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Isabella Hammad on Enter Ghost

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 215

A Palestinian production of Hamlet in the West Bank is the backdrop for Isabella Hammad’s new novel, Enter Ghost.

Hammad’s first novel, the beautiful and sprawling The Parisian, won international acclaim in 2019, and earlier this year, Granta included Hammad in its decennial “Best of Young British Novelists” list. The narrator of Hammad’s new novel is Sonia, a British Palestinian actress who visits her sister in Israel to recover from the end of an affair. Although she wants to take a break from the stage, Sonia gets roped into playing Gertrude in a production of Hamlet being mounted in the West Bank.

Sonia’s fellow actors read Hamlet as an allegory for the Palestinian struggle and while she resists their interpretation, she uncovers ghosts of her own—repressed memories, a family history of resistance, and a newly discovered commitment to the Palestinian cause. Despite the novel’s contemporary setting and political themes, Hammad never lets her characters’ trenchant views overwhelm the complex beauty of her storytelling.

Isabella Hammad is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev. Enter Ghost is available now from Grove Atlantic Press.

From our Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published August 1, 2023. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc.

Previous: Mat Osman’s The Ghost Theatre Imagines the Lives of Elizabethan London’s Child Actors

Isabella Hammad. Photo by Elizabeth Van Loan.



MICHAEL WITMORE: On today’s episode, a Palestinian production of Hamlet in the West Bank forms the backdrop for the novel, Enter Ghost.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Whitmore, the Folger Director. The novelist Isabella Hammad won international acclaim for her first novel, The Parisian, in 2019.

That novel won a slew of prizes, and Granta included Hammad in its decennial Best of Young British Novelists list earlier this year.

The narrator of Hammad’s new novel, Enter Ghost, is Sonia, a British Palestinian actress who visits her sister in Israel to recover from the end of a relationship. Despite wanting to take a break from the stage, Sonia gets roped into playing Gertrude in a production of Hamlet being mounted in the West Bank.

Sonia’s fellow actors read Hamlet as an allegory for the Palestinian struggle. Sonia resists this oversimplified interpretation. But in the course of rehearsals, Sonia uncovers ghosts of her own, repressed memories, a family history of resistance, and a newly discovered commitment to the Palestinian cause.

Despite the novel’s contemporary setting and political themes, Hammad never lets her character’s trenchant views overwhelm the complex beauty of her storytelling. Here’s Isabella Hammad in conversation with Barbara Bogaev.


BARBARA BOGAEV: I had read somewhere that you finished your first book, The Parisian, and you were just writing to find a story. Just, you know, seeing what came out of you. And this character, Sonia, emerged? Is that how—is that true?

ISABELLA HAMMAD: Yes, exactly. I was on a residency and just writing and writing, and I kind of came upon her.

She’s Palestinian, but she’s acting in London. She’s kind of the heir of two literary and political traditions, and seeing the sort of crossover.

I also, at the time, was reading Peter Brook’s The Empty Space, and thinking about different kinds of theater and their operations. What is live theater? What is dead theater? And so on.

BOGAEV: Oh, now that makes sense because I was wondering, why an actor of all people, you know? Were you already thinking along the lines of politics or activism as performance? Which really is Peter Brook, kind of at the heart of what he writes about in theater.

HAMMAD: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, and also a kind of political activism also as being kind of, potentially something that uses spectacle as well.

BOGAEV: Well, this might be a great point for you to do a reading about acting. It’s right at the beginning of your book, and it really kind of set the stage for me with your main characters.

If you could set it up for us and tell us a little bit about some of the characters named Mariam and Haneen, as mentioned.

HAMMAD: Sure. The protagonist, who is the narrator, is Sonia. Se has just arrived at Haifa to visit her sister. She’s, kind of, come on a holiday, essentially. She’s trying to get away from the theater world. She’s had a disastrous affair with the director, and she very quickly meets her sister’s friend, Mariam, who is a local theater director. And Mariam says to her…

“‘Can I ask you something? What is it you like about acting?’

“I laughed again, more loudly. Mariam, unperturbed, awaited my reply. Even Haneen was watching me with interest. The heat of Mariam’s sincerity felt like a sunbeam on my face. She irritated me. At the same time, I found her curiously appealing. As she grabbed her mug, I noticed she had large hands and bendy thumbs. My mind relented to her question, and I thought of Arkadina.” I thought of that rare, marrow deep sensation in the rehearsal room.”

