Curiosity. It means many different things depending on who you are. To the Merryweather men from A Little White Horse, it is the downfall of all women. To me, it is the desire to see into my boyfriend’s thoughts. And to many people, in many instances, it is the thing that killed the cat. So it is indeed, curious that Agee starts off his work with the statement that it is curious.
When he says that, he is actually saying a plethora of things, both negative and positive, which he explains and explores throughout the preamble. To him, “curious” is an understatement for how mind-blowing it is that a person could pick up his subjects’ lives as easily as a leisure book. It is an emphasis on the oddness of the entire situation, that “it could occur to an association of human beings drawn together through need and chance and profit into a company, an organ of journalism, to pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings, an ignorant and helpless rural family, for the purpose of parading the nakedness, disadvantage and humiliation of these lives before another group of human beings, in the name of science” (96). In other words, he can’t believe he’s participating in the exploitation of a poor family. And it is also curious in an odd way (to him) that he has been deemed qualified to exploit them– in his eyes he is a young, inexperienced man who has been sent to act as a spy on people older, wiser and much more worn by the world than he is.
The relation of these curiosities is meant to prepare the reader for what is to come. It is meant to sober her, so that she takes the writings with the seriousness that Agee believes is owed to them. It is meant to muster that creeping feeling of guilt and sadness in the reader, so that she begins to understand the suffering and hardships that his subject suffered through. And I know that in my case at least, the preparation was not only affective, but welcome too. In a previous blog, I wrote, “I thank him for it, for casting off my “read against the grain” mindset, and forcing me to take him and his project seriously.” It is not curious that I still feel that way.