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Things To Look Out For When Reading Proletarian LIterature

  • Main Narrative Tension / Resolution - if the bourgeois novel generally ends in marriage/economic success, what are the characters in the proletarian novel seeking? And what does a happy ending look like if not marriage or individual success?
  • The Collective - if the bourgeois novel generally focuses on the development of the individual (and their filial networks), what are some of the ways that these authors try to imagine a collective literary form? You might want to think about formal strategies (e.g. use of multiple protagonists, or even a collective "we" as narrator) as well as plot points (e.g. making the focus a collective struggle)
  • Internationalism - lots of the novels we will be reading are interested in transcending national boundaries and imagining an internationalist community, linked by shared class interests. What are some of the ways that the authors embed internationalism into their works?
  • Didacticism - for many of the writers we’ll study, novels are explicitly educational forms that aim to teach workers (or potential fellow travellers) about how exploitation, imperialism, solidarity, etc.. Where and how do we see “lessons” delivered in the novel (e.g. does the novelist have a certain kind of character give a speech? does the protagonist read a certain kind of book? does the protagonist deliver the lesson?)
  • Time-Space Compression In MWL we talk a lot about the different strategies of time-space compression that get used to depict modernity. However, often times the modernity being discussed is capitalist modernity. What kinds of formal strategies are taken up to make sense of the building of a distinctly socialist modernity?
  • Remaking earlier forms - while the proletarian novel is a revolutionary form, it is one that draws on and makes use of a huge range of earlier bourgeois or popular cultural forms, from sentimentalism to the murder mystery, to the bildungsroman. What kinds of earlier forms do you recognise and how are they taken up and/or subverted?
  • Work and its Spaces - how do these texts explore the specificity of labouring practices and the spaces in which they occur from 'the inside', conveying what it feels like to be a miner or plasterer, e.g., as against earlier 'external' representations by middle-class authors.