Revolution or Colonization: Anna Seghers's Drei Frauen aus Haiti

by Vibeke Rützou Petersen
Revolution or Colonization: Anna Seghers's Drei Frauen aus Haiti
Vibeke Rützou Petersen
The German Quarterly
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University of Tulsa

Revolution or Colonization: Anna Seghers's Drei Frauen aus Haiti

Culture . . . abstracted, is alienated from the social present and is made into a time- less attribute of peoples . . . Abstraction is the starting point of culturalism as hegmonic ideology.

Arif Dirik, Cultural Critique

Anna Seghers's last work, Drei Frauen aus Haiti, appeared in 1980 and constitutes a link in the chain of literary works generated by and about Haiti. The unique historical event of a briefly successful slave revolt in the early 1800s and the ongoing perception among Germans of Haiti as an exotic locale have featured in German literature spanning nearly 200 years. The German tradition ofwriting about Haiti has been revived over the last three decades through the works of such authors as Ernst Schnabel, Hubert Fichte, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Heiner Miiller, and Hans Christoph Buch,l as well as Anna Seghers herself. Drei Frauen aus Haiti turned out to be Seghers's final adaptation of the theme of Caribbean revolutions, a theme with which she dealt in Karibische Geschichten (1962). The three stories contained in the earlier volume--"Die Hochzeit von Haiti," "Die Wiedereinfiihrung der Sklaverei in Guadeloupe," and "Das Licht auf dem Gal- gen"-have already been the subject of some scholarship, most of it p~sitive.~

Other German writers (primarily male), a few before and most of them after Seghers- Wolfram von Eschenbach, Heinrich von

The German Quarterly 65.3-4(Summer-Fall1992)

Kleist, Heinrich Heine, Peter Weiss, and Heiner Miiller, to name but a fe9-have dealt with the theme of people of color in their literature, and Literaturwissenschaft exhibits a growing interest in the phe- nomenon. Examinations of "blackness" in German literature have largely named Seghers's specific blend of class and race in the representation of Haitian revolts one of the more successful ones.4 My investiga- tion, too, will probe Seghers's notions of race, class, and gender in terms of her as a Marxist citizen of the former GDR, but in light of recent theories about colonizingdis- courses, I have added categories such as Seghers as a white woman and as a writer firmly situated within the European lit- erary tradition. The nexus of the writer's own gender, race, ethnicity, political ideol- ogy, and aesthetic tradition produces a text far more complex than previously thought.6

Anna Seghers belongs to a generation of writers whose numbers include Bertolt Brecht, Johannes R. Becher, and Arnold Zweig, all of whom were of bourgeois origin but left their class and joined the struggle of the working class. Like them, she firmly believed that "the writer must be the path- finder for the struggling masses.'% How- ever, the majority of her works does not end with successful revolutions, because she, like Brecht (who coined the phrase), was convinced that "truth is concrete." Since her politically formative years coincided with a time when the Left's attempts at gaining power more often than not failed,' Seghers considered it incumbent upon her to write about the revolutionary struggle and the way to the concrete utopia of socialism, rather than to produce an image of the "promised land.'@ Thus few of her pro- tagonists are successful or survive insurrec- tional attempts inher early works. Still, the demise of her revolutionary characters should not be understood to signify the demise of the struggle. On the contrary, we are led through all Seghers's oeuvre by her firm conviction that the success of the socialist endeavor is inevitable.

This is also valid for the Haitian stories. Nevertheless, when she turns her eyes to the long historic struggle of the Island of Haiti, the debates concerning cultural im- perialism and totalizing discourses become pertinent. How does Seghers construct these fictional women, writing, as she does, from the desire to broadcast and champion "the power of the weakY9 Are they revolu- tionary subjects or are they figures "in the dress rehearsal for the world upheaval"10 with a gratuitous coloring of their skin? Are these women appropriated and colonized inside the writer's message or are they situated in an indigenous tradition which Seghers respected and thus promoted? My investigation will try to answer these ques- tions asit probes what happens to Seghers's revolutionary prose when she moves out- side her usual sphere of the European work- ing classes.11

Drei Frauen aus Haiti contains three stories, each dealing with a specific period of Haiti's history and each with its own female protagonist. The first, "Das Ver- steck," takes place in the 15th centuiy and narrates the story of Toaliina, a young (presumably Arawak) woman. She is one of twelve "Indian" maidens whom Columbus must bring back to serve at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella at the queen's own request. Toaliina escapes by jumping over- board and swimming to the shore where an old woman takes her to a cave in the moun- tains. It is in this cave that she spends the rest of her life, hiding in virtual isolation. The short text insinuates the existence of a very loosely organized (and largely unsuc- cessful) resistance to the European in- vaders made visible through the remarks and hearsay of the odd visitors seeking refuge in the cave, among them Toaliina's lover Tschanangi. Interspersed throughout the narrative about Toaliina are historical comments on the process of Spain's con- solidation of power in Europe, and in this manner the author sketches Toaliina's life against the larger backdrop of European colonial power politics. She bears the chil- dren of Tschanangi, who play no role in the narrative, and wearies her life away nurs- ing the odd wounded warrior or runaway slave in her secret cave. This is also how she bids farewell to Tschanangi when he re- turns fatally wounded, having escaped after years of slavery. Finally, much later, Toaliina herself dies in a storm, still isolated and waiting-perhaps for the end of colo- nial power?

