Passion and Change: How Reading Lolita in Tehran Deconstructs Power
In authoritarian systems of government, the manner in which leaders rule over the people leave citizens very little power to bring change. Though pockets of dissent exist, it can be unnerving when one realizes that dissent only implicates those dissenters in troubles first perpetuated by the rulers themselves—in chaos, people cannot convene, they cannot organize or seek change because all change requires cooperation. Only in education, reform and cultural awareness do people find a weapon that can be utilized as agents of change. Azar Nafisi, in her multiple roles as educator, culture agent and dissenter put a foot forward in the process of proving that dissenters can organize, educate and inspire and, in the process, serve as a liaison of change for those who live and experience her expertise in and out of the classroom.
Culture is unique in its role within education. It creates meaning that is different for each one of us—our experiences within family circles, national borders and classroom walls shape meaning and ideas, regardless of subject. In addition, it is, as Sonia Nieto (1999) pens, “invariably influenced by the environment in which it exists” (p. 133). Teaching English Literature in Tehran, a dubious job at best, could, in the turbulent times of revolution, be thought of as near blasphemous. Iran, with all her traditions, particularly in literature and religion, naturally does not take well to outside influence, cultural diversity and dissent. What Dr. Nafisi was able to do with dissent, cultural diversity and western influence through the words of the writers studied and discussed, was nothing short of amazing.
Whether she was leading classroom discussions on Nabokov or putting The Great Gatsby on trial, her passion for the word set students’ emotions and voices on fire. For some, like the shy Nassrin and others like the staunchly political Mr. Nyazi, change happened in deliberate fashion, through the destruction of sensitive sociocultural borders which only existed in theory anyway—Iran didn’t pretend to be friends with those different from themselves, in those years, particularly in light of “Ayatollah Khomeini’s rhetoric against the Great Satan and its domestic agents” (Nafisi, 2003, p. 100 ). Real or imagined, this proves not to matter, for the response to such rhetoric could be heard in the defense students like Nyazi put up, “Our poets and writers in this battle against the Great Satan play the same role as our faithful soldiers, and they will be accorded the same reward in heaven” (Nafisi, 2003, p. 125).
Such defense is only possible through opening and reforming the mind, in spite of the great difficulties and influence in their surroundings. “Learning is not development; however, properly organized learning results in mental development and sets in motion a variety of developmental processes that would be impossible apart from learning”...