More Lit Mags & the CIA
To call Joel Whitney’s recent article at Salon on literary magazine connections to the CIA interesting is an understatement, but it’s maybe not interesting for reasons most readers would expect. Though connecting lit mags to the CIA—an organization with a questionable history that helped topple not a few governments—might seem like sensationalist news or a scoop about the literary world, it is actually fairly well-documented stuff about The Paris Review, as well as the other magazines mentioned in Whitney’s piece (see here and here, for example). This article isn’t a slam against these magazines or the Congress, and it’s very even-handed, overall.
Whitney gathered his information for the piece from the Morgan Library’s holdings of The Paris Review archives (pdf), which the library obtained for an estimated price of over $500,000 back in 1999. What is most interesting then is not the subject of Whitney’s article, but the amount of work he has done on the subject, the amount of documentation he has unearthed from the Morgan and brought to the table, laying out more clearly such things as these magazine editors’ feelings of and understandings about this CIA connection, how deep the connection was, how it shaped magazine operations, and—maybe most importantly—how publishing decisions may have been influenced by this connection. For example:
Along with his work selling reprint rights for the great Hemingway interview, Aldrich jumps at the grand Pasternak proposal. His enthusiasm matches Plimpton’s sense of the event as a major one in “lit’r’y history.” “[W]hat a marvelous coup that will be! I think of huge international mailing drives, droves of publicity.” In this period, anti-communist writers will increasingly find their way into the editorial letters, as well as into the Paris Review’s pages. And, as in issue 18, Hungarian author Arthur Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon,” a critique of Soviet policy and life, was also subsidized by officialdom; 50,000 copies were bought up by Britain’s Foreign Office. Touring with his book, Koestler traveled to the U.S., where he enjoined American radicals to “grow up,” and thus sparked an idea at the CIA that would define its propaganda funding: “Who better to fight communists than former communists?”
Overall, and excitingly, Whitney’s piece makes explicit that (as is no doubt obvious) The Paris Review archives at the Morgan are a treasure map of American literary history of the second half of the twentieth century waiting to be navigated. (While Googling around about Whitney’s article, I stumbled upon a Nova Scotia scholar already at it.)