The second story, "Der Schliissel," takes place during the rise of Napoleonic power. It is a Rahmenen2iIzlung where Claudine's story of how Am6d6e rescues her from slavery during Toussaint L'Ouverture's slave revolt in Haiti is framed by the story of Am6d6e dogging Toussaint's trail. At the time of narration, Claudine andAm6d6e are in the Jura region of France, within reach of the fortress which serves as prison for their revolutionary leader and ideal. The couple ekes out an existence from his road- work and her ability to make ends meet with wild fruits and nuts. One night, Claudine relates her rescue to a friend: how she was nearly burned to death in a slave uprising. She was imprisoned and left in a barred wall niche by her mistress when the revolt broke out. She would have died had not Am6d6e heard her screams, recovered the key to the gate, and let her out.12 Later, they meet again by chance, and he is wearing the liberating key around his neck. They stay together, and on the ship to France,

where he will be working on a road gang, AmQd6e learns about the 18th Brumaire; he nevertheless decides to be close to Toussaint's prison. When Toussaint dies, the couple make friends among (under- ground) Jacobin sympathizers with the Haitian cause, who help them materially. When AmQdQe dies, he, in accordance with his wish, is buried with the key around his neck. Claudine lives on; both, she alive and AmQdQe dead, await die "Auferstehung aller Sklaven der Welt" (36).13

"Die Trennung" is the third and last story. In this case, the historical time is more difficult to determine since the revolu- tionary event foreshadowed here, namely the ouster of B4b6 Doc,14 does not happen until after Seghers's own death; we can only surmise that we are in a modern setting. The maincharacter, Luisa, remains inHaiti while her lover, Cristobal, must leave the island-presumably, due to his revolution- ary activities. During the next couple of years, Luisa learns of his whereabouts either from friends or by frequenting the cafe "gegeniiber dem afrikanischen Muse- um" (42),15 where her contact person is Juan. She does not set eyes on Cristobal although one day at work-Luisa is a clerk-she hears his voice and realizes that he is back (accompanied by a wife). His task is to set up a workers'revolutionary library, but that process leads to his being forced to leave the country once more-without havingmet up with Luisa. Due to her vague involvement with the library, she is jailed by the regime. She is tortured so that her face and body are distorted beyond recogni- tion, but at the outbreak of the revolution which topples BQbe'Doc from power, Juan and Cristobal rescue her. Crippled from her treatment in prison, she dies after a while, but not before she has ensured a partner- ship between Cristobal and her young beautiful nurse, Juan's daughter. "Sie bekam einen stolzen Begrabniszug, an dem alle teilnahmen, die ihre Gedanken geteilt hatten, und solche, in derien beim Mitgehen diese Gedanken zu keimen begannen" (65).


Die Schiffe, mit denen Kolumbus zum drittenrnal von Haiti nach Spanien fuhr, um der Konigin Bericht zu erstatten, waren wiederum nicht mit Gold beladen, wie man gehofft hatte, sondern mit rijtlichen und hellen, in Europa unbekann- ten Holzern, mit Samen und Friichten, mit Ballen vin Gewebe.

Vor allem hatte Kolumbus den ausdriicklichen Wunsch der Konigin erfdlt: Er brachte ihr zwolf sehr junge Madchen, die er in seinen Berichten paradiesisch an Anmut und Schonheit genannt hatte. Die Kijnigin Isabella wollte diese Madchen am spanischen Hof erziehen und sie aufwar- ten lassen zum Staunen ihrer Gaste. (7)

Columbus's cargo boasts of various foreign wares, and Seghers smoothly incor- porates women as another, albeit impor- tant, item on the bill of lading. At this stage of preindustrial capitalism, the commercial exchange value of human life has begun to increase, but the above passage constitutes more than a comment on the transport and genocide of the Arawak, Taino, and Carib Indians by the Spanish.16 Here, in the very beginning of "Das Versteck," Seghers refers to the commodification and reification processes of both the exotic and of women. The necessity of delivering the Haitians to Spain unscathed collapses the two catego- ries, since neither women nor goods would fetch a decent price when secondhand or "soiled."

