Dr Anna Ball is a Senior Lecturer in English and currently acts as Programme Leader for the MRes in English Literary Studies, and as Module Leader for second and third-year modules including ‘Postcolonial Texts’. She supervises research at BA, MRes, MPhil and PhD level and teaches widely across the fields of contemporary literary studies, postcolonial studies and gender studies.
Anna Ball’s research is concerned with the intersection of postcolonialism and feminism, and their growing pertinence to questions of culture, identity and power within the Middle East. She works with literature, film and visual culture, and is particularly interested in Palestine and Afghanistan as emergent sites of postcolonial enquiry. She has published work on topics ranging from gender in Palestinian cinema to the portrayal of sexual violence in Arab women’s writing and has created an exhibition and film season on Palestinian visual culture. Her monograph, Palestinian Literature and Film in Postcolonial Feminist Perspective, was published on the Routledge Research in Postcolonial Literatures Series in 2012. Also deeply interested in theoretical questions of space, border-crossing and embodiment, Dr Ball is currently working on a new monograph, The Body in Flight: Gender, Mobility and Creativity in an Uneven World, which explores the gender politics of mobility in literary and filmic narratives of displacement and refugeeism. With Karim Mattar, she is also currently co-editing an edited collection of essays on The Postcolonial Middle East.
Anna Ball was interviewed by Keeley Jones (second year BA (Hons) English at NTU), who undertook a placement at the Postcolonial Studies Centre in Spring 2017.
- Could you talk about your current research?
There are three main strands to my research at the moment, and each is connected to a publication. My monograph project, The Body in Flight: Gender, Disenfranchised Mobility, Creative Representation, is concerned with the complex interrelationships between the politics of mobility, the politics of bodies, and the politics of creative representation. The project turns to various forms of ‘disenfranchised mobility’ – refugeeism, forced migration, human trafficking, contemporary slaveries (all of which are often interlinked) that mark our contemporary landscape so brutally. I’m interested in how gender leads to very particular, personalised experiences of these things – and consequently, how creative representation of gendered narratives can reveal more nuanced understandings of the networks of power and oppression that drive mobility in the global landscape, as well as articulating creative strategies for survival and agency. How, for example, might rape or maternity drive refugee experience? What are the intersecting traumas that must be articulated and negotiated in an individual’s narrative of their flight from oppression? And how can creativity help women move through, and beyond, such experiences?
My second project is a collection of essays that I’m co-editing with a colleague in the US, Professor Karim Mattar. The volume is entitled The Edinburgh Companion to the Postcolonial Middle East, and it features 23 essays that explore the various ways in which Middle Eastern literature, culture and politics speak to postcolonial studies as a discipline. The Middle East has often been elided from postcolonial discussion – or treated as peripheral, but it is increasingly recognised as one of the most pressing sites of postcolonial concern. This volume will be the first collection of essays to provide a coherent response to the questions: ‘how can the Middle East be studied from a postcolonial perspective? What happens when Middle Eastern and postcolonial discourses are drawn into dialogue?’ Some of the most prominent figures working in the field are contributing to the volume, and I’m honoured to be working with them.
The third, ongoing strand of my research is concerned with Palestinian creativity. I’m currently working on an essay about the symbolic and political significance of ‘flight’ in post-millennial Palestinian creative consciousness, and am also excited to be putting together a workshop on ‘Writing Empathy’ with the inspirational Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye.
- Your profile states your interest in the intersection of Postcolonialism and Feminism – how did you begin your research in this? What drew your attention to this in particular?
My background is in literary gender studies, and this was my focus for much of my undergraduate degree. Feminist theory was a revelation for me as an 18-year-old: it formalised many of the structures of gender inequality that I’d begun to perceive but was struggling to articulate without a critical vocabulary. During my Masters, however, I became particularly interested in the work of the feminist/queer/Chicana theorist Gloria Anzaldúa, and in her use of the trope of the ‘borderland’ as a literal and psychological space that reveals the intersectionality of gendered, sexual and racial politics. I became interested in how this understanding of the borderland might function in different cultural contexts. This was what originally drew me to Palestine/Israel as a site of study. By considering the brutal interaction between space, identity and embodiment in that context, I developed a much more politicised and culturally nuanced understanding of ‘feminism’, and this has informed all of my work since then. The tools of postcolonial theory generate much of the political nuance in my work – though I also draw widely on concepts from International Relations, Human Geography and World Literary Theory. It’s appropriate that the trope of the border generated the dialogue between these concepts in my work: ‘postcolonial feminism’ itself is a kind of borderland, in a constant state of interaction, flux and negotiation. It’s a highly productive space in which to work – not least because it ensures that we remain mindful of our own positionality as scholars, and of the politics of our own critical articulations.
