Mara Sprengel is an NTU Vice-Chancellor’s Bursary funded PhD student. Framed within the dual contexts of Postcolonial Studies and Travel Writing Studies, her research project is entitled ‘The Postcolonial Politics of Palestinian Travel Narratives’. Through consideration of the distinctive conditions of travel for Palestinians, Mara explores tropes of exile, return, displacement and diaspora negotiated by writers who identify as Palestinian. She coordinates a monthly postgraduate postcolonial discussion group which invites NTU students researching postcolonial topics to share ‘work in progress’, writing, and short papers.
As a postgraduate student, what does postcolonial studies mean to you? Has this changed over the course of your studies?
Once you have studied a theoretical perspective in any detail I think it becomes difficult to see the world without it. This is particularly true of postcolonial theory, which encourages you to challenge Eurocentricism, whilst highlighting the injustices and inequalities on which the world continues to be built. Personally, it has introduced me to writers I may not have encountered otherwise. When I first encountered postcolonial studies during my undergraduate degree I was slightly in awe of it and looked at it as fixed and unchanging. But the longer I’ve spent with it the more confidence I’ve developed to challenge its omissions and flaws.
What one thing would you tell a student new to postcolonial studies to read?
It may be a cliché but I think Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a perfect starting point. It can be read on a number of levels, with varying complexity, as the reader chooses. I first studied it at GCSE (which was a VERY long time ago!) so I was pleased to be reintroduced to it during undergraduate study at NTU. I still had my annotated GCSE copy which allowed a dialogue with my 15 year old self as I studied the text again. Without wishing to give too much away, the ending perfectly sums up the remit of postcolonial studies for me: the reduction of an entire culture; of individuals, families, lives, stories and dreams, to a single paragraph for Western consumption. In relation to my own thesis area I would recommend anything written by Raja Shehadeh. His travel writing and journals offer a clear, accessible and very human conceptualisation of the Israel/Palestine situation.
Can you briefly describe your doctoral project?
Using a range of material, including fiction, poetry and film, my doctoral project explores the postcolonial politics negotiated in Palestinian travel narratives. Movement within, out of, and into Palestine is intensely problematic, with Palestinian writers and filmmakers forced to confront and reconcile constantly shifting realities, identities, space and place. My thesis seeks to rethink the remit of postcolonial approaches to Palestine by showing how an analysis of tropes of travel can shed light on Palestine’s continued occupied status. By examining travel and movement, and considering the unique conditions of travel faced by the Palestinians, I also aim to expand the scope of travel writing studies, challenging some of the preconceptions about freedom of movement in an era of globalisation.