Just like the timber, the young Haitian women outside their own cultural sphere have acquired a value which is in direct proportion to their marginality and their Otherness. Their exoticism makes them valuable as commodities, but simultaneously objectifies them and devalues them in Western cultural terms. The pas- sage quoted constitutes an auctorial inter- vention into the commodification of the (colonized) subject, a deliberate critique of a system in which humans have acquired exchange value as commodities. Moreover, Seghers ties the specific objectification of

women to an exploitative economic system, commodity trading, and surplus value. By pointingout the systemic (capitalist) nature of this gender alienation, Seghers, at the same time, implicitly offers the reader a possibility of emancipation via another sys- tem (socialist). Seghers's stories display their oppositional characteristics in their gender specificity and resistance to a patriarchal, capitalist hegemony. Yet theories about universalizing and coloniz- ing discourses serve to remind us that op- pression is not limited to material violence.17 Moving corporeal existences into the realm of the symbolic and the metaphoric runs a risk of rendering real, physical lives invisible, of denying them their materiality. That is, in effect, what happens when Seghers performs a reduc- tion of "peripheral," colonial women to a principle, even if this is the principle of revolutionary resistance. We find an ex- ample thereof in 'Die Trennung," where it is Luisa's "distorted face" that is the site of the revolution. Torture inflicted upon her in the (Duvalier) prison has rendered her per- manently disfigured,18 and Juan, Luisa's friend and mentor, suggests plastic surgery to Cristobal, Luisa's one-time lover and fianc6. Cristobal, however, makes it clear that he is proud of her scars which, he announces, will remind others of what she went through. The auctorial choice of con- sulting Cristobal rather than Luisa in this matter leads us to a notion of women and revolution. Not only must Luisa defer decisions about her body to others, meaning men, but she must also remain as a scripted body, a monument to the old regime, lest we forget! Through this approach, Seghers subsumes women under the revolution, making them revolutionary objects rather than subjects. Simultaneously, she hierar- chizes women's political functions accord- ing to a time-honored dualistic framework "madwoman," "active/pa~sive."~9 These strategies result in pulling women like Luisa out of their material existence by metaphorizing their reality, a somewhat odd plan of action from Seghers, the Marx- ist, unless we examine the stories again for another subtext, imbedded in just this gender specificity of the fictional charac- ters.

Many of Seghers's paradigms fall prey to long-standing historical and cultural at- titudes that have informed German (Western) literat~re.~~

Whenshe likens the grace of the young Haitian maidens to that of flying fish, when she has 'Ibaliina utter bird-like cries, and when she makes her bite her pursuer in the water "blitzschnell," she moves the Caribbean characters back- wards into an animalistic realm and into an irrational and pre-enlightened dis- course. Moreover, the comparison of maidens and flying fish is the kind of ex- oticized Caribbean image that has seduced the West and promoted the myth of the "carefree life of the island in the sun.'Ql Un- fortunately, hand in hand with terminology which calls forth associations with the animal kingdom, there also go notions of beings who act irrationally, instinctually, and from lack of intellect. It is therefore not very surprising to see that Seghers con- tinually places her women characters in settings of nature. Toaliina's unspoiled beauty is, on the one hand, that which gives her high commodity value, but, on the other, it is also that which marks her as a true inhabitant of pure "nature2'-the island before c~lonization.~~

'Ibaliina lives in near seclusion, confined to nature. Her functions are limited to serving as lover and com- panion (and as mother of their children) to the few men from the local resistance who find their way to her cave.

Contemporary feminist thought puts this equation of 'Ibaliina and nature in a somewhat disturbing light. The cave con- struct in itself is fraught with Western con- notations from Plato to Freud to Gilbert and Gubar, and it deserves a thorough inves- tigation of its own. Nevertheless, Seghers not only confines 'Ibaliina to nature (versus culture?) but also has her reside in the metaphorical construct of her own womb.

The reduction of any woman's liberating qualities and possibilities to her biology is, to say the least, troubling. In the case of Toaliina, it unfortunately adds to the ranks of specious but time-honored arguments for the purported "true" value of women of color: their capacity for childbearing. Add to this the additional burden which "cave" must bear in this text: namely, that of'kave- dwellers," Neanderthals, or beings of a '>re- civilized" order. Together, these tropes con- struct a colonized woman, colonized not by Columbus but by her creator, Anna Seg- hers. JanMohammed's observation that "it is through the construction of the minority subject that the dominant culture can elicit the individual's own help in hislher oppres- sion'Q3 reverberates throughout these stories. In spite of the author's liberating intentions, her own acculturation cir-

cumscribes and flaws most of her eman- cipatory attempts towards Toaliina, the Arawak woman.

