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Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi

Overview
Azar Nafisi born ca. 1947, is an Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

ian academic and bestselling writer who has resided in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 since 1997 when she emigrated from Iran. Her field is English language literature.
Nafisi's 2003 book Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is a book by Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi.Published in 2003, it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over one hundred weeks and has been translated into thirty-two languages....

 has been translated into 32 languages. It was on the New York Times Bestseller list for 117 weeks, and has won numerous literary awards, including the 2004 Non-fiction Book of the Year Award from Booksense, and the Europe based Persian Golden Lioness Award
The World Academy of Arts, Literature, and Media
The Persian Golden Lioness Awards were established by the World Academy of Arts, Literature, and Media , which was established by Mustafa Dorbayani in February 2005 in order to support, develop and promote Dramatic and Fine Arts, Creative Writing, Poetry, and Literature as well as Professional...

 for literature.
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Unanswered Questions
Quotations

Every great work of art ... is a celebration, an act of insubordination against the betrayals, horrors and infidelities of life.

As I trace the route to his apartment, the twists and turns, and pass once more the old tree opposite his house, I am struck by a sudden thought: memories have ways of becoming independent of the reality they evoke. They can soften us against those we were deeply hurt by or they can make us resent those we once accepted and loved unconditionally.

I explained that most great works of the imagination were meant to make you feel like a stranger in your own home. The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted. It questioned traditions and expectations when they seemed too immutable. I told my students I wanted them in their readings to consider in what ways these works unsettled them, made them a little uneasy, made them look around and consider the world, like Alice in Wonderland, through different eyes.

Do not, under any circumstances belittle a works of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.

Encyclopedia
Azar Nafisi born ca. 1947, is an Iran
Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

ian academic and bestselling writer who has resided in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 since 1997 when she emigrated from Iran. Her field is English language literature.
Nafisi's 2003 book Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is a book by Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi.Published in 2003, it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over one hundred weeks and has been translated into thirty-two languages....

 has been translated into 32 languages. It was on the New York Times Bestseller list for 117 weeks, and has won numerous literary awards, including the 2004 Non-fiction Book of the Year Award from Booksense, and the Europe based Persian Golden Lioness Award
The World Academy of Arts, Literature, and Media
The Persian Golden Lioness Awards were established by the World Academy of Arts, Literature, and Media , which was established by Mustafa Dorbayani in February 2005 in order to support, develop and promote Dramatic and Fine Arts, Creative Writing, Poetry, and Literature as well as Professional...

 for literature. The book also led to controversy about Nafisi's alleged connections to neoconservatism
Neoconservatism
Neoconservatism in the United States is a branch of American conservatism. Since 2001, neoconservatism has been associated with democracy promotion, that is with assisting movements for democracy, in some cases by economic sanctions or military action....

 and colonialism
Colonialism
Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a process whereby the metropole claims sovereignty over the colony and the social structure, government, and economics of the colony are changed by...

. She published an autobiography, Things I've been silent about: memories of a prodigal daughter (2008), focusing on the impact on her throughout her life of her relations with her parents (her mother peevish and cold, her father affectionate and companionate) and of decades of political upheaval in Iran, including the father's incarceration under the Shah on trumped-up charges of financial irregularities.

Nafisi has been a visiting fellow and lecturer at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies , a division of Johns Hopkins University based in Washington, D.C., is one of the world's leading and most prestigious graduate schools devoted to the study of international affairs, economics, diplomacy, and policy research and...

 and served on the Board of Trustees of Freedom House
Freedom House
Freedom House is an international non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights...

.

Early life


Azar Nafisi is the daughter of Ahmad Nafisi, a former mayor of Tehran
Tehran
Tehran , sometimes spelled Teheran, is the capital of Iran and Tehran Province. With an estimated population of 8,429,807; it is also Iran's largest urban area and city, one of the largest cities in Western Asia, and is the world's 19th largest city.In the 20th century, Tehran was subject to...

 (1961–1963) who was the youngest man ever appointed to the post up to that time.

She was educated in Switzerland and received her Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.

Time in Iran



Nafisi returned to Iran in 1979 where for a brief time she taught English literature
English literature
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, J....

 at the University of Tehran
University of Tehran
The University of Tehran , also known as Tehran University and UT, is Iran's oldest university. Located in Tehran, the university is among the most prestigious in the country, and is consistently selected as the first choice of many applicants in the annual nationwide entrance exam for top Iranian...

.

In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution
Iranian Revolution
The Iranian Revolution refers to events involving the overthrow of Iran's monarchy under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and its replacement with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the...

 of 1979 and the subsequent rise to power of the Ayatollah Khomeini
Ruhollah Khomeini
Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini was an Iranian religious leader and politician, and leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution which saw the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran...

, Nafisi soon became restless with the stringent rules imposed upon women by her country's new rulers. She spoke of the freedom that she believed women in some countries took for granted, which women in Iran had now lost as the Khomeini regime enacted laws curtailing women's rights.

