Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Plimpton Being Plimpton


The new book George Being George is biography mixed with propaganda.

Pages 97-99 have Peter Matthiessen shitting all over himself.

Picture a large bag of money on a table in an office which could be in Paris or could be in New York. On the bag are large black letters: "CIA." Nobody in the office sees the bag of money.

"Money? What money? Do you see any money? I don't see any money!"

(Sgt. Schultz: "I see nothing. Nothing!")

Peter Matthiessen meanwhile mumbles semi-coherently. ("I don't understand this Fleischmann fellow, but it must be all attributable to Fleischmann. That's right. Yeah! Fleischmann! HE was the guy.")

Let's take a moment to get the scenario straight. Peter Matthiessen was a CIA operative. The Paris Review was founded as an International journal with CIA money, but Matthiessen, Paris Review founder and CIA guy, never made the connection. Fleischmann! It was all Fleischmann! (This goes under the heading of Implausible Denial.)

Do smart people at Paris Review today like Meghan O'Rourke actually believe any of this? Or is the goal simply to save George Plimpton's reputation, truth be denied? George Plimpton either knew about the CIA connection and was okay with it or he was an imbecile. There's no other choice.

We're supposed to believe that Matthiessen, George Plimpton's good friend and fellow adventurous WASP-- who recruited George for the magazine-- didn't tell George about the CIA, even though such cloak-and-dagger games would've been right up G.P.'s alley; George being the consummate bold amateur game player. It's preposterous.
Keep in mind two additional points.

1.) George Plimpton lived his life within a relatively tiny clique of influential people at the highest levels of American society. This circle was permeated by the CIA. To look at it another way, it's been well documented in books and film that the CIA in its early days was permeated by literary people.

2.) George was no naif about Insider politics at the highest levels. His father, Francis T.P. Plimpton, was deputy U.N. Ambassador in the Kennedy administration; was at the heart of the most tumultuous events of the Cold War, which very much involved the CIA. George himself was friends with Robert Kennedy. (Like a real-life Zelig, George was present at RFK's assassination.)

The idea that people would be afraid to talk to George, of all people, about the CIA is ludicrous. Absurd, absurd, absurd.

Yet that's what Matthiessen and this well-edited book would have us believe. Which is why I say that the recent award-winner is shitting all over himself. Does the truth bother you?
THEY DO HIM A DISSERVICE, those who portray George Plimpton as a semi-retarded simpleton blowing off fireworks, instead of as a tough, shrewd member of his social class and of his times-- a patriot, even-- who felt the obligations which came with his opportunities and status.
(DISCLAIMER. Let me emphasize that the original decision by the ULA to post the Cummings piece and cover this story was solely my doing. I take full responsibility. The attempt by James Linville to connect other ULAers to the matter is an act of malice whose purpose is to intimidate the ULA.)


scofflaw said...

And yet the ULA consensus approved after some discussion betweeen the ULAs most active members approved the particular MR... also important is the follow up comments from various ULAers but most tellingly the ideational analysi, really the STRUCTURALIST scalpe brought to bear and inductive/deductive reasoning applied as to the why of the CIAKGB plumbing applied to literature to deaden obscure control through the agency of Paris Review (this is what is still but to a more redundant affect because of the helpful great ignorance of the lay of the lit/crit establishment in terms of blacklisting/censorship and out and out LARCENY of the OVerdawgs toward any concerted underground lit movement ) and the other "tweaked" lit journals.

My point is that the meat on the bones of what you claim responsibity for here, is fleshed out, ie really peeves the Corpo Covert BUND, in the follow up from ULAers and people especially more knowlegable and insightful especially as regards Le Sang de Poets of the time and the application of cold war propaganda technique back then applied to such and such enemies like the ULA and its members of the status quo now.

You shld reference to and encourage readers to go back to specific barrages of posts and their attending comments within the context of the discussion now.
That would show not only lip service responsibility but also felicity and egalitarianism to stay on target and keep on hitting these
intellectual elites where it hurts in the public arena of "ideas" and noy so much continually "drawing lines in the sand" which does turn a lot of people off or worse drives them over to the side of disinterest.

Christian R. said...

May I ask, if we all agree with you that it is likely that the Paris Review was funded by the CIA, with George Plimpton's full knowledge and cooperation, what your point is, exactly? Would the Paris Review's content likely have been different (i.e., circumscribed by the ethos of that "proletarian literature" that was, at least according to you, ascendant in the early fifties?)? Would the Paris Review have been less reprehensible to you somehow had its content been exactly the same but unfunded by the CIA? Is it simply offensive to you (not that it shouldn't be) that America's intelligence service would be concerned with establishing a beachhead in the New York literary world? It seems like a wrongheaded operation, in a lot of ways, given the history of the literary magazine in the 1950s. I don't know if you know much about that, but certainly given the tenor of the times, and the renascent radicalism that would within ten years come to be known as the "New Left," it seems as if the CIA would have been better off trying to suppress the interesting mainstream (e.g., Evergreen Review) and underground (e.g., Big Table, Yugen, The Floating Bear, Neon, etc.) journals that were flourishing then. Is your point that you think that the CIA was attempting to control content, or spread propaganda via the Paris Review? Aside from the somewhat tepid nature of some of the magazine's offerings over the years, can you offer some examples of the propaganda in the Paris Review? Just asking.

King said...

Wow! I get it from both directions. I guess I'm too aggressive pursuing this story, and at the same time not aggressive enough.
What Christian/Harland misses is that the importance of the story is self-evident.
No, the CIA didn't run ads in the journal. That's generally not how they operate. I've given good reasons here and elsewhere as to why, for them, Paris Review seemed a good investment. (From their perspective, they were promoting ANTI-propaganda. Art detached from social issues, as much as possible.)
The CIA created the Paris Review. In 2000 I created the ULA. Did I tell ULAers what to write, what to say? Of course not. But my ideas and ethos created a milieu in which the ULA operated.
There's little doubt that both Matthiessen and Plimpton were imbued with the 1950's liberal Cold Warrior ethos in synch with the CIA. (Incidentally, Joe McCarthy and the CIA in reality hated each other, which is why Matthiessen's quotes in the new book are anachronistic and possibly misleading.)
Plimpton's editorial decisions on the whole tended toward the kind of irrelevant fiction and poetry we've been stuck with to this day. For instance, he was one of the creators of the "Brat Pack" movement of the 80's, Rich Kid Lit, which included minimalist Susan Minot and your buddy Mr. Moody. Writing of the Privileged.
By the way, if you're such a fan of Rick's as you claim in many of the 50-plus recent mad comments of yours which haven't been posted here, you do him a strong disservice in continuing your provocations. Which leads me to believe you're really not a fan of his at all.
If I were Dave and Rick, and knew who you are, I'd be very disappointed.
(Re "Scofflaw": He wants to take co-responsibility for the PR/CIA story-- and does so under a false identity! Gotta love living in the postmodern age.)

knott said...

you're right on the money——on the table——

my fantasy re the CIA museum and Plimpton may amuse you (google hitler skeleton plimpton)——