In "Die Trennung," the background noise of Luisa's daily life is made up of guitars, songs, and loud argumentative voices. The picturesque sound- and land- scape is at the same time so exotic, idyllic, and clichhed that it is Germany and not Haiti that is being represented. The description emphasizes the island's non- Europeanness, and the exoticization of the island excises from the Caribbean that which does not fit the Western imagination. Also, by conferring zoomorphic qualities on the women and by often excluding any other backdrop apart from those set in a "dif- ferent" nature, Seghers banishes her char- acters to a realm of the imagined. There is an underlying assumption of an inherent innocence, an original state of bliss, or a Garden of Eden, and the specter ofthe noble savage suggests itself. This paradisiacal state was presumably interrupted by the intrusion of Western imperialist and, later, local dictatorial powers. Similarly, when Seghers sets Toaliina apart from the im- perialist discourse through her unspoiled beauty and grace, presumably to liberate her, she simultaneously catches the young woman in a configuration just as deadly for her subjectivity: that of the exotic, colonial Other.

J.M. Coetzee writes of such notions of a precolonial paradise that they "are likely to be a wishful rejection of capital and its his- tory,'Q4 and if we accept his explanation of the above assumptions, we sense a whiff of the yearning for a better past, so particular to German Romanticism. Accordingly, we are again forced to see Seghers's texts as a complex interweaving of utopian, liberat- ing, and totalizingdiscourses. She criticizes not only capitalism but, implicitly, also the old/new world. However, in "Das Versteck," the author does not use the material exis- tence of pre-columbian Haiti as her frame of reference. Instead, due to her very wish for change, Seghers offers us a hybrid of enlightenment and biblical-prelapsarian -utopian alternatives. She projects onto the actual historico-ecological location that which the Western imagination has high on its hierarchy of dreams: namely, an un- spoiled, untouched realm, a tabula rasa. In this way, she suppresses any material reality other than that which the West im- posed through its colonization.

Seghers was a firmly convinced social- ist, and we recognize this in her stories. The Haitian women represent the "wretched of the earth"; through them, their author ex- hibits the dialectic of "die Kraft der Schwa- chen." They are the bearers of the revolu- tion, albeit unsuccessful, and they do constitute the links which bind generations of revolutionary struggle to one another. Naturally, Seghers's notions of revolution and of building a Marxist humanist society are informed by the concepts of class and, to a certain extent, of gender. Nevertheless, it appears paramount to a totalizing dis- course to link and conflate the lives of these women from three different historical cir- cumstances spanning 500 years as closely as Seghers does in order to use them as paragons of revolutionary subjects and vic- tims of unjust systems. Surely one must insist that Toaliina, Claudine, and Luisa arevictimizeddue to their specific historical and political contexts which, in any material-historical sense, differ widely from each other. One can agree with Seghers that the struggle has a common goal, but it is imperative that the material conditions be shown clearly to differ.

Manc, referring to the French peasants, pronounced in The Eighteenth Brumaire: 'They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.'a5 Fictional charac- ters are always "represented," and their representation forms an important com- ponent in their reading. How, then, are we to read two of Seghers's female characters who are illiterate? Illiterates are not only unable to read and write, but to proponents of enlightenment, such as Seghers, their ability to reason is seriously impaired.Z6 If the Enlightenment rested its demand for equality among human beings partly upon their ability to reason, neither 'Ibaliina nor Claudine can be counted among the privileged. If language, knowledge, and political experience constitute political con- sciousness, then the women, or at least two of them, are not revolutionary. Their revolu- tionary character is instinctual, if anything, and the failure of the two early Haitian revolts presents the reader with an implicit demand: that within the pattern of en- lightened Marxism a revolution simply can- not succeed if it is not carried out according to a rational, organizing principle. Hence, if it is reasoning that truly makes us agents of history, neither 'Ibaliina nor Claudine have "come of age"yet. Neither of them "un- derstands" the historical upheavals of their times, and they are left to other people's guidance-among them, the writer's.

Anna Seghers has structured and en- visioned the revolutions in the Caribbean in her ideological image, and she forces the three women to participate in them. There is a distinct impression that the writer has succumbed to the ideas and myths of 'the civilizing mission" in a revolutionary sense, which consists in introducing the Haitians to Western organizational principles of revolutionary thought and struggle. There are no attempts to develop "an account of the world which treats [the indigenous] perspective . . . as primary.'a7 Seghers's stories do not mention private resistance or community revolts that must have taken place on the island during the centuries since Haiti's occupation by the Spanish. In fact, there is no validation or recognition of any other indigenous measures of resis- tance than those codified as such by Western political thought.28 The figure of Luisa in'aie Trennung" indicates as much. Her eyes are the vehicle through which the author, like a camera, directs our perspec- tive, and they are often searching the horizon, looking toward foreign countries (Cuba or France), toward other experiential discourses, rational discourses, discourses which can and will be imported, bringing outside theory and order to the coming revolution.

