Program

Event Title

PhotoText in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Location

Edwards Hall Lobby

Document Type

Poster Presentation (1 hour)

Description

Typically, criticism of James Agee and Walker Evans’s Depression Era documentary Let Us Now Praise Famous Men speaks of Agee’s narrative as distinct from coauthor Walker Evans’s photographs. However, this presentation argues that in Agee’s precise, detailed descriptions of the materiality of his subjects there exists an overlooked link between the text and the photos. Pulling from Brooks’s argument that narrative tends to be metonymical, and Jackson’s connection between documentary and narrative in The Story Is True, this research aims to show that the descriptions are metonymic, and, rather than documenting in the flattest meaning of the term, Agee’s detailed descriptions are essential to the plot of the text and function to move the narrative. Such descriptions are not poetic because they do operate as metaphors but instead each description stands in for the person they describe, and present insights into the person described, which impels the reader through the story Agee tells. Because Agee’s descriptions are based on direct experience of his subject, the descriptions are bound by the spatial and temporal proximity required in metonyms and absent in metaphor. Acknowledging that these material descriptions play a role in the narrative opens a bridge with Evans’s photographs because Agee’s descriptions create images with words that mimic the kind of imagery Evans presents in his photographs, thus encouraging the text and photographs, jointly, to motivate the narrative of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Start Date

20-4-2013 9:00 AM

Comments

English Poster Session 1

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Apr 20th, 9:00 AM

PhotoText in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Edwards Hall Lobby

Typically, criticism of James Agee and Walker Evans’s Depression Era documentary Let Us Now Praise Famous Men speaks of Agee’s narrative as distinct from coauthor Walker Evans’s photographs. However, this presentation argues that in Agee’s precise, detailed descriptions of the materiality of his subjects there exists an overlooked link between the text and the photos. Pulling from Brooks’s argument that narrative tends to be metonymical, and Jackson’s connection between documentary and narrative in The Story Is True, this research aims to show that the descriptions are metonymic, and, rather than documenting in the flattest meaning of the term, Agee’s detailed descriptions are essential to the plot of the text and function to move the narrative. Such descriptions are not poetic because they do operate as metaphors but instead each description stands in for the person they describe, and present insights into the person described, which impels the reader through the story Agee tells. Because Agee’s descriptions are based on direct experience of his subject, the descriptions are bound by the spatial and temporal proximity required in metonyms and absent in metaphor. Acknowledging that these material descriptions play a role in the narrative opens a bridge with Evans’s photographs because Agee’s descriptions create images with words that mimic the kind of imagery Evans presents in his photographs, thus encouraging the text and photographs, jointly, to motivate the narrative of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.