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Expressionism and Working-Class Fiction
In his essay, ‘The Storyteller’, Walter Benjamin distinguishes between two generic traditions of story-telling, symbolized by two contrasting occupations: the peasant and the voyager. [*] ‘If one wants to picture these two groups through their archaic representatives’, he wrote, ‘one is embodied in the resident tiller of the soil, and the other in the trading seaman.’  One told the stories of the village, its people and its history, whilst the other brought stories from lands where people lived different lives according to different customs. Both traditions complemented each other. Benjamin’s distinction remains valuable in contemporary arguments about finding cultural forms and processes which enable the balancing of the local and particular with the national and international. This is one of the most pressing contemporary political and cultural problems and currently finds its most developed expression in the controversies surrounding the achievements—and also the limitations—of the recent and widespread growth of local peoples’ history projects.  This distinction is also useful to employ when looking back at one of the most energetic periods of working-class writing, the 1930s, because by doing so it becomes clear that most recent attention to the writing of that decade has been focused on just one of the traditions—the local—at the expense of understanding attempts to create a different aesthetic of working-class experience based not on place and continuity but on dislocation and transience.
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