We speak of facts, yet facts exist only partially to us if they are not repeated and re-created through emotions, thoughts and feelings. To me it seemed as if we had not really existed, or only half existed, because we could not imaginatively realize ourselves and communicate to the world, because we had used works of imagination to serve as handmaidens to some political ploy.
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Basically, fundamentalism is a modern phenomenon. In the same way that Hitler evoked a mythological religion of German purity and the glory of the past, the Islamists use religion to evoke emotions and passions in people who have been oppressed for a long time in order to reach their purpose.
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I believe that it is only through empathy, that the pain experienced by an Algerian woman, a North Korean dissident, a Rwandan child or an Iraqi prisoner, becomes real to me and not just passing news. And it is at times like this when I ask myself, am I prepared - like Huck Finn - to give up Sunday school heaven for the kind of hell that Huck chose?
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You don't read Gatsby, I said, to learn whether adultery is good or bad but to learn about how complicated issues such as adultery and fidelity and marriage are. A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil.
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I searched modern fiction and poetry for clues to how we confronted and evaded reality, how we articulated our experience and turned to language not to revel ourselves but to hide. I was as sure then as I am now that by looking at contemporary Iranian fiction I could gain access to a real understanding of political and social events. (p289)
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Incapaci di decifrare o di capire tutto cie² che fosse complicato o fuori dagli schemi, infuriati con quelli che consideravano serpi in seno, gli integralisti furono costretti a imporre le loro formule rudimentali anche alla narrativa. E cose¬ come perseguitarono i colori della realte , cercando di adattarla al loro mondo in bianco e nero, si accanirono - al pari dei loro antagonisti ideologici - contro qualsiasi forma di interiorite in narrativa, finendo per perseguitare proprio i romanzi privi di contenuti politici. Come quelli della pericolosissima Jane Austen, ad esempio.
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Every fairy tale offers the potential to surpass present limits, so in a sense the fairy tale offers you freedoms that reality denies. In all great works of fiction, regardless of the grim reality they present, there is an affirmation of life against the transience of that life, an essential defiance. The affirmation lies in the way the author takes control of reality by retelling it in his own way, thus creating a new world. Every great work of art, I would declare pompously, is a celebration, an act of insubordination against the betrayals, horrors and infidelities of life. The perfection and beauty of form rebels against the ugliness and shabiness of the subject matter. This is why we love "Madame Bovary" and cry for Emma, why we greedily read "Lolita" as our heart breaks for its small, vulgar, poetic and defiant orphaned heroine.
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L'insensibilite e¨ tipica anche dei personaggi negativi di Jane Austen: Lady Catherine, Mrs Norris, Mr Collins o i Crawford. Il tema ricorre inoltre nell'opera di Henry James e negli eroi-mostro di Nabokov, Humbert, Kinbote, Van e Ada Veen. In questi romanzi l'immaginazione e¨ equiparata all'empatia, alla capacite di immedesimazione: non possiamo vivere cie² che hanno vissuto gli altri, pere² in letteratura siamo in grado di comprendere anche i personaggi pie¹ mostruosi. Un bel romanzo e¨ quello che riesce a mostrarci la complessite degli individui, e fa se¬ che tutti i personaggi abbiano una voce; e¨ allora che un romanzo si pue² definire democratico - non perche sostiene la democrazia, ma per la sua stessa natura. L'empatia e¨ il cuore di Gatsby, come di molti altri grandi romanzi - non c'e¨ niente di pie¹ riprovevole che restare ciechi di fronte ai problemi e ai dolori altrui. Non vederli significa negare la loro esistenza.
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But perhaps there is another, more personal reason for my disagreement with Ramin: I cannot imagine myself feeling at home in a place that is indifferent to what has become my true home, a land with no borders and few restrictions, which I have taken to calling 'the Republic of Imagination.' I think of it as Nabokov's 'somehow, somewhere' or Alice's backyard, a world that runs parallel to the real one, whose occupants need no passport or documentation. The only requirements for entry are an open mind, a restless desire to know and an indefinable urge to escape the mundane.
