Life After the Avant-Garde
Proletarian Realism, Proletarian Modernism
Pages 585 - 601
This essay analyzes the category of “life” as mobilized by proletarian writing, and through this analysis explores proletarian realism’s relation to Marxism and the avant-garde. Surveying the commitment to everyday life, inherited from avant-gardism, in the work of Michael Gold, Jack Conroy and Langston Hughes, the essay investigates the relation of two central modes of its expression: testimony and allegory. From here the claim is that proletarian realism’s everyday life was defined by two Marxist commitments: to relation and to purpose. In the case of the first, testimony and allegory are brought together to connect the immediate embodied particulars of working life to the wider processes that enforce them. In the second, they are brought together to mobilize this relation towards action. Here we see a bifurcation: on the one hand, we encounter writing that, anxious to mold its particulars into a meaningful whole, attempts to fix them into an overarching economy in danger of draining its evocations of everyday life of vitality; on the other, we see writing that makes purpose a subject for thought and literary form and carries everyday life’s dynamism over into committed literary expression.
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