Esta es la respuesta a la primera parte del libro de la escritora iraní Azar Nafisi. Es un conjunto de memorias acerca de un grupo de lectura conformado por mujeres iraníes, estudiantes de literatura inglesa, a comienzos de la década de los 80. La lectura se realiza mientras se implementa en Irán el riguroso control “moral” del regimen del Ayatholla Khomeini.

Algunas de las obras discutidas en Teherán: Lolita de Nabokov, Daisy Miller de Henry James, El Gran Gatsby de Fitzgerald, Orgullo y Prejuicio de Jane Austen, Madame Bovary de Flaubert. De cierta manera, este libro está escrito desde un punto de vista parecido al de una muy buena novela gráfica que leí hace algunos años: Persépolis de Marjane Satrapi.

Response paper to Reading Lolita in Tehran
By Ulises Gonzales

The idea of putting The Great Gatsby on trial made me think about the whole idea of criticism, particularly recent criticism about the whole idea of a Western Canon. When critics take on the task of criticizing a novel, aren’t they starting a new trial on the literary works of the masters?
Even the trial by the Iranian people at the time of the Islamic revolution was an exercise of criticism. Although the tools where not the old ones established by Aristotle—and all the classical critics who followed him—but by those of fanaticism and religious ideas. There are novels and poems that have stood many trials, survived them, and come out stronger than before, such as Sophocles, Virgil or Shakespeare. Others, sometimes enthroned as the sublime expression of literary achievements, have succumbed to those trials and have been forgotten.
From my point of view, Nafisi is doing the same that the British critic Leavis did when he named Eliot, Conrad, James and Austen as the greatest novelists of English literature. Nafisi is using Fitzgerald and Nabokov’s novels as a way to interpret the years he lived in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. Picking us those authors—and leaving others in obscurity—Nafisi is also acting as a critic. As George Steiner claimed in Real Presences,, if there was no criticism, then creators could be considered critics. This is so because when a writer decided to use a novel or a poem as his or her influence or to follow a certain writer’s style, that writer is exercising criticism. Even when I picked Leavis or Steiner to write this paper, I am exercising criticism and putting these authors on trial, once again.
Nafisi’s book is a memoir of the hardest years of the Islamic Revolution. Iran is not as it was when Nafisi was teaching at the University of Tehran , but her book stands as a valuable recollection of those times. Through her book, we could understand how literature helped her to survive all those years. Also, in reading her book we have a powerful demonstration of how to use literature as a way to analyze a society. Iran and its leaders are analyzed through fictional characters like Professor Humbert or Gatsby.
The answers given at the trial of Fitzgerald’s novel could summarize the different points of view of Iranian society at that time—its doubts and contradictions.
I agree with Roland Barthes when he writes in Criticism and Truth that a novel is eternal not because it gives just one meaning to many different men, but because it suggests many different meanings to a single man. I would like to think that Reading Lolita in Tehran has also many different meanings according to the many interests of its author and readers.
Some of the readings and interpretations in Nafisi’s private classes are strongly attached to the feminism, and the analyses I like the most of Lolita came from that specific point of view. There are other meanings that the reader picks up on when Lolita is analyzed through the historical events happening in Iran at that time. Some comparisons with the new regime place the novel against totalitarianism. Another reading has to do with the profession of the author and her deep love for literature. She uses Nabokov, Austen, James and Fitzgerald because she admires those novels as art.

Those different layers of interpretations and readings are what is most captivating for me. The complexity of different loves: her students, her books, her country. All of them are (re)interpreted through a bunch of novels that she loves.

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