lolita_, our _Lolita_."
>I would be delighted to participate in a virtual reading group
>dedicated to reading (in my case re-reading) this book.
>Any takers out there?
>John L. McCreery
>The Word Works, Ltd.
>55-13-202 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku
>Yokohama, Japan 220-0006
>Tel 81-45-314-9324
>Email mccreery@xxxxxxx
>"Making Symbols is Our Business"
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