“Verbal Opposition . . . Encouraged by the Powerful”: Transatlantic Literature and the Cultural Cold War
thesisposted on 01.08.2021, 00:00 authored by Gregor Baszak
The cultural prestige of the United States received a significant boost thanks to the achievements of its artists and intellectuals after World War II. But in 1966, revelations in the New York Times, Ramparts, and elsewhere cast a doubtful light on these accomplishments: Had the CIA secretly funded America’s artistic accomplishments in a so-called “Cultural Cold War”? What does this say about the claims to autonomy made by these writers and artists? Since the 1970s, scholars of the so-called “revisionist school” of art criticism have argued that the history of post-War American modernism needs to be rewritten in the wake of these machinations. This study stems back against these short-sighted views: The revisionists make too much of the fact that this surreptitious support occurred, though rarely if ever what effect it may have had on the content and form of the works by the affected artists. Looking at the writings of the novelists Saul Bellow and Uwe Johnson, the poet Gregory Corso, the cinematic work of director Boots Riley, as well as the critical work of Clement Greenberg and Walter Höllerer, I will argue that these individuals—often supported by private foundations deeply aligned with American foreign policy interests—nevertheless held on to their independence as artists and writers. The revisionist school is wrong to question their autonomy, a fact that would have become clear if its adherents had devoted more attention to formal analysis and a thorough understanding of the complicated world of what’s been called the “liberal consensus” of Western Cold War society. What will emerge is the fact that the revisionist school often simply disagrees with the politics of this consensus and that it casts this political disagreement, misleadingly, in aesthetic terms. Where the revisionists rely often exclusively on archival materials to make their points about the art and literature of the Cultural Cold War, the present study blends archival sources with those sources which matter the most in art and literary history—the works of art themselves.