Photograph by Isabella Hammad.
This is a section of the diary I kept while writing my forthcoming novel, Enter Ghost, about a performance of Hamlet in the West Bank.
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
My world has shrunk dramatically. The benefit of lockdown for me is learning to live day in day out without constant change. This is life, time passing. This is how I imagine most people live.
I looked at the objects in the house
the titles of the books
strange incandescence from the windows
Thursday, May 21, 2020
I feel, what is the point of anything
going places seeing people doing anything
just ways to pass the time
Friday, May 29, 2020
I woke too early again—5:30. Stayed in bed until 6. Deep itchy dry cough—hopefully just allergies / recovery from smoking at the weekend. It is the weekend again! Time slips by so quickly during lockdown. L. cycled to see me yesterday—I like him when he is my friend. He seemed pleased I am involved-ish with someone although I also detected a bit of jealousy. But mostly goodwill. He said his relationship is stable and suggested somewhat lacking in passion but who knows if that’s true. I think he feels I fucked up what happened between us and that I wasn’t trustworthy. But I know he was also seeing someone else at the time so I don’t really feel guilty. He & I would not have worked together.
I like Annie Ernaux, I think I’ll read all her books. The premium on honesty & exactitude. Hard to know exactly what you are aiming for in writing—the achievement of certain effects, the creation of “beauty” (?)—but as close as possible to honesty—if not truth—is a clear and actually radical-feeling goal
Today I will speak with J. about Prashad & Benjamin’s Critique of Violence.
I dropped coffee on the stairs & I don’t think the stain will come out. I tried over several days, putting mum on video call to help me. I will offer to pay for a cleaner.
Saturday, May 30, 2020
I slept longer last night but only because I slept a bit earlier—around 11. Woke at 6:30 again / 6:15. Tired. Z. came for dinner. She is reading my manuscript and will drop it off on Sunday. Nervous and looking forward to her thoughts. So tired it’s unbearable. Will I spend my whole life sleepless like this? I used to be able to sleep long. Now I am too light, I am made of nothing, I rise too easily.
Monday, June 8, 2020
thinking about A. & Q.
from Z. to do:
– creative summary of Hamlet before rehearsal
– cast list earlier
– Gaza coastline end of Chapter 2. Lifeguards
– arabic in arabic script
– one of the cast from Gaza
– getting her passport renewed
Monday, June 15, 2020
Read Jacques Rancière.
Hamlet is a dead man from Act One.
Look up map of Bethlehem & camps.
Simone de Beauvoir The Mandarins
p. 275 “The truth of one’s life is outside oneself, in events, in other people, in things; to talk about oneself, one must talk about everything else.”
Where Russian mass spectacle overtly ideological and affirmative, Dada group (at least in early phase) all negating, anti-ideological and anarchist.
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Dreamt I went to Amman & didn’t pack any shoes—didn’t plan what to pack at all—got there—opened bag—tons of Converse, for some reason
invited S. & T. over thinking I. & I. were out—they came back, had to hurry everyone out & round the corner
something about Teta
everything feels porous Majed Jihad
Jenan Ibrahim Wael Mariam Amin Faris
what circumstance shows Mariam excluding Sonia from Ophelia
Sonia watching Jenan—having recently read those lines
Jihad saying something
Sonia unsure if he is joking
play after play
—This rehearsal itself a performance
this exhausting thing where I have to be invisible all the time
the outrage I seem to cause when I take up space or assert myself
I woke up very early that morning and sat outside with a young man cracking olives on a brick to get them ready for curing smoking narghile
Amin says—I had a dream about you
there is so much sky here
Wendy Brown, Wounded Attachments, 1993
everyone on their phones
later correct thought about Faris—that she should give misogyny so much leeway
argument amin & wael
Thursday, July 9, 2020
special crumbling plaster
—ask Jess E.?
patchwork of quotations hunger in the eyes
[ dreamt about Randa ]
oppression turns you into a collective subject rather an individual self present
actor in possession of your body
illusory Genet thing: power of Pals
& lack of power of Isrs
[ deconditioning of impulse ] ——————————– *
[ email theater person ]
soon to be darkness
Monday, July 13, 2020
Struggling to concentrate on Sonia.
Liberation exists in desire, not identity.
The feeling of running from a burning building.