“‘I’ve been acting for twenty years,’ I said. Mariam looked at me serenely. My answer was incomplete, and she would wait for me to finish it. I didn’t know this woman. There was no need to answer truthfully. And it was true that there had been times in my life when I felt my work had saved me, transcending its function as a trade in a way that seemed, embarrassingly, to concern my soul. I didn’t know if that was what I liked about acting, but the occasional glimmers of something that looked like meaning had obviously played a role in keeping me going. There was no way I could say this aloud, although I suspected it was the sort of thing she was after. I could tell she had an American style ease with matters of the heart. Or maybe I should say a thespian’s ease. Something which, presumably, I myself had once possessed and lost somewhere along the way.

“‘I don’t do it because I like it,’ I said. ‘I do it because it’s my profession.’”

BOGAEV: There’s so much in that passage. It tells so much about Sonia. I was reading it thinking, “Oh, she is such an actress. She soaks up all of these impressions. She’s so attuned to the emotional tenor of the people around her.” She’s thinking all of this in a nanosecond. Then she… I just love that opposition of what she’s thinking and what she ends up saying.

HAMMAD: I mean, that’s very actor-ly, isn’t it? It’s kind of, you know, when you… looking at subtext, essentially, that having the intention behind a line of dialogue to be actually diametrically opposite to what the kind of content of the dialogue is. And that produces a sort of interesting surface tension. Definitely something I was playing with there.

BOGAEV: Exactly. She has this whole backstory going on and then she plays a role. She just lies in a way.

HAMMAD: Right.

BOGAEV: She acts. She hides what actors give and what they withhold. It’s so interesting.

So, you take an actor and you put her in Palestine where the stakes are so high for your performance. I mean, you can end up in a riot or shot by soldiers or arrested. The first thing I thought was, “Oh, it’s just like in Shakespeare’s time.” Is that how you got to Shakespeare?

HAMMAD: I actually… I mean, I think that many of Shakespeare’s plays are perfect for modern day Middle Eastern contexts, in a sense, because of the political dynamics. There are lots of potential resonances, more than, you might say, in Western democracies.

But I actually partly came to Shakespeare because he’s so actually global. It’s a tradition that, “Oh yes, he’s from England,” but he’s so global. There’s a Soviet tradition. There’s an Arab tradition. There are all these ways in which the texts are transferable. But I felt that there were things I could pull out that might be widely accessible to readers.

Even if a reader has only a cursory knowledge of Shakespeare or Hamlet, they’ll still understand. They’ll still probably remember a few signifiers. Maybe just, “To be or not to be,” or the presence of a ghost. These things I could play upon, and obviously with different levels, different depending on the depth of a reader’s knowledge.

BOGAEV: Of course, the other side of that global coin is that Shakespeare is the ultimate literary example of colonialism. Of course, colonialism in this particular political context is very highlighted in your story.

HAMMAD: Yeah, I mean, interestingly, Hamlet itself—this was something I discovered through the work of a scholar called Margaret Litvin. Hamlet itself as a play, rather than some of the other plays like Othello or The Tempest, has been less subject to a post-colonial, kind of, revisionism. And, more, it has a specific tradition in the Middle East of actually… he’s a kind of ally. Hamlet becomes an ally for revolution. He becomes a kind of revolutionary figure. He’s sort of interestingly claimed by the Arab theatrical tradition, in a way that’s sort of in support of anti-colonial struggle, which I also thought was very interesting.

BOGAEV: Oh, that is— And there’s a wonderful scene about Shakespeare and Palestinian theater in your book in which the director, Mariam, keeps saying, “Don’t be afraid of Shakespeare.” And the actors all start saying, “Oh yeah, [expletive] Shakespeare.” And someone says, “There’s a version of Hamlet in Arabic that has a happy ending.” Is that true?

HAMMAD: Yeah, yeah, there is. I think it’s an Egyptian version from the 19th century that gives it a happy ending where he becomes king and is happily ever after.

Yeah, I mean, I kind of looked at a variety of Arabic translations of Shakespeare, of Hamlet specifically, to try and get a sense of the way he’d been received in the Arab world.

The tradition, you know—after 1948—the tradition of theater in Palestine was a political tradition, as with all the arts. They were committed, dealing with the context of the new Israeli state and being colonized, and articulating positions of resistance against that colonization.

