How persistent and how strange is the look backward upon the intellectual life of the Cold War. The New York Times A3 page, Mar.5, carried this teaser, “The C.I.A. once ran a covert operation to publish a literary magazine, Encounter, as a propaganda exercise.” The relevant piece, in T, the Style Magazine, happens to be rather different. “The Joys of Propaganda,” by Andrew O’Hagan, is a shorty, touched by nostalgia for a simpler age of lies and half truths purported to be something other than False News–a distinction that remains elusive. A mere paid propaganda exercise, those old Cold War literary efforts? Actually, O’Hagan explains, it was a high minded effort to win the masses over from Communism by way of modernism, emphatically including poetry!
The contrast with the miseries of present day vulgarity is all too obvious. “The impulse to choose a side and press its case with wily elegance” is now gone, obviously. And badly missed—although no one who chose the other side seems to have possessed similar “wily elegance,” notwithstanding the fame, reputation and readership of antiwar and anti-imperialist Leftwing (if not necessarily Communist) novelists, poets, screenwriters and so on hounded for their views and often enough, also their art. In the same issue of T, the hysterically Islamophobic French playboy-philosopher, Bernard-Henri Levi, has a lush photo and a page to talk about his favorite subject, himself….