Edited and Introduced by Allison Vanouse
In the 1920s, R. P. Blackmur was in his romantic period: he dressed in a velvet jacket and sometimes, like Ezra Pound, a cloak; he had dropped out of Cambridge High and Latin, duly defecated on his headmaster’s front steps, and devoted as much attention to writing poetry and criticism as he was able while working a score of menial jobs. Blackmur jerked sodas, clerked at the Widener Library, and, felicitously, held court at the Dunster House Bookshop, where he took on admirers and friends in the undergraduate classes of the ‘20s by the force of his almost absurdly wide reading and knowledge of literature. “I have known Blackmur since we were boys of eighteen,” one friend, John Marshall, wrote in 1954, “As you may or may not know, he deliberately chose not to go to Harvard, but in a sense he went through Harvard with my class.” Marshall became an important friend to Blackmur, and he rose to the Associate Directorship of Humanities at the Rockefeller Foundation. By his association with Marshall, Blackmur too became an asset to the Foundation for a period stretching from 1944 until Blackmur’s death in 1965: a period when private foundations were instrumental in distributing funds for national cultural directives, and cultural directives were instrumental in foreign policy. The distribution and reception of information (that is, bookseller’s concerns and their broad extrapolations in the world of ideas—Blackmur’s bread and butter) became policy issues during a period of inflammatory panic over Soviet propaganda, and the felt need to counteract it with American cultural achievement.
The following series of reports is from 1954, when the program that most directly concerns Blackmur, the variously-titled United States Information Agency, had been definitively split from the State Department on the order of Secretary John Foster Dulles. USIA, as it is now known, was founded as the United States Information Service in April, 1942, with the establishment of the Benjamin Franklin Library in Mexico City. USIS was at that time a joint project of the American Library Association and the Office of Internal Affairs (under the direction of Nelson Rockefeller). The following June, President Roosevelt created the Office of War Information (OWI), and the USIS was adopted as a partial arm of the OWI, itself technically a branch of the State Department, and the wartime libraries founded under its auspices gained a degree of official status. The first government library was established at the American Embassy in London, in December, 1942. Additional branches were opened throughout Europe in the years that followed, and the administration of the libraries became more complex with their presence in occupied and combat areas—where libraries were usually under the control of military commanders, who were themselves increasingly interested in experimenting with a new genre of force: psychological warfare.
The branches of USIS, or OWI, libraries in post-war Germany were explicitly tuned for this purpose, and the patronage of the first German library (at Bad Homburg, Hesse, opened in 1945) was first limited to students and certain professionals in order to streamline the data set. The practical objective was de-Nazification, and the experiment was conducted by the Psychological Warfare Branch of the US Army, using 700 books from Army surplus. More libraries were opened (and all were opened to the public) in 1945 and 1946, but the dissolution of the wartime OWI in the same year left them questionably administered, questionably funded, and less amply staffed.
All of this changed rapidly just two years later, when Congress passed the Smith-Mundt Act, with a mission to “promote a better understanding of the United States in other countries, and to increase mutual understanding.” An information service was wanted, once again, “to disseminate abroad information about the United States, its people, its policies promulgated by the Congress, the President, the Secretary of State and other responsible officials of Government having to do with matters affecting foreign affairs.” It was with this initiative, a response to mounting mistrust of Soviet information policy, that the USIS became a direct arm of the State Department, and the program of the extant libraries was repurposed: from a “Reeducation Plan” to an “Information Program”.
In 1949, a change of acronym: the International Information Administration (IIA) was formed, to give “flexibility” while maintaining a relationship with the State Department, though it was now to be something like a sibling relationship than a child-parent relationship. The IIA was the result of an ambitious vision for American intelligence, intending propaganda to become a branch of government unto itself, but the program received heavy criticism; it was even an election issue in 1952. When Dwight Eisenhower came into office, the IIA was the subject of four simultaneous investigations, the most vigorous from a subcommittee of the Senate Government Operations Committee under Senator Joseph McCarthy. One policy in question was the selection of books for USIS libraries. McCarthy, characteristically, asserted the that they contained material written by communists and “subversives”. Of course, many of the books had been deposited in the libraries during the war, when the Soviet Union and the United States were allies, but the psychological experiments of the US Army came to bite the IIA, which was soon shoved from its lofty position, officially divorced from the State Department at John Foster Dulles’s insistence, re-organized (probably with significantly diminished funding), and re-named USIA on June 1, 1953, while Senator McCarthy’s hysteria over exaggerated figures for offending titles (which he numbered in the tens of thousands, despite the all-but-total lack of systematic catalog information for the foreign libraries, stateside) drove library employees to discard books in response to frantic volleys of official telegrams. The spectacle was enriched by media coverage of enthusiastic USIA employees burning their books, not least because many of the targeted titles had been burned under the Nazis as well.
In spring of 1953, just after Stalin’s death, Senator McCarthy’s assistants Roy Cohn and David Schine took an inspection tour of the American Information outposts in Europe. The book-burning activity was not a response to their visit, but a result of hysteria drummed up over the wires. Cohn and Schine visited after this was already under way, the damage mostly done, and devoted their time abroad to the cross-examination of USIA employees. But the spectacle and hysteria was not good for McCarthy’s initiative, on the whole. It took on the aspect of bowdlerization on a cross-disciplinary scale, eerily inclusive of the librarians; plus, book-burning was much too historically (and pictorially) potent as a method of expurgation.
The McCarthy directive for censoring works of literature based on authorship was reversed in July of 1953, and the USIA became a branch separate from the State Department, answering directly to the President. This may have thrown the funding of the organization into doubt once again, and seems to have brought the USIA back to the doorstep of the partnership that began the project in Mexico City a decade before: the ALA, and the Rockefellers.
Enter R. P. Blackmur. In 1953, John Marshall asked Dick Blackmur to take on a European research trip to report on the state of the USIA libraries and other literary matters abroad. Blackmur had been helping the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations with a study of American literary magazines, and disbursement of significant funding to support the same, since 1944. But he had never been to Europe. Blackmur got a year’s leave from his duties at Princeton, and went abroad in late summer of 1953. He followed, and commented on, a moment of crisis.
