Patterico's Pontifications

2/10/2013

L.A. Times Book Reviewer Snidely Dismisses Cyberstalking; Blames the Victim

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 1:47 pm

Ken at Popehat has a post that begins:

Today the Los Angeles Times ran a review of a book by a professor named Grace Lasdun. Lasdun describes her terrifying ordeal of being stalked by a madman. “Imagine,” the review bids us, that a stalker “seemed affectionate, then convinced of a deep connection, then became furious and set upon destroying your life.” The book — and review — tells the tale of how a stalker became convinced of a relationship with Grace Lasdun, then went on campaign of deranged hate, deluging Ms. Lasdun with dozens of anti-Semitic emails and an internet campaign of untruths, accusations of plagiarism, and vile communications with Lasdun’s employers and colleagues. Her life was changed.

But this review asks something that is too rarely asked. What responsibility does Lasdun bear for a deranged stalker pursuing her, imagining a relationship that she did not want? Did she lead him on? Did she give the wrong signals? Does her language in describing the stalking suggest an unbecoming entitlement? . . . Kellogg explains how Lasdun’s description of the stalker suggests a preoccupation with appearance and a lack of awareness of power differentials that might have contributed to the stalking — “Lasdun reveals actions that may have contributed to her problems without seeing the connections.” . . .

Reviewer Carolyn Kellogg also shows an admirable sense of empathy for the stalker, asking us to question “could Lasdun have managed his growing affections differently”?

I suggest you read Ken’s whole post before proceeding further. I’ll tuck the rest of this entry beneath the fold.

As Ken notes, he was playing a trick by reversing the genders, to show how creepy it sounds to blame the victim in question for his (yes, his) own experience in being stalked. The book in question is one that I have discussed here before — and the L.A. Times book review is indeed remarkable for its willingness to explore the Very Serious Question of whether the stalker should be blamed — for his “obliviousness” to “power relationships, to nuance in language, even to how he tells the story”:

Early on, he [Lasdun, the author] describes Nasreen’s [the stalker's] appearance in flattering specificity. Her face is “fine-boned, with delicately interlocking features” and she wears “a brown, waist-length jacket, at once military and feminine in its cut, that emphasized her aura of self-containment.” The younger female is objectified, while the physicality of the man telling the story is not detailed; he remains invisible while holding all the narrative power.

As their relationship evolves from student-teacher to friends, Lasdun reveals actions that may have contributed to his problems without seeing the connection. . . . Could Lasdun have managed her growing affections differently — or is this a nightmare that could happen to anyone?

It also bothers Kellogg that Lasdun sees some connection between the Iranian heritage of his stalker and his own Israeli heritage:

Lasdun tells us about his relationship with his father, Sir Denys Lasdun, a British modernist architect. One design he’d been commissioned to do but that never was built, was for a significant temple in Israel. Contemplating his father’s unseen legacy, Lasdun travels to the Western Wall, where someone else’s version of the temple now serves as a centerpiece of the Jewish settlement there.

He writes, “the implications of this building seemed more incendiary than ever … once again the thought of my (albeit tenuous) connection to it offered a certain gloomy satisfaction. This had to do with Nasreen, who was a constant presence in my mind during this trip. It seemed to confer a more dignified solemnity on our conflict, turning me into a larger, grander adversary…. Better to be found complicit in the original sins of Israeli history than in some act of petty plagiarism.”

Nasreen is from an immigrant Iranian family, which leads Lasdun to see Arab-Israeli overtones in her anti-Semitism. Yet when he uses the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to define and ennoble his feelings of persecution, it’s a stretch, verging on the vainglorious. [] People die in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he gets assaulted by emails.

This passage seems to say more about Kellogg than it does about Lasdun.

Let’s place to one side the fact that Kellogg follows Al Jazeera English on Twitter, retweets their tweets about Syria, and tweets about the victims of Israel attacks on Gaza. All of that is probably irrelevant.

But what is not irrelevant is the fact that her attempt to paint Lasdun as vainglorious seems quite at odds with another review at Slate. That review says that Lasdun is constantly self-deprecating. The Slate review portrays Lasdun’s Israel references as his way of conferring significance on a story that he worries you might not otherwise bother with:

“You don’t have to be a writer to imagine how it feels to find yourself the object of a malicious attack on the Internet,” Lasdun writes, and indeed, his story makes a thoughtful addition to broader conversations about “cyberbullying.” Still, he seems uncomfortable with the implications of writing about his own life. “Why should anyone but me be interested in these intimate, personal matters?” he wonders while working on a poem about his father, chiding himself for not addressing more “self-evidently important subjects.” This concern seems to haunt his memoir as well, and he addresses it partly by engaging with Nasreen’s attacks in the same geopolitical vocabulary she’s adopted. “It seemed to confer a more dignified solemnity on our conflict,” he writes. “Better to be found complicit in the original sins of Israeli history than in some act of petty plagiarism.”