Drei Frauen aus Haiti is a text about colonized subjects constructed neither in the once indigenous Arawak nor in the French patois of the colonized peoples of Haiti, but in German, a language deeply rooted in European hegemonic discourses. Anna Seghers may be seen to add alterna- tive meanings to the traditional German cultural and literary space by means of her Marxist discourse. But purely by writing in German as a German, she is empowering Western intellectual and political hegemo- n~.*~

While it is not universally true, speak- ing for others is a practice which may have troublesome consequences. The speaker's social, ideological, and geographical loca- tion implies a series of claims: cultural, so- cial, political, and epistemological.30 Lan- guage, both in the spoken form and as "the writing project," was and still is one of the primary agents of control and mastery. This is particularly valid in the case of coloniza- tion. As Stephen Heath has observed: 'The choice of an Bcriture is the choice of a set of values, a way of seeing, an act of socio-his- torical s~lidarity."~l

For Seghers, the literary tradition and language that shape her universe are powerful tools that she uses with the intent to liberate. But her narrative strategies seriously impede her characters' self-repre- sentation. Seghers is known for her use of indirect speech and impersonal narrators. Hans Mayer defines her style as "objective reporting, withdrawal of both narrator and reader, an approximation of the docu- mentary and historiography."32 Only "Der Schliissel" makes a singular use of a first person narrative, that voice which tradi- tionally intimates agency; but it is undercut by the fact that the occasion is Pauline's voice narrating her captivity and AmedBe's rescue of her! This leaves us with the ar- bitrary power behind the narrator. The writer reports the thoughts of the charac- ters without an openly manipulating or editorializing narrative voice. But the nar- rative control is very much present, only covertly so, and "thus while the identity of the narrator is denied, authority in the ideological sense of authoritativeness is fully operative in the text,"33 Seghers's nearly hermetically sealed prose offers no chance of dissolution of either language or cultural space in which the colonial women could insert and assert themselves. In- stead, the ideological narrative control fur- thers a consolidation of linguistic para- digms that code and dominate those who are named. The gaze that rests on the women asserts its authority over them, and they are caught in a prose whose deceptive objectivity deprives them of a subjective agency in their own history.

Seghers's style is as tight as a straight- jacket, and her characters must move within this strictly confined and confining text. This very gesture promotes a reading that undermines what may be assumed to be the auctorial intention, since the narra- tive stricture obstructs textual as well as material openings for the reader and the literary characters. If we are to read libera- tion into these stories, we are almost forced to conceive of it as something abstract, rather than something experienced also on aphy~icalplane.~~But

we know that libera- tion for women to a large degree is bound up with breaking free of circumscription of bodily experiences designed and performed by their patriarchal circumscribers. Se- ghers avails herself of this very paradigm, although in the negative. She presses a woman's body into service when she writes the cruel and tyrannical dictatorship on Luisa's body. On this textual site, Seghers's style must be seen to have overwhelmed her discourse. It is improbable that the author would choose to employ the female body for the purposes of unfreed~m while at the same time being unaware of the bodily na- ture of liberation. Although Seghers in- tends her language to demystify, to make accessible and document the instances in the historical class struggle which she chooses to fictionalize, language indeed shows its true dialogic character by also controlling and circumscribing the shape of the three women's liberation.

Still, not to explore other possible relationships between this fiction and reality would deprive the text of its dynamics. What is at stake here is whether Seghers's narrative, by disallowing physi- cal space for its women characters, is able to "address the most profound issues of women's lives" at and therefore we must again turn to Drei Frauen aus Haiti for a different reading of Seghers's aes- thetics. The discrepancies between the patriarchally defined concept of freedom and women's realities are patently obvious for all but the most elite classes. When Seghers in "Die Gewahlten" writes that "es geniigt nicht, das, woriiber man schreibt, im BewuRtsein zu haben . . .Man muR sich in der Wirklichkeit wirklich zurechtfinden, wie ein Blinder in der Nacht ohne Stock" (131), she insists that literature has a con- crete grasp of reality. In the case at hand, the concreteness of her grasp exhibits itself through the confinement of her narrative. Fictional women experience reality through their narrative, and the dialectic

between whatis told and how it is told can be employed to express real women's para- doxical experiences in patriarchal democ- racies. This would especially be the case in Seghers's own reality, that of the former GDR in the late 1970s. A reading of Drei Frauen aus Haiti as a nexus of Seghers's own concerns and political experiences in that state is thus made possible, and it be- comes more tenable the more tensions be- tween aesthetics and contents are explored.