The text of this report is from a typescript that was privately circulated among the officers of the Rockefeller Foundation, prefaced by the note from Edward F. D’Arms that appears at the head of this introduction. Punctuation and format have been preserved as they appear in the original. Notes are provided when a reference that would have been clear to Blackmur’s contemporaries might be obscure to first-time readers.
Thanks for access and permissions to reproduce the report are due to the Rockefeller Foundation Archives in Tarrytown, New York, where the document may be found at the following location: RG 1.2, Series 200R, box 406, folder 3504. Special thanks are due to Mary Ann Quinn and Nancy Adgent of the Rockefeller Archive Center.
[stamped JUN 28 1954 in red ink]
A manual issued to the staff of the USIS called, I think, Are You on the Target? made me sicker than I would otherwise have been in a Beirut hospital, and the more so when it appeared that it had been put together by some of the Columbia University faculty. This manual was aimed to return with destruction upon its senders; for it purported to teach techniques of sure sale of American foreign policy, along the lines that a new detergent is put in competition with another. It is interesting that rational intelligence, whether in our enemies, in our friends, or above all in ourselves, is never given more than lip service: something to go on the label, in honor of past prejudice and future fads, which wraps a package of policy and propaganda. The first difficulty is that policy cannot be packaged and remain responsive to the forces it must attempt to control; nor can propaganda as the agent of policy. The second difficulty is that though a nation may sell itself by its own advertising within the field of policy, it will always do so at the expense of the distrust of its own critical minorities. Translated to the international scene: though a nation may be sold by its own advertising, it cannot be fooled by the advertising campaigns of another nation, and will for the most part reject them. When you have no allegiance to an advertising line, as Americans have to the automobile and the refrigerator, you see through it or assign false and ulterior purposes. Besides, you don't get the refrigerator.
There was a military maxim---I think it von Moltke's---that you must never distrust the sincerity of your opponent; that is, he probably means what he means, and it is the task of intelligence to find out what it is that he means. In psychological warfare, the more especially of the kind which is meant to make and keep allies, this maxim would change only slightly: never distrust or underestimate the maturity of your opponent, and here again it is the task of intelligence to find out what shape that maturity takes. In their different ways all societies are mature, but the shape is affected by the vanities and accidental ambitions that go along with its maturity; and these vanities will resent the advertising technique perhaps more than the open use of force. Here are three examples:---
1. When our minister, now ambassador at Beirut, put ship-wrecked Moslem pilgrims aboard USAF planes to Mecca, the whole Arab world felt grateful, and in a debt of honour, and the pilgrims had the excitement of going above instead of among the mountains. Washington decided to advertise the religious air lift for about twenty times what it was worth. Result: the Arab world felt put upon, and detected an ulterior motive; and our poor FSS were left with the job of explaining away Washington's bad manners.
2. When the occupying powers in Trieste made a major decision in September 1953, the advance notification to the governments concerned was a matter of hours, when it should have been weeks. As we had lost the sense of the nature of human gratitude at Beirut, at Trieste we lost the sense of human temperament: how long it takes to get over a fit of temper.
3. The New York Times cannot understand why Marshal Voroshilov, covered with military medals, speaks on the anniversary of the founding of the USSR of the ring of military bases, the last one being Spain, with which USA is surrounding Russia. These bases are on the map; and I do not see how any American, much less any Russian, can fail to take stock of their encircling intent: to show either the fact, or the pretence, of preponderating military force. (Nov. 7, 1953)
Examples multiply themselves in the day's dispatches. The point is that American blindness to how American behaviour affects other peoples, can nowhere be better illustrated than in American blindness to the effect of psychological warfare (that is, advertising out of place) on American behaviour at home. If you promote, and delude, self-consciousness at home the first thing you know you have a case of galloping self-righteousness; what in others we call hypocrisy, fanaticism, and self-seeking: which is precisely what others see in us. There is nobody whose motives are so hard to determine as those of the self-righteous man; unluckily, there is no one who feels so ready to act as the man who feels the self-righteous itch.
Mr. Dulles' declaration on the German elections did no harm in August, 1953---except to the German attitude towards Mr. Dulles, the horror of the British, and the dismay of the French. But what the Corriere della Sera referred to as the 'dichiarazione incauta' of Mrs. Luce, at Milan, just before the June elections in Italy (to the effect that if De Gasperi were not returned to office, American aid to Italy would stop) may have done, as the narrow margin in the polls suggests, incalculable harm to the fabric of Europe as the very political entity that it must be the object of our policy to help into being. De Gasperi had made enough mistakes of his own (la truffa elettorale, etc.) without the government at Washington instructing Mrs. Luce to make another. According to the stories that go about, the lady Ambassador---blonde, frail, and rich as she was---did not herself think her speech a good idea, but submitted, as a good modern Ambassador must (unless he or she hurries ahead of distant directives) to a board in Washington which, it increasingly becomes plain, knows neither the facts nor the vanities in which action will be actually taken.
In Mrs. Luce's adventure we see that the old phrases "Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary" have lost all their validity at the very moment when in them should be reposed our maximum trust: trust is the last thing we now give our messengers and officers abroad. In the case of Mrs. Luce and her "imprudent" remarks, it was left to the conservative and independent press in Italy to redeem her to Italy; and that press had to do it by prudent lying of its own: in the fabrication that the Trieste decision was determined by the little blonde lady, and thus somehow got acceptable to Italy. I do not see any great advantage in one lie over the other. Thus Signor Pella saves his skin by whirling up the image of a middle-aged American blonde of fabulous wealth. As far as one can see, if Mrs. Luce had only been tall and young as well as blonde (what the Italians really like), Signor Pella might have gone on to consolidate his power in more than a momentary coalition. But right now the American princess abroad---heir to all the ages as she is---is not up to all the outward shows of her role: she looks, what she is, either a flapper or a housewife, or both. What else could she be when she comes from a country which every night advertises over the radio of the N. Y. Times safety deposit vaults tucked into the base of the Adirondack mountains, safe from the atomic bomb. Psychological warfare is the newest form of the new illiteracy.
