[lit-ideas] Re: Reading Lolita in Tehran

  • From: John McCreery <mccreery@xxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 3 Apr 2004 18:57:17 +0900

Four of us so far have signed up to read and discuss Azar Nafisi's 
_Reading Lolita in Tehran_: John McCreery, Ceridwen Harris, Veronica 
Caley, and Mohammed Al-Ubaydii.

To get things going, let me say that I have been reading and re-reading 
Part I.I (pages 3-37), something I rarely do. Partly my motivation is 
reading with others; I don't want my comments to be too superficial. 
But in large part, I find myself fascinated, both by the issues this 
opening section raises and the texture and fabric of Nafisi's writing, 
in which key images appear, slip away as the reading continues, then 
suddenly reappear in a manner than enriches their meaning.

Thus, for example, on page 7, she writes,

"Each girl, as soon as she reaches the door, takes off her robe and 
scarf, sometimes shaking her head from side to side [their robes, their 
scarves, their shaking their heads becomes a recurring motif]. She 
pauses before entering the room. Only there is no room, just the 
teasing void of memory."

The room itself is a key symbol [a room of her--the author's--own and a 
room of their--her and her students' own; and, yes, the allusion to 
Virginia Woolf is deliberate]. Three paragraphs later, it reappears in 
the comment,

"That room, which I never paid much attention to at that time [but she 
now seems obsessed with], has gained a different status in my mind's 
eye now that it has become the precious object of memory."

Now, reduced to a memory, its being is now no different from other, 
fictional rooms--albeit, she says, it once was real, a sharp and 
intense echo of the seminar's and the book's theme, the relation of 
fiction to reality.

Looking back at the previous page, I return, then, to the sentence,

"But to steal the words from Humbert, the poet/criminal of _Lolita_ 
[now, it seems to me, a curious tricksy embodiment both of the men who 
deny the reality of women's individuality by subsuming them in their 
fantasies and, simultaneously, of the "poet/criminal" status of the 
women who are, surreptitiously in Islamic Revolutionary Iran, reading 
_Lolita_]...but, the quote continues, "I need you, the reader, to 
imagine us, for we won't really exist if you don't."

As a sociologist/social anthropologist who has read George Herbert 
Mead, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, I am tempted to say, "Ah, hah, 
these women's individuality will remain unreal unless others, we 
readers, recognize and thus rescue it from the obliteration symbolized 
by the robes and scarves that reduce them to an ayatollah's idea of 
Woman instead of individual women. Great example of the social 
construction of reality..." But this is no conclusion, only a rough 
sketch on the way to understanding that texture and fabric I mentioned, 
that make this particular work of literary art far more than just an 
example of a theorist's general rule.

I wait with bated breath to discover what catches my fellow readers' 

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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