A pornographic mind: Randa Jarrar

Randa Jarrar

Last week, the death of Barbara Bush’s death occasioned a series of exceedingly ugly tweets that made headlines. The tweets, as we discussed on Tuesday, were written by Randa Jarrar, a Professor of English and teacher of creative writing at California State University in Fresno. Who is Jarrar? Over to Wikipedia:

Randa Jarrar was born in 1978 in Chicago to a Greek-Egyptian mother and a Palestinian father. She grew up in Kuwait and Egypt. After the Gulf War in 1991, her family moved back to the US, living in the New York area when she was 13. Jarrar studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, receiving an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. She has taught College Writing, Creative Writing, and Arab-American literature.

No one who knows Jarrar would be surprised by her Barbara Bush tweets. As the Daily Wire reported on April 18, Jarrar has a history of unpleasant tweets. “I can’t wait for the old white guard of literary writers and ‘critics’ to die. Their time is fucking up, too,” she tweeted in January. More recently she has tweeted about “fucking white women” and told someone on Twitter to “fuck outta here with your white feminism. I said don’t at me bitch. I’m a professor.”

Her own so-called “creative writing” is awash in similar nastiness. In one of her tweets, she called Barbara Bush a racist; in fact, Jarrar confesses in her own oeuvre that she’s a racist.

O.J. Simpson and lawyer Robert Shapiro

In one memoir, for example, she recalls cheering the “not guilty” verdict in the O.J. Simpson double murder trial. “I was siding with Simpson,” she explains, “because he was a person of color.” In other words, she knowingly cheered the acquittal of a brutal wife-killer because he was black.

At the time she was a young waitress. But in the piece, no longer young, she gives no indication of regretting that youthful moment of jubilation. She is not the reflective sort, not a nuanced thinker. Racial identity and the racist label are, to a considerable extent, what she has in place of actual thought. Consider, for example, a piece for Salon, Why I Can’t Stand White Belly-Dancers,” in which she accused white woman who engage in belly dancing of racist cultural appropriation.

Barbara Bush

But enough about race. The important point here is that Jarrar is just not that good a writer. The memoir mentioned above, “What Love Is,” is a rambling mishmash the premise of which seems to be that anything that ever happened to her is, because it happened to her, by definition fascinating. Shoveled into this single essay are anecdotes about the time she got a nose ring, about her parents’ kooky diets, about a school friend whom she admired because she worked as a stripper, and so on; the main story is about her involvement with a violent boyfriend who got her pregnant and then engaged in “reproductive coercion” – i.e., he forced her to have a baby.

We wrote recently about third-wave feminist books with titles like Bitch and Shrill. Here’s another one, to which Jarrar has contributed: Nasty Women

In another memoir, “Neither Slave nor Pharaoh,” she writes about her involvement in sexual bondage and discipline: “I met Abdallah on Tinder. He was looking for a dominant woman to step on his cock. I was looking for a submissive man who would let me step on his cock. He’s here now sitting on the wood floor right across from my chair, on a chair attached to my foot. My foot is on his balls.” This piece appeared in Salon.

“What Love Is” is a tacky piece of work, deriving most of its impact from sensationalism – vulgarity and violence. The same is true of “Neither Slave nor Pharaoh,” although it shades from mere sensationalism into porn.

Then there’s “Being a Bad Muslim Helped Get Me Out of a Bad Marriage.” It’s meandering, sexually graphic, flippant about adultery, and, yes, just plain tacky. It appeared in Buzzfeed. These pieces all have one big thing in common: they’re heavy on self-absorption, but light on self-knowledge. They’re the same thing over and over again. They’re the work of the kind of person who invites you over and then reads to you from her diary.

Jarrar has found a formula – full-on confession – and partly because of the sleazy nature of her own life material and partly because of the Arab woman angle, it’s the kind of stuff that certain editors will snap up and certain “judges” will reward with literary prizes.

There you have it, then: the pride of Fresno State. Send your kids there, pay their tuition, and after four years, if you’re lucky, they’ll be able to write porn for Buzzfeed. And, in their spare time, tweet unspeakable things about the recently dead. 

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