In 1995, she states that she was no longer able to teach English literature properly without attracting the scrutiny of the faculty authorities, so she quit teaching at the university, and instead invited seven of her female students to attend regular meetings at her house, every Thursday morning. They studied literary works including some considered controversial in postrevolutionary Iranian society such as Lolita
Lolita
Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, first written in English and published in 1955 in Paris and 1958 in New York, and later translated by the author into Russian...

 alongside other works such as Madame Bovary
Madame Bovary
Madame Bovary is Gustave Flaubert's first published novel and is considered his masterpiece. The story focuses on a doctor's wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life...

. She also taught novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was an American author of novels and short stories, whose works are the paradigm writings of the Jazz Age, a term he coined himself. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. Fitzgerald is considered a member of the "Lost...

, Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

 and Jane Austen
Jane Austen
Jane Austen was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature, her realism and biting social commentary cementing her historical importance among scholars and critics.Austen lived...

, attempting to understand and interpret them from a modern Iranian perspective.

When asked by an interviewer in 2003 if there was "ever a time, when you were living in Iran, when you would have welcomed the idea of a regime change implemented by foreign forces", Nafisi claimed, "Some Iranians were so desperate that they would have wanted the foreign powers to come in, but I didn't feel that way. ... in Iran, I don't think that we needed foreign intervention at any point."

Work


Nafisi left Iran on June 24, 1997 and moved to the United States, where she wrote Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is a book by Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi.Published in 2003, it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over one hundred weeks and has been translated into thirty-two languages....

, a book where she describes her experiences as a secular woman living and working in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the book, she declares "I left Iran, but Iran did not leave me."

Nafisi has held the post of a visiting fellow and lecturer at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University
The Johns Hopkins University, commonly referred to as Johns Hopkins, JHU, or simply Hopkins, is a private research university based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States...

’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)
Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies
The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies , a division of Johns Hopkins University based in Washington, D.C., is one of the world's leading and most prestigious graduate schools devoted to the study of international affairs, economics, diplomacy, and policy research and...

 in Washington, DC and has served on the Board of Trustees of Freedom House, a United States nongovernmental organization (NGO) which conducts research and advocacy on democracy.

Criticism


In a 2003 article for The Guardian, Brian Whitaker criticized Nafisi for working for the public relations firm Benador Associates which he argues promoted the neo-conservative ideas of "creative destruction
Creative destruction
Creative destruction is a term originally derived from Marxist economic theory which refers to the linked processes of the accumulation and annihilation of wealth under capitalism. These processes were first described in The Communist Manifesto and were expanded in Marx's Grundrisse and "Volume...

" and "total war".

In 2006, Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 professor Hamid Dabashi
Hamid Dabashi
Hamid Dabashi born 1951 in Ahvaz is an Iranian-American Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York City.He is the author of over twenty books...

, in an essay published in the Cairo-based, English-language paper Al-Ahram (Dabashi's attack on Nafisi became a cover story for an edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education) compared Reading Lolita in Tehran to "the most pestiferous colonial projects of the British in India," and asserted that Nafisi functions as a "native informer and colonial agent" whose writing has cleared the way for an upcoming exercise of military intervention on Middle Eastern. He also labelled Nafisi as a "comprador
Comprador
Comprador or Compradore is a term used to describe native managers of European business houses in East Asia.-History:...

 intellectual," a comparison to the "treasonous" Chinese employees of mainland British firms, who sold out their country for commercial gain and imperial grace. In an interview Z magazine
Z Communications
Z Communications is a radical left-wing media group founded in 1986 by Michael Albert and Lydia Sargent. It advocates participatory socialism as a replacement for capitalism. Its publications include Z Magazine, ZNet, Z Media, and Z Video.Z Communications is based outside Woods Hole, Massachusetts...

, he classed Nafisi with the U.S. soldier convicted of mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib
Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse
Beginning in 2004, human rights violations in the form of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, including torture, rape, sodomy, and homicide of prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to public attention...

: "To me there is no difference between Lynndie England
Lynndie England
Lynndie Rana England is a former United States Army reservist who served in the 372nd Military Police Company. She was one of eleven military personnel convicted in 2005 by Army courts-martial in connection with the torture and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad during the occupation...

 and Azar Nafisi." Finally, Dabashi stated that book's cover image (which appears to be two veiled teenage women reading Lolita in Tehran) is in fact "Orientalised pedophilia" designed to appeal to "the most deranged Oriental fantasies of a nation already petrified out of its wits by a ferocious war waged against the phantasmagoric Arab/Muslim male potency that has just castrated the two totem poles of U.S. empire in New York."

