Azar Nafisi: Politicizing Nabokov

Azar Nafisi:  Well I wouldn’t call myself political. First of all Nabokov was very sly. I think he was far more political than he let on. His deep hatred of that system comes . . . I ... what he did; that he wouldn’t talk to Roman Jakobson because he just traveled to Soviet Union. He wouldn’t talk to people who even traveled or talked with the Soviets. He was that . . . But for me, “Reading Lolita”, the political matters that come out there are existential. If as a woman, a writer, teacher, and a human being, your core values are being assaulted, you need to protect them. And if this is a political system, then you have to confront it. So for me . . . And I think for many women in Iran they didn’t confront it politically. They more we were who we were . . . and that’s why it makes me very close to Nabokov . . . The more I was who I was, the more subversive I became in relation to the regime. They would tell you to wear the veil. At first I refused. It wasn’t a political statement. It was a statement of the fact that as ...says in “The Power of the Powerless” and...says in “Captive Mind”, these systems try to turn you into a lie. They try to make you negate who you are. So the individual becomes a political entity. As an . . . As a woman walking down the street and letting this much hair down, I would become a political sign. You know I couldn’t help it. That is what I wanted to try and say. And the second thing I wanted to say in that book . . . And I on purpose chose writers that were apolitical – James Austin, “Gatsby”, Fitzgerald – because I wanted to show the more work of literature was faithful to itself, the more subversive it would become of society. Books with messages have the same kind of mindset that tyrants have. They want to impose their message on you. It is books without messages that genuinely subvert you and make you think about politics. That was another “message” if you . . . if I should contradict myself with “Reading Lolita”. So I wouldn’t call it political, but it’s useless not . . . for me to deny it because everybody would call it political.

Recorded on: 2/22/08

Nabokov, Nafisi says, was a lot more political than he let on.

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