Thursday, May 11, 2006

Nafisi strikes out again

Well, it's two for two. This year's students disliked Reading Lolita in Tehran as much as last year's did. Is it something I said? I tried pretty hard not to give away my lukewarmness, though I did suggest the book might somehow let Western readers off the hook. (Isn't Iran bad? Yes, it is. But it is bad, you see, so why should reading that piss us off?) The first discussion was a little sluggish, but I didn't detect universal distate. Today they piled on with glee. They hated her pastries and ice cream. Why is she always talking about her problems over pastries or coffee ice cream? Last year it was the strawberry-covered coffee mug that set people off. Should she have suffered more, we asked? Do we dislike her for not having it "so bad"? For being rich and educated? Or does she just not write very well? No one seemed able to empathize with her (although at least it wasn't like last year, when I suspected that was because she was "middle aged"). The students seemed to conclude that her prose didn't move us; she told us instead of showing that she suffered; we didn't feel anything out of the ordinary. That was the most interesting point for me. It wasn't that she was depicting a fairly ordinary (if privileged) life amid the horrors, but that she didn't make us feel other than ordinary feelings about it. And besides if the road to hell is paved with adverbs, as Stephen King says, then she is knocking on Satan's door.

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