- Would you say that this is one of the most important ongoing debates within Postcolonial studies?
I certainly believe that ‘disenfranchised mobility’ should be registered as a more prominent topic of postcolonial discussion. There has been much made of the way in which technologies of travel have liberated us from the shackles of national boundaries, and the limits imposed by distance: ‘flows’ of movement have often been celebrated as a triumph of the globalised world. Yet today, we are witnessing a crisis in the forced movement of millions of people from around the world, fleeing war, torture and discrimination – and as these people interact with ‘host’ nations, they are encountering new forms of hostility. These traumatic networks of mobility, interaction and power demand urgent postcolonial attention, in order for the power disjunctions at stake within them to become visible, and open for intervention. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon, as Palestinians, amongst many others, know only too well – hence my ongoing work on Palestine, as a context that I consider to be of continual ethical urgency.
‘The postcolonial Middle East’ more broadly presents a similarly urgent site of enquiry. There has been much more scholarship in this arena, developing over several decades now – but recent events, such as the ‘Arab Spring’, the Syrian refugee crisis, and rapid spread of Islamic radicalism, seem to invite both rapid, renewed attention to the region (however we choose to define it), and a broader contextualisation of the longer-standing place of the Middle East in postcolonial studies. I am also deeply enthusiastic about the wealth of beautiful, under-recognised works of literature, film and art that the study of this region opens up for students and scholars. Creative expression is always the best way to forge cross-cultural understanding and empathy, and it is one of the most powerful tools we have available to us within these landscapes of political antagonism.
- Are there any events, texts, or exhibitions you would recommend to new researchers in Postcolonial studies?
In light of my previous answer, I heartily recommend turning to work by creative practitioners from the Middle East. In particular, there is a treasure trove of contemporary Palestinian poetry, film and video art out there: some of my personal favourites are Larissa Sansour (a video artist), Lisa Suheir Majaj, Naomi Shihab Nye (poets) and Annemarie Jacir (a filmmaker). Comma Press is publishing some wonderful new translated texts at present: Atef Abu Saif’s The Drone Eats With Me, for instance, or Hassan Blasim’s The Madman of Freedom Square. It is also inspiring to follow the activities of the annual Palestinian Festival of Literature, ‘Palfest’, online (even if it isn’t always possible to attend the events!): http://palfest.org/.
I also thoroughly recommend students check out the annual programme of film screenings, talks, plays and events that takes place for Refugee Week each year. It’s run by Nottingham Beyond Borders, and I’m very proud to have been able to help organise some of the events: http://nottinghambeyondborders.com/. Many events are free, and the whole week is dedicated to celebrating the presence of refugees, and educating the public about the difficulties they face, and how we can assist them. It runs in June of each year (17th-25th June in 2017).
- According to your current profile, you are currently working on a new monograph and co-editing a collection of essays. How are these projects going?
Both are at exciting stages. I’m currently writing the early chapters of The Body in Flight. The first chapter is a study of the elegiac and meditative portraits of displaced Afghan women to be found in the work of the Iranian film director Samira Makhmalbaf; the second, a study of the relationship between maternity and refugeeism across a range of texts and contexts. I’m excited by the ways in which the motif of ‘flight’ is ‘taking off’ in some complex and unexpected directions in these chapters: in the first chapter, for instance, the politics of airspace and airborne military intervention is intersecting with the politics of displacement in some revealing ways, while in the second, I’m discovering what it means to engage in ‘flight’ over water and land, as well as through air.
We have now commissioned all of the chapters for The Edinburgh Companion to the Postcolonial Middle East, and I am incredibly excited to begin editing the work when it comes in at the end of the month. We have commissioned essays ranging from an investigation into the aesthetic politics of ‘ruin’ in Daesh ideology, to a study of the radical feminist voices of the Syrian Revolution. I’m personally working on a chapter of the figuration of the child in the contemporary Middle Eastern refugee crisis in Europe. It is an honour to be working with my colleague Karim Mattar on this volume – which is due to be published by Edinburgh University Press in 2018.