Blayze Hembree's Reviews > Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee
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's review
Dec 13, 11

it was amazing
bookshelves: american-literature, the-american-south
Read from October 01 to December 13, 2011

On page 15, towards the end of the Preamble, Agee writes:

Get a radio or a phonograph capable of the most extreme loudness possible, and sit down to listen to a performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony or of Schubert's C-Major Symphony. But I don't mean just sit down and listen. I mean this: Turn it on as loud as you can get it. Then get down on the floor and jam your ear as close into the loudspeaker as you can get it and stay there, breathing as lightly as possible, and not moving, and neither eating nor smoking nor drinking. Concentrate everything you can into your hearing and into your body. You won't hear it nicely. If it hurts you, be glad of it. As near as you will ever get, you are inside the music; not only inside it, you are it; your body is no longer your shape and substance, it is the shape and substance of the music.

What Agee describes cannot be avoided in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. He means for us to take it up with an intense devotion. If he makes a comparison to other Genius, like Beethoven, it's no mistake. And yet his meaning is not that he is genius, because he would surely become rather agitated and angry if that were the impression. As literary as he is, he cares more for life and the supernatural than he does for any work of art. His meaning is that the three tenant families, the so-called Gudger's, Woods', and Ricketts', are: beautiful, noble, Genius, but also: hopeless, faded, human. He admires the human soul, and here in this exhaustive monograph, he takes up such a topic. Picking up this book, readers may imagine to find great literature. They do, I argue; but they also find life.

Lastly, I've been playing Death and the Maiden at its highest decibel for the past hour.

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