[lit-ideas] Re: Reading Lolita in Tehran

  • From: Scribe1865@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 20 Apr 2004 17:54:56 EDT

In a message dated 4/20/2004 12:57:21 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
cmharris@xxxxxxxxxx writes:
As I read this early part of the book, after my initial dismay at the 
conditions in which these women lived,  I was struck with how familiar 
these women were to me and also  how restrained even supposedly free people 
are here in Canada - - perhaps the restraints are not physical as they were 
in Iran, but the social pressure to conform is extraordinarily strong.
I've only gone about 80 pages into the text, and so will bullet a few initial 

*The author's evocation of the Islamic Republic is very unflattering, as in 
most memoirs of authoritarian regimes. There is a sense of the regime as being 
very poorly organized, which is good I suppose; were the regime as thorough as 
Stalinist Russia, one doubts her little reading group would have survived 

*Unending ironies: The Book of a Thousand Nights and a Night is banned; in 
its place, the musings of Ayatollah Khomenei is everywhere. Khomenei offers 
religious judgments on whether it is proper to eat a chicken one has had sex 
with--the verdict being that only people living two houses away can eat a 
one has had sex with.  

*Major irony so far: The group is reading Lolita, about a depraved man's 
possession of a young girl. Yet according to the Islamic laws in place, female 
children much younger than the fictional Lolita can be wed to (and deflowered 
men many decades older -- and they routinely are.

*The author describes how Humbert Humbert seduces readers into joining him by 
-- among other things -- denouncing American consumer culture (in the Haze 
house, in the motels). Yet Humbert is clearly a villain because he makes no 
effort to understand the lives of others, but rather seeks to incorporate their 
reality into his fantasy of them. 

This cuts many ways through the text so far: the failure of the Islamic 
Republic to allow diversity, and its total banality and bureaucracy; in the 
who is constantly prodded by the author to empathize ("I wonder if you can 
imagine this"); in the author, who describes the glum landscape but has never 
entered the homes of her students.

While reading, it occurred to me what an outcast of the US would sound like 
(Henry Miller's _Tropic of Capricorn_ came to mind) as I tried to situate the 
author as an expatriate intellectual from a highly educated family suffering 
first under the Shah and then under Khomenei. 

Then I realized that this is precisely what the author would NOT want me to 
do. She is asking us to see her world on its own terms, not through a dim 
refraction of our own experience and prejudices. A very hard task indeed.


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