Death nibbles at everything—everything will disintegrate but we will go first—human bodies are weaker than concrete walls
Friday, August 21, Andros, Greece
Sitting on shared balcony upstairs, looking down, or across, at the sea. Still quite amazed I am here. S., T., C. Everyone is very considerate, understanding, easygoing. Interesting that I usually expect some pettiness or neuroticism or selfishness or irritation to react to—so that I feel the least easygoing in some respects, even though I am very easygoing. Like, I didn’t like the music N. played at dinner the other night; the others didn’t even notice.
Greece reminds me of Palestine.
First few days especially I couldn’t concentrate on complicated reading; starting to come back to me. Because just a body in the heat, under the sun. S. & T. are both so brilliant & so attuned & knowledgeable; makes me want to know more, read more; they are of course older than me but still.
Plans for future—uncertain … visit Athens for a week, come back to Andros? I will go to see the house with Riccardo that he says is beautiful and €350 a month. I will be lonely but I will write. It is better to be lonely somewhere beautiful. When N., M.’s friend, visited with his sister he only said being stuck on Tinos all lockdown was wonderful. But I can’t help thinking he must have been lonely. T. said he seemed a bit intimidated by us and maybe he did, his gestures were very careful, they didn’t talk much. Dinner conversation was all pleasantries, which was perfectly pleasant.
Things that have died in the pool:
2 (?) crickets
Friday, August 28, 2020
Last day at the villa on Andros—the end of summer rustling. I am ready to go although I regret not writing, thinking more while here. I will move to Athens tomorrow for at least a month.
Yesterday went to see the little house in the mountains above Korthio—a village called Kochilos—ancient little house with staggering view—but I’m not sure I want that level of isolation if I don’t have a car but I did / am thinking about it. T. got grumpy from the drive and C. was jokingly on his side, getting annoyed at S. for both his enthusiasm and his imperfect directions—who took their annoyance with a smile. I felt a bit isolated and retreated into myself. At a very windy beach I entered the water feeling strangely on verge of tears. Why? Because it was my fault we went on the long drive at noon, instead of having lunch first? I climbed over the rocks under a big fallen rock round the corner of the beach & sat in a stony inlet protected from the wind. Lost my sunglasses in the sea when I went for a wee. Sat on the rocks under the cliff & finished Lord Jim with the sea rough and dramatic seething on the rocks and between them.
I am the opposite of my boisterous self at the beginning of the trip. Maybe I am getting ready to be alone & write.
Sunday, September 6, 2020, Athens
Dreamt about E. On a boat, at night, in a storm.
Sitting on balcony reading A. Chee (I like it) & hearing a sound like an azan, a ways off—a mournful chanting. Maybe a Greek Orthodox church?
Sky is very blue, stinging blue. Getting sensitized to my surroundings. Being observant makes me feel peaceful.
Thoughts about NOVEL: bring the abortion up front.
Maybe this morning I should trawl through Hamlet looking for a title.
Edward Said on Lord Jim:
“Neither man, whether hearer or storyteller, truly inhabits the world of facts”
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Question: Why is it that whenever I begin to approach my work I feel the beginnings of fear? I start to feel depressed? And yet when I’m not doing it I feel dissatisfied.
Saturday, September 26, 2020
Amin’s brother’s story
a love too new, too strong still, in its first violence
a lot of people dinging out of elevators
Friday, October 2, 2020
In my new flat in Exarcheia—Kallidromiou. Big 2-bedroom, 1970s, marble sink, old shutters. Ancient fridge, malfunctioning oven, balconies front & back.
Everywhere I stay there is building work across the way. Sitting at desk in back bedroom I see through the balcony doors a man with a handsaw on the 3rd floor a few buildings back.
E. called me yesterday & again spent an entire hour talking nonstop about his ex-wife. I called him a chronic interrupter & it briefly seemed to give him pause.
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Struggling to write
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Grief give me 40 days I need 40 days
Joan Didion: “the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself”
Henry Miller: “The ancient Greek was a murderer”
phantom seas of blood
to be free of time & space to be in mythic time to be free of context in Greek time
falling into history
dreamt of Qais, somehow, renting a beautiful flat in a very dangerous neighborhood
Rilke: “the questions … like locked rooms” … again
murmur in the blood
Sonia is unrefined & unfinished still second order
unbearable freedom marriages like public shelters
Lenin: “Ultra-leftism is an infantile disorder”
Sunday, November 8, 2020
Comical? That he left on first day of quarantine / lockdown, & when I got in the taxi to take him to the airport the driver asked, looking shaky, if we were husband & wife. He said no, at which the driver explained only one of us could be in the taxi then. So I got out & we said goodbye on the pavement.