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Jefferson, who spent his life collecting books, many of which he donated to the Library of Congress, boasted that America was the only country whose farmers read Homer. 'A native of America who cannot read or write, ' said John Adams, 'is as rare an appearance... as a Comet or an Earthquake.
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Between my first book tour, in 2003, and the next one, in 2009, many of the places I visited had undergone a significant transformation or vanished: Cody's in Berkeley, seven branch libraries in Philadelphia, twelve of the fourteen bookstores in Harvard Square, Harry W. Schwartz in Milwaukee and, in my own hometown of Washington, D.C., Olsson's and Chapters.
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correlation between the growing lack of respect for ideas and the imagination and the increasing gap between rich and poor in America, reflected not just in the gulf between the salaries of CEOs and their employees but also in the high cost of education, the incredible divide between private and public schools that makes all of the fine speeches by our policy makers- most of whom send their children to private schools anyway, just as they enjoy the benefits and perks of their jobs as servants of the people- all the more insidious and insincere.
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The price one pays when choosing exile is the loss of all that defines you as an individual. The only thing that makes this immense loss tolerable is the discovery of a self you did not know existed - of a true independence. That is the real gift of America, not its fabled wealth and prosperity.
Those who are close to us, when they die, divide our world. There is the world of the living, which we finally, in one way or another, succumb to, and then there is the domain of the dead that, like an imaginary friend (or foe) or a secret concubine, constantly beckons, reminding us of our loss. What is memory but a ghost that lurks at the corners of the mind, interrupting our normal course of life, disrupting our sleep in order to remind us of some acute pain or pleasure, something silenced or ignored? We miss not only their presence, or how they felt about us, but ultimately how they allowed us to feel about ourselves or them. (prologue)
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These women, genteel and beautiful, are the rebels who say no to the choices made by silly mothers, incompetent fathers (there are seldom any wise fathers in Austen's novels) and the rigidly orthodox society. They risk ostracism and poverty to gain love and companionship, and to embrace that elusive goal at the heart of democracy: the right to choose.
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The highest form of morality is not to feel at home in ones own home." Most great works of the imagination were meant to make you feel like a stranger in your own home. The best fiction always forced us to question what we took for granted. It questioned traditions and expectations when they seemed too immutable. I told my students I wanted them in their readings to consider in what ways these works unsettled them, made them a little uneasy, made them look around and consider the world, like Alice in Wonderland, through different eyes.
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Nabokov calls every great novel a fairy tale, I said. Well, I would agree. First, let me remind you that fairy tales abound with frightening witches who eat children and wicked stepmothers who poison their beautiful stepdaughters and weak fathers who leave their children behind in forests. But the magic comes from the power of good, that force which tells us we need not give in to the limitations and restrictions imposed on us by McFate, as Nabokov called it. Every fairy tale offers the potential to surpass present limits, so in a sense the fairy tale offers you freedoms that reality denies. In all great works of fiction, regardless of the grim reality they present, there is an affirmation of life against the transience of that life, an essential defiance.
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A novel is not an allegory... It is the sensual experience of another world. If you don't enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won't be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel. This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience. So start breathing.
Un romanzo non e¨ un'allegoria' dissi verso la fine della lezione 'eˆ l'esperienza sensoriale di un altro mondo. Se non entrate in quel mondo, se non trattenete il respiro insieme ai personaggi, se non vi lasciate coinvolgere nel loro destino, non arriverete mai a indentificarvi con loro, non arriverete mai al cuore del libro. eˆ cose¬ che si legge un romanzo: come se fosse qualcosa da inalare, da tenere nei polmoni. Dunque, cominciate a respirare. Ricordate solo questo. eˆ tutto; potete andare.
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A novel is not an allegory, I said as the period was about to come to an end. It is the sensual experience of another world. If you don't enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won't be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of the novel. This is how you read a novel: you inhale the experience. So start breathing.
none of us are as sophisticated in these matters as you think. You know I always feel, with every new person, as if I am starting anew. These things are instinctive. What you need to learn is to lay aside your inhibitions, to go back to your childhood when you played marbles or whatever with boys and never thought anything of it.
