Archives of Authority: Empire, Culture, and the Cold War

Archives of Authority: Empire, Culture, and the Cold War

Archives of Authority: Empire, Culture, and the Cold War

Archives of Authority: Empire, Culture, and the Cold War


Combining literary, cultural, and political history, and based on extensive archival research, including previously unseen FBI and CIA documents, Archives of Authority argues that cultural politics--specifically America's often covert patronage of the arts--played a highly important role in the transfer of imperial authority from Britain to the United States during a critical period after World War II. Andrew Rubin argues that this transfer reshaped the postwar literary space and he shows how, during this time, new and efficient modes of cultural transmission, replication, and travel--such as radio and rapidly and globally circulated journals--completely transformed the position occupied by the postwar writer and the role of world literature.

Rubin demonstrates that the nearly instantaneous translation of texts by George Orwell, Thomas Mann, W. H. Auden, Richard Wright, Mary McCarthy, and Albert Camus, among others, into interrelated journals that were sponsored by organizations such as the CIA's Congress for Cultural Freedom and circulated around the world effectively reshaped writers, critics, and intellectuals into easily recognizable, transnational figures. Their work formed a new canon of world literature that was celebrated in the United States and supposedly represented the best of contemporary thought, while less politically attractive authors were ignored or even demonized. This championing and demonizing of writers occurred in the name of anti-Communism--the new, transatlantic "civilizing mission" through which postwar cultural and literary authority emerged.


On the fantail of a boat to Europe, T. S. Eliot was reclining with
several passengers in deck seats, blue cloudy sky behind, iron
floor below us. “And yourself,” I said, “what do you think of the
domination of poetics by the CIA? After all, wasn’t [James]
Angleton your friend? Didn’t he tell you his plans to revitalize
the intellectual structure of the West against so-to-speak
Stalinists?” Eliot listened attentively—I was surprised he wasn’t
distracted. “Well, there are all sorts of chaps competing for
dominance, political and literary … your Gurus for instance,
and the Theosophists, and the table rappers and dialecticians
and tea-leaf-readers and ideologues. I suppose I was one such,
in my middle years. But I did, yes, know of Angleton’s literary
conspiracies, I thought they were petty—well meant but of no
importance to literature.” “I thought they were of some
importance,” I said, “since it secretly nourished the careers of
too many square intellectuals, provided sustenance to thinkers
in the Academy who influenced the intellectual tone of the West
… After all, … the government through foundations was
supporting a whole field of ‘Scholars of War’ … the
subsidization of magazines like Encounter which held Eliotic
style as a touchstone of sophistication and competence …
failed to create an alternative free vital decentralized
individualistic culture.”

—“T. S. Eliot Entered My Dreams,” Allen Ginsberg

ARCHIVES OF AUTHORITY investigates a historically decisive period in the literary and cultural interstices of the Cold War and decolonization. Contributing to a growing body of scholarship that places a renewed emphasis on transnational literary history by analyzing the particular historical and cultural determinants that structure the emergence of dominant literary formations, Archives engages recent efforts to develop new paradigms for comparative literary historiography that have aimed to reconceive the ideal of Weltliteratur. A concept first articulated by Johann Wolfgang Goethe in 1827 in a conversation with his secretary Johann Peter Eckermann, Goethe’s term did not refer to world literature as a collection of world mas-

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