Here some reflections arise, like mist out of the meadows before frost: perhaps the processes of the new illiteracy have gone further---and without having to---in Americans than we think. Governor Stevenson's speeches in the last campaign furnish the seminal example. As the campaign wore on, European papers and European powers (and also Americans abroad, though not all of them) became convinced of Stevenson's victory; and at the same time became less and less confident of Eisenhower's abilities as anything but a general of the army. Mr. Nixon's television of himself, wife, children, and dog was satirized almost as severely as were, later, the antics of Mr. Cohn and Mr. Schine. The European mistake was not a result of inadequate or biassed reporting; at least in the Swiss, French, Italian, and British newspapers; coverage was far fuller than any American paper ever gives any European campaign, and fair summaries were given of the "politics" on both sides. It is true that every European power felt it had a stake in Governor Stevenson's victory, and likewise felt a quicksand uncertainty at the prospect of an Eisenhower victory. But this feeling did not arise, or at any rate did not crystallize, until the campaign was well under way.
The double feeling was the result of what the two candidates said and how they said it. The general's speeches were full of things he could not possibly mean, and which it often seemed he could not have read to himself before he read them aloud: they seemed like paid testimonials to the American way of life, for which you get your picture in full color in full uniform on a full page of Life magazine: the advertiser was behind them, and to the European the advertiser looked remarkably like the latest shadow of the devil. Europe was no doubt entirely composed of egg-heads and mug-wumps: those who like no advertising except their own; and Europe misjudged the American election, because it had no compulsion to believe American advertising, nor any sense of the shifting itchy American bottom on the twenty year old Democratic chair. Instead they read what the Governor had said, and felt in his words the movement of a vital and active mind which flowed into and affected their minds as they read. Eisenhower translated badly: what he said was all words. Stevenson translated well; what he said grappled with action, so that his words seemed an action of the mind itself; and---most important---so that the European mind feels itself reacting in response.
Let us say that Stevenson could, and did, influence the European mind because his words were shaped and given their sequence by the force with which they were in contact with the actual substance of his thought. Eisenhower's words seemed to be selling something with which they had no declared contact at all. Stevenson's words---and the difference is radical---seemed to present one variation of what one mind had felt to be the truth. The so-called frivolity, which the Republicans so reprehended, was to the Europeans an aspect of truth. Berlin's jokes about Hitler in the thirties have something to do with the tough resilience which led to the uprising of east Berlin last June. Viennese wit has kept that city---and all sad Austria---alive. If the Cairoeans had lost the wit of the Arabian Nights all Egypt would be like the Naguib version of a boy scout on horseback. Every image of truth represents only a provisional mastery. I think it was Rovere who during the '52 campaign told of the men in the pullman---good ordinary Americans---who themselves enjoyed Stevenson but knew the "average" American couldn't. There is always something disgraceful and frivolous about the intellect at work: in which those whose minds are at work rejoice. In advertising we appeal to the mind not to work, never to rejoice.
America's voice to Europe sounds too much like Eisenhower taking advice as to what ought to be said apart from, and to excuse, the urgency of action, too little like Stevenson's effect of springing, by felt urgency, into the architecture of action. It is perhaps the effect of whiskey that we want; as Lincoln wanted to know what whiskey it was that Grant drunk---surely an unadvertised brand---when he was told the general drank too much and lay slobbering in the tents of Armageddon. Or perhaps we want a little more of Churchill's brandy. For like Stevenson, only more so since he was the actual head of a government, Churchill's speech last May ('53) about a conference of the heads of the world powers, brought not only relief, and hope, but also a sense of renewed energy throughout Europe. His words, not yet quite done reverberating, had little to do with relief housing and much to do with new architecture. He seemed to be working with the materials at hand; only the American contractors wouldn't bid on the job. To Europe the American response to Churchill seemed like double talk; just as the triumph of Eisenhower over Stevenson seemed the triumph of double talk over the direct action of the mind and its fate. Possibly Churchill's stroke at the time of the Coronation was the gravest disaster of post-war Europe, since without it at least the Bermuda conference would have taken place: and the isolated arrogance of American self-righteousness would have lost its opportunity to hide under the summer blanket of complacent inexpediency. America, by talking like Eisenhower rather than like Stevenson, puts the blight of futility upon the European energy one would suppose---unless our only policy is for war---it should be her object to promote.
The point is that the agencies of the U. S. abroad should talk less like Eisenhower and more like Stevenson; less like selling what will be bought and more like an action in common undertaking; at least they must do this if they wish to influence action. Influence is an effect like style: the result of direct interaction between the substance of thought and its expression in a single medium. This is the meaning of the old saying that style is the man; that is to say, style and influence are forms of action. The authority of the psyche, laboring to express herself in all honesty, must be clearly felt if one's words are to carry the weight we call influence: this is the prerequisite of psychological warfare. In short, one must have the authority of influence in oneself---in one's own words, self-heard---in order to exert influence on those not predisposed, or bribed, to assent. Influence is the voice of authority; and there is nothing the world so likes to hear---even when it twists and modifies it to its own interests. There is no authority either in force or in its city cousin advertising; the one is blackmail, the other---in all serious matters---a blackguard line, in effect if not intention.
These remarks, if they apply at all, apply as much at home as abroad: not only to the public relations of the government (Brownell on Harry White) but also to the editorial direction of our newspapers and journals of opinion. The editor should be like Coleridge's great man; he should be wrong only by being imperfectly right: which means he must take the chance of seeing the next form of maturity; how things are next going to come to a head and burst into action: what things, or problems, or knots of interest, will next absorb the energies of his readers. He does not need to see eternity, even at Armageddon; he needs only to see the next form eternity will take; and he will do this, if at all, by looking directly at what confronts him. He will seek a modus vivendi to come. In short, the editor must do as a matter of course and without particular allegiance, what the State Department---the office of strange or external things---affari esteri---must do with allegiance. In America this is not so. Our journals habitually throw away the possibility of genuine influence by editing their contributions down to what they believe is the maximum consumer consumption of welcome opinion; and the State Department has followed suit. It is not that the reader must be shown what is true; he must be shown roughly what is presumptively credible, palatable, or akin to his already cultivated hysterias. This would perhaps not matter if those charged with decisive action were not also, along with the general mass of the otherwise illiterate, submitted to the same finishing treatment; and it would matter even less if the mill of mass opinion at home did not also grind the grain for consumption abroad. The State Department "edits" (in the most corrupt possible sense of the term) its propaganda abroad along the lines of Life, Time, Collier's, The Saturday Evening Post, and Newsweek; the New York Times crowns them all with brotherhood and decorates the faithful with the cross of the pentagon. The psyche is the deep form of necessity; and psychology is the psyche's medium of public relations.
