Revolutionary Papers

Revolutionary Papers is a transnational research collaboration exploring 20th century periodicals of Leftanti-imperial and anti-colonial critical production. Read More


1948 – 1964

My paper seeks to draw out how writers in the journal positioned literary writing within their anti-colonial anti-fascist commitments.

Description of periodical

Mensagem.  Printed 1948–1964 in Lisbon (and circulated across Portugal and in Angola and Mozambique). Published in Portuguese and appeared intermittently. Produced by students at the Casa Dos Estudantes do Império – literally, the ‘House of the Students of the Empire’ – a centre founded by the Portuguese government after World War Two with the intention of preparing overseas students studying in Lisbon for future imperial duties. It became a crucial anti-colonial nexus. Many protagonists of later independence movements met there, thrust together by their shared interest in decolonization as well as the particularly uncompromising response of the Portuguese fascist Estado Novo regime to the anti-colonialism growing throughout European empires in the 1950s. Mensagem ran on and off for sixteen years under extremely difficult conditions. Writing in Portugal was highly policed, and anti-colonial writers faced censorship and imprisonment. The regime surveilled Mensagem, which was run by successive generations of students. When the Estado Novo finally shut down the Casa and Mensagem in 1965, it was after years of mounting anxiety about the subversive politics the Casa and Mensagem were fostering. Some editions of Mensagem are available here.

Paper abstract: redefining political poetry

This paper asks what aesthetics of political writing Mensagem proposes. Critics have emphasised the influence on neo-realism on anti-colonial writing in Portuguese, and indeed the few statements of aesthetic intent printed in Mensagem emphasised the need to disavow decadence and to write with clarity. Yet in the period 1960-4 Mensagem also printed much oblique, intractable poetry. This paper considers how to parse those poems in the context of their surrounding literary critical discourses that disavow the detachment from political life the poems seem to figure. I argue that under the weight of censorship, African poets writing in Portuguese writing in Mensagem sought to reinscribe the question of what aesthetics could be politically powerful.

I also read Mensagem poets as taking up and taking forward debates about socialist realism in the USSR. Taking this genealogy seriously allows us to see Mensagem poets’ theoretical contribution to histories of militant aesthetics in re-emphasizing individual, artistic liberty within a defence of collective social and political freedoms.

The history of Mensagem helps us configure the place of creative expression as part of anti-colonial visions of freedom. It can help us understand the conditions of possibility the journal form produced for associative and comparative thought. Finally, it can help us understand the place of African writing in Portuguese in multilingual anti-colonial histories.

Alexandra Reza

Alexandra Reza is Junior Research Fellow in French at Trinity College, Oxford University. Her current research focusses on print cultures, cinema, radio and performance in Conakry (Guinea) in the early post-independence years. She is also finishing a monograph about decolonization and literary journals in French, Portuguese and English.  She has a D.Phil. in Modern Languages and an M.Phil. in International Relations […]