Hanging her laundry outside and something falls, a string vest, onto the awning of the flat two floors below.
I felt inexplicably happy.
Strange dream swimming a woman said, you don’t have any jewish friends & yet you have jewish lovers an eavesdropper looked at me, shocked; I said, she misspoke—I am palestinian, she meant to say israeli, not jewish
Friday, November 13, 2020
NO MORE SMOKING—ruins concentration in the mornings.
Reading Baldwin, Another Country, first chapter I have a feeling of dread & anger about male violence.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Dream: in the French quarter in Athens, where J.R. stayed; gated community, residential, everyone speaks French.
as lightning freezes motion
someone turns up with a microphone, puts it in front of his mouth, one man & then another, some of them praying wearing baseball caps & backpacks in the heat, sheikh takes over, wearing sunglasses, gives the khutba
على هذه الارض تحت القبة الزرقاء
I’m sorry, he said, seeing the expression he’d brought to her face
Monday, November 30, 2020
Returning to writing, reflection. Went back to sleep after being woken by reversing truck bleeping & accidentally slept until 10:45. Went to illegal dinner of 7 people at a journalist V.’s house in the neighborhood. I met her first—or saw her first—when I went to look round her flat, as she is staying there temporarily & it belongs to friends of I.L.’s. But it’s a sublet (and they were overcharging) so it wouldn’t work for my residency application. Then I met her again at my neighbor S.’s house for brunch a few weeks ago & she recognized my eyes (I’d been wearing a mask). I recognized her curly hair but only after she said it.
At dinner: V., S., S., a journalist who used to live in Palestine, a Greek Romanian woman D. and her partner, Australian. I forget his name. Was nice. I felt the journalist was performing a lot, cracking jokes. Funny how American journalists who have lived in the Middle East often have a similar vibe. Weathered, knowledgeable, insecure.
I dreamt about A. That I waved at him from across the street in Jerusalem but we didn’t actually meet. Later I found out from a policeman who was also an Oxford porter and also an American don that A. had covid. And that E.’s mother was a billionaire, and her neighbor was in the Greek secret police.
The problem of obsessing over originality—divorcing technique from its proper aim—empty virtuosity. The problem of the West post-Reformation
jinn are made from fire
angels from sunlight
iblis a jinn
shaytan from moonlight?
The Bible: demons love water & search for it. Luke 8:29–33
“I have heard that guilty creatures sitting at a play”
Wednesday, January 6, 2021, Athens
How to write about that feeling I was reminded of last night at the end of Hurdle: a sheerness of desolation & sadness produced by structures of injustice; the quiet wail of the soul; boys jumping on blocks of concrete
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Seem to be fighting something off. Sleeping long hours. Dreamt about being unable to wake.
Friday, January 22, 2021
Still strange chest pain. Sleeping 9 hours a night. Want to finish story & send to A. although I don’t think he’ll like it. Haven’t smoked in almost 2 weeks.
Sunday, February 7, 2021
I got ill again—sinus, ears—even though I haven’t been smoking just tiredness—a busy week. Chose a flat to buy in Neapoli, offer accepted—started teaching—and then had one particular night of terrible sleep that did me in. Read that M.A.G. who I met when he was O.’s roommate has been arrested and I just felt so angry. Then questioning my anger. Wrote novel today but still feel stuck in the voice. Repetition of the “I.” Need to read some first-person narratives that relieve the pressure of the I—variation. Have started The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez & enjoying.
I can’t believe that almost a year has passed since I was lying on Q.’s sofa trying to prepare for PalFest before I flew to Jordan & they announced the cancelation, the circulation of the virus …
I am currently sitting in my spare room at the back, west-facing; I am grateful for this view. Like being on a ship. I see the skies alight in the afternoons, cracks of sun behind clumps of soft cloud, crowding together; the buildings, far enough away.