What is an editor or a statesman for? I believe that the segment of the American people capable of exerting influence on those capable of receiving it are daily more anxious to find out, and I know that it is what most European journalists and governments are doing their best to determine. If this is impossible, then it would seem that statesmen and editors have lost their function---not in will, not in intention or motive---but in the practice where they have their effect. Decisions are still taken by small groups: who are desperate mostly because of inauthentic public or popular pressures. We, none of us, are not so young as our servants the government think.
R. P. Blackmur
[stamped JUN 28 1954 in red ink]
Nothing, either in the general essay or in these supplementary notes, lacks application to the United States Information Service (under whatever initials) abroad; indeed most of what has been here written had Information either directly in mind, or thought of it as coming round the next corner; if there is an apparent exception it is only because the emphasis has for the moment been on the need for an improved Information at home: the two must necessarily be the same---so much the same that I can think of no better use for the best men and women we have abroad, at the end of their tour of foreign duty, than to put them to work directly in the information services (Press offices, Public Relations offices, Official Spokesmen) in Washington and New York, in the purlieus of the universities, and above all in the editorial rooms of our newspapers. I say nothing of the lobbies of the Congress, for your Congressman can only be worked on indirectly, by "assays of bias", until we catch him unawares with a new sense of the nature and intensity of the forces with which he has to work abroad: the nature, that they are no part of his constituency; the intensity, that they consolidate forces not his. Your Congressman is, in bulk, a kind of petrified citizen (as Walter Bagehot once rejoiced in a characterisation of a division in Commons as "There goes the best beef in England"); and it is more promising to deal with citizens still in a flexible state.
With this preface, and this reference, it will be understood that the following notes are only practical---as near practical as the principle of anonymity and the hope of tact will allow; and are, so to speak, meant to be complaints from the field about practice imposed at home. The USIS is concerned with the human mind, and it must be concerned directly with the best minds in the area handled by each post, in order that these minds may influence others. It must therefore select and send its servants abroad equipped to understand the varied as well as the communal character of the human mind. It is not so much concerned with selling one issue, one version, of the mind as joining its issues. Loyalty is only a primary matter in a foreign service officer, and should, once ascertained, be as much taken for granted as, in a better world, it would have been in the first place. There is a kind of treason to immediate objectives of policy in the conduct of affairs of truth and its sister, Information: the treason known variously as intelligence, good manners, elasticity, responsiveness, and competence in the field of action. There is no administrative machinery at Washington that can substitute for the relatively independent actions of these qualities in the field; nor is there any machinery anywhere (unless Providence stretches its obligations) which will not compel superfluous blunders when acting at a distance to replace judgment. Machinery is no good outside the field for which it was responsively designed; in small matters, as they are called, of culture and information, the only effective machines are the minds developed and trained on the spot, the terrain of operation.
These remarks may seem less than practical, as the word is generally understood; but that seeming can only be made worse, and, as I think, more practically practical, in two short quotations from Matthew Arnold, who had much to do with these matters in the England of the last century. The language is on the surface no longer ours but the substance is now more than ever ours. Here is one from the chapter "Sweetness and Light" in Culture and Anarchy. "Plenty of people will try to indoctrinate the masses with the set of ideas and judgments constituting the creed of their own profession or party. Our religious and political organizations give an example of this way of working on the masses. I condemn neither way; but culture works differently. It does not try to teach down to the level of the inferior classes; it does not try to win them for this or that sect of its own, with ready-made judgments and watchwords. It seeks to do away with classes; to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere; to make all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light, where they may use ideas, as it uses them itself, freely,---nourished, and not bound by them."
Very few substitutions need to be made in this passage to bring it home to the present and permanent business of the USIS, our cultural establishment abroad. Possibly my second quotation will enforce the practical force of the first. Arnold was a practical man, and, looking about him, saw, as we increasingly see, that only the state is capable of performing the initial judgments and establishing the routines of conduct, of tasks of culture for which it had never in the past been purposefully designed. All mankind hopes the state will sometime disappear; until it does it had better hang on to wisdom. Here is Arnold, from another chapter in the same book. "The question is," he says, "the question is, the action of the State being the action of the collective nation, and the action of the collective nation carrying naturally great publicity, weight, and force of example with it, whether we should not try to put into the action of the State as much as possible of right reason or our best self, which may, in this manner, come back to us with new force and authority; may have visibility, form, and influence; and help to confirm us, in the many moments when we are tempted to be our ordinary selves merely, in resisting our natural taste of the bathos rather than in giving way to it?"
"Bathos" is a key word in Arnold's onslaught on "Barbarians, Philistines, Populace", and it means: "Dull and low commonplaceness of matter of style; false pathos; also, an anticlimax; come down." (Webster). To Arnold, it was still a question whether our hopes should be vested in the state; to us, it is not our hopes but our necessities that are practically vested there. In this second quotation no substitutions, only intensifications, are needed; and in both quotations we have a combined motto for the whole business of the USIS. Arnold's words partake of our necessary actions. And it is the unnatural and unnecessary incidence of bathos in the affairs of the USIS that we have chiefly to complain against, largely for Arnold's reasons.
In part the bathetic incidents rise from ill-conceived and worse informed directives from Washington: such as those dealing with "book burning" and even more those expressing distrust of the integrity and intelligence of the officers themselves. Again there is the selection of lecturers and other speakers whose only qualification was their loyalty; both their subjects and their personalities being inferior to the interests of their intended audiences. Except at a purely social level, there are no captive audiences abroad; no more than we are a captive audience for the British, unless it be the Queen. Again there is the violently fluctuating policy as to tenure of post and job. Sudden reductions in force and (because of civil service tenure) the consequent bumping of person and person to job and job. Again, still, the frittering away of allowances and privileges which alone, with respect to proper living abroad, made the service attractive or possible, together with the practical abolition of representation allowances, are constant and impredictable sources of trouble. To these injuries have been added paper-work supervision of penny expenditures as gratuitous insult. And so on. Washington could not have calculated a set of conflicting and incongruous actions to break morale better than those which have happened by accident and stupidity (under no doubt great and irresponsible pressures) in the last year. No wonder most officers are never certain, leaving personal difficulties out, from month to month, whether they have to do with culture, advertising, or inconsequent errands. The amazing thing is that so much excellent work gets done, month in and out, through the remaining intelligence of harassed personnel, both American and local. Vive la bagatelle!
