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The CIA calls the tune and the tune is called freedom - click opera
February 2010
 
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Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 10:27 am
The CIA calls the tune and the tune is called freedom

Well, we're on a roll with this "politics hidden in apparently non-political art and design" stuff. Yesterday we looked at how General Motors, in 1958, attempted to weld Modernism to the American Way. Today, let's look at a similar attempt to mix apparently-neutral cultural forms with politics that was going on at the same time. On November 29th Arte television aired When the CIA Infiltrated Culture, a documentary based on three years of research into a secret, highly ambitious "Marshall Plan of culture": the CIA's efforts to promote "the freedom of individual choice" in postwar Europe by... subsidizing the arts.

Using front organizations like the Farfield Foundation and the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA channelled millions of dollars into the European cultural scene during the 1950s and 60s in an attempt to alter the intellectual DNA of the continent. If you wanted the CIA on your side, paradoxes abounded: "no ideology" had to become your ideology. You had to banish politics from your work for entirely political reasons. You were free to be anything except critical of "freedom", and you could pick any individual stance except a pro-collective individual stance. What's more, your anti-government, pro-market position had to be bankrolled by the government and protected from the market.

Since the aesthetic favoured by pro-Soviets in Europe tended to include stuff like political commitment, realism, melody, and representation -- the communists deplored "decadent formalism" above all -- the CIA (somewhat incredibly, to our eyes) threw its weight behind atonal music and Abstract Expressionism. Concerts and exhibitions of the most inaccessible, anti-populist, non-commercial avant garde artists flourished. "The ideology of the CIA was that the West had to be the most modern of the modern," says Gunter Grass, interviewed for the documentary. "The result was a sort of Kandinsky kitsch."

One direct result of the CIA's efforts was a series of literary journals which attacked European intellectuals who aligned themselves with communism. There was, it seems, one in each major European country. There was Preuves in France, Encounter in the UK, Tempo Presente in Italy and Der Monat in Germany. Presided over by impressive intellectuals like Heinrich Boll, Arthur Koestler, Solzenitsyn, Raymond Aron, Isiah Berlin, Ignazione Silone and Steven Spender, these journals regularly attacked even more impressive intellectuals who also happened to be leftists -- Jean-Paul Sartre, Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Miller, Pablo Neruda and even Thomas Mann. In the campaign against Neruda's writing, the CIA stressed that the magazine shouldn't attack him on political grounds, but "on the quality of his writing". The mud didn't stick; Neruda won the Nobel Prize in 1971.

Meanwhile, in France Preuves competed head-to-head with Sartre's journal Les Temps Modernes. Raymond Aron, the editor of Preuves, had clashed with Sartre at the Ecole Normale Superieure, so it was very much a personal as well as an ideological battle for him. But Aron had American taxpayer's money giving his magazine immunity to market imperatives (ironically enough) and allowing him to pay his writers better. CIA money was also secretly buoying up -- and altering -- such venerable cultural institutions as the ICA in London and the Musee Nationale D'Art Moderne in Paris.

"We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, artists, composers, to demonstrate that the West and the USA would give opportunities for intellectual achievement without anyone dictating to them what they had to say and think, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union," says Tom Braden, the patrician CIA officer who was chief of the International Organizations Division of the Directorate of Plans, the office that ran the Congress for Cultural Freedom and Encounter magazine. The CIA did, however, dictate what the recipients of its money could say and think. A negative article on America by Dwight Macdonald for Encounter was vetoed by the bosses in Paris. "The Congress for Cultural Freedom believed in all freedoms except the freedom to criticize the United States," remarked one cynic.

The CIA renounced its role as a patron of the arts only when the Vietnam war polarized politics, breaking up the middle ground and shattering the illusion that something as indirect as art could foment gentle, benign political swings. As Michael Rogin wrote in The Nation:

"With the exposure of CIA secret influence and with the divisions over the war in Vietnam, the utility of the non-Communist left in the cultural cold war had come to an end. When some of the same faces resurfaced a decade later, first in the Committee on the Present Danger (the group of intellectuals and politicians instrumental in heating up the cold war) and then in the Reagan regime, they would speak as neoconservatives."

40CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 10:03 am (UTC)

Greetings Momus.
Michael and Kiyomi here in the Bay Area, CA.
We've recently been enjoying the website and
yours and Hisae's hijinks from afar. We'll be moving
back to Japan next year ourselves. Perhaps we'll run
into you guys sometime when you're there.

Regarding the CIA/culture tampering connection,
coincidentally, I've been reading James Campbell's
Exiled in Paris about the expat literary scene there
in the 50s and 60s and there's mention of a possible CIA
connection to George Plimpton's and Peter Matthiessen's
own journal The Paris Review in the 50s. What next?
Mother Jones' secret editor-at-large revealed to be
Donald Rumsfeld?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 10:30 am (UTC)

I always suspected old George Whitman at Shakespeare and Co. in Paris was an agent! Sniff around his store and you can smell the CIA money.

See you in Tokyo!


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xishimarux
xishimarux
ishimaru
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 10:08 am (UTC)

Wow. I didn't know any of this. I wonder if anything would be different if the CIA had not infiltrated the euro scene. Hmm... :insert artfag chin scratch here: ... :and here:


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 11:02 am (UTC)

the CIA influence on eastern european culture while more obvious (radio free europe etc) was far more insideous and effective. It might also partly account for the fact that it's pretty much the only place where pro-US feelings are still strong.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 11:07 am (UTC)

When you look at the news headlines these days, it's totally weird:



The neo-cons have become the paleo-gones, and THE COLD WAR IS BACK!


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 12:06 pm (UTC)

Wonderful stuff, the CIA propagating Western capitalism by means of atonal music.
Whilst it is completely believable there is a Dr. Stranglelovesque beautifully absurd comedy to it.
"If we can't nuke 'em we'll just hit 'em with a twelve tone row backed by a barrage of aleatory elements"
You need to write a song on this, Nick.
Regards
Thomas Scott.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 12:47 pm (UTC)
A Philip Glass

About as much off-topic as anyone in their right mind can be: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dObAAeixkhs


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
eustaceplimsoll
Eustace Plimsoll
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 12:58 pm (UTC)

That settles that then.

The CIA; what a bunch of fellows. I have a friend who teaches at the LSE, who was at Berkley in the late 60's. On his way home late one night with a Chilean friend who was politically active, they were stopped and ordered to get out of their car by a group of men, and his companion was shot dead in front of him.

I suppose I'll be thought a liar or something for telling this here, and perhaps it is pointless to share something like it without the possibility of verification. But, what can I say? I don't want to be seen as a fruitloop... but I'm not a liar, and I know my friend to be a grounded and trustworthy man.


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cheapsurrealist
cheapsurrealist
Dave Nold
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
The mess of berkeley

I believe you.

http://www.cheapsurrealism.com/movies/Berkeley002.mov


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bikerbar
bikerbar
bikerbar
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 01:59 pm (UTC)

I've heard about this before, and it is a fascinating rethink of cultural history. Interesting also to compare to today. These days the spy agencies are funneling money into datasweeping supercrays which monitor everyone's movement through their cellphone, or somesuch. Sad though, in a way, that culture doesn't much matter to them now. We could use the money If anything its the war against perceived homosexuality that matters more today. A repression found in all fascist swings.

I've always felt that abstract art was terribly neutral and subjective. But I can see how the abstraction can open the mind to surreal vistas unimagined, the same with atonal music. Figurative art was compared to soviet realism, while abstract expressionism acted as our own capitalist abstraction, a blank slate which looks good on a big wall in an office building. Figurative painting is still on the outs, it seems, because it looks old-fashioned (the market loves the new), but also because it often deals with psychological/physical issues which cause unease. Harder to sell. There are some exceptions though, like Joihn Currin's new show or Matthew Barney ...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 02:24 pm (UTC)

Yes, I was just reading that Saltz review of Currin last night. You can see some of the paintings here. Not sure what I think -- everyone looks super-patrician, and yet also endearingly absurd and undignified. Currin is notoriously conservative, but he also seems to be sending up the "ladies who lunch" something rotten.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand


uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC)

The irony is that the Russian communists were making the most abstract art in the world. It was Stalin who didn't like it. If not for him, Social Realism would have never sprouted, and Russia might've produced a bunch of Pollacks. For Malevitch, his white on white paintings were extremely political.