In a way, what I was trying to deal with was, the kind of later question of the efficacy of that use of art or that use of theater. Is it useful? Is it actually an effective mode of resisting? Or, is this a sort of 1970s idea of what we might do with our art in context of oppression?

BOGAEV: Another moment I loved is, Sonia at one point just says, “Why don’t we just make Ophelia a suicide bomber and call it a day?” And Mariam, the director says, “We can’t. Somebody already did a version like that quite recently.” Very seriously responding to this flippant comment because the stakes are so high politically and spiritually.

But, also, theater is just… it’s a business and it involves funding and innovation and butts-in-seats. Mariam is very much torn between her idealism and just, you know, being a theater runner.

HAMMAD: Yeah, absolutely. Again, I should name check, but that was Sulayman Al-Bassam who did the production with Ophelia as a suicide bomber. That was a little joke. Yeah.

BOGAEV: Of course it’s happened. Yeah. Okay, back to Hamlet. Once you started thinking about memory and hauntings and the intersection of family dynamics and politics, was Hamlet inevitably the play your actor or protagonist would perform?

HAMMAD: Well, actually, I started thinking about doing Macbeth. I don’t know why I thought of Macbeth. I think I like—I also like Macbeth as a play.

Then, I hit upon Hamlet and it seemed actually a bit more natural as an option. I was really interested in the fact that during the, I think it was the First Intifada, Hamlet was banned in Israeli prisons. Because the, “To be or not to be,” speech was seen as a call to arms or militant resistance. “To take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing, end them.” And that was very kind of provocative to my imagination. So, I ran with it.

Then, because my protagonist is a woman and she plays the mother, the theme of mothers became very central to the novel. The role of the mother particularly, as that has its own specific resonance in the iconography of Palestinian resistance. Some of the images that are propagated about mothers, mother of the fighter, as a kind of Mother Mary figure.

BOGAEV: Yeah. Okay, let’s talk about ghosts. So, many of your characters, not just Sonia, are haunted by generations past and the ghosts of their ancestors. That’s inevitable given the history and the present-day reality of Palestine.

But Sonia is haunted both by history and her personal past. The dimensions of this theme, I was thinking as I read, are just so vast. Did you have a literary model for tackling it besides Hamlet?

HAMMAD: I don’t know that I—not consciously. But, then, I did subsequently reread Beloved by Toni Morrison. I realized that that’s—you know, there are certain books you read when you’re young, when you’re a teenager, usually, that, I feel, start to constitute your areas of your brain. I think that was one of those books.

BOGAEV: Yeah, they’re indelible.

HAMMAD: Yes. And, sort of, like, becomes part of you. That definitely was one of those books. And obviously there’s a very crucial role played by a ghost in that book. Where the ghost also is more than the ghost of a single child. It’s actually the ghost of a collective.

I can… that maybe, subconsciously, I was perhaps drawing on that as a model. But, I think that was definitely unconscious. I think I was feeling—I felt my way through it without a master plan, if that makes sense.

BOGAEV: Well, it’s interesting because you have ghosts going both ways in time. I mean, the ghosts are previous generations, but also the modern generations haunt the previous ones as well. Sonia’s father refers to what’s going on as a zombie apocalypse in Palestine. The Palestinians who never left.

HAMMAD: Right. Well, that’s because it was an incomplete massacre. So, the Palestinians survived 1948. Many of them did. There was a percentage that even managed to stay on the land, that weren’t expelled, didn’t become refugees. Sonia’s family is part of that population.

They, after a period of military rule, became citizens of the Israeli state. And they still had their home, amazingly, in Haifa, which is very unusual. So, that population, they haunt the Israelis in a sense as a reminder of the ethnic cleansing of 1948.

That, also is another, you know… that the future generations might continue to do some haunting. And, that haunting itself might be, kind of, a political act, I think, is quite interesting. Ghosts always suggest something that needs to be done. Something that’s not complete, something that’s unfinished.

BOGAEV: Right. Whether it’s in your unconscious or your subconscious, or reality, in this case.

One of the many ghosts in your book is a young boy from Bethlehem, Rashid, who goes on a hunger strike. Sonia sees him when she’s a teenager. She’s on a trip with her sister, Haneen. It’s her first real experience of the Intifada.

