Azar Nafisi: What is power?

Azar Nafisi:  Power? Well power comes in so many ways. And I guess although I always think that I hate power, I do understand that all of us, in order to survive, need control; which in one sense can translate into power. Now for me the kind of power that I like to exert is through writing, because I think writing . . . I think ideas are a way of resisting reality; resisting the tyranny of reality. And when you write about . . . You cannot control reality. You cannot control where you were born; what name you are given; what language you first start to speak. So many things are not from you. But when you give your own version of it . . . Like in my new book I experiment with something that I never thought I would, which is a personal memoir. But I realize that the most difficult thing is not power or control in the social or political sense, but power over yourself to understand your weaknesses; to be able to admit to them; to control those aspects of yourself that you don’t love or you don’t respect. So for me the idea of writing as power is not, again, a politicized idea the way some scholars . . . academics claim. For example if you’re Jane Austin you’re writing to imperialist powers. I think writing transcends its own time, place and prejudices – even the prejudices of the author. I don’t know if you want me to go on or not. I bring the example usually of Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald could not control his urges about the riches. You know he loved . . . And partly his life was destroyed by the fascination with wealth and the wealthy. But you read “The Great Gatsby”, and it is the most stunning condemnation of the wealthy. That insight . . . He might have been drinking with Tom and Daisy in real life and wanting to have what they have. But when he comes to writing “The Great Gatsby”, they are the villains. They are the careless people who sweep things under the carpet and make messes, and then other people get. . . you know clean up after them. So in this way Fitzgerald – no matter what class he belongs to or wants to belong to, what prejudices he has – surpasses himself, transcends himself, and transcends his own time. So that sort of power is what I would like to have to transcend myself, you know?

Recorded on: 2/22/08

There is state power, and then there is the power of the writer to resist the tyranny of reality.

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