Stephanie Malia Hom on Italy’s Migration Crisis

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In a new Q&A with the author, we ask Stephanie Malia Hom three questions about her new book, Empire’s Mobius Strip: Historical Echoes in Italy’s Crisis of Migration and Detention, and her research on Italy’s colonial imperialism in Libya.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book? 

My book is composed of novella-like essays that give space to the ways in which imperial formations surface, submerge, entangle, disappear, resurface, and loop back on themselves like a Mobius strip. For a long time, I didn’t know what to call this form of writing until I had a chance encounter with legendary talk show host, Dick Cavett. We spoke of his long-form interviews with celebrities and how time opened up unexpected insights. This was my “a-ha!” moment. My long-form academic writing provided the necessary breathing room for insights to surface in ways that otherwise would have remained unexamined.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

It took me ten years to write this book, and halfway into the process, I started to read American authors voraciously, especially fiction and essays. I couldn’t help but become influenced by the prose of Cormac McCarthy, the inventive structures of George Saunders, and the panoply of feelings that Joan Didion could invoke with a mere phrase. Their influence focused me on the craft of writing. Had I accepted the power of reading so far afield at the beginning of my writing, I would have done so much earlier.

3. How do you wish you could change the field of Anthropology?

People often ask me how to categorize my scholarship. It is anthropology, history, critical theory, literary studies, journalism, political commentary, or what exactly? With Empire’s Mobius Strip, I hope to show that a work of scholarship can be both creative and rigorous, and it can become more than the sum of its disciplinary parts. I believe the field of anthropology can be deepened by embracing approaches from other disciplines. By telling the story of culture from many angles, anthropology will resonate in many directions, expanding the study of culture, and ourselves, to audiences anew.

Stephanie Malia Hom is Executive Director of the Acus Foundation. She is author of The Beautiful Country and tweets @empirestrip.

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