Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Working for the Man

The Paris Review CIA revelations throw a different light upon George Plimpton's actions over the years.

Recall that, after our Feb 8 2001 debate with Plimpton and his staff, George told me that the one point upon which the ULA was most wrong was the notion that literature could in any way be polemical. "Never!" he stated emphatically. (This conversation documented by Michael Jackman and myself.)

Pieces fall into place. I've been told much the same thing over the years by other established lit people; from well-bred award-winning novelist Charles Baxter; to an associate editor at the New York Review of Books. They seem to have been brainwashed into the notion that strong ideas have no place in fiction and poetry, as a matter of taste. For Plimpton it went beyond simple brainwashing.

The conjunction of literary bureaucracies in this nation is a mirror image of the cultural apparatus in the now-defunct Soviet Union (albeit much richer and larger). The mindset is the same. On one side, literary publications were infiltrated by the KGB. Here, they were infiltrated by the CIA. Both sides were fighting an intense ideological battle. Culture was used as a weapon against the other.

For American apparatchiks this meant stripping our literature of anything resembling authentic social action and conscience; anything in any way hinting of the crude socialist realism of the Soviets. Writing that champions the economic underdog was viewed as a threat by literary mandarins like George Plimpton. A great tradition of American literature, as represented by novelists like London, Norris, and Dreiser, was wiped out.

Who did George Plimpton promote instead? For the most part, the richest of the rich; using his influence with large circulation mags like GQ and Esquire to gain hyper-attention for modestly-talented brats like Jay McInerney, Rick Moody, and Susan Minot.

The Paris Review, mouthpiece of the literary status quo, founded entirely with CIA money, was ALWAYS an ideological vehicle. It remains so now. Editor Philip Gourevitch admits in the NY Times 2/13/07 story that the journal's CIA background was common knowledge in their offices. (They didn't think to inform anyone else!)

How do Paris Review editors salvage the reputation of their publication? Is it possible?

Do they even want to?


- Leopold said...

Yes, yes, yes. Exactly.

It seems to me, now that people are forced to acknowledge that even the CIA thought literature important enough, dangerous enough to meddle with, that people dismiss it's acts as simple exhuberance and over-caution. When they do that, though, they show that the CIA (and like-minded efforts) have been successful, demoting literature to a silly toy, a hobby for people who can't play music or sail...

James Scott Linville said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
King said...

We'll post your statement, James, asap, as part of a follow-up Monday Report on the matter.
Btw, the statement answers none of the direct questions I asked you.

King said...

We're getting a sense of how the literary establishment is going to do damage control on this story.
They will nitpick Cummings essay to death-- never responding to the truth of the matter.
They will isolate Matthiessen's involvement to minimize its importance.
Will they confront the issue directly?
Will they admit that Paris Review as pawn of the CIA is an outrage, apologize, and take the lead in uncovering the story?
Will they pledge to make a new beginning with this publication, and with all their publications?
Will they return openness and democracy to literature and literature to the people?
That seems to be asking too much.

Wred Fright said...

"The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude"--George Orwell in "Why I Write"