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This article is taken from PN Review 64, Volume 15 Number 2, November - December 1988.

Three Stories from the Val de Bagnes John Peck

John Berger in Pig Earth describes the French peasant mountain village in which he lives as a source of 'gossip' which accumulates, through countless stories told daily, into a communal self-portrait. Lore, legend, the elements of folktale, and personal observation, this gossip makes up the raw material of the art we recognize as storytelling, the art which no outsider can reproduce. Berger's sharp and affectionate awareness of this fact supports his own inside-outsider narratives. Supporting them also is the conviction that peasant conservatism, together with the peasant's disenchanted experience of survival over the long term, valuably stand over against the foreseeable global drift of things. It will be no news to most of my readers that among American authors this viewpoint is shared by Gary Snyder. But it may come as news that others, neither socialists nor poets, are lighting out for the territory. Carolyn Forché in a recent essay ('Letter to an Open City', American Poetry Review 16 June 1987) mentions that Victor Zorza, a Washington Post correspondent for Russian affairs, has moved to a remote Himalayan village in order to accommodate himself to 'how most people in the world live'.

So there may be some use in looking back to a less urgent time when some writers narrated peasant stories in a manner that may seem to us relatively naïve. Notable among them, because he remained both a fascinated and an alienated native son, was the French-Swiss writer and radical-independent journalist Louis Courthion (Chable 1858-Geneva ...


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