Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Seven Years Late

I NOTE there are many articles out recently about how the CIA changed the direction of American literature, including via the rise of MFA programs. Here's one of the articles, by Brian Merchant:

Hmm. Where was Brian Merchant, Eric Bennett, and these other folks when the Underground Literary Alliance was pursuing the story? Here's one of many of my own posts on the matter:

My posts were follow-ups to a ULA "Monday Report" on the matter by essayist Richard Cummings.

Cummings made a lot of accusations in his essay. The ULA presented his essay for informational purposes, letting readers judge for themselves. The key point-- CIA involvement in the world of literature-- is what we stressed. This was seven years ago.

What happened? The ULA was attacked and ostracized by the established lit-world. Because of the flurry of pressure, five key members of the ULA resigned, virtually overnight. NOT ONE established or semi-established literary person defended us-- or even the idea that the matter needed looking into. This issue, more than anything else we did, turned the ULA and its members into pariahs.

Dare I say that the Underground Literary Alliance was right all along?


King Wenclas said...

Why have I come to disdain the so-called Left? Because they're elitist frauds. The idea is for the proper crowd of insiders to pretend to be for "the People" but at the same time to maintain control, even of the dissent. This is certainly true in the established literary world. Worst of the lot may be the n+1 crowd, which is behind the Eric Bennett essay, because the hypocrisy level exceeds anything even Eggers & Company can come up with.
(McSweeneys gangsters never pretended to be our friends.)
Suddenly the Harvardites want engagement with the world! The dichotomy they present in the collection Bennett's essay appears in, "MFA versus New York," is a false one. There's a lot more in literature going on right now than "MFA vs Big Six."
Incidentally, my ebook novel THE MCSWEENEYS GANG presents descriptions of CIA/establishment (same thing) involvement in literature, in fictionalized form. Take a look. said...

You guys called it! But, on reading the Bennett article, I think a lot of credit is due to Francis Stonor Saunders, who published her book on this stuff in 2000. Note how Bennett perpetuates the lie that "conservative" values at the CIA were fighting Communism:

"For two decades after World War II, Iowa prospered on donations from conservative businessmen persuaded by Engle that the program fortified democratic values at home and abroad: It fought Communism. The workshop thrived on checks from places like the Rockefeller Foundation, which gave Iowa $40,000 between 1953 and 1956—good money at the time. "

Rockefeller was rich, but hardly conservative. The CIA sponsored the 'non-Communist left"-- something that describes many of the content farm writers we're used to today.

There's nothing that turns their stomachs more than to have 'CIA' and 'left' put together.

Thanks for posting these links. said...

I just read the ULA-published Richard Cummings essay, "The Fiction of the State: The Paris Review
and the Invisible World of American Letters"

That is some pretty heavy stuff. He needed to have balls to go against his social set and future employer/publishers to write the essay. (Or maybe he was already established elsewhere?)

It struck me as odd that Cummings was never recruited by the CIA himself, considering he was close to the right people and probably had some valuable anti-Haille Selassie contacts in Ethiopia after his teaching days, as well as speaking the language.

To be honest, I find Cummings' writing style a little hard to follow; I get lost in the restaurant spotting and name dropping. Why did Peter Matthiessen carry such a grudge against Cummings? (Was it just for the Pied Piper book or did I fail to understand him?)

One more obs: I love his description of George Plimpton, a privileged liberal who "seemed to lack an integrated personality". I feel like I know him personally. The hypocrisy in his life may be lack of integration; it may also be complete selfishness. From my experience, people who've never had to come to terms with the fact that they're not the center of the universe have difficulty distinguishing 'good' from 'what I want'. Consequently, when somebody says 'there should be a social safety net' they hear, 'we should make a large pool of cash that we need to manage'; or 'we need to stop the rights of the black majority in Rhodesia being violated' comes across as 'we can get sweeter natural resource contracts if we change the people in power'. If 'un-itegrated' liberals are considered in this respect, their actions make a lot of sense.

King Wenclas said...

Thanks for the nice remarks on your own blog.
Yes, you're spot on. The CIA was always part of the liberal establishment. (The FBI were more the conservatives.) The CIA represented a more imperialist/interventionist viewpoint, as opposed to isolationists on the Right. The stance hasn't changed-- and is in some ways represented by mags like n+1. "Globalist" is the more chic term now. "We are the world."
Like many foundations, Rockefeller has funded the avant-garde. In some ways the abstract art movement was their creation.
In lit and art, the idea was to kill socially relevant art & lit, which was so big in the 30's & 40's. The result, an undervaluing of authors like Frank Norris, but also populists on the Right like Ayn Rand.
Re George Plimpton: I met him once in 2001, when the ULA debated he and his staff. Interesting cat. He told me afterward what he thought was wrong with our ideas-- the notion that polemics could have any place in literature.
I'd heard similar from other writers. "One should never use characters as mouthpieces for ideas." Uh, just forget Tolstoy and Dostoevsky then!
This is all a huge subject. It's unfortunate that Bennett doesn't mention or look at Paris Review, which was more at the center of the U.S. intellectual establishment than the Iowa crowd ever was. I may post other links for interesting stuff on the topic, if I have time this weekend.

King Wenclas said...

p.s. My impression meeting Plimpton was that he was sharper than his public image. He definitely had an agenda.