July 9, 2003

In 1937, James Agee submitted a document titled "Plans for Work: October 1937," with his application for a Guggenheim Fellowship. Among the approximately 50 things Agee was "working on, or am interested to try, or expect to return to" are:

* An Alabama Record. This project eventually became the highly praised, yet difficult to read, volume he wrote with the photographer Walker Evans, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. At the time, Agee said of the project: "... Any given body of experience is sufficiently complex and ramified to require (or at least be able to use) more than one mode of reproduction: it is likely that this one will require many, including some that will extend writing and observing methods. It will likely make use of various traditional forms but it is anti-artistic, anti-scientific, and anti-journalistic. Though every effort will be made to give experience, emotion and thought as directly as possible, and as nearly as may be toward their full detail and complexity, the job is perhaps chiefly a skeptical study of the nature of reality and the false nature of recreation and communication."

* Conjectures on how to get "art" back on a plane of organic human necessity. "I can write nothing about this, short of writing a great deal. But this again is intensely anti-"artistic," as of art in any of its contemporary meanings. Every use of the moving picture, the radio, the stage, the imagination, and the techniques of the psychoanalyst, the lecturer, the showman and entertainer, the preacher, the teacher, the agitator and the prophet, used directly upon the audience itself, not just set before them: and used on, and against, matters essential to their existence."

* A new kind of "music." "There is as wide a field of pure sound as of pure image, and sound can be photographed. The range, between straight document and the farthest reaches of distortion, juxtaposition, metaphor, associatives, the specific made abstract, is quite unlimited. Unlimited rhythmic and emotional possibilities. Many possibilities of combination with image, instrumental music, the spoken and printed work. For phonograph records, radio, television, movies, reading machines. Thus: a new field of 'music' in relation to music about as photography is in relation to painting. Japanese music suggests its possibilities."

Also included on Agee's list is a story "about homosexuality and football." He wrote, "Not central to the story but an inevitable part of it would be a degree of cleansing of the air on the subject of homosexuality."

Quite the industrious guy, Agee was. No?


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