...in the bottom drawer
I knew I'd lose it so I put it in a safe place, and now I can't remember where it is.

currently stashed in: Cheshire Street, London
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November 15, 2004 || 3:13 am

Reading more of 'Let us now praise famous men' is like one sharp intake of breath after another. Not only because of the acuity which Agee brings to bear on what he observes, but because of the precision of his language, the direct, unapologetic, honesty with which he describes his own feelings and the forcefulness with which he does not pull his punches. More brutal yet lyric than any contemporary writing, his prose reminding me alternately of John Clare's tender yet savage descriptions of the English countryside and others like Cobbett or Thomas Paine, interspersed with the naked sensuality of Joyce or parts of early TS Eliot. No doubt Agee knows his influences and his conscious endeavour at a form of truthful realism, harnessing all the powers of language yet not letting them guide his purpose, is painful yet all the more gripping and stark for this pain.

And some parts in particular do not age at all. Particularly, reading the section on 'Education', especially given current political events, is terrifying in its contemporary relevance. His critique of the teaching methods imposed on children in the South, whether white or black, is sadly no less exact than the critique one would construct now. The grinding down of any form of intellectual curiosity, the perpetuation of false truths and half-baked pieces of religion as fact, the lack of good teachers and their inadequate training and the resulting creation of generation upon generation who are, to use Agee's words, "crippled..slowed, blinded and helpless-minded" and "at an immeasurable disadvantage in a world which is run, and in which they are hurt and in which they might be cured, by 'knowledge' and by 'ideas'".

Even his distinction between the teaching in the white and black schools still remains (which, if you have not read it, is that although the white schools are vastly better funded and less overcrowded, the teachers in the black schools are more committed, although they still teach a "white-traditioned education"). The voting patterns of the black and white areas of Alabama bear this out, as do the lunchtime conversations in Lou's over local politics. The calvacade of omissions from education in the rural South that Agee lists is intrinsically linked to the election result and the perpetuation of the gulf dividing the country.

Today, driving to shop in Tuscaloosa I flicked from radio station to radio station, white ones and black ones, to find only screeching Sunday sermons. They are funny for a bit, or as samples on the latest hip-hop track, but listening to the preachers hour after hour literally scream over the airwaves about the End of Days and the judgements awaiting the wicked, how can one not be reminded of the tapes circulated by Al-Qaeda and others to urge on a similarly ill-educated and dispirited population.



Hanna: You are so lucky to experience the Rural Studio. I think is one of the most effective Architecture programs in the United States that are truly socially responsible. Congratulations on your on-line diary. It shows how
intense your involvement with the communities is. Looking forward to seeing pictures of your outreach project, Enrique from Mexico City.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:26 am  

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