"I do not want anybody to go around anymore being unwittingly a tool."--Keith Botsford, CCF man, CIA culture wrangler
As someone who earns her money wr"I do not want anybody to go around anymore being unwittingly a tool."--Keith Botsford, CCF man, CIA culture wrangler
As someone who earns her money writing for The Paris Review, I should say upfront that I feel kind of implicated by the revelations in this book, even as a freelancer who doesn't make much and, honestly, didn't know who George Plimpton was till about two years ago. What I don't really understand is how anybody might not feel that way, not only about writing for TPR, but about all the institutions--largely unseen--that back writing and publishing. And while there's a kind of passive feeling of discontent about this among writers I know, the fact that we're also working through a time of rampant attacks on the fourth estate makes it easy, in the name of political solidarity-building and supporting the press, to say that we shouldn't focus on the little things (like, oh, literary magazine transparency and accountability). But if justice and truth are in jeopardy--and they ARE--now, more than ever, is precisely the time for us to seek greater transparency and accountability, to ourselves and to our public--not as virtue signaling, not because we don't have other important work to do, but as the best and only way to do our jobs, to keep serving truth and justice AND beauty.
As Whitney writes in the last and, I think, best chapter, about the network of social and media organizations he surveys, "The role these organs played put them at odds with the traditional adversarial role of media, a role that at least theoretically checked government power and guarded against overreach and corruption. It had gone nearly absent for the prior three decades, if it had existed with any solidity before that. Indeed, these operators, despite their patriotism, put the United States at odds with its own founding vision, the insistence upon freedom of expression that the nation advocates for its international friends and adversaries. In the name of cultural and political freedom, these media, labor, student, charity, academic, and legal organizations linked here through John Train and elsewhere through the magazine clearinghouse and the Congress for Cultural Freedom--and IILR, and FEC and son on--behaved slavishly toward a perverse mission of state."
What was at stake in that mission of state was lives. As he shows throughout the book (which ranges through several Cold War conflicts), but here regarding US media involvement in Afghanistan, "If the United States could precipitate such Soviet violence, then the violence could be used as propaganda to discredit them. This seemed to take propaganda to a whole new level that completely dehumanized the victims of the violence in the service of some apocalyptic bet between angels and demons."
Even those of us who are poets and fiction writers have stakes in that bet, and we need books that force us to reveal our hands. ---- Some additional thoughts: the book's got an overall scholarly/historical/archival quality that's appropriate to the subject, the burden of proof and all that, but there are moments when it lifts into something extra. Like, in the Hemingway section, the way he captures the excruciating quality of fan love for writers (when fandom turns into desire). Or the capturing of the minute shifts in Baldwin's thinking. Or the controlled fury that's really what he's best at, in the discussions of war. Plus, he's got a real gift for interviews (the Immy Humes section), as he used to do at Guernica, which is why I'd like to see him do a book where he gets to work with more living people....more
I loved White’s The Tree of Man and am surprised it took me so long to get around to reading Voss, especially since it’s a kind of neo-Victorian novelI loved White’s The Tree of Man and am surprised it took me so long to get around to reading Voss, especially since it’s a kind of neo-Victorian novel about a naturalist with delusions of grandeur and the angry, abrasive woman who loves him—and I’m all over that kind of thing. White reproduces the Victorian novelists’ style, character study, and themes with a gift for description that is dizzying, the way that spending too much time with a micro- or telescope can be dizzying: the perspective is off; one sees too much too close; we see veins pulsing and receding under the skin while people think, and smell the ants moving in the dirt, and come to experience soiled gloves and dying mules and cloud shadows as expressions of will. Through the huge cast of of characters, whose skins—not just their minds—White sets out to inhabit, he asks good questions: how does a god become a man, when the people around him believe him to be a man trying to become godlike? Is apotheosis a solitary or communal effort? What is humiliation? How does a 20th-century novelist find ways to collapse boundaries between individual and community when he confines himself to writing in a Victorian style about Victorian characters? And, given those self-imposed constraints, how does he speak about class, gender, race, and religion? Wondrous stuff. http://alisonkinney.com/category/whit......more
Seriously wonderful. This book is marvelous. Humane, beautifully observed, and funny! Full of wonderfully crafted sentences and paragraphs, such a worSeriously wonderful. This book is marvelous. Humane, beautifully observed, and funny! Full of wonderfully crafted sentences and paragraphs, such a work. All about love and family and marriage and houses and communities and time, but I’ll pick out these two excerpts on America.
From “envy #2”:
The colonists on the ship that brought the first honey-bees to the New World suffered a worse passage than all other colonists. In addition to everything–stenches, storms, sunburns, hunger, thirst, constipation, nostalgia, insomnia, uncertainty, cold moons on black waters, the desperate yearning for sugar, the infuriating weight of one’s body, its tyrannical needs, how heavily it moors one to the stinking wooden boards,preventing one from experiencing other, more abstract desires–they’re subjected to bee-stings, most earthbound and gardenbound of sufferings, a pain historically mitigated by the aroma of peaches, grass, dirt, roses, usually forgotten by the time the sunbeams turn to honey, warmly recalled as the worst mishap of a perfect day (and anyhow aren’t honeybees responsible for peaches, roses, the metaphor of honey?), but there’s nothing in this waterbound world to mitigate the pain, and so they howl, howl until gender and age vanish and each becomes just a creature, howling. Meanwhile, a tiny golden carcass falls to the salty boards.