Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Politics of the Imagination

In case folks missed it, Azar Nafisi (author of Reading Lolita in Tehran) wrote a splendid short essay for the Washington Post Book World last Sunday entitled "The Republic of the Imagination." In it, she shows how tyrants oppress individual freedom (and hence diversity of thought) by attacking the imagination expressed, particularly, in fiction. Not a novel observation, to be sure, but one I don’t mind seeing in a full center spread in an MSM outlet like the Post. She drops many of the right names of important literary figures that represent something of a vanguard of the imagination against political tyranny.

That said, we do well to discuss her criticism of the state as a flawed "guardian of morality" when it comes to books that could corrupt readers (my strike for diversity of thought!). I don’t think she appreciates sufficiently Aristotle’s observation that what youth see, they do, and what they hear, they say, and therefore there should be some concern about what young folk read and watch these days. This is not an argument for govt censorship per se, but rather a reminder that parents should not allow their children to read any and everything they can get their hands on. I think Nafisi dismisses too readily the power of images--and hence the imagination--to shape the souls of readers.

Nevertheless, her essay would make a great introduction to a discussion with students about the impact of literature (or music or poetry or art in general) on a people and its relationship to preserving or undermining individual freedom.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Fair point, Lucas. Azar’s teenage daughter came home raving about Shakespeare (not always a "family-safe" author, to be sure, and thank God for that, but a serious one by any measure).

Had the young lady come home raving about the latest Britney Spears video and wanting to imitate her, etc., I wonder if Azar would have been quite so enthused about this form of "coming to terms" with one’s new home.

That said, it’s plain from everything Azar has written that the Iranian fundamentalist revolution was intensely traumatic for her. So I’m ready to cut her some slack--her zeal for liberty may be in need of some tempering, but it’s been hard-won and fire-hardened.

Here’s a link to the article for those that have not registered at the Post website.

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