In the early 1960s, the East German Anna Seghers and the Cuban Alejo Carpentier published historical narratives of the slave uprisings that had rocked French and British colonies in the Caribbean during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In both Seghers's “Das Licht auf dem Galgen” (“Light on the Gallows”) and Carpentier's El siglo de las luces (Explosion in a Cathedral), revolutionary agents of the French government face the question of whether to prioritize official policy or solidarity with the oppressed in their work to advance emancipatory ideas. In light of the historical situation of Seghers and Carpentier as authors aligned with new, revolutionary states in the middle of the twentieth century, these stories about revolutionary messengers can be understood as contemporaneous, critical reflections on the particular author position of being a “messenger writer.” In contrast with prior studies that evaluate the historical realism of these works, I draw on Walter Benjamin's notions of revolutionary historiography in order to show how both the content and circumstances of publication of Seghers's and Carpentier's fiction illuminate their struggles with the role of messenger writer. This in turn contributes to a more thorough historicization of the texts and the concerns of iconic leftist writers in the Cold War.
Skip Nav Destination
MARIKE JANZEN; Messenger Writers: Anna Seghers and Alejo Carpentier in the Cold War. Comparative Literature 1 June 2010; 62 (3): 283–301. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-2010-015
Download citation file: