CfP: Anna Seghers’ Late Work: Visions and Premonitions

Hunter Bivens Discussion

Papers to be presented at the German Studies Conference from 5-8 October at Le Centre Sheraton Montreal in Montréal, Quebec. Please send submissions to Curtis Swope ( and Hunter Bivens ( by January 9, 2023.

Anna Seghers is renowned for her rich literary imagination. Her mythical topographies, in which past and present are stitched together, the dead have a right to speak, and politics is lived as both rational conviction and everyday experience, are familiar to readers of celebrated works such as Das siebte Kreuz (1942) and Transit (1944). Much less well understood or appreciated are the literary variety and vision of Seghers’ prolific later career from the publication of her novel, Die Entscheidung (1959) to her trilogy of stories, Drei Frauen aus Haiti (1980). The reason usually cited for the relative neglect of this period is the continuing aftereffect of Cold War norms of scholarship under which Seghers’ late work, at least in the West, was treated as taboo unless scholars were asserting its irrelevance or naivete. Another, less conscious, reason might be that the works of this period are sometimes exceptionally difficult to interpret - with their highly experimental prose, their uncomfortable mix of hope and despair, and their blending of the political immediacy of the struggles of the global proletariat and the troubling visions of a socialist author with a lifetime’s work in the movement behind her and a correspondingly long view of history.

This panel invites papers that treat this rich but understudied period of Seghers’ career. Also very much welcome would be papers that treat the work of older communists who were still active during this time or even younger, dissident ones who formed part of Seghers’ intellectual universe, broadly conceived, and were struggling with the same set of problems that Seghers was confronting: the relationship between proletarian movements and the state; the fading legacy of Popuar Front cultural impulses; changes in the composition of the proletariat in East Germany, Western Europe, and the Global South; the relationship between class struggle and national liberation movements. Possible topics might include but are by no means limited to:

-readings that compare Seghers’ early and late work and make claims about continuities and discontinuities

-Seghers’ clear anti-imperialist stances in light of post-Colonial theory

-Seghers’s depiction of gender, gender roles, and gendered work. Can Seghers be considered a feminist author?

-readings that place Seghers’ late work – in innovative ways - in relation to work by the younger generation of GDR authors

-comparisons between Seghers’ late work and György Lukács’ ontology of social being, that thinker’s major project of the 1960s

-Seghers’ work in the context of unconventional GDR thinkers such as Rudolf Bahro, Robert Havemann, cyberneticist Georg Klaus or even Seghers’ husband, Laszlo Radvanyi, who was publishing innovative sociological work on anti-imperialism in the global south

-papers that assess Seghers’ changing literary preoccupations, including her writings on Dostoyevsky and her role in the realism debates of the 1960s

-connections – speculative or historical – to Latin American communist writers Pablo Neruda and Jorge Amado

-connections to Joachim Kunert, who filmed several of Seghers’ works for DEFA during this time

-Seghers’s depictions of the changing role of labor—manual, domestic, artistic—from the stereotypical productivism of socialist realism

-Connection to the novelistic reevaluations of the popular front period, Second World War and postwar periods in the work of authors from Christa Wolf to Peter Weiss

The panel organizers particularly welcome contributions from younger scholars. Papers may be in English or German; publication of the papers in the Argonautenschiff – the yearbook of the Anna-Seghers-Gesellschaft – is a possibility.