Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The CIA and Literature

THAT people today look at the 1950's CIA anachronistically hinders their understanding of the Paris Review/CIA story.

The CIA was a liberal organization. Its goal in funding mags like Partisan Review and Encounter was to establish a liberal "Democratic Left" face for American culture in Europe., to compete with Marxism, then on the march among intellectuals.

The parameters of literature in 1953 were very different from what they are now. Radical proletarian writing had been ascendent for fifty years. To be as apolitical as possible was in line with CIA goals (as the art they backed was apolitical). During those times, this was as much as could be hoped for.

When William Styron decried "axe grinding" in Paris Review's inaugeral issue, this fit perfectly with the CIA's attitude.

It's been grudgingly admitted that Paris Review was founded with CIA money.
Two assertions remain.
1.) That Paris Review was founded merely as a cover for Peter Matthiessen.
2.) That George Plimpton was ignorant of the CIA's role.

#1 is unlikely. #2 is ridiculous.

Given that the CIA was backing other literary magazines as ends in themselves, why would their financing of Paris Review be different? Indeed, PR had to be exactly what they wanted in Europe; a bright, cosmopolitan journal with appealing young editors: a fresh, attractive alternative to radical lit.

I'll address question #2 in another post. STAY TUNED.

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