A man who thinks too much is
harassed by a woman’s outrageous lies.
James Lasdun, a writer and teacher, wrote an article about his experience of being stalked online and through emails by a former student he labels with the pseudonym Nasreen. He adapted his essay from his book, Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked.
Nasreen’s wild accusations placed him in the position of having to deny them to other people. His agent Janice also began receiving emails:
It’s one thing to be abused in private: You experience it almost as an internal event, not so different from listening to the more punitive voices in your own head. But to have other people brought into the drama is another matter. It confers a different order of reality on the abuse: fuller and more objective. This strange, awful thing really is happening to you, and people are witnessing it.
Along with the accusations of theft, Janice had also received details of my supposed (but equally fictitious) affairs with Nasreen’s former classmates, complete with descriptions of various kinky sexual practices that Nasreen claimed to have heard I went in for. (She had an uncanny way with that transparent yet curiously effective device of rumor, the unattributed source: "I’m told he …" "I hear he …" "Everyone knows he ….")
Regardless of whether Janice believed a word of these e-mails (and she assured me she didn’t), my impulse was to deny them indignantly. But even as I was forming the words, I felt the futility of doing so. Intrinsic to the very nature of Nasreen’s denunciations and insinuations was, as I began to understand, an iron law whereby the more I denied them, the more substance they would acquire and the more plausible they would begin to seem. Their very wildness was a part of their peculiar power. On the basis of there being no smoke without fire (so I imagined Janice, and then Paula, and then, as things got worse, all sorts of other people, thinking), surely something as shocking as these e-mails must indicate that I was guilty of something.
"I think this is called verbal terrorism," Nasreen wrote at one point. I hadn’t heard the phrase before. But as I came to appreciate Nasreen’s grasp of the dynamics of asymmetric conflict, where she had apparently nothing to lose and I had everything, I realized that it was peculiarly apposite.
Mr. Lasdun realizes that "reputation", which has connotations of an earlier era where someone could "ruin your reputation"with slander, gossip and lies, today of course is manipulated using the Internet:
It was quickly discovered that you could manipulate it: glamorize your image, finesse your biography. You could also manipulate other people’s presence: boost an ally’s standing or launch a corrosive lie against an enemy. One would think that the ease of performing such manipulations, and the large scale on which they began occurring, would have discredited the Web as a source of information about anything. But although we all acknowledge the need to be cautious, our first instinct, being creatures of the word, is to trust it. Even on deeper consideration, we tend to feel that it is basically more right than wrong, and that we can accept its approximations as the truth. You are what the Web says you are, and if it misrepresents you, the feeling of outrage, of having been violated in some elemental layer of your existence, is peculiarly crushing. Reputation ("the gentleman’s second soul," as someone put it) is once again asserting its power to make or break us.
Read the entire essay: ”I Will Ruin Him” How it feels to be stalked, The Chronicle of Higher Education>>