But the matter of directives is only partly responsible for the plethora of bathos. A greater part of the trouble would seem to come from a faulty selection of personnel, which must rise from ignorance at home of the nature of the work to be done and the nature of the populations abroad, or from good-natured jobbery in a hurry, or both. One foreign correspondent, with many years abroad, put it that the Information Service was filled with academic and journalistic failures, to which I should add advertising writers of varying degrees of incompetence. The head of the Information Service in one great capital told me he could get twice the work done if he could fire half of his American force and keep the men and women he wanted. The PA O in another capital was cultivating good will by awarding condemned film as prizes in photographic contests. In a third capital, the person in charge of USIS was about as cultivated, and as unstable, as a laboratory rat in its maze. And so on. My principal complaint is that too many of the smaller jobs are filled by persons without cultural qualifications and without sufficient human presence to make an effect in the public life they must all largely lead,---and must lead among the cultured fraction of the people in the countries where they are stationed. It is not that the United States, or the USIS, lack cultivated people to whom these posts would be attractive; it is only that they are not sought out, trained, and promoted with the minimum care used by a university in appointing instructors, or a public utility in selecting its junior administrators. This much, certainly, could be done.
I do not wish to be misunderstood. I met a great many able, energetic, and personable Foreign Service Officers, career, civil service, and temporary, for whom I have nothing but admiration and who should all have their pay doubled. All I want to emphasize is that too many people who have no cultural attainments of their own have gotten into posts where they manage our cultural relations abroad. I believe they should be removed and replaced; though I do not know how this can come about, since their presence in the service is probably a result of the native and carefully tended American distrust of the intellect, and an almost equal distrust of personal distinction. Yet I think it can be done, and the more easily now that the Information Service has been theoretically, or administratively, divorced from the State Department and given a new set of initials.
I should like to end this note with a prayer and an excoriation. The prayer is that the open-stack, free-circulating American libraries should not only be maintained but expanded, together with their auxiliary functions of lectures and concerts and forums. The freely usable library is almost an American invention, and except in its American and sometimes its British forms does not exist in Europe and the Middle East. Anyone who has seen the swarms of readers in Cairo, Istanbul, and the cities of Italy and Germany would understand and join in the prayer. No propaganda could be more effective than the propaganda of a well-chosen library free to all comers. I would suggest only two things. The reference aspect of each library should be developed and a reference librarian, preferably local, should be trained (perhaps by six months in the U. S.) for each library. That is one thing. The other is this. Of the dozen libraries I looked at, all were patchy and somewhat helter-skelter in their choice of books or coverage. I would suggest that the undergraduate reading library at Harvard, together with the House libraries of Eliot and Lowell, be used as general models for scope and standards. A body of more "popular" books and magazines than the Harvard libraries contain, is desirable in an Information library. It is also true that the books will be more American than British or other foreign; but I think any existing directives requiring only American books ought to be withdrawn. American culture is not only American in its materials; neither is American Information, nor policy. There should be a King James Bible and a set of Shakespeare in every library. Etc.
So much for the prayer; here is the excoriation, for which my text is taken from the New York Times for 21 November 1953, in an article entitled "U. S. in a Book War on Soviet in Israel" and dated from Tel Aviv. The rest of the story, and the matter for excoriation, is in the sub-head: "Announces Virtual Subsidy to the Publishers---12 Tarzan Volumes to Be Translated." Two thirds of a column follow, and the climax is reached in the final paragraph: "Book-sellers reported that readers of Russian were awaiting books by Gorky and Tolstoy, but the demand for political books was much poorer." Thus, at last, Tarzan and Tolstoy are in competition. I should imagine every literate member of the USIS staff in Tel Aviv would get on his best crack-proof cringing suit before going to the next cocktail party; together with the other special haberdashery nowadays required, without a special allowance, to protect employees from Anti-Americanism abroad. Tarzan as the American way of life---athletic sex ending in mint ice cream---is I am sure a desirable image to all those never lifted by desire above their own bootstraps; but just as surely it reflects a different exercise of human need and truth from that of Natasha in War and Peace or Anna Karenina in the novel warmed by her name; and it seems a little difficult to believe that Tarzan seriatim, or any other way, will aid Dr. T. H. McGrail in his announced program of aid to the ailing Israelis. Doctor McGrail is the cultural officer of the U. S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. One wonders what he is doctor of---certainly not philosophy in any older sense of the word, but perhaps of public administration---when one of his principles of selection is to combat the works of Tolstoi. "Anything aiding the United States Information Services program by contributing to an understanding of the United States or any phase of American life qualifies." Tarzan seems the chief aid, with twelve items, in the ideal commonwealth of the Hebrew world; but next comes "Pearl S. Buck with seven volumes and Opal Wheeler is third with five books on music." To be fair, there are also included "standard works by Twain, Van Loon, Emerson, and James Fenimore Cooper. Some books," the article goes on, "are biographies of American heroes like President Eisenhower, General Alfred M. Gruenther, and Lieut. Gen. James H. Doolittle the flier, by Quentin Reynolds. Others are novels about aspects of American life. These include 'All the King's Men,' by Robert Penn Warren, 'The Troubled Air,' by Irwin Shaw, and 'Gentleman's Agreement', Laura Z. Hobson's novel on anti-semitism." Both Tolstoi and Gorki would bow to the authors of the "standard works" and of course also to Mr. Warren, but for the rest would soon find themselves at the wrong party, and the liquor bad.
Never mind Tolstoi and Gorki; their standards are not ours. Where are our standards? Were the "standard works" on the list thrown in as sops and cover-ups? Do we say our best in our best only at home and only in our worst abroad? Is there a commercial standard, unknown at home, which alone determines what we ought to circulate abroad?
It is a pity that these are not merely rhetorical questions. On the contrary, they touch the very quick of what is wrong with the USIS: they touch that libel on humanity in which we both distrust our own achievements and underestimate the intelligence of those who would be otherwise more nearly our friends abroad. The affair of the twelve Tarzans is only a recent and conspicuous version of this libel.
Luckily, to conclude this note, there is something very far over on the other side which is not only worth remembering but worth imitating. This was the "show" of 300 American books from a single publishing season, selected by the State Department, and circulated in a number of Italian towns, large and small, with what seemed considerable effect on the literate, intelligent, and influential part of the population. Yet, characteristically, the State Department committee of selection left out a form of literature in which Italy believes us richest: the novel.