The 1970s, which provided the fertile ground for Drei Frauen aus Haiti, turned out to be a tumultuous decade in the former GDR with much use for both patience and conviction. Erich Honecker's chairmanship of the SED, beginning in 1971, seemed to betoken a more relaxed attitude towards artistic expressions. His declaration that there could be no taboos for convinced socialist artists held out promises of the death of the Bitterfeld doctrine that were eagerly grasped by the artistic community. And indeed, literature of the 1970s is marked by a claim for sovereignty from the political subordination of previous dec- ade~.~~

However, the grim criticism of Plenzdorf's Die neuen Leiden des jungen W (1972) and the sanctions against Braun's Unuollendete Geschichte (1975) were ex- amples of the restrictions that came to the full fore with Biermann's "Ausbiirgerung" in 1976. Scores of writers followed in his tracks.

The decade that had started out in such a promising fashion was laced with frustra- tions. The optimistic belief insocialistic pos- sibilities were inextricably mixed with pes- simistic fears that these possibilities would not be realized for a long time to come.37 It is this mixture of hope and disappointment that goes a long way toward explaining Seghers's curiously inactive revolutionary female subjects.

How does Seghers represent subjected women of color so that they are virtually stripped of all agency? All three women are waiting, their wait either constitutes the story or is the final outcome of the events in the story. In light of the revolts against colonizing powers in recent history, it is at first difficult to understand how Seghers, who believed in creating a fiction that found some resonance in reality, could relegate these women to inactivity in the face of revolt. One might have thought that she, one of the most important writers in 20th- century German literature and a champion of GDR literature, would have been espe- cially elated by the agency of women in the modern histories of Cuba, Vietnam, Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, to name but a few. Such agencies are absent from this, her last, text. Why? It is possible that the stories ofToaliina, Claudine, and Luisametaphori- cally express the patience needed in Seghers's own country before the "real" revolution could be ushered in. The ex- pressed need for patience as arevolutionary quality may sound contradictory but the agonizing waiting that the Haitian pro- tagonists are condemned to may be viewed as a poetic transfer of the author's own political state into a fictional realm.38

Still, I want to suggest that what Seghers had done so well throughout her literary production, writing exemplary tales using the "common wo/man2' as her protagonist, ultimately goes awry when removed from her Western industrialized milieu. In spite ofAnna Seghers's liberating intentions, the three stories repeatedly in- scribe cultural differences asclichhs, with- out asking the awkward question of how to negotiate freedom from the oppressive paradigms of Western literary traditions. We have seen that taking an ideology out of its context, de-materializing it in effect, and applying it, unquestioned and intact, to a different material context changes its im- pact and thwarts its original intentions. The "wretched of the earth9'are not all alike, and it is not possible to equate a colonized Afro-Caribbean nation with a Northern European working class and then expect the template to fit. Instead of superimpos- ingstructures which are too similar to those of the colonizers'civilization, one must use the indigenous structures, values, and con- cepts. That means to lookupon the "native" culture no longer as asuperstructure in the orthodox understanding, but as a realm- as least as long as it is oppositional-in which the indigenous population is exerting some control and power, experiencing some subjectivity, and is finding a certain mea- sure of identity. Only in this manner can one expect to exploit the cracks in the colonizing hegemony to a liberating end. However, in Drei Frauen aus Haiti, three women of color have been colonized and im- mobilized, caught in a Western utopia of freedom that ironically serves the opposite



lErnst Schnabel, 'Tapa Doc und die Strde zum Himmel &nauf," Akzente 6 (1967): 493-501; this was part of a radio text entitled "Gullivers Reise zuden GleichgroBenn (1966); Hubert Fichte,

Xango: Die afroamerikanischen Religionen. Bahi-HaitdlFinidad. Vol. I: Bildband (Foto- graphien von Leonore Mau), Vol. 11: Textband (FrankfUrtrm.: Fischer, 1976); Hans Magnus En- zensberger, ''Rafael Trujillo: Bildnis eines Landes- vaters," Politik und Verbrechen (Frankfurtm.: Suhrkamp, 1978); Haiti features both in "Hamlet- machine" and 'The Task" in Heiner Miiller's Hamletmachine and other tats for the stage, ed. and trans. Carl Weber (New York: Performing Arts Journal Publications, 1984); Hans Christoph Buch, Die Scheidung uon San Domingo: We die Negersklaven uon Haiti Robespierre beim Wort nahmen (Berlin: Wagenbach, 19761, Karibische Kaltluft: Bericht und Reportugen (FrankfUrtM.: Suhrkamp, 19851, Die Hochzeit uon Port-au-Prince (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1986), and, most re- cently, Haiti Chkrie (FrankfurtN.: Suhrkamp,


