Misreadings?

The Washington Post has a nice piece on “reading Reading Lolita in Teheran in Teheran”.

“There were two issues here, the bookseller explained at length. One was obvious.

‘It’s dated,’ she said of ‘Reading Lolita.’

‘It’s what the Americans think it’s still like here. Wearing lipstick and putting a scarf on is not a major issue these days. It was when she was here.’

Iranians who travel abroad are irritated by the persistence of the puritanical image of their society. The stark image of the chador — the head-to-toe veil, black as night and so seductive as an image of severity — no longer sums up Iran, they say.

‘It’s so dated. They don’t know. They quote hearsay. They get a small thing and magnify it. And actually they put you in the position of being pro-Islamic Republic! I hate it!’

But she hates the memory of past fetters for all the reasons in Nafisi’s book. This is the second point.”

It made me wonder about reading about India in India. Some of us flinch when we recognise a truth about our society that we’d rather not acknowledge is there, and that’s what Naipaul sometimes does. (Not always; as Dalrymple pointed out recently, Naipaul’s a great writer but often alarmingly loose with his historical facts.) Some books make us flinch in embarrassment for the ignorance of the writer–a friend of mine calls this the “we should’ve been better hosts, we should’ve given him better guidebooks” response. Some books elicit contempt: not only did the idiot in question get it wrong, but he got it wrong out of laziness, or blindness (most of the subgenre of backpacker tales and Raj romances belong in this category). And some, though a very, very few, evoke admiration: not just because the writer’s “got it right” but because she’s done it beautifully, or because distance has sharpened her vision and made us see our narrow, familiar world the way a new lover makes you see yourself differently.

One comment

  1. if you were to read the washington post article in teheran, what would you call that…Reading “reading ‘reading lolita in teheran’ in teheran” in teheran 🙂

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