[stamped JUN 28 1954 in red ink]
Most of the observations I made on the general literary scene have already been presented more or less directly under other headings in these notes. It remains only to make certain specific remarks, some in the hope that they will illuminate and enforce my general observations, others with the direct intent to suggest frames of action which might interest the Foundation. In the end, nothing could be clearer than that the literary scene is a partial aspect of the general scene, and the general "scene" is only an aspect of the social movement. With one difference (which reflects the nature of society); except by charity you cannot help a single peasant in his own person: indeed he does not have a helpable person; but you can help individual writers, artists, and other professionals, and you can do so out of motives that have the direct and in view of promoting good works of mind and imagination. This much these remarks take for granted: individual talent should be helped, without guidance, and with hope; for the rest, these remarks are concerned with possibilities of action in the present world of regulation and institution.
For example Number 1. In Great Britain, there are almost no literary magazines. Horizon is dead; Scrutiny totters; the very "little" magazines hardly last two issues; literary publication is administered by a government corporation---BBC, Third Program---and has only the outlet in print of the Listener. Read and Eliot and Grigson agreed that a young writer could make more money out of his writing through the BBC now than he could make through the magazines twenty years ago, without ever getting published. The young writers I met felt they were being throttled by BBC and bludgeoned by TLS and knifed by Scrutiny, and there was a general distrust of British talent. V. S. Pritchett in his explanation adds the fact of military wholesale death to two generations; the talent went down by external action, not by decadence. F. R. Leavis thinks talent is persecuted by society itself; but Mr. Leavis is oversensitive to persecution and has got himself a secure basis of action out of that sensitivity. My own view is that talent exists and there are new generations coming up which more than anything need publication, both book and periodical, but especially periodical. I would suggest (since direct support of magazines is difficult for the Foundation) that the next two magazines in the literary field to appear not obviously worthless be supported by the purchase of 2000 subscriptions to be distributed outside Great Britain. Possibly John Lehman's new magazine (which I have not seen) might be a candidate. Gordon Frazer has a small journal which looks good. But there is nothing British about this suggestion (except for the ready American audience without language difficulty); Die Markur of Munich; the new NRF; Archi of Bologna; and so on; the possibilities are wide in all countries with a free press. Such underwritten circulation should be limited to countries other than that of publication and should be aimed at libraries, public and college, newspapers, journals, and "literary" or "intellectual" individuals. Six such magazines, so circulated, would cost no more than $30,000 a year, and more likely nearer $20,000. (Note: since there is in most of the world difficulty in securing dollar exchange, it seems to me the present Ford Grants for circulation to a dozen American magazines, could well be directed to 90 percent abroad, or that supplementary grants in that direction could well be made.)
For example number 2. In talking to "good" publishers in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany (and it is no less true in the U. S.) the problem of paying for respectable translation seemed paramount in decisions to publish foreign books. Dr. Meier of Manesse Bibliothek Verlag in Zurich, which has one of the most distinguished lists of foreign books in Europe, told me that two out of three of their translations were presents to the German-reading public, since the maximum circulation would be no more than 5,000 copies. Could not something like the present grants to American publishers for good translation be made abroad for translations from any language into any language? (Good translation doubles the net cost of original publication; not of reprints; there is no argument.)
For example number 3. There is a great difficulty in every country I visited in gaining physical possession and in paying for in acceptable exchange American books. (The State Department system to overcome payment difficulties seems, so far, to be cumbersome in paper work and time, for both importer and final purchaser.) One obstacle cannot be removed in the visible future: the relative high price of American books compared to all but German books in Europe. It is much cheaper for the Swiss to buy English imprints of books of American origin than from the American publisher; which is also true of American purchasers. Only a world balance of prices would remove this obstacle. It would be modified by intragovernmental action to remove tariffs on the importation of books, and by removing books from all regulations as to import or export license under currency-exchange laws. The amount of the international book trade is not great enough to plunder any country's dollar or sterling reserves, and would not be if the trade tripled with freedom from regulation. In the case of Britain the removal of the American tariff on books would gain her far more dollars than she would lose by freeing American books from her own regulations. But these are matters for government action.
Whether these actions are taken or not, a much better practical situation in the circulation of books would come about, if in each interested country something like a book deposit of American books were set up---I mean a deposit large enough to need a warehouse---for the exhibition, inspection, and purchase of the books themselves. Such deposits should be administered by a pool of American publishers, with advice of the USIS, and, initially, the aid of a foundation; but should be at the same time related to the needs and interests of the book trade in the country concerned. (In Italy, I know two booksellers who are also publishers in large scale, who would be ready to manage such a deposit entirely on their own: but this, I think, would be a "combination in restraint of trade.") There is nothing new about this idea; it is only an extension of the work at present carried on in New York by the British Council and the French Bookshop, where there is much less need than for analogous work abroad. It is, further, only a practical extension of the State Department scheme for the unimpeded purchase of American books in countries having regulated currencies. The practical difficulty with the State Department scheme is that through it it takes from six weeks to three months to secure a book and does not permit inspection prior to purchase: conditions unpropitious to the book trade. Under a deposit system, a book would be obtained immediately and in most cases with prior inspection by the trade if not by the final customer. I do not see why book deposits could not be managed parallel to the interests of the U.S.I.S. libraries.
The role of the Foundation in such an enterprise should be merely initial (and faute de mieux): to act as liaison with the publishers and also if possible with the State Department and especially the U.S.I.S. All our Embassies abroad are engaged in subsidising the translation, publication, and distribution of American books. The book deposit would supplement this work and make it much broader in scope and more appropriate to foreign tastes than the necessarily narrow range of limited translations. As to the U.S.I.S. libraries: one very valuable thing it could do is to hasten the actual delivery of books to the libraries, which under the present system has to my knowledge taken nine months; it would also ease the problem of requisition or selection to the purchasing librarians who can hardly, abroad, see or leaf through American books whether new or old: thus the quality of the libraries could be improved by the use of the deposits. Further, as everyone knows, libraries are the best salesmen of books there are: the deposit would make the sales possible to carry through, which at present is only possible with great difficulty. In fact, book deposits ought to be part of the ancillary (and I hope the major) policy of the USIS. My talks with USIS officers abroad support this view. Mr. Streibert should think it over.