Most serious confrontations in life are not political, they are existential. One can agree with someone's political stance but disagree in a fundamental way with how they came to that position. It is a question of attitude, of moral configuration. My husband and I had plenty of grievances, but it all boiled down to a fundamental difference in the way we perceived life, the context within which we defined ourselves and our world. For that, there was no reconciliation or resolution, there was only separation or surrender.
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I was reminded of a painter friend who had started her career by depicting scenes from life, mainly deserted rooms, abandoned houses and discarded photographs of women. Gradually, her work became more abstract, and in her last exhibition, her paintings were splashes of rebellious color, like the two in my living room, dark patches with little droplets of blue. I asked about her progress from modern realism to abstraction. Reality has become so intolerable, she said, so bleak, that all I can paint now are the colors of my dreams.
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The crisis besetting America is not just an economic or political crisis; something deeper is wreaking havoc across the land, a mercenary and utilitarian attitude that demonstrates little empathy for people's actual well-being, that dismisses imagination and thought, branding passion for knowledge as irrelevant.
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It is not just bookstores and libraries that are disappearing but museums, theaters, performing arts centers, art and music schools- all those places where I felt at home have joined the list of endangered species. The San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe and my own hometown paper, The Washington Post, have all closed their weekend book review sections, leaving books orphaned and stranded, poor cousins to television and the movies. In a sign of the times, the Bloomberg News website recently transferred its book coverage to the Luxury section, alongside yachts, sports clubs and wine, as if to signal that books are an idle indulgence of the super-rich. But if there is one thing that should not be denied to anyone rich or poor it is the opportunity to dream.
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We were all victims of the arbitrary nature of a totalitarian regime that constantly intruded into the most private corners of our lives and imposed its relentless fictions on us. Was this rule the rule of Islam? What memories were we creating for our children? This constant assault, this persistent lack of kindness, was what frightened me most.
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I used to joke that we had prepared ourselves for a time like this by living with Mother. The problem with such a state of affairs was not that you did not get to do what you wanted-sometimes you did-but the effort to appease or resist the reigning deities left you so exhausted that it prevented you from ever really having fun. To this day having fun, just plain enjoying myself, comes at the cost of a conviction that I have committed an undetected crime.
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There are different forms of seduction, and the kind I have witnessed in Persian dancers is so unique, such a mixture of subtlety and brazenness, I cannot find a Western equivalent to compare it to. I have seen women of vastly different backgrounds take on that same expression: a hazy, lazy, flirtatious look in their eyes... This sort of seduction is elusive; it is sinewy and tactile. It twists, twirls, winds and unwinds. Hands curl and uncurl while the waist seems to coil and recoil... It is openly seductive but not surrendering.
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Both Yassi and I know that we have been losing our faith. We have been questioning it with every move. During the Shah's time, it was different. I felt I was in the minority and I had to guard my faith against all odds. Now that my religion is in power, I feel more helpless than ever before, and more alienated.' She wrote about how ever since she could remember, she had been told that life in the land of infidels was pure hell. She had been promised that all would be different under a just Islamic rule. Islamic rule! It was a pageant of hypocrisy and shame.
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Those who judge must take all aspects of an individual's personality into account. It is only through literature that one can put oneself in someone else's shoes and understand the other's different and contradictory sides and refrain from becoming too ruthless. Outside the sphere of literature only one aspect of individuals is revealed. But if you understand their different dimensions you cannot easily murder them...
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Imagination in these works is equated with empathy; we can't experience all that others have gone through, but we can understand even the most monstrous individuals in works of fiction. A good novel is one that shows the complexity of individuals, and creates enough space for all these characters to have a voice; in this way a novel is called democratic-not that it advocates democracy but that by nature it is so. Empathy lies at the heart of Gatsby, like so many other great novels-the biggest sin is to be blind to others' problems and pains. Not seeing them means denying their existence.