2~mong the examinations pertaining to Seghers's texts are Reinhold Grimm, "Germans, Blacks, and Jews; or, Is There a GermanBlackness of Its Own?,"in Blacks and German Culture, ed. Reinhold Grimm and Jost Hermand (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1986); Carolyn R. Hodges, "The Power of the Oppressed: The Evolution of the Black Character in Anna Seghers' Caribbean Fiction," Studies in GDR Culture and Society 7:

Proceedings of the l'belfth New Hampshire Symposium on the German Democratic Republic, ed. Mary Gerber et al. (Lanham: Ws of America, 1987); John Millful, "Juden, Frauen, Mulatten, Neger: Probleme der Emanzipation in Anna Seghers's Karibische Erz6hlungenJ," Frwenlite- ratur,ed. Manfred Jurgensen (Berne: Lang, 1983); Gertraud Gutzmann, "Eurozentrisches Welt- und Menschenbild in Anna Seghers's Karibischen Ge- schichten," Frauen-Literatur-Politik, ed.Annegret Pelz et. al. (Hamburg: Argument, 1988); ArleneA.Teraoka, '%ace, Revolution, and Writing: Caribbean Texts by Anna Seghers," unpublished manuscript, 1990. Ofall the above, only Gutzmann and Teraoka problematize Seghers's treatment of the Afro-Caribbean peoples and their revolutions.

SIndeed, Wolfram von Eschenbach's courtly epic Parziud contains the figure of Feirefiz, the black knight.

4Reinhold Grimm suggests that Seghers "pre-

sents the positive version of the racial 'counter-

type"'; cf. "Germans, Blacks, and Jews" 155, and

Millful perceives Seghers's representation of race

and revolution as a useful paradigm for the

modern women's movement.

SWiththee~ce~tionofTeraoka andGutzmann.

6Wer schreibt, handelt: Strategien und Verfah- ren literarischer Arbeit uor und nach 1933, ed. Silvia Schlenstedt (Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau, 1986) 246.

7Post-World War I Europe was the scene of

many national struggles of liberation against the

fascistoid, antidemocratic developments: the es-

tablishment of a workers' republic in Hungary, the

attempt to establish peasant socialisminBulgaria,

Polish struggles against the erection of Marshal

Pilsudski's dictatorship, and Germany's own

bloody struggles to set up workers'republics. In all

of these struggles, the antifascist forces were

crushed brutally.

8The Walter Janka case (1956) and Seghers's

novella Dergerechte Richter, written but never fm

ished in 1956157, and posthumously published in

1990, shed new light on the author's relationship

to socialism, earlier believed to have been unprob-

lematic. The novella denotes an artistic articula-

tion of her private disillusionment with Ulbricht's

sacrifice of individual justice for the purported

benefit of socialism. Also, cf. europ&sche ideen 76

(1991): 38-62.

gThis is one of Seghers's major themes and the

title of a volume of her short stories: Die Kraft der

Schwachen (Berlin and Weimar: Aufbau Verlag,


loWillfried Feuser, "Slave to Proletarian: Images of the Black in German Literature," German Life and Letters XXXI (1978179): 127-28.

llRussel E. Brown points out inconsistencies and projection of urban poverty onto a fishing community in Seghers's early, prize-winning work Aufstand der Fischer uon St. Barbara (1928); cf. Neophilologus LXXII (1988): 157-59.

12Seghers demonstrates through this incident the inherent dangers in a spontaneous revolt lacking organized leadership.

13AU references to Drei Frauen aus Haiti will appear in the text and are from the Luchterhand edition of 1980.

IdJean-~laude Duvalier went into exile in France in February, 1986, thereby ending28 years of the Duvalier dynasty in Haiti.

15This is one of the few instances where

Seghers makes reference to the Afro-Caribbean

origins of the Haitian population.

16The Spanish had "reduced" a population of an estimated 3 million to such an extent that in 1550 only 150 Caribs could be found. Robert Debs Heinl, Jr. and Nancy Gordon Heinl, Written in Blood: Th Story of the Haitian People. 1492-1971

(Boston: Houghton Mimin, 1978) 13.

17Also: "Diskursive Praktiken tun. . . der sym- bolischen, sprachlichen Anwesenheit der Eingebo- renen das an, was die materiellen Praktiken ihrer physischen Existenz angetan haben." Konstanze Streese,Zur Kolonialismuskritik in westdeutschen Narr&'ven 1974-1987 (diss. New York University, 1990) 6. Now published as "Cric? "-"Crac!':. Vier literarische Versuche, mit dem Kolonialismus um- zugehen (New York and Berne: Lang, 1991).

