The higher learning

More on Dabashi’s article. I’ve gritted my teeth and read it all now. It’s bad all the way through – it doesn’t take a surprise turn for the better on page 7 or 10.

One thing he wants us all to get is that literature is crucial to empire; in fact it pretty much makes it happen and keeps it going. Without literature – none of it would have happened. Therefore people who teach comparative literature are immensely important. Right? Right.

From Edward Said to Amy Kaplan and Gauri Viswanathan, we now have a sustained body of scholarship, extended from the US, through Europe, to India and by theoretical implication all around the colonised world, a persuasive argument as to how the teaching of English literature has historically been definitive to the British, and now by extension American, imperial proclivities.

Ooh, all the way from one person to two more people, we now have a ‘sustained’ body of scholarship about how – mmph – the teaching of English literature has historically been definitive to imperial proclivities. Hahahahahahahaha! Oh, that’s a good one. (As for what it means, well, don’t press these questions. Surely you know what being definitive to proclivities means, don’t you? All sophisticated scholars know that.)

The publication of Azar Nafisi’s [RLT] is the most cogent contemporary case of yet another attempt at positing English literature yet again as a modus operandi of manufacturing trans-regional cultural consent to Euro- American global domination. [geddit? manufacturing consent] The factual evidence of the connection of Azar Nafisi to the US leaders of the neoconservative movement [he means she has some neocon friends] and her systematic deprecation of Iranian culture,…glorifying instead a canonised [ooh, canonised – she’s one of those canon people – that’s bad] inner sanctum for an iconic celebration of “Western literature,” [eww] are additional factors in placing her squarely at the service of the predatory US empire–the service delivered via the most cliché-ridden invocation of the most retrograde Oriental fantasies of her readers in the United States and Europe.

Right. She has neocon friends and she writes a book about reading in a small private group, and that places her squarely at the service of the predatory US empire. Case proven; take her away.

I find it prophetic, were it not so obscene, that in the space of the front and back covers of [RLT] we have an updated pedophiliac Orientalism documented so succinctly: on the front cover the picture of two veiled Iranian teenage “girls” and on the back the endorsement of Professor Humbert Lewis of Orientalism himself.

That’s the first of three times he does that – he calls Bernard Lewis Humbert: either Humbert Lewis or (throwing caution to the winds) just plain Humbert Humbert. Because? Well, he hates him; isn’t that a good enough reason?

And now he buckles down to some serious abuse.

The cover of [RLT] is an iconic burglary from the press…In the age of “the end of history,” as Azar Nafisi’s fellow neocon Francis Fukuyama has theorised it…Here again, Azar Nafisi proceeds to crop the picture she portrays inside her book in a fashion similar to the visual burglary she and her publisher commit on its cover–stealing a part of truth to tell a bigger lie.

Nafisi is not in fact a neocon. She has neocon friends; she’s not a neocon herself. But Dabashi feels entitled to go from innuendo about her ‘connections’ to simply calling her something she isn’t – in the very same breath ranting about a cropped picture and burglary, stealing, and a bigger lie. He’s a nasty piece of work.

Decades into a sustained struggle against the domination of Eurocentric curriculum in the US academy, fighting to restore democratic dignity to the world literary scene, Nafisi once again pushes the clock back for about half a century by a singular and exclusive praise for the Eurocentricity of the literary imagination. Promoting the racist cause of a singular literary canon in the United States and Europe goes hand in hand with denigrating, dismissing, or ignoring the existence of non-Euro-American literary and cultural traditions. No one will ever know, reading [RLT], that Iranians, like all other nations, have a literature of their own…

Okay stop right there. What’s on page 6 of RLT? “We read Persian classical literature, such as the tales of our own lady of fiction, Scheherezade, from A Thousand and One Nights…”

Oh never mind that, she’s still trampling the democratic dignity of the world literary scene, and by golly she’s certainly still promoting a racist cause, because that’s an automatic fifty points for Dabashi, even if it doesn’t happen to be true.

But joining the neocon takeover of the democratic institutions of the US by a band of militant renegades, and thus helping build a literary canon for a predatory empire, is an entirely different matter. In the former project you restore dignity and hope to a nation and its cultural resistance to imperial domination; in the latter you seek to steal such dignity and hope from them.

Well he’s already told us, or ‘demonstrated’ as he keeps asserting of scholars he approves of, that Nafisi (or her publisher) is a burglar who steals bits of pictures; clearly she steals everything that’s not nailed down.

Nafisi has never taught at any liberal arts college or university in the US. She is entirely ignorant of or indifferent and hostile to the decades of struggle that racialised minorities and women’s and minority studies have endured to make a dent in the vacuum-packed curricular terrors of the white establishment. At a time when the entire nation is engaged in a radical debate about the necessity of curricular diversity, Azar Nafisi joins ranks with the worst reactionary elements singing the praise of the “Western masterpieces.” After decades of consistent struggles, native-Americans, African-Americans, Latin-Americans, Asian-Americans, feminists, and scores of other denigrated and disenfranchised communities, have successfully engaged the white male supremacist canon of the US higher education…

Translation: Nafisi is not a hotshot at Columbia like me, so it’s an outrage that people bought her book. She’s entirely ignorant, unlike brilliant erudite but radical me, and she’s hostile to minorities, unlike radical anti-racist wonderful me (did I mention I teach at Columbia?) and she’s in cahoots with the curricular terrors of the white establishment (what terrors? You know what terrors!) and she is not one of the Good People who have fought a bloody war with the white male supremacist canon (those canon wars, they’re the worst). She’s clueless and out of it because she doesn’t realize that the entire nation is engaged in a radical debate about the necessity of curricular diversity – how can she not know that? Because she’s evil, and I’m good. Stern, but good. End of translation.

Imagine taking a class with that guy.

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