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This is a good time to ask apologists for the Islamic regime, who degrades Islam? Who imposes stoning, forced marriage of underage girls and flogging for not wearing the veil? Do such practices represent Iran's ancient history and culture, its ethnic and religious diversity? Its centuries of sensual and subversive poetry?
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A good novel is one that shows the complexity of individuals, and creates enough space for all these characters to have a voice; in this way a novel is called democratic - not that it advocates democracy but that by nature it is so. Empathy lies at the heart of Gatsby, like so many other great novels - the biggest sin is to be blind to others' problems and pains. Not seeing them means denying their existence.
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Imagine you are walking down a leafy path... The sun is receding, and you are walking alone, caressed by the breezy light of the late afternoon. Then suddenly, you feel a large drop on your right arm. Is it raining? You look up. The sky is still deceptively sunny... seconds later another drop. Then, with the sun still perched in the sky, you are drenched in a shower of rain. This is how memories invade me, abruptly and unexpectedly...
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Look at Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution and the slogans that they used: anti-imperialism; anti-colonialism; the struggle of the have-nots against the haves; the state monopoly over economy, which was very much patterned after the Soviet Union. All of these things did not come out of Islam. Islam is not that developed.
What dazzles us in Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra are not the alluring mythologies about the evasive queen, but the astonishing if rare historical facts that Schiff has meticulously and lovingly excavated. Schiff offers not just Cleopatra's story but the story of an amazing era, one that has vanished but still affects us, questioning the way we look at myth, history, and ourselves.
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Only curiosity about the fate of others, the ability to put ourselves in their shoes, and the will to enter their world through the magic of imagination, creates this shock of recognition. Without this empathy there can be no genuine dialogue, and we as individuals and nations will remain isolated and alien, segregated and fragmented.
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It is only through literature that one can put oneself in someone else's shoes and understand the other's different and contradictory sides and refrain from becoming too ruthless. Outside the sphere of literature only one aspect of individuals is revealed. But if you understand their different dimensions you cannot easily murder them. . .
In all great works of fiction, regardless of the grim reality they present, there is an affirmation of life against the transience of that life, an essential defiance. This affirmation lies in the way the author takes control of reality by retelling it in his own way, thus creating a new world. Every great work of art, I would declare pompously, is a celebration, an act of insubordination against the betrayals, horrors and infidelities of life. The perfection and beauty of form rebels against the ugliness and shabbiness of the subject matter.
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I believe in empathy. I believe in the kind of empathy that is created through imagination and through intimate, personal relationships. I am a writer and a teacher, so much of my time is spent interpreting stories and connecting to other individuals. It is the urge to know more about ourselves and others that creates empathy. Through imagination and our desire for rapport, we transcend our limitations, freshen our eyes, and are able to look at ourselves and the world through a new and alternative lens.
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Those in the west who dismiss the repressiveness of laws against women in countries like Iran, no matter how benign their intentions, present a condescending view not just of the religion but also of women living in Muslim majority countries, as if the desire for choice and happiness is the monopoly of women in the west.
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Visa for Avalon is a testament to the power of fiction. It illuminates the truth at the heart of what is commonly called reality. This account of lives transformed and ruined by the triumph of a totalitarian rule is a timely reminder of how moral and intellectual laziness and apathy can pave the road to the reign of terror brought on by such a system.
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We do not read in order to turn great works of fiction into simplistic replicas of our own realities, we read for the pure, sensual, and unadulterated pleasure of reading. And if we do so, our reward is the discovery of the many hidden layers within these works that do not merely reflect reality but reveal a spectrum of truths, thus intrinsically going against the grain of totalitarian mindsets.
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After the rigged Iranian presidential elections in 2009, the Islamic regime attacked the 'humanities' as the main source of protests, the most effective tool used by the West, especially America, to corrupt and incite Iranian youth, and finally closed down all the Humanities departments in Iran's universities.
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