She’s been hearing about it or watching it in the abstract on TV. This is a pivotal moment in the book for both these sisters when they’re very young. It’s a really moving scene. Maybe you could tell me about writing this scene and what you were exploring in it about memory. And turning points for these women.

HAMMAD: I was… I mean, it’s a central moment for both sisters. It’s very formative. Both of them, it’s the first time that they’re exposed to a visual example of someone suffering and struggling against Israeli oppression.

Until then, they’re only in Haifa and they’re seeing—they’re witnessing the intifada and the uprising through the television screen. They’re sort of in a political environment as children, but they’re not directly witnessing it. This is the, kind of, first instance of them properly witnessing it.

Whereas Haneen, this becomes part of her narrative of commitment, as Mariam phrases it later on—It’s part of what makes her political, basically, it politicizes her—For Sonia, it’s something she runs away from. She finds it so harrowing, she actually can’t really cope with it. She runs. Goes running in the other direction, but it continues to haunt her. It’s the sort of occasion that binds and divides the sisters in this way.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and it is pivotal in their relationship. And you get the sense that it’s kind of an unknowing on this young Sonia’s part, almost willful, like, “I can’t see that?” Or, maybe she’s too young.

It’s funny because in the book, in your book, I wrote a note: just, “Sisters!” Exclamation point. You know, you’re so enmeshed as sisters and something like this can just start as a seed and it grows, grows, grows, grows. Becomes this… it snowballs.

HAMMAD: Definitely. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about recognition scenes, kind of Aristotelian idea of an anagnorisis, or recognition at a point of reversal or a turning point of the action in a play, and how that might figure in narrative fiction and novels.

I think this is one of those moments, because an anagnorisis is always a coming to know something you sort of already knew on some level but refuse to look at. Which is itself very psychoanalytic. You’re kind of avoiding—On some level you know but you’re denying it, and then you turn to face it. And that experience changes you.

That’s sort of what happens to Sonia when she finds out what happened to Rashid. Now I’m giving away the end, the plot. But, she sort of… she kind of realizes that she had… you know, the way in which she had run away from it. It’s a sort of understanding of her own obligations as well, as a Palestinian. A confronting of her own ambivalence, political ambivalence.

BOGAEV: Yeah, it’s really interesting because as a child, I can’t really expect her to have come away politicized from that experience the way her older sister was. But I mean, we write our own narrative, right? Of our life. So, this becomes her narrative.

The other side of that is that she’s playing Gertrude. And her interpretation of Gertrude and many people’s interpretation of Gertrude in Hamlet is that kind of willful unknowing. “I suspect maybe that Claudius did this awful thing. I’m half complicit, but I’m confused and I don’t want to look there.”

HAMMAD: Yes, exactly. Yes. But, also, Gertrude doesn’t say very much. She has almost no lines. She’s also this object of projection, as mothers often are anyway. The figure of a mother is often an object of projection. But it allows for all of that kind of ambiguity, in a sense, about whether or not, the degree to which she knows or doesn’t know.


Now, switching gears, how much did you study Hamlet and what books did you read about Hamlet before and while you were writing this?

HAMMAD: I read Margaret Litvin’s book, which is about Hamlet specifically in Egypt. But I didn’t read that many books about Hamlet, I have to say. I think I didn’t.

I mainly relied on my memory of studying Hamlet as a schoolchild, which made a great impression on me as a schoolchild. I guess, I was probably about 16 or 17 when I studied it. I really loved the play.

I loved particularly the way in which, what seemed to me a kind of metafictional, metatheatrical element of the play. In that it is a—it follows the model of a revenge tragedy. But you have an unwilling—he’s unwillingly playing the part. This, sort of, fighting the role and then committing to it once he kills Polonius.

It seems to me, he’s now killed someone, so he has to follow through on the revenge tragedy. That I found very moving as a child.

BOGAEV: You were a very sophisticated reader as a child.

HAMMAD: I mean, teenager, maybe. So, teenager. But then, you know, I studied at university and I found it really hard to study Shakespeare academically.

Maybe there’s also some way in which this was my own—I don’t know—recuperation of my failure to write about Shakespeare as an undergraduate.

BOGAEV: Well you explore it amazingly in this book. You have this great scene of reading through, as a troupe, as an acting troupe, the “To be” speech in rehearsal. Maybe—could you read it for us and set it up by telling us who Wael is?

