Monday, 28 October 2013

The Word-a-day Writing Challenge

Day Thirty-Three: Gullible

In the summer of 1936, writer and journalist James Agee and photographer Walker Evans were sent, by the editors of Fortune, to Alabama to get the story on the conditions of tenant farmers and landowners in the throes of Roosevelt's New Deal. Whether Agee was gullible enough from the outset to believe this was even possible is uncertain. Nonetheless, he returned to New York after eight weeks in the South with nothing less than thirty-thousand words of material and, after refusing to clip it's edges in any manageable sense, stalwartly presented Fortune with an unpublishable article. It was impossible, he argued, to convey with any degree of accuracy, the lives of his subjects within the parameters suggested by the magazine. Fortune refused to publish the work and he was dismissed. Ultimately, Agee wished to create a trilogy (though only the first book was ever written) entitled Three Tenant Families. The first instalment, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, was published in 1941. In his introduction, Agee asks, with some degree of resentment and hostility, what right he, or anyone, has to write the story he has written, and then later, what right we have to read it. His defence of the families and his initial frustration with the arrogance of the project and its inciters, never abated., looking thus into your eyes and seeing thus, how each of you is a creature which has never in all time existed before and which shall never in all time exist again and which is not quite like any other and which has the grand stature and natural warmth of every other and whose existence is all measured upon a still mad and incurable time; how am I to speak of you as 'tenant' 'farmers,' as 'representatives' of your 'class,' as social integers in a criminal economy, or as individuals, fathers, wives, sons, daughters, and as my friends and as I 'know' you?

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