Example number 4. The simultaneous publication in different countries and languages of important works within the field of the arts and the humanities. This is a harmless and grandiose idea with nothing whatever to be said against it except the unlikelihood it would succeed in action. Action is a long way off and the night grows rough and the publishers are out of cash and UNESCO is round the corner writing a world history. Yet the International Library of Psych., Phil. and Scientific Method (Kegan Paul and Harcourt Brace) in the 20's, the New Direction list in the 30's (Norfolk, Conn.), and the Manesse Bibliothek der Weltliteratur at the present time in Zurich, are all approximations of such an idea.
T. S. Eliot, Herbert Read, and Dr. Walter Meier, editor of Manesse (also of Neue Schweitzer Rundschau), together with the great Munich publisher whose name escapes me, instantly responded to the idea as legitimate father to a deliberate, if putative, undertaking. Eliot's Criterion was such an undertaking (as was the NRF of Gide and Riviere). And so on. Almost all that is necessary for the putative success of such an undertaking is initiative and the capacity to take and give good advice of plans and possibilities: in short, conference over bloody meat. Here I think of the Foundation as a collection of legmen, not on their own account, but to transfer information from publisher to publisher of those who might be interested to concern themselves. I conceive only a slight extension of an existing service, with the cost being only a slight addition to running expenses: especially a very good dinner for Pryce-Jones of TLS, with whom I talked this undertaking over with examples, and to Jack Isaacs of the University of London, ditto. The point is, the legmen of the RF should believe, amongst all their opportunities, that this is worth doing, even to the point of occasionally bidding to the Trustees for a grant in aid of publication or translation. In short: not men of good will, but good will towards men.
It occurs to me I have said nothing in defense of this notion, having taken it for granted that its goodness glows like an emerald in the nose of an Indian peasant, starving. The arguments are simple. We suffer from time-lag in catching on to the obsessions and insights of our neighbors. Princeton Press this fall ('53) published Auerbach's Mimesis; it was published in Switzerland (Berne) in 1946; Pantheon Books this fall published Curtius' European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages a month or two ago; it was brought out, also in Berne, in 1948. The lags are too long for works of such excellent and indubitable critical scholarship. And so on. Musil's probably "great" novel should have been published sooner than this year in English. We are none of us so rich in our own talent, or any talent at all, that we can afford to do without the jogs and shocks and fertilisations of talent from abroad. Music and painting should be the models, not the exceptions, as to the movement of ideas from one country to another. It costs more to play a symphony than to translate a book; only at the moment we are not so familiar with the idea of simultaneous publication in the written word as in music. It isn't as if we had all the right words, or all literacy. (In point of fact: the UNESCO list of translated books from American summarised in Publisher's Weekly, August 9, 1953, is not reassuring that much of anything is being done. But the summary is opaque. And the true interest lies in movement in all directions.)
If my four ideas are taken, as they are meant to be, as parts making towards a whole, and if there be added to them the circulation of persons, as many as possible from country to country, I think it will emerge that applied in action they would improve the health of literature and, to some degree, the livelihood of authors. The subsidy of the circulation of literary magazines, improvement of translation, book deposits, and simultaneous publication, all work in both of these directions, without any expense to the values of older literatures, but indeed enlightens as it modifies them. All this can be rehearsed in conversation if desired.
For the rest: I think it is best of all to support individual artists and writers; and next best to support the set and circulation of writing in such ways as move towards the creation or persuasion or seduction of new audiences. It is towards this "next best" that my notes have been aimed, but with the best always sweetly in mind and light.
I append a series of small observations, without prejudice to my own errors.
Talent. There seemed everywhere a look to American talent---even to the worst of it---for resource and incentive, but it is never a critical look. It does not seem to be anywhere thought that there is a body of American talent which has a generative relation to a body of American literature and art. American talent is thought to lurk or spring suddenly sui generis---and never therefore quite complete in intention though frequently in achievement, rather like the atom bomb on Hiroshima. This is how we regarded ourselves till recently; it is also how the French regard the English. It seems to me this is also how we regard the Existenz in France, or the new novel and drama in Italy. Perhaps all these views are right today in a sense they were never true of the Elizabethan time, but perhaps were true of the Italian Renaissance. Talent is after all a violence of the soul; style, not society, the only control. (Here I speak by my party: the Tory-Anarchist party: whose doctrines are the very lifeblood that survives crisis: preaching only what is precious. This, they say, is a time of crisis.)
But to go on with talent. Many other nations seem to feel if only they had American talent, they could really do something with it: some grand break-through into horror or peace or order. Every country forgives only its own violence, curses only its own stupidity; knowing it cannot get on without either. Similarly, every country resents the violence of others and thinks it their stupidity that serves them. It is prudent to remember this in assessing the probable consequences of making grants abroad. The State Department gave money to an Italian journalist to look at America: he reported (in a book called Alone in the World) that American women were never worth looking at twice and implied that they were never worth laying at all. This represents a conflict of the violences which are talent.
But still to go on with talent. In England the Piccadilly whores have the most and are the most resourceful and best dressed and annoying. The English writers tend to be merely annoying, for writing in England seems to have lost a clearly defined sexuality. No sex, no proper bloody whores. Hence the English writer thinks his talent is either lost, nationally, or suppressed, personally; and he believes in a social conspiracy against him where there seems to be only a lack of interest. This is why literary people in England turn catholic as a latin cure for impotence. Actually, the English have become engineers, laboring in the pre-poetic stage of the new empire. Really, whatever that may be, they have more talent than they had in the 1830's, and can have as much as they want whenever they want to find it. Secretly, they know this: as secretly as they have always known more than was good for them since Cromwell. The trouble is that they have tried to be good at the same time.
In France, talent thinks itself frustrate but doesn't for a second believe it. Ever since 1870 France has been thinking against what it believes: Zola, Proust, Gide, Camus. Hence the young literary people I saw are all official and seem to belong to splinter parties. Only the old seem to have the force of mind which expresses also its beliefs. Naturally nobody supports them; naturally they have to cadge, or turn saints.
