savage coast


The discovery and publication of Savage Coast is significant, not only because, as Rukeyser’s large body of work on Spain attests, the Spanish Civil War was an essential part of her poetic and political development, but also because it also provides us with new perspectives on the literature of the period. Written long before Orwell’s or Hemingway’s major texts on the Spanish Civil War—at one point she editorializes, “Hemingway doesn’t know beans about Spain”—Savage Coast is only one of a handful of novels by foreign women on the subject and gives us a more complex understanding of how women positioned themselves within historical and cultural processes, offering a unique view of the political, artistic, and intellectual networks that shaped early twentieth-century global solidarities. Rukeyser’s work on Spain likewise offers new methods for exploring the relationship between political radicalism and textual experimentation, as she grapples with issues of documentation and aesthetics, attempting to harness what Virginia Woolf called “granite and rainbow,” within a single text. Savage Coast is both a journalistic account of the first days of the Civil War as well as a fragmented and “visionary” lyric about the formation of Rukeyser’s own political, sexual, and artistic subjectivity inside its history. Her writings, then, give us new forms and vocabulary to work with: they change how we will read other works, seek out and represent suppressed histories; they “open out of the future,” to use Derrida’s phrase.

more from Rowena Kennedy-Epstein at Paris Review here.