[Marxism] Fwd: What Kind of Worker Is a Writer? - The New Yorker

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 1 16:53:13 MDT 2014


Eighty years ago this summer, when San Francisco still thrived on the 
sea trade, the streets of the city teemed with men on strike. Fed up 
with humiliating working conditions, the longshoremen had called for a 
halt to labor on the docks. They rallied in public spaces, crammed into 
the Civic Center, and organized a march down Market Street. In early 
July, things quickly turned violent. The police cracked down, attacking 
the unarmed protestors. On a day that became known as “Bloody Thursday,” 
two strikers were shot and killed, as was one bystander, and hundreds 
more were hospitalized or injured. Journalists documented the violence, 
and the city shut down.


Among those who witnessed the chaos of the summer was a young radical 
writer and organizer, Tillie Lerner. Charismatic and impetuous, Lerner 
was just twenty-two that summer, but she had already fallen in love many 
times—with books, with revolutionary causes, and with bookish, activist 
men. She eloped with one of these men, Abe Goldfarb, after her 
high-school graduation. Though she devoted herself to politics, she also 
had literary ambitions (at sixteen, she placed a photo of Virginia Woolf 
on her desk and practiced writing like Woolf and Gertrude Stein). At the 
time of the strike, she was living in San Francisco with Abe and their 
young daughter. The couple was growing apart, though, and Lerner kept 
herself busy planning the strike’s actions. She became close to one of 
the leaders, Jack Olsen, whom she later married. (She would take his 
name, becoming Tillie Olsen.) She also reported on the strike, but she 
wrote about it in a strange way. “The Strike,” published in the Partisan 
Review, discusses the longshoremen’s labor in relation to her own 
work—her work as a writer. “Do not ask me to write of the strike and the 
terror,” her essay begins.

	I am on a battlefield, and the increasing stench and smoke sting the 
eyes so it is impossible to turn them back into the past. You leave me 
only this night to drop the bloody garment of Todays, to cleave through 
the gigantic events that have crashed one upon the other, to the first 
beginning. If I could go away for a while, if there were time and quiet, 
perhaps I could do it. All that has happened might resolve into order 
and sequence, fall into neat patterns of words. I could stumble back 
into the past and slowly, painfully rear the structure in all its 
towering magnificence, so that the beauty and heroism, the terror and 
significance of those days, would enter your heart and sear it forever 
with the vision.

The essay continues in this manner, juxtaposing violent images of the 
protests with the author’s internal turmoil. “I am feverish and tired,” 
she writes near the end. “Forgive me that the words are feverish and 
blurred.” Such stream-of-consciousness writing is well suited to 
modernist fiction, but it’s far from the plain style prescribed for 
proletarian literature.

full: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/kind-worker-writer



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