In Germany it is not so much frustration or suppression as the sheer absence of talent that is felt: a few bad poets, a few bad movies, no novelists, and no dramatists: no new talent has emerged since the advent of Hitler, and none has recovered from the destruction of war. But the Germans want the talent and try to look for it between times in their hard busy-beaver life. They have the publishers, the universities, even some magazines, and above all they have the energy and the memory. But all they can find is a self-disconcerting bohemia and stodgy imitation and kirsch. This is all a summary of what Germans said to me. I believe the symptoms, not the facts.
Austria regards itself as much the same, but with less energy.
Switzerland serves as merchant, and knows it, to the intellectual carriage trade but has nothing of its own to sell and hardly expects to except by accident. Without history of their own, they succeed best in writing other people's history. The whores on the Limat Quay in Zurich look like middle-class housewives: they cannot lie and they won't press forward. So Switzerland has herself never told a noble lie. In Switzerland, one at last understands Gallatin. His honesty was wasted in Switzerland but was useful in America. So with the imagination of Jung or Burkhardt.
In Italy, talent seems to be taken for granted: the energy and momentum of the race still focusses in the person, still turns to art, and still often verges on crime. But like the economy there is not so much unemployment as underemployment of talent. But---quite aside from the painters, writers, dramatists, and film makers who are doing so much good work just short of mastery---there is a sense that there is always ready a great reservoir of talent which accident or some sudden heroic incentive alone can tap. Meanwhile there is much quarreling, conspiracy, and personal fire: everyone cultivates his personal garden.
These last qualities belong also to the peoples of Egypt, the Lebanon, and to a lesser degree Turkey, but in these countries these qualities are not attached to the consideration of talent in a serious sense. I got the feeling that the middle-easterner is mostly an amateur and a gentleman amateur in the arts. The transport of art rising out of talent does not seem to be part of either their experience or their recent heritage---only the skills and a very modest form of aspiration. The Turks, perhaps, are poets by nature now driven to become technicians. The Lebanese are critics wanting work. The Egyptians are wits wanting world power (in the Arab world) as La Rochefoucauld pretended he did in the world of the Sun King. But they are all interested, all love to be amused, and all have the sense of poetry and great theoretic learning. Possibly cultural contact with the west. Possibly education. Somebody in Egypt will tell a new noble lie.
These more or less deliberately nonsensical generalisations are meant to bring the mind amiably, but a little uncomfortably, to the view that there is not much to be done to foster the arts and letters as institutions and even less to be done for artists and writers as artists and writers. Talent is problematic, equivocal, and incalculable as to damage no less than as to the repairs provided to the human spirit: very much like saintliness, heroism, or great love. Society can no doubt be administered without the arts and letters, as it can be administered without greatness or virtue of any kind. The busiest form of life is preoccupied sloth, trained to administration: the expense is only to individuals. This is why the arts and letters and greatness generally have had so hard a time. Yet it has been the common decision in the last 3,000 years in the West that as we are at our best we want our arts and letters and the other forms of greatness, all round: no matter and indeed because of the risks. Therefore we help, not the art but the circulation of the art; therefore we help, not the artist, but the livelihood of the man who happens to be an artist. The risk must be left intact.
No amount of reflection has deflected me from the conclusion that the special problem of the humanities in our generation---I mean of course the official or institutional humanities, not the agitations and deracinations of individuals---is to struggle against the growth of what I have called the new illiteracy and the new intellectual proletariat together with the curious side consequence of these, the new and increasing distrust of the audience by public and quasi-public institutions. All three of these are results of the appearance, in combination, of mass societies and universal education. All three occur, in different stages and with different emphases, throughout the world. Every where chronic, they are likely to produce critical explosions from time to time and place to place. The crises cannot be touched; the chronic form may be treated. The patient is human intelligence: we deal not with ignorance but with deformities of knowledge, not with natural monsters but with maimed spirit.
My terms will perhaps clarify in loose definition (far too much definition would let the problem escape into another form or turn into mere methodology). The New Illiteracy. The old illiteracy was inability to read; as the old literacy involved the habit of reading. The new illiteracy represents those who have been given the tool of reading (something less than the old primary-school education) without being given either the means or skill to read well or the material that ought to be read. The habit of reading in the new illiteracy is not limited to, but is everywhere supplied by, a press almost as illiterate as itself. It is in this way that opinion, instead of knowledge, has come to determine action: the inflammable opinion of the new illiterate is mistaken for the will of the people, so that arson becomes a chief political instrument. Senator McCarthy is a local master of this kind of arson in a society with perhaps the highest level of literacy in the world except New Zealand; the majority of his readers and listeners have not the skill or familiarity to distinguish the relation of his words to facts or purpose. Neither does the senator: he is illiterate with regard to his own ideas and his own purposes: he will disappear. In Iran, Dr. Mossadegh was not illiterate, but used the techniques that belong to illiteracy; and in the new illiteracy of Iranian society he had to be destroyed by the same means he had himself used. In Egypt General Naguib defeats his own intelligence by the necessary resort to the methods of the new illiteracy which his constituency alone understands. His success, with himself unchanged, will be a calamity for Egypt. These are simple and conspicuous matters: they show at once that we all---all countries---need a larger truly literate class: educated to the needs and purposes of the society---and beyond, since there may well be needs and purposes not now recognized. A larger truly literate class is a euphemism for the concept of an elite.
The concept of an elite is out of favor. One of the reasons for this is that serious literacy is out of favor in the world of higher education. It is precisely in the world of higher education that the new illiteracy is spreading to the greatest damage to the available fund of general intelligence adequate to the conditions that confront us. Thus we get the Franklin Press going to the Arab world with the products of our own illiteracy. Thus we get the Salzburg Seminars in American Studies in effect deliberately reducing the quality of their work to freshman level in a freshwater college. Thus we find the USIS in Tel Aviv competing against Russia with the Tarzan books as indicator of the American way of life and all its superiority to the Russians who came bringing Tolstoi. It should seem clear that if you deliberately sink yourself to the level of the new illiteracy you will lose confidence in what remains of your own literacy: you have given up and have only a nonce respect for what brought your mind into existence in the first place. If the salt hath lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? True literacy is the salt of the intelligence. The grease of the new illiteracy is the nausea of intransigent stupidity. How salt grease?
This brings us to the new intellectual proletariat: all those in all parts of the world who as a result of their own initial talents (not necessarily great) and the better routines of higher education find themselves in a world where they are alienated because there is nