FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

On Being Stalked

by CHARLES R. LARSON

At the end of James Lasdun’s chilling account of being stalked, Give Me Everything You Have, the writer asks himself a question: “What happened—between us, or to her alone—to make my unremarkable existence matter so much to her?”  What went wrong?  Why did his stalker (an Iranian woman he calls Nasreen) choose him?  What did he do to trigger a situation that has lasted five years, eventually so controlling his consciousness that often he could think of nothing else?

Obviously, there’s a story here, in fact a pretty ugly one.

A full-time writer and occasional academic, Lasdun taught in the graduate creative writing program at an institution he calls Morgan College, in New York City.  During the fall semester of 2003, his fiction workshop included a woman in her early thirties, the most talented student in the class.  The others were so undistinguished that Nasreen stood out, and Lasdun agreed to become her thesis advisor.  Thus, a friendship developed that extended beyond the classroom.  She was a Muslim woman who had lived through the Shah’s overthrow and was writing about that event; he was interested in her because of her talent and her subject:  “And in her quiet way she also seemed curious about me: asking how I’d become a writer, what I was working on now, who my favorite novelists were.”  In short, a rather typical relationship between professor and student.

Two years later, after Nasreen left the program but continued working on her novel, she emailed him and asked if he would read the most recent sections she had written.  He declined, because he was too busy, but agreed to get her in contact with his agent.  The emails from Nasreen continued, often as many as a dozen a day, many of them flirtatious. More time passed; Nasreen did get in touch with his agent, but that lasdunresulted in little beyond additional encouragement.  Yet the emails persisted well into 2007, hinting that she would like to become his lover, even though she understood that he is married.  Sometimes Lasdun responded; more frequently, he ignored her persistence.

Then things turned truly ugly.  Since the day the two of them met, both were aware of their racial differences: Lasdun’s a Jew, Nasreen is a Muslim.  But those distinctions never appeared to matter.  Then all at once—when Nasreen understood that there would be no sexual relationship between the two of them and that he would not read her recent work—her emails became anti-Semitic, with references to “fucking crazy Jews.” Worse: “I think the holocaust was fucking funny and about as hilarious as the holocaust industry….” Lasdun’s anything but orthodox, hardly a practicing Jew, but the vicious attacks on his race continued. “Look, muslims are not like their Jewish counterparts, who quietly got gassed and then cashed in on it…my people are crazy motherfuckers and there will be hell to pay for what your people have done to them….” When she didn’t get much of a response, Nasreen began accusing him of plagiarizing her work and—worse—the work of all of his students.  “You stole from everyone in our class.” She turned to various sites on the internet where he is mentioned (such as Wikipedia) and began posting inflammatory remarks about him: mostly, suggesting that his writing is not the result of his own creativity but the on-going use of his students’.  Lasdun refers to this phase of her harassment as “google-stalking.” Nasreen wrote negative reviews of his books on Amazon; sent inflammatory letters to the various English departments where he had taught, as well as to professional colleagues and magazine editors.  “All Nasreen had to do was work her way through my Google pages and she could systematically denounce me to every one of them.”

The relentless attacks on Lasdun and his work obviously began to leave their mark on him.  In one of the most telling passages in the narrative he observes, “If her aim, as a verbal terrorist, was to replicate the conditions of the [post 9/11] nation at large inside my head, with its panics and paranoias, its thrashing impotence, its schizoid shame and self-righteousness, its droning monomania, she succeeded triumphantly….  The sheer quantity of her emails was such that I never had time to recover my equilibrium between them.  Even the ones that just consisted of abuse left a bruised, unclean feeling, and there was never time to purge this, so that an accumulation of unprocessed disgust, pain, and bewilderment seemed to be piling up inside me. I lived, increasingly, in the medium of Nasreen’s hatred.  I couldn’t think about anything except her, and pretty soon I couldn’t talk about anything except her.”

Isn’t that pretty much the way we all felt during the years after 9/11?

The lifting of the straightjacket that had been tied around James Lasdun was no easy matter.  He sought assistance with police, the FBI, and other officials, but they were not much help.  Curiously, although he tells us that he loves his children and that he is happily married, there is no place in his story where he describes discussing his harassment with his wife.  Finally, he turns to something that provides him with a greater understanding about what has happened to him, what he has undergone, but I’ll leave that for you to discover by reading Lasdun’s compelling book.

One final caveat.  When Nasreen began “flirting” with him, Lasdun clearly should have ceased all communication with her.  Put an end to it.  Yes, it’s easy for me to say that.  But Lasdun fully understood the potential consequences of student/professor relationships—how they can go sour at the turn of a page.  The horrors of being stalked, of continual harassment, of a certain kind of identity theft that is unique to artists, and especially writers, cannot be belittled.  I am only trying to suggest that Lasdun also made a couple of bad moves.  In no way do those decisions negate the significance of Give Me Everything You Have.  This is a major book—disturbing as hell, as is true of many complicated relationships.

James Lasdun: Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 218 pp., $25

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail