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date: 22 September 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter compares James Agee and Walker Evans’s photodocumentary book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families (1941), with Luis Buñuel’s documentary film Tierra sin Pan/Las Hurdes (1933) in order to argue that, while each of these works is considered unique within the history of its medium, they share a desire to unsettle their audiences by rendering the act of viewing an exercise in prurience and distortion. Thus, the abject traits these texts locate in destitute spaces are matched or even exceeded by those aligned with the source of the gaze. Situating this commonality in relation to their shared theme of uneven economic development and the transnational context of avant-garde aesthetics, the chapter argues against conventional readings of Praise—which describe it as a model of ethical, creatively tortured individualism—by recovering a milieu in which such a pose exemplifies bourgeois egotism.

Keywords: avant-garde, modernization, documentary, transnational studies, comparative studies

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