HAMMAD: Wael is a pop star. He is a cousin of Mariam’s and he is a refugee who lives in the West Bank. He’s been cast as Hamlet despite the fact that he has no experience of acting. Largely, because Mariam is hoping to draw a big crowd, and Wael can draw a big crowd. So, this is Wael during the discussion after reading the “To be or not to be” speech.

WAEL (Clears his throat.)
Ah – akun am la akun? Thalika huwa as-su’al.

(Shall I be or not be? That is the question.)

A-min al-anbali lin-nafsi an yasbira-l-mar’u ‘ala maqaali’i ad-dahr al-la’eem wa sihaamihi

(Whether it is nobler of the soul that a man should suffer the slings of outrageous fortune and her arrows)

Am yush-hira as-silaah ‘ala bahr min al-humum

(Or to draw weapons against a sea of troubles)

Wa-bisaddiha yunheeha? Namuut . . . nanam . . .

(And by opposing them end them. We die, we sleep)

BOGAEV: That is lovely. Thank you. It’s wonderful to hear the Arabic and then the translation of the Arabic, which I think is very specific translation that you chose.

HAMMAD: Well, the translation is by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra, who was from Bethlehem. I sort of, like, freely, and, I guess, badly translated it back into English as a way of just slightly defamiliarizing the text. So, it’s a sort of worse version of Hamlet than Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I wanted to unshackle, perhaps, the English language reader’s familiarity with Shakespeare’s lines. Because there’s a funny way which much of Shakespeare, having entered English language idiom, becomes close to cliche, becomes so familiar. Because the phrases have become… I don’t know, sayings, almost. That I wanted to break that down and get to the substance rather than the poetry, if that makes sense.

BOGAEV: No, that does. Because your mind kind of goes blank or freezes when you see such familiar lines. This kind of frees it up or thaws it, I thought.

It’s interesting in the sections in which the actors are rehearsing, you change your style. And you write them like a script, like scenes from a play. It’s a lot of fun. And it gave me a whole different view of your protagonist, Sonia, because we’re seeing her from above, instead of being inside her brain. What prompted that?

HAMMAD: That’s great to hear. That was kind of one of the aims, in a way, was to release the narrative voice from being inside Sonia’s perspective.

Because that’s, kind of, one of the elements or kind of features of having a first-person narration is that you can start to feel a little trapped inside the eye. This was a valve, to get out of the eye and make Sonia just one of many, one of the troupe and to equalize all the voices in the room.

It also was a… you know, technically, a fun way of having quickfire chat among the cast without having to have the sort of clogging mechanisms of who’s standing where, and feeling what, and who says what. You, kind of, get rid of all the sets and just have the name and then the speech. It allowed me to experiment with that. Then, to sort of play with the other kinds of resonances of having something in playscript, which suggests that it’s something yet to be done, for example. Or, it suggests that they’re always playing roles.

BOGAEV: Right, they’re not the godlike narrator. Yeah, they have dimensions and hidden depths or hidden unknowingness.

The other thing I think that those scenes evoke for me, written as a script is both these exuberance and the other worldliness of actors caught up in this group effort, something larger than themselves. It reinforces how theatrical everything in a political conflict is. All the acting going on at military checkpoints, for instance. Both on the part of the soldiers and the civilians traveling.

HAMMAD: Definitely. I think colonial contexts are very theatrical. There’s a lot of performance going on, and costumes and roleplaying. That was definitely something I wanted to play with and to explore.

Often, I think it’s at border crossings or checkpoints. Or, points that, you know, these points of interface between those in control and those who are subjugated, that those roles get exploded in a way. It’s both explored and exploded.

BOGAEV: Well, I think all of these ideas kind of come together in this scene towards the end of the book, in which the cast is in a final dress rehearsal of Hamlet. Sonia, your protagonist, has this out-of-body experience as she is acting. Maybe you… if it’s okay, could you read this for us on page 224?

HAMMAD: Yeah. This is—to introduce this—they have just found out that one of the cast, Majed, is going to be interrogated. They think it’s probably because the brother of the director, Mariam, who’s called Selim, he’s a member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. He’s been involved in the fundraising and has recently been suspended from Parliament.

There’s a kind of sense in which the issue of funding has drawn the attention of the state to the play and basically has put the play under threat. So, this is Sonia.

