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One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs: "Mark Thwaite ... has a maverick, independent mind"

Wednesday 31 August 2005

Reading "Reading Lolita"

Responding to Amardeep Singh's Reading Azar Nafisi as a Literary Critic, Steve (with a little help from John Pistelli who calls Nafisi "objectively pro-fascist") asks: "what would a literary resistance look like in the West? Reading Ian McEwan's Saturday FFS?"

Nafisi's Reading "Lolita" in Tehran: A Memoir in Books was an astonishingly good seller for a book containing such big chunks of literary criticism. Singh touches on why this is in his review: this, he writes, would be an "Oprah Book Club book" (if such a thing still exisited). It has sold so well because it is so marketable as a book about "Oppressed Muslim Women". Singh, though, is "not surprised that the publishers of Reading Lolita have played down the lit-crit content in this memoir".

Singh attempts to reclaim the book as "a work of what might be called Aristotelian literary criticism". I'm not exactly sure what he means here (a quick google tells me: "Aristotelian criticism focuses on the form and logical structure of a work, apart from its historical or social context"), but, like Pistelli, I'm far more worried about the author's thanks to Paul Wolfowitz than I am about her "Aristotelian" persuasions.

"[L]iterary resistance" is a curious phrase, but reading the ambivalently pro-war McEwan most certainly isn't it! Only if we remember literature is an art-form, and not a mirror on life constructed to give us moral guidance, can we hope to get over the instrumental - and infantile - way of reading that Nafisi's readers seem to be advocating. Happily, literature regularly resists our reading. This, at least, should make us chary of reducing literature to a set of easily applicable life-lessons.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

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