Late in the book, in fact, Lasdun actually travels to Jerusalem, which doesn’t quite seem like the most effective response to Nasreen’s “verbal terrorism”—either for practical purposes or literary resonance. What a reader might find to be a more persuasive understanding of her behavior—that it’s a product of mental illness—Lasdun admits that he prefers to ignore. “As soon as you reduce human behavior to a pathology,” he writes, “it becomes, for literary purposes, less interesting (at least to me).” But his own response to that pathology, his attempts to resist its chaos, are interesting; much more so than the disquisitions on Israel and literature that he presents in an apparent effort to establish his story’s broader significance.

Lasdun is scrupulously polite, self-deprecating, and deliberate as he presents his saga. He’s at pains to acknowledge any burdens placed on his audience’s interest or belief. His account is salted with little apologies for subjectivity; I lost count of the number of asides along the lines of “(at least to me).” . . . Lasdun’s self-flagellation is exhaustive and sometimes exhausting. He admits everything (unseemly attractions, unfair judgments, vestigial prejudices) before any imagined adversary can accuse him.

. . . .

Of course Lasdun doesn’t actually think everything is all about him. He’s too modest and too self-aware, as his constant apologies make clear. But the palpable effort required to analyze online experiences without sounding like an egotistical maniac (IS EVERYONE LOOKING AT ME?) comes to seem like the book’s central concern.

Pardon me if I seem a little defensive of someone who was cyberstalked and is having his experiences sneered at and trivialized by an L.A. Times writer.

But clearly, Lasdun does not seem like the type who would compare cyberstalking to being killed in a conflict. Just as clearly, Kellogg has never been stalked. From reading Lasdun’s piece I linked before, the cyberstalking went far beyond a few assaultive emails, as Kellogg so haughtily describes Lasdun’s experience. “Nasreen” posted Amazon reviews and contacted Lasdun’s colleagues, acquaintances, and publishers, accusing him of plagiarism and suggesting that he might have raped her. She turned Lasdun into an obsessive who could not enjoy simple pleasures with his family due to preoccupation with the way this woman was ruining his reputation.

Ken at Popehat ends his post thusly:

[W]hy is it so easy for Carolyn Kellogg to write a “what did the victim do to encourage this” when the stalkee is a guy, and the stalker a woman? Is it a mere double-standard? Does the answer lie with the vapid doctrinaire views seeping out from academia hinted at by Kellogg’s reference to “obliviousness . . . to power relationships”?

You could write the Los Angeles times or Carolyn Kellogg to ask them yourself. But be polite. After all, nobody deserves abuse from a deranged stalker, and it would be twisted to ask what they might have done to invite it.

Indeed.

UPDATE: Of course, this is personal for me. Check my Twitter feed. My family and I are being cyberstalked as we speak. It happens every day.

8 Responses to “L.A. Times Book Reviewer Snidely Dismisses Cyberstalking; Blames the Victim”

  1. Time to get to work.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  2. UPDATE: Of course, this is personal for me. Check my Twitter feed. My family and I are being cyberstalked as we speak. It happens every day.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  3. Just when the nightmares went away.

    htom (412a17)

  4. When I put a link to this blog post on my Facebook page, the thumbnail shows “The Jury Talks Back” logo.

    aunursa (7014a8)

  5. Not sure why.

    htom,

    It’s gotten better, but it’s never gone away. Ever. Not for a day.

    Patterico (9c670f)

  6. Patterico, has any of the cases gone forward or offered some ease to the stalking?

    I’m familiar with the feeling, though to a lesser extent of what you and Lasdun have experienced. A cyberstalker took aim at my ex (we think it is ex girlfriend of his) and then turned attention to me since we were dating at the time. This person stopped when I threatened to call the police, but has since resumed. My ex went to a local police department who is supposedly proactive. They said they could offer no help, though they suggested he try to contact the scorned ex to apologize.

    The law hasn’t caught up to technology nor do police have time or resources to deal with these sorts of things, though neither is an excuse for inaction.

    ratbeach (f5aad4)

  7. It went away, mostly, for a long time after she was locked up. Stories of others being stalked has always been a real trigger, though, disrupting my sleep.

    htom (412a17)

  8. In my experience the gender of the parties makes no difference. Women can be every bit as vexatious as stalkers as men. In fact, the most egregious case I’ve personally seen was a case of a woman stalking another woman.

    G Joubert (bcc45d)


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