“I was thirsty as well, and I needed the loo. And in this state of physical discomfort, something strange happened. My viewpoint switched, and as though I were in a dream, and my perspective had been breached, I moved like a surveillance drone and saw our project from above, situated fragilely in time and space, this summer, this side of the wall. Accompanying this vision was a fear, almost a premonition, that it was all foretold anyway. Everything had been decided in advance. We were only acting parts that had been given to us, and now some inexorable machinery was being set in motion that would sooner or later throw our efforts out into the audience, dismantle our illusions and leave us cowering before the faceless gods of fate and state.”

BOGAEV: So, this is really just wild. Sonia’s having—or the way I interpreted it, she was having a kind of inside-the-Matrix moment. It’s as if she’s in a play within a play, it’s like the play within a play in Hamlet. Or, it felt like a physical embodiment of political determinism. So, maybe you could unpack this epiphany for us.

HAMMAD: I love that. I mean, I think that that’s true. I think that, I mean… maybe in the way that I was moved by Hamlet, struggling inside the narrative framework that Shakespeare has put on, I’m somehow moved by the metafictional, I think. I find it moving because of what it suggests about fate and fatedness.

Maybe there is a way in which, even though I’m only articulating for the first time now, that I was kind of doing that there. There was a sort of gesture at that within the context of the novel, which is itself an artifice. My character is seeing a structure where fate is kind of like the narrative force, is a kind of fate. Does that make sense?

BOGAEV: Yeah, it does. And it also has this very personal dimension. It’s another moment when this very typically self-involved actor becomes less self-focused.

HAMMAD: Yeah, which is part of her journey, essentially. Kind of the journey of Sonia is a different kind of acting, where it’s less about being an actor in a Western marketplace. Where it’s about her on her own. To being part of a troupe, sort of seeing herself as part of a collective in a more direct way. Which is about, you know, less, a kind of, individualistic, I guess.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and she has these glimpses of it, moments. At one point she thinks, “Nothing is more flattering to an artist than the illusion that he is a secret revolutionary.” But, it is an underlying question throughout the book, you know, what is the value of theater or any art form in a political conflict? Has your answer evolved as you write?

HAMMAD: Not really. I mean, I think I want to explore all angles of that. I think that one thing that obviously distinguishes theater from other art forms is how directly it’s related to the polis or to crowds, you know? Whereas reading a novel, we read it on our own, you know? It usually is a solitary experience of art. There’s something about theater that can be crowd raising. I think that that makes it a kind of optimum way of examining that exact question.

BOGAEV: Yeah, and another line about this that really kind of hits hard, Sonia has what she describes as a, “Horrible, useless revelation, which was that in some way the meaning of our Hamlet depended on this suffering” that is going on around them, just art as the ultimate exploitation.

HAMMAD: Right, which is a very cynical thing to feel. But, in some way, sometimes that can feel true. I don’t think it’s always true, but sometimes that can feel true. What are the ethics of representation? That question, what does it mean to represent suffering? Does it incite the reader or the watcher to action? Or is it—does something else happen?

That’s kind of why I was sort of brought up catharsis a couple of times in the novel. Because obviously, catharsis, when you have a kind of cathartic experience at the end of a play in that old model, you’re released of those uncomfortable emotions that might urge you to act. So, what does it mean if you don’t have catharsis? Obviously, Bertolt Brecht was somebody who deliberately tried to explore not giving an audience catharsis as a way to try and make them change the conditions in which they live.

BOGAEV: So how does this come down to you? I mean, were there epiphanies for you about politics or political activism during the writing of this book?

HAMMAD: I don’t know that I had any particular revelations about art and activism. I think I… definitely it’s something I, as a Palestinian making art, it’s something I definitely think about. I think about the obligations of art, and its use, value, or not.

I guess that’s a preoccupation of mine and a kind of source of anguish, in certain ways, to be candid about it. Whether or not I can be useful, it’s something that plagues me. But I don’t think that I came to any conclusions, unfortunately.

BOGAEV: Well, I think, I think we’re all a little plagued by that. Such a joy to talk with you. I really appreciate it. And thank you for the book as well.

HAMMAD: Thank you so much for having me.


WITMORE: That was Isabella Hammad in conversation with Barbara Bogaev. Enter Ghost is out now from Grove Atlantic Press.

This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Pastor. Ben Lauer is the web producer with help from Leonor Fernandez. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano at Voice Tracks West in Studio City, California. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc.

If you’re a fan of Shakespeare Unlimited, please leave us a review on your podcast platform of choice to help others find the show.

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