Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-vkn6t Total loading time: 0.379 Render date: 2022-08-07T17:19:33.524Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Article contents

Finding Work: James Agee in the Office

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


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.

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

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Agee, James. “Comedy's Greatest Era.” Life 5 Sept. 1949: 70–88. Print.Google Scholar
Agee, James. Letters of James Agee to Father Flye. New York: Braziller, 1962. Print.Google Scholar
Agee, James. “Plans for Work: October 1937.” The Collected Short Prose of James Agee. Ed. Fitzgerald, Robert. Boston: Houghton, 1968. 131–48. Print.Google Scholar
Agee, James. Preface. Agee and Evans xlv–xlviii.Google Scholar
Agee, James. “Tennessee Valley Authority.” Film Writing and Selected Journalism. Ed. Sragow, Michael. New York: Lib. of Amer., 2005. 631–46. Print.Google Scholar
Agee, James, and Evans, Walker. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. 1941. Boston: Houghton, 1988. Print.Google Scholar
Allred, Jeff. American Modernism and Depression Documentary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.Google Scholar
Allred, Jeff. “Boring from Within: James Agee and Walker Evans at Time Inc.” Criticism 52.1 (2010): 4170. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barnard, Rita. The Great Depression and the Culture of Abundance. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. Print.Google Scholar
Bergreen, Laurence. James Agee: A Life. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.Google Scholar
Brinkley, Alan. The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century. New York: Knopf, 2010. Print.Google Scholar
Christensen, Jerome. America's Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Pictures. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2012. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davidson, Christina. “Let Us Now Trash Famous Authors.” Atlantic 1 Apr. 2010: 18–19. Print.Google Scholar
Eliot, T. S. The Frontiers of Criticism. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1956. Print.Google Scholar
Eliot, T. S.Tradition and the Individual Talent.” The Sacred Wood. 1920. London: Methuen, 1960. 4759. Print.Google Scholar
Elson, Robert T. Time Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Enterprise, 1923–1941. New York: Atheneum, 1968. Print.Google Scholar
Firebaugh, Joseph J.The Vocabulary of Time Magazine.” American Speech 15.3 (1940): 232–42. Print.Google Scholar
Fitzgerald, Robert. “A Memoir.” The Collected Short Prose of James Agee. Ed. Fitzgerald, . Boston: Houghton, 1968. 357. Print.Google Scholar
Gibbs, Walcott. “Time … Fortune … Life … Luce.” New Yorker 28 Nov. 1936: 20–25. Print.Google Scholar
“The Great Trial.” Time 20 July 1925: 17+. Print.Google Scholar
“In Love and Anger.” Time 26 Sept. 1960: 112. Print.Google Scholar
Jackson, Bruce. “The Deceptive Anarchy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” Antioch Review 57.1 (1999): 3849. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jaffe, Aaron. “Adjectives and the Work of Modernism in the Age of Celebrity.” Yale Journal of Criticism 16.1 (2003): 137. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kazin, Alfred. Starting Out in the Thirties. Boston: Little, 1962. Print.Google Scholar
Kazin, Alfred. “Writing for Magazines.” Contemporaries. Boston: Little, 1962. 469–74. Print.Google Scholar
Lahire, Bernard. “The Double Life of Writers.” Trans. Gwendolyn Wells. New Literary History 41.2 (2010): 443–65. Print.Google Scholar
Leavis, F. R. Mass Civilization and Minority Culture. Cambridge: Minority, 1930. Print.Google Scholar
Leavis, F. R. New Bearings on English Poetry. 1932. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1964. Print.Google Scholar
Lofaro, Michael A., and Davis, Hugh, eds. James Agee Rediscovered: The Journals of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Other New Manuscripts. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 2005. Print.Google Scholar
Luhmann, Niklas. “The Ecology of Ignorance.” Observations on Modernity. Trans. Whobrey, William. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1998. 75112. Print.Google Scholar
Macdonald, Dwight. Against the American Grain. New York: Random, 1952. Print.Google Scholar
MacLeish, Archibald. Poetry and Journalism. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1958. Print. Gideon D. Seymour Memorial Lecture Ser.Google Scholar
Macy, John. “Journalism.” Civilization in the United States: An Inquiry by Thirty Americans. Ed. Stearns, Harold. New York: Harcourt, 1922. 3551. Print.Google Scholar
Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920–1940. Berkeley: U of California P, 1985. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mott, Frank L. A History of American Magazines. Vol. 5 (1905–30). Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1968. Print.Google Scholar
Ohmann, Richard. Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century. New York: Verso, 1996. Print.Google Scholar
Poirier, Richard. “The Difficulties of Modernism and the Modernism of Difficulty.” Images and Ideas in American Culture. Ed. Edelstein, Arthur. Hanover: Brandeis UP, 1979. 125–40. Print.Google Scholar
Rabinowitz, Paula. “Voyeurism and Class Consciousness: James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” Cultural Critique 21 (1992): 143–70. Print.Google Scholar
Reed, T. V.Unimagined Existence and the Fiction of the Real: Postmodern Realism in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” Representations 24 (1988): 156–76. Print.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era. New York: Pantheon, 1988. Print.Google Scholar
Schudson, Michael. Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers. New York: Basic, 1978. Print.Google Scholar
“Shanti Shanti Shanti.” Time 3 Mar. 1923: 12. Print.Google Scholar
Spiegel, Alan. James Agee and the Legend of Himself: A Critical Study. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1998. Print.Google Scholar
Szalay, Michael. New Deal Modernism: American Literature and the Invention of the Welfare State. Durham: Duke UP, 2000. Print.Google Scholar
West, Nathanael. The Day of the Locust. Miss Lonely-hearts and The Day of the Locust. New York: New Directions, 1962. 59185. Print.Google Scholar

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Finding Work: James Agee in the Office
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Finding Work: James Agee in the Office
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Finding Work: James Agee in the Office
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *