Wednesday, March 12, 2008

...and now a word from James Agee

A while back Bill Christenberry told me to read Now Let Us Praise Famous Men. Bit by bit I get through it, struggling to find the time to complete it in a succession of sittings. I wanted to share this stretch on page 126 (of my copy, anyway):

...the work is done by half-skilled, half-paid men under no need to do well... and this is what comes of it: Most naive, most massive symmetry and simpleness. Enough lines, enough off-true, that this symmetry is strongly, yet most subtly sprained against its centers, into something more powerful than either full symmetry or deliberate breaking and balancing of 'monotonies' can ever hope to be. A look of being most earnestly hand-made, as a child's drawing, a thing created out of need, love, patience, and strained skill in the innocence of a race. Nowhere one ounce or inch spent with ornament, not one trace of relief or of disguise: a matchless monotony, and in it a matchless variety, and this again throughout restrained, held rigid...
A part of me thinks he looks upon that "powerful" nature as beautiful and poetic. Another part of me thinks he looks upon that "powerful" nature as desperate and hopeless. Not to miss the point of Agee's text, but I always find it interesting to be able to walk away with art lessons from unexpected places and at unexpected moments.

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