Spies and agents
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This thesis explores the ways in which W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood’s Journey to a War and James Agee and Walker Evans’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men deploy the metaphor of the spy to understand the inherently shameful, voyeuristic experience of creating a documentary text. The spy functions to navigate essential tensions between the impulse to produce an objective, realist representation for a middle-class, liberal readership and the alternative impulse to foreground the documentarian’s individual and subjective experience, including the powers of vision and authorship. This tension manifests itself in the form of hybrid phototexts that invoke competing and collaborative points of view, encoded in the character of the spy, as represented via realist and modernist styles. As modernist documentary projects, both texts revise and blur distinctions between realism and modernism in order to establish multivalent representations of reality that highlight perspective and position with respect to power dynamics between subject and object.