Saturday, February 13, 2021
I am tired of this flat. This is the longest I have remained in one house for years and years. I hate the temporariness, I hate the things on the walls, the crappy Ikea beds. Maybe I should think of it as—the temporary place where I will finish my novel. Hard not to feel divorced from the novel—written by a former self. To write about duende and the ecstatic experience of art-making—when I cannot access that. Is this because the pandemic makes time feel so uncontained; unlaces the compartments we allot our time into, so that one thing bleeds into another & destroys (or dilutes) concentration? Everything is diluted, that’s it.
Went to the beach twice this week. It felt good to be in a different environment, to swim in the shocking cold. A pretty effective antidepressant.
The balcony doors of this flat feel flimsy; they let air and creatures in.
I think I am despairing less than some others currently—why? Am I bored of despair?
The environment where they do the performance is crucial. Basically I need to go around the West Bank imagining places to put on plays.
Friday, April 9, 2021
Passage of time is frightening. It is already spring—I have still not finished my book or achieved very much.
I feel increasingly concerned by qu. of living an ethical life—at least that’s where my thoughts often go. Revelation last year partially induced by conversation with L. and then expanded by analysis that ethical behavior begins with ethical behavior toward the self. i.e. self-respect is a moral issue. This seems to solve something for me.
Another revelation is my cynicism. A tendency toward satire, against the humanist proposition of the fictional endeavor—perhaps a zeitgeisty anti-empathy moment in public discourse fuels this—but which also runs contra to my real-life behavior, my hopes from people I meet, & so on. This has also come out in conversations with C. re: faith, & my lack of it—not only in a “higher power” à la ten-step programs but faith in anything larger, metaphysical, not trapped or deterministically conditioned by systems.
everything is so overwhelming—thoughts pass through me—constant feeling that my thoughts aren’t good enough
Z. called thinking it was my birthday. Loved talking to her—we talked about the importance of remaining flexible, not just inheriting opinions or saying “it’s settler colonialism” & mic drop, that closes the debate—& the Nathan Thrall piece in the NYRB
nothing more compelling than a love story
—but why? The ultimate in human connection, the ultimate form of it
do a story in numbered paragraphs
the idea of learning from lovers
(I am always seeking to learn from lovers)
Wednesday, April 21, 2021, Athens
woke up with anxieties of uselessness
a parcel of eggs
pg. 43 Coetzee In The Heart of the Country:
“Out of the blankness that surrounds me I must pluck the incident after incident after incident whose little explosions keep me going”
Friday, May 14, 2021, Athens
dreamt about Gaza was a journalist watching Hamas getting ready in a field—ready, essentially, to be slaughtered
every “town” was next to another town—no space between—more like neighborhoods
Very cramped, everyone’s house led to another’s house
Friday, May 28, 2021, Athens
The day of my first vaccination. Enjoying staying at B.’s—woke up this morning thinking about how miserable I would feel if I was living on my own at the moment. Now—I have company and I can rest. Post-cease-fire. Trying to return to dreaming state of mind. The war increased my phone addiction—I feel like I need a detox.
Contemplating going to Brown in the fall. Have to think about what I want to teach—on archives? Benjamin, Carlo Ginzburg, Saidiya Hartman.
Monday, June 14, 2021, Amman, Jordan
I have been here almost a week. Flew in last Monday night arriving at 4:20 a.m.; M. came & picked me up & drove me to N.’s place in Abdoun. Really lovely to see all of them—N., T., M.—although I have felt quite tired and useless, not sleeping well, rising tired, not working well. Still, it’s nice and hot and reassuring to see friends. Cigarettes and hash from last night are heavy on my lungs.
My head isn’t really in the novel yet. I know I have to get there—by reading and thinking.
Wednesday, June 16, 2021, Amman
Now at S.’s in Dabouq / Sweiseh. Dreamt of R.
Book: who do I write this for?
Hegel in Haiti, Susan Buck-Morss: Hegel got the idea from the Haitian slave revolt.
Friday, June 18, 2021
To fight the fight but also to fight against the fight.
Winnicott’s object to be used.
“Palestinian violence seeks to maintain sanity for its people through the insistence that the self exists even as the oppressors seek to deny it”
Tuesday, June 22, 2021, La Marsa, Tunisia
The cucumbers are whitish and hairy. The larger ones are quite bitter. The seawater seems a bit dirty. The air is misty, the horizon meets the sky in a bluish haze, blurred out. Buildings are low, white; small windows, splashes of blue like in Sidi Bou Said, then majnuni trees bow over garden walls and flood a corner with color; domed entranceways, everything designed to keep out the heat.
