Friday, June 15, 2007
CIA funding of arts activities
In other news...
Currently reading The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders. Originally published in the U.K. in the late 1990's, it was published in the U.S. in 2001 by The New Press. The book details (with copious footnotes) a widespread and systematic effort by the C.I.A., starting in the late 1940's (from the earliest years of the agency), to influence literature, art, music, movies, and other cultural activities, in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, by controlling funding and attempting to infuse political content that was friendly to U.S. foreign policy.
Author Stonor Saunders names many names of writers, editors, and others on the world cultural scene who either were fully aware that they were receiving money from the C.I.A. or who should have known. Among the items that stick out in my mind at the moment:
When an animated movie was made of George Orwell's book Animal Farm in 1954, CIA involvement (in the person of E. Howard Hunt, the Watergate conspirator of years later) led to a re-writing of the script so that it was less critical of capitalism and more one-sidely critical of Communism. The C.I.A. did similar meddling with the script for the movie of Orwell's 1984 (the version made during the 1950's, sometime after Orwell had died).
Poet John Crowe Ransom was regarded by the C.I.A. as an important "asset" when he was teaching at Kenyon College -- I gathered (though Stonor Saunders doesn't quite say it outright) that he was helping recruit potential new employees for the C.I.A. from among his students. One of Ransom's students, Robie Macauley, was, according to Stonor Saunders, on the C.I.A. payroll at the time that he was editor of Kenyon Review (he succeeded Ransom as editor).
The C.I.A. funded a trip to South America by poet Robert Lowell sometime in the early 1960's. Lowell was ostensibly going to visit poet friend Elizabeth Bishop. He may not have been directly aware of who paid for the trip -- the C.I.A. made a practice of funneling money for their arts projects through dummy foundations, then to "legitimate" foundations, which then formally gave the money as grants -- however the C.I.A. apparently wanted Lowell to act as an informal cultural ambassador for U.S. cold war values, and they sent along a case officer to keep an eye on Lowell.
I don't always agree with the conclusions and offhand comments Stonor Saunders makes in discussing C.I.A. activities -- sometimes she seems a little too much in agreement with Cold War ideas, not enough questioning the basis for the existence of the C.I.A. and similar organizations, and the policies that breed them -- and also at times the narrative in the book becomes a little overwhelmed with names of people and organizations, dizzying to keep track of them all. Nevertheless it contains much information I've found useful and enlightening. The couple of examples I've given above aren't even the tip of the iceberg.
A good review of the book -- originally published in 1999 -- is in the website of the Monthly Review, here.
What impact did the Kenyon Review have on American literature? So what was the impact of CIA funding on the literature or art of the period?
According to the book, the CIA also published its own literary and cultural magazines (funding them by filtering money through several layers of foundations so the source of the funds wouldn't be too obvious). Among these was the magazine Encounter -- the book talks much about it. There were also similar CIA-published magazines in France, Germany, South America (I don't remember the specific countries offhand). This according to author Frances Stonor Saunders.
I found some information about this online, and also reviews of Stonor Saunders' book, when I googled phrases like "CIA funding arts" and "CIA funding literature" etc. (I didn't include the quote marks in the search window.)
Julia, I've mostly known the Kenyon Review by reputation. I gather that in the late 1940's and the 1950's it was considered one of the more prestigious magazines to publish in, if you were a poet or writer trying to get a job teaching in a college or university.
How the Kenyon Review in particular impacted literature, I'm not sure in any detail. It was part of a general trend during those years, among more conservative literary magazines, to turn away from publishing writing with overt political or social content, toward a supposed "art for art's sake" approach. In general, it seems to me, most of the literary magazines attached to university English departments during those years followed that same conservative trend.
Stonor Saunder's book doesn't suggest CIA funding of large numbers of literary magazines, but by funding just a few "prestigious" ones they were able subtly to influence the tone and content of many others.
Thanks everyone for your comments.
In researching material for another poem, I ran across this government page for recruiting children to various government agencies including the CIA, FBI, DIA, etc... They're not waiting for the children to grow up or become literate before they're recruited as these pages are filled with various (though lame by today's standards) video games.