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Finding Work: James Agee in the Office

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020

Abstract

James Agee and Walker Evans's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941) might be the best-known literary product of Agee's uneven career and of Time Inc.‘s golden days at the top of periodical culture. This convergence of author, institution, and text presents a case study for two undertheorized aspects of mid-century American literary history: how the rise of American media corporations, of which Time Inc. is the most successful, provides economic patronage and massive readerships for a generation of writers raised on the tenets of literary modernism and how the “corporate voice” and collective editorial model at these institutions alter conceptions of authorial production. This essay tracks how competing definitions of writing as work—either “for oneself” or “on the clock”—emerge from the context of institutional affiliation. It then shows how the epistemological question of writing as work can be read into the “mental discipline” of Time Inc. magazines’ corporate style (referred to as Time style) and into the recursive elision of authorial control in Famous Men.

Type
Special Topic: Work Coordinated by Vicky Unruh
Copyright
Copyright © 2012 by The Modern Language Association of America

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