People are calm, not like in Bilad al-Sham. No need to cover up, dresses and shorts fine. Everyone worn-out and shushed by the heat.
Thursday, June 24, 2021
Still sore from yoga yesterday. Explored Marsa Corniche. Hot & salty air, humid. Saw a black cat with a face like J.S. It was approaching so I gave it the stink eye.
Tomorrow, Friday, I will start writing in the morning. In the afternoon maybe see Z., & then dinner in Sidi Bou Said with M.
Now an orange cat that reminds me of E. Playing hot and cold, friendly eyes, wanted food but got the message, sitting farther down the wall ignoring me.
Merleau-Ponty: “Our thinking cannot be separate from the bodies in which it takes place.”
Jacques Lacan: “We desire the desire of the other.”
Sunday, June 27, 2021, La Marsa, Tunisia
Saw M. for lunch—all other Sunday plans dissolved because people are a little flaky. Seems I might need to leave for Paris on the 7th, not the 13th, as Tunis is going on France’s red list. I have to find somewhere to stay. I am at Y.’s from the 13th.
I like Tunis—although it does feel a little dull. Everything calm, fine; hardly any harassment—less than Greece, anyway. Everything is a tad placid.
Some thoughts Saturday morning, Paris
Will be nice when I live in my own place, responsible for my own things, taking mercy on others when they break something of mine.
How particular the French are.
Paris is cramped and expensive.
Sophie Toscan du Plantier—dangerous to be female. That’s why they are so protective of us.
The playground as a first social space, the place of particular kinds of fantasies. Cartwheeling, skipping rope—none of which I did, actually.
Walked toward Shakespeare & Co. but never made it, spoke to A. & walked home again. Some rain.
Suddenly I have a pang—I’m not as hardworking as a million others—one thing at a time, finish this book & then read & work on the syllabus, read many things, you don’t need to be anything but what you are—
My exhaustion is so intense, that’s the problem, there’s a kind of deadline on this now since I’m going to Brown—I’ve lost the adrenaline & impetus of pre-Covid life only slowly returning to it
—but also don’t lose sight of your subject matter, recent events
—think of Simone Weil’s heart beating across the globe
—perhaps some feeling of fear is good for getting your ass moving—I assiduously & obsessively made notes & filled notebooks for The Parisian—but remember I also want to be happy, I, like everyone else, will die soon
I liked the rain today, it reminded me of London ugly English rain
Kanafani: “Man is a cause, not flesh and blood passed down from generation to generation like a merchant and his client exchanging a can of chopped meat.”
Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Paris
dreamt spaceship hovering above Dublin. Someone went to investigate with an air bicycle. I said, I had a Gaza dream about a spaceship—it looked just like that; square, lights, filling the sky, not moving. Feeling among us in Dublin that this was inevitable; we would all go up there.
A man pursuing me, my friends weren’t dead, just hiding.
O.T. [the writer] was living in the building, he had copies of The Recognitions and something else I loved. I told him I had trouble concentrating on reading.
I killed the pursuing man, he wouldn’t die quietly, I slashed his throat—I think he stood in for H. because I told him I loved him & he said he was sorry and then he said he loved me too.
Wednesday, July 21, 2021, flight, Paris→Athens
Picasso Rodin—saw with M.
Lots of paintings of lovers kissing or fucking, war & sex—the two great topics
also the Courbet at the Musée d’Orsay—L’Origine du Monde—I think I actually blushed when I saw it—& then I watched M.’s reflection in the glass of the other painting on the perpendicular wall, waiting for him to move so I could look at it properly. And then we sat on the grass, or lay rather, in the garden of the museum.
Beside me on the airplane someone’s sister watches a Lara Croft movie on her phone glass shatters in slow motion as Angelina Jolie dives through a window
But returning to Rodin
also why am I always dropping things
chronically I am so clumsy
Rodin—engaging with the human form again—somehow a delight and a surprise to think again of the human creature in a skin
this funny animal we are with 2 legs and 2 arms
Isabella Hammad’s story “Gertrude” appears in the Review’s Winter 2022 issue.
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