[lit-ideas] Re: Reading Lolita in Tehran

  • From: John McCreery <mccreery@xxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 22 Apr 2004 11:12:27 +0900

On 2004/04/22, at 0:28, Ceridwen Harris wrote:

> Whether or not this is what the author intended, - and I don't see why 
> one
> should be limited by her intentions - the detail in this writing has 
> been
> what informed my appreciation of the more abstract ideas, and so worth
> exploring en route to a broader perspective.

This is, to me, a beautiful statement of one of the great roles of 
literature vis-a-vis philosophy. Literature not only dramatizes ideas, 
making them more vivid; it also explores their human consequences in 
ways that rigorous philosophical thought, obsessed with the definitions 
and internal logic of abstract ideas, does not.

I should note that I come to this reading as someone who moved on from 
an undergraduate degree in philosophy to a Ph.D. in anthropology 
motivated by a desire to move in this direction. My "texts" have been 
Taoist rituals and Japanese advertising, but I have been constantly 
driven by two notions: Claude Levi-Strauss' injunction in the 
"Overture" to _The Raw and the Cooked_ to study "the logic in tangible 
qualities" and Clifford Geertz' assertion that we should not be trying 
to substitute simple models for complex realities but, rather, to 
develop complex models with the clarity and precision that makes simple 
models attractive.

  Ceridwen's evocation of the personalities of the women introduced at 
the start of this book, with its close attention to things like hair 
and blouse color, their responses to the question, what is the meaning 
of "upsilamba," etc., are from this perspective thoroughly delightful. 
What I look for is more insights on how details like these are related 
to inferences concerning personality--for example, "prim" or 

I also continue to be fascinated by the blurred, slippery boundaries 
between "fiction" and "reality" in this work. Consider again the status 
of the room in which we encounter these women. The bare walls may still 
be there in Tehran, but the room as a lived-in space, filled with the 
signs of a family's life as experienced by the author is gone. It 
exists for her readers in the same way as a purely fictional room, a 
text that evokes certain images and thus her readers' own individual 
experiences as well as the more conventional meanings that we may, to 
some extent, share.

Or, reading Ceridwen's description of the women in her previous 
message, I noted how deftly our author assembled a cast of characters 
that would not be out of place in a novel or (just teasing) a 
"chick-flick" comedy. I remember seeing "news" footage of jet fighters 
launched from aircraft carriers during  Kosovo or, more recently, the 
invasion of  Iraq and thinking to myself as I watched them how I had 
already seen similar footage before, in a movie called  "Top Gun."

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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