Pollack and Warhol are the only times artists have entered the U.S. public consciousness.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 07:07 pm (UTC)

Unfortunately artists such as Malevich and Shostakovich who walked a tenuous line between survival and artistic integrity do not always fully receive the recognition -in achieving what they did under a tyrannous regime- that they should.
Thomas Scott.


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saruryujin
saruryujin
Saru Bobo Kun
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC)

So thanks the C.I.A. for without it's IRCAM boffins and friends how would Momus sound? Strictly Shibuya-kei maybe…
Arte began in 1992, under Sozialismus rule.
How one can trust Hans-Rüdiger Minow or Arte? Cause it's on TV? Because it is written? When one look into that topic page for more info, it lead to a page on smart second world war allied prisoners who escaped Colditz!

Yah, let's blame the C.I.A. responsible for promoting all these modernist nihilist european art and litterature but let's not forget as well all these contemporary artistocrats who lend oath of allegiance to the politicians and civils servant, whose artistic activity becomes a load, as there were some under l'Ancien Régime.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 09:57 pm (UTC)

great post. i wanna see this doc!


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 11:03 pm (UTC)
weapons of massed attention

and what a great way for the agents to expense their european vacations!

~William Thirteen


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saruryujin
saruryujin
Saru Bobo Kun
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 11:39 pm (UTC)
Re: weapons of massed attention

LOL


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desant012
||||||||||
Sun, Dec. 10th, 2006 11:46 pm (UTC)

Momus, you supporting the Soviets is like the Jews supporting the Nazis. If you hate a single nation and its people so much that you'd rather take an acid bath (which is not a false analogy at all since you're always very pro-Soviet, pro-North Korean, etc.), I really think you should check your state of mind a little. And this is coming from a fan.

The US has done some downright dastardly things, but nothing comparable to Stalin's holocaust against the Slavic peoples, etc. etc. etc. It's always somebody totally disconnected from horror who romanticizes it.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 11th, 2006 12:57 am (UTC)

When you start with the premise that every bad thing that has ever happened in the history of the world is the fault of the United States, then even Stalin and Hussein and Kim Jong-il come out as heros. You know, because the U.S. considered them enemies.

Really, all that's left is to figure out some way that America can be held responsible for events that occurred before America existed as a nation. Sounds like a concept album in the making!


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Mon, Dec. 11th, 2006 01:01 am (UTC)
Das Netz

"In later probes he [Lutz Dammbeck]takes up alliances between European postwar intellectuals from Norbert Wiener to Heinz von Foerster and their anti-fascist beliefs; delving momentarily into a document published by the Frankfurt School on the “totalitarian personality” and its curious influences on a secret history of research known as the Macy Conferences. Designed to study the workings of the human mind and its authoritarian social psychology, these Conferences invited Margaret Mead, Norbert Wiener and psychologist Kurt Lewin, among others and later, avant-garde artists such as John Brockmann, Stuart Brand, John Cage, and Buckminster Fuller to exchange views on hippy generation concepts such as “mind expansion”, open systems and human consciousness. These Macy undertakings wound up influencing a period of psyop testings most notably performed by Dr. Henry A. Murray at Harvard University on Ted Kaczynski – elsewise known as “the Unabomber” – as well as the CIA’s MK Ultra project."

http://www.othercinema.com/otherzine/?issueid=14&articleid=35

http://niddrie-edge.livejournal.com/tag/das+netz


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Dec. 11th, 2006 10:04 am (UTC)

There was an Australian equivalent as well, Quadrant, funded by the CIA via the Congress For Cultural Freedom. Full story here:

http://jacketmagazine.com/12/pybus-quad.html

The magazine itself still exists (and is still a playground for right-wing intellectuals):

http://www.quadrant.org.au/php/issue_view.php

- Hugo


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toreadorsf
toreadorsf
toreadorsf
Tue, Dec. 12th, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC)
More on CIA arts support

This article has more on the topic of CIA support for the arts, including links to reviews of books on the subject.


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