18L?hr ehemals zartes Gesicht war entstellt,

zertreten" (59). "Luisa blieb ein unverandertes

Zeugnis der Verfolgungen, die sie durchstanden

hatte" (60). ". . . ihr Gesicht [war] durch die Mi13

handlungen eine verzerrte Maske geblieben" (61).

l9 Yet there are a handful of women in

Seghers's oeuvre who are active participants in the

struggle: for instance, Agathe Schweigert in the

novella of the same name and Marta Ernrich in

'The Reed."

20Grimm, "German, Blacks, and Jews" 154.

21Carefree is oRen synonymous with idle in a

colonial setting. See J. M. Coetzee, who gives a

fascinating analysis of work, blacks, and whites in

White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa (New Haven: Yale UP, 1988).

22Hodges proposes a symbolic exchange of Toa- liina's beauty and the unspoiled island before colo- nization in 'The Power of the Oppressed" 184-97.

23Abdul R. JanMohammed, "Negating the Ne- gation as a Form of Affirmation in Minority Dis- course: The Construction of Richard Wright as Subject,"Cultural Critique 7 (Fall1987): 247.

24Coetzee,White Witing 78. 25Karl Marx, Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte (Berlin: Dietz, 1988) 131. 261am grateful to Arlene Teraoka for this insight.

27 Nancy Hartsock, "Rethinking Modernism: Minority vs. Majority Theories, "Cultural Critique 7 (Fall 1987): 205.

28Voodoo may in fad constitute one of those local indigenous resistances that Seghers does not recognize as such. JanMohammed points out that, in a situation characterized by a lack of political outlets, local religious practices-exalting African and rejecting European value-ften constituted an empowering way to bypass colonial structures. See Abdul R. JanMohammed, Manichean Aesthet- ics: The Politics of Literature in Colonial Africa (Amherst:U of Massachusetts P, 1983) 46. See also works by Haitian author Jacques Roumain, for example, Masters of the Dew, for indigenous thought of what may constitute a liberating space, and Michel S. Laguerre, Voodoo and Politics in Haiti (New York: St. Martin's Press, 19891, espe- cially chap. 4, L%volutionary Voodoo Leaders," 56-


29JanMohammed, Manichean Aesthetics 5. The concern that alanguage of patriarchal/colonial subjugation cannot easily be made into a vehicle of liberation from those institutions has been voiced by feminists and others. Henry Louis Gates Jr. asks whether an emancipating discourse can be written in a language "in which blackness is a sign of absence," in 'Editor's Introduction: Writing 'Race' and the Difference It Makes," Cultural Cri- tique 12. 1(Autumn 1985): 1-20. Gates's observa- tion is applicable to the texts at hand, since it is safe to assume that Toaliina, Claudine, and Luisa are women of color.

30Also, see Linda Alcoffs excellent article on this topic, "The Problem of Speaking for Others," Cultural Critique 20 (Winter 1991-92): 5-32.

31Stephen Heath, The Nouveau Roman (London: Elik, 1971) 208. 32Hans Mayer, hichten: Zur Literatur der Zeit (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1962) 86 (my trans.).

33Jane A. Nicholson, "Making Sense and Au- thority: Representing Emma Bovary," unpub- lished manuscript, 1990.

34~similar criticism was lodged against Seghers's style by Karl Schmiiehle when he claimed that the sensuous world suffered"eine Art Fkalitiitsverlust" through her aesthetic "short- hand." Quoted in Wer schreibt, handelt: Strategien und Verfahren litemrischer Arbeit uor und nach 1933 276.

%Sara Lennox, 'Women in Brecht's Works," New German Critique 14 (1978): 91. Although Seghers's overarchingmncern with the threecharacters L their lack of freedom, the fad that they are women in this case makes it impossible to ignore the inherent gender issues.

36Dieter Schlenstedt, ''Entwicklungslinien der neueren Literatur in der DDR," Positionen5: Wortmeldungen zur DDR-Literatur, ed. Hinnerk Einhorn and Eberhard Giinther (Halle and Leipzig: Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 1989) 7-39.


%Hernnann Zschoche's fdm Griine Hochzeit

offers a revealing and fitting quote: 'Geduld ist der halbe Sozialismus." The following quote from Stephan Hermlin expressea a similar notion: "Meine Erfahrungen zeigten mir, daR ich in einer neuen Gesellschafl vie1 Geduld aufbringen miisse angesichts alter Gewohnheiten und schwerer Be- hinderungenvon auBen, wie ichiiberhaupt glaube, dd ohne das sonderbare Wechselspiel von Geduld und Ungeduld keine Entwicklung eines revolutio- niiren Neuen moglich ist." Quoted in Positionen 5: Wortmeldungen zur DDR-Literatur 17.

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