Recent Faculty Book: Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann’s Writing the Caribbean in Magazine Time

Contributed by Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann


In the Fall of 2021, Katerina Seligmann’s first book Writing the Caribbean in Magazine Time was published in the Critical Caribbean Studies Series at Rutgers University Press. To provide an overview of the book, Katerina draws on excerpts from the book’s introduction:

Writing the Caribbean in Magazine Time examines literary magazines generated during the 1940s that catapulted Caribbean literature into greater international circulation and contributedseligmann_writing_the_caribbean_cvr-Revised significantly to social, political, and aesthetic frameworks for decolonization, including Pan-Caribbean discourse. This book demonstrates the material, political, and aesthetic dimensions of Pan-Caribbean literary discourse in magazine texts by Suzanne and Aimé Césaire, Nicolás Guillén, José Lezama Lima, Alejo Carpentier, George Lamming, Derek Walcott and their contemporaries. Although local infrastructure for book production in the insular Caribbean was minimal throughout the twentieth century, books, largely produced abroad, have remained primary objects of inquiry for Caribbean intellectuals. The critical focus on books has obscured the canonical centrality of literary magazines to Caribbean literature, politics, and social theory. Up against the imperial Goliath of the global book industry, Caribbean literary magazines have waged a guerrilla pursuit for the terms of Caribbean representation.

This book tells the story of the Caribbean archipelago as a particular kind of choice for literary and political representation. In particular, this book excavates what choosing to write the Caribbean archipelago—or not—meant to the literary, social, and political transformations incubated by literary magazines during the 1940s. I examine the potent power of representing Caribbean locations in and around magazines, highlighting location strategies that increased the archipelago’s visibility and fomented regional unity in geopolitical and literary world systems. I interrogate how magazine editors, creative writers, and literary critics have deployed (and resisted) the Caribbean as a locus of enunciation for their work in Spanish, French, English, and creolized linguistic forms. In the literary, political, and cartographic archives probed by this book, the Caribbean—named as such or as las Antillas, les Antilles, or the West Indies—tends to evoke the archipelago as a decolonial horizon. The Caribbean as a region repeats itself as a creatively constructed location with purpose: to articulate a colonial record in common of racial and gendered violence that persists into the present, to imagine an anti-imperial (and in some cases anticapitalist) regional and planetary solidarity, and / or to offer political, social, and aesthetic alternatives to the hierarchies buttressed by imperial infrastructures.

During World War II literature produced abroad would circulate even less than usual in the Caribbean, and perhaps due to the resulting demand for reading material, literary magazines featuring many of the writers who would go on to become spotlights of Caribbean literature proliferated. Amid paper shortages brought on by the war and the disparaging of homegrown literature over foreign imports prevailing among middle-class reading audiences throughout the region, literary magazines contributed to uplifting locally and regionally produced literature, fomenting cultural capital for Caribbean literature and bolstering political transformations. As I argue throughout this book, literary magazines produced during the 1940s assembled and advanced the debates that structure many of the Caribbean’s political, social, and aesthetic trajectories until the present. This book thus highlights the centrality of the magazine form to the history of literature and politics in the region and examines the aesthetic and political strategies authors, editors, critics, and publishers used to imaginatively construct and circulate the Caribbean as a literary and geopolitical location.

The chapters of the book break down as follows:

  • Chapter 1, Location Writing in Magazine Time introduces the book’s framing vocabularies of “location writing,” “literary infrastructure” and “magazine time.”
  • Chapter 2, Locating a Poetics of Freedom in Tropiques proceeds by establishing location writing as a decolonial approach with literary, social, and (geo)political consequences. The sociopoetic theoretical works of the Césaires and Ménil offer an Afro-diasporic Antillean location in Tropiques. Location writing in Tropiques brings into view a potent decolonizing practice wherein the structure of desire is the poetic excavation of the layers of a colonial episteme that emerges upon posing the question “qui et quels nous sommes (who and which are we)?”
  • Chapter 3, Gaceta del Caribe Orígenes in Cuba: Black Aesthetics as Battleground, challenges the supposition that Caribbean-located writing would be a necessary or obvious approach for a literary magazine. I demonstrate how locating the Caribbean in Gaceta del Caribe works both to enunciate anti-imperial solidarity with the region and position the magazine through the reclamation of an Afro-diasporic position. In both direct and indirect opposition to Gaceta del Caribe, I argue that Orígenes included hemispheric-, Atlantic-, and Havana- centered forms of location writing without consolidating a location for itself outside the dislocated realm of literary practice that it prioritizes. The implications of this move would be to unseat the Afro-diasporic location of Cuba’s literary and social image that Gaceta del Caribe promoted.
  • As I examine in chapter 4, Bim Becomes West Indian, Bim would feature fictional location writing that set the tone for regional literature as a predominantly anticolonial practice. At the same time, this literary work would be predominantly about how the region has been produced as colonial, so that anticolonial critique, rather than nationalism, would comprise the primary paradigm it offered.
  • Chapter 5, Polycentric Maps of Literary Worldmaking, offers a theoretical approach to location writing as central to the medium of the literary magazine in comparison to the medium of the map, arguing for the Caribbean literary magazine as a cartographic technology. In this chapter I add that this set of Caribbean magazines construct locations in explicitly literary ways and offer polycentric maps that reconfigure world literary space.