Tag Archives: Literary

How the CIA Shaped Western Literary World

“During the Cold War, it was commonplace to draw the distinction between “totalitarian” and “free” societies by noting that only in the free ones could groups self-organize independently of the state. But many of the groups that made that argument [including literary magazines] were often covertly-sponsored instruments of state power, at least in part. Whether or not art and artists would have been more “revolutionary” in the absence of the CIA’s cultural work is a vexed question; what is clear is that that possibility was not a risk they were willing to run. And the magazines remain, giving off an occasional glitter amid the murk left behind by the intersection of power and self-interest. Here are seven of the best, ranked by an opaque and arbitrary combination of quality, impact, and level of CIA involvement.

Probably the finest literary magazine in American history, the Kenyon Review was founded by John Crowe Ransom in 1939. The intellectuals and CIA officers who ran the Congress for Cultural Freedom loved Ransom, and used him and his literary networks to locate promising students and literary friends that it could recruit to work for it. Even Ransom’s technique of “New Criticism,” seen as a quintessentially conservative Cold War form of analysis because it eschewed examination of the social and political context of literary works, has sometimes been compared to the work of espionage, by which careful reading can unearth hidden plans and meanings.”

From, and more, on 7 Influential Literary Magazines with CIA ties: theawl.com/2015/08/literary-magazines-for-socialists-funded-by-the-cia-ranked

Related: CIA involvement in the shaping of American Literature https://spywriter.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/the-cia-ideology-and-american-literature/

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Literary Fame is a Fleeting Moment

“The team also investigated the changing nature of fame over the past two centuries. By looking at the frequency of famous people’s names in literature, they showed that celebrities born in the mid-20th century tended to be younger and more famous than those of the 19th century, but their fame lasted for a shorter period of time. By 1950, celebrities were achieving fame, on average, when they were 29, compared with 43 for celebrities around 1800. “People are getting more famous than ever before,” wrote the researchers, “but are being forgotten more rapidly than ever.”

“Mark Twain is among the most famous writers and among the most famous people,” said Michel. “Among the American presidents, it’s Theodore Roosevelt.”

“Aiden warned against straightforward comparisons of historical figures, however. “It’s comparing apples and oranges comparing presidents from the mid to late 20th century and those that precede them. The reason is that they haven’t really had the full opportunity to reach the height of their fame trajectory. By virtue of having been around longer, someone in the mid-19th century is going to have accrued a lot of fame.”

“By the mid 20th century, the most famous actors tended to achieve fame at around 30 years of age, while writers had to wait until they were 40. For politicians, fame didn’t tend to happen until they reached 50 or above.”

“Science is a poor route to fame. Physicists and biologists eventually reached a similar level of fame as actors but it took them far longer,” wrote the researchers. “Alas, even at their peak, mathematicians tend not to be appreciated by the public.”

From: theguardian.com/science/2010/dec/16/google-tool-english-cultural-trends

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Market-Driven Death to Literature

“There is an unholy practice to bring fundamentalism, capitalism and even politics into literature and culture. Literature goes beyond any religion, politics and capitalism. The purpose of literature is to bring positive change. If that is not done, the next generation will be misled.”
 
…”literature and activism are the two faces of the same coin” … “Both these elements are interlinked. The very purpose gets defeated if even one element is lost. Let us resolve not to receive any award or accept invitation by individuals, organizations or even the government which encourage communalism and fundamentalism directly or indirectly.”

“The early writers and poets used literature as a weapon to fight against social evils. But that does not largely happen now. Market-driven society and anti-social issues have hijacked the very essence of literary works”…

Source: daijiworld.com

Books – the endlessly expanding publishing waistline?

“… because you think if you own publishing you can control what’s printed, what’s written, what’s read? Well, lotsa luck, sir. It’s a common delusion of tyrants. Writers and readers, even as they suffer from it, regard it with amused contempt.”

Yet, the corporate publishing industry operates in those exact terms. Books are nothing more than commodity, with bestsellers being the lifeline that sustains the business model.

“The social quality of literature is still visible in the popularity of bestsellers. Publishers get away with making boring, baloney-mill novels into bestsellers via mere P.R. because people need bestsellers. It is not a literary need. It is a social need. We want books everybody is reading (and nobody finishes) so we can talk about them. …

Moneymaking entities controlled by obscenely rich executives and their anonymous accountants have acquired most previously independent publishing houses with the notion of making quick profit by selling works of art and information. …

… a “good book” means a high gross and a “good writer” is one whose next book can be guaranteed to sell better than the last one. That there are no such writers is of no matter to the corporationeers, who don’t comprehend fiction even if they run their lives by it. Their interest in books is self-interest…

And not only profit but growth. If there are stockholders, their holdings must increase yearly, daily, hourly. … How can you make book sales expand endlessly, like the American waistline?”

More: http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/02/0081907

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