agee revival


There’s seems to be something of a James Agee renaissance going on these days. This is a damn good thing. James Agee was one of the best things in American criticism and literature. Here’s a piece from David Denby at The New Yorker:

The mixture of piety and blasphemy is what makes Agee’s fiction so moving, for here is a Christian author of self-punishing temperament who, at the same time, was awed by creation and could not allow a single aspect of sensuous experience to go unadmired—which meant, necessarily, loving what was raw and degraded as much as what was seemly and fine. In “The Morning Watch,” an autobiographical novella of 1951, a twelve-year-old boarding-school boy, asleep in the early morning of Good Friday, dreams that he is Jesus about to be betrayed by his disciples. He awakes, and hears not Peter and Judas but sleepy boys cursing all around him. He goes to chapel and there, on his knees, relives the previous months of religious crisis, during which he tormented himself over masturbation, only to realize that, at that moment, his back and thighs hurting as he kneels, he is committing the sin of imitating Jesus’ suffering. He leaves chapel with his friends and, as they go skinny-dipping at dawn, steals a look at their genitals; then, at the side of the pond, he kills a snake that may be poisonous and feeds it to the school’s hogs. The mood swings back and forth between guilty devotion to Jesus and excited apprehension of the physical world. As the school enters Easter weekend, and Christ’s resurrection approaches, the boy eases into his sexual future.