Critics such as Dabashi have accused Nafisi of having close relations with neoconservatives. In the acknowledgements she makes in Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi writes of Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 historian Bernard Lewis
Bernard Lewis
Bernard Lewis, FBA is a British-American historian, scholar in Oriental studies, and political commentator. He is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University...

 as "one who opened the door". Nafisi, who opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, rejects such accusations as "guilt by association," noting that she has both "radical friends" and "conservative friends."

In a critical article in the academic journal Comparative American Studies, titled "Reading Azar Nafisi in Tehran", University of Tehran
University of Tehran
The University of Tehran , also known as Tehran University and UT, is Iran's oldest university. Located in Tehran, the university is among the most prestigious in the country, and is consistently selected as the first choice of many applicants in the annual nationwide entrance exam for top Iranian...

 literature professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi
Seyed Mohammad Marandi
Seyed Mohammad Marandi, a graduate of Birmingham University and associate professor of English Literature at University of Tehran, is the founder and director of the Institute for North American and European Studies...

 states that "Nafisi constantly confirms what orientalist representations have regularly claimed". He also points out that she "has produced gross misrepresentations of Iranian society and Islam and that she uses quotes and references which are inaccurate, misleading, or even wholly invented."

Responses


Nafisi responded to Dabashi's criticism by stating that she is not, as Dabashi claims, a neoconservative, that she opposed the Iraq war, and that she is more interested in literature than in politics. In an interview, Nafisi stated that she's never argued for an attack on Iran and that democracy, when it comes, should come from the Iranian people (and not from US military or political intervention). She added that while she is willing to engage in "serious argument...Debate that is polarized isn't worth my time." She stated that she did not respond directly to Dabashi because "You don't want to debase yourself and start calling names."

Nafisi was also defended by a number of sources.
  • Ali Banuazizi, the codirector of Boston College’s Middle East studies program, stated that Dabashi's article was very ‘‘intemperate’’ and that it was ‘‘not worth the attention’’ it had received.
  • Christopher Shea of the Boston Globe argued that while Dabashi spent "several thousand words...eviscerating the book," his main point was not about the specific text but rather the book’s black-and-white portrayal of Iran.
  • Writing in The New Republic, Marty Peretz sharply criticized Dabashi, and rhetorically asked ‘‘Over what kind of faculty does [Columbia president] Lee Bollinger preside?"
  • In an article posted on Slate.com, author Gideon Lewis-Kraus described Dabashi's article as "a less-than-coherent pastiche of stock anti-war sentiment, strategic misreading, and childish calumny" and that Dabashi "insists on seeing it as political perfidy" which allows him "to preserve his fantasy that criticizing Nafisi makes him a usefully engaged intellectual."
  • Robert Fulford sharply criticized Dabashi's comments in the National Post
    National Post
    The National Post is a Canadian English-language national newspaper based in Don Mills, a district of Toronto. The paper is owned by Postmedia Network Inc. and is published Mondays through Saturdays...

    , arguing that "Dabashi's frame of reference veers from Joseph Stalin
    Joseph Stalin
    Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

     to Edward Said
    Edward Said
    Edward Wadie Saïd was a Palestinian-American literary theorist and advocate for Palestinian rights. He was University Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and a founding figure in postcolonialism...

    . Like a Stalinist, he tries to convert culture into politics, the first step toward totalitarianism
    Totalitarianism
    Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible...

    . Like the late Edward Said, he brands every thought he dislikes as an example of imperialism, expressing the West's desire for hegemony over the downtrodden (even when oil-rich) nations of the Third World." Fulford added that "While imitating the attitudes of Said, Dabashi deploys painful cliches."
  • Firoozeh Papan-Matin, the Director of Persian and Iranian Studies at the University of Washington
    University of Washington
    University of Washington is a public research university, founded in 1861 in Seattle, Washington, United States. The UW is the largest university in the Northwest and the oldest public university on the West Coast. The university has three campuses, with its largest campus in the University...

     in Seattle, stated that Dabashi's accusation that Nafisi is promoting a "'kaffeeklatsch' worldview... callously ignores the extreme social and political conditions that forced Nafisi underground." Papan Matin also argued that "Dabashi’s attack is that whether Nafisi is a collaborator with the [United States]" was not relevant to the legitimate questions set forth in her book.

Works

  • Nafisi, Azar. "Images of Women in Classical Persian Literature and the Contemporary Iranian Novel." The Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran. Ed. Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1994. 115-30.
  • Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov’s Novels (1994).
  • Nafisi, Azar. "Imagination as Subversion: Narrative as a Tool of Civic Awareness." Muslim Women and the Politics of Participation. Ed. Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997. 58-71.
  • "Tales of Subversion: Women Challenging Fundamentalism in the Islamic Republic of Iran." Religious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women (1999).
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran
    Reading Lolita in Tehran
    Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books is a book by Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi.Published in 2003, it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over one hundred weeks and has been translated into thirty-two languages....

     (2003).
  • Things I've Been Silent About (2008; in paperback 2010)

External links



Critical