Vladimir Nabokov (on disobedience and purity)

Perhaps I will do my usual rambling opinionation on today’s quote some other time. It captured me as I was gobbling up Azir Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, this unruly Iranian literature professor’s memoir of her last years in her homeland, and especially her Thursday mornings with one hand-picked class of book-mad young women.

Nafisi has her students read this exceptionally challenging novelist, not only Lolita but other texts as well. Of course, this did not go over well with the authorities of the Islamic Republic. Speaking of her father’s imprisonment before the 1979 Revolution, and her own and her students’ restricted lives after it, Nafisi recalls “a sentence by Nabokov” that she later learned. Here it is: 

“Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form.”

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) was a Russian-born novellist whose most brilliant successes, Lolita among them, were written in a densely eloquent English. His experience of the aftermath of the Russian Revolution acquainted him with oppression and brutality in a way that made eminent sense to young Iranian women, even in a second (or third) language. Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form: this explains too perfectly (though only in part) why so few of my Chinese students were very curious about anything.

(Okay, I hear you: no more rambling. I promised.)


Comment (1)

  1. Karl King

    Rage against the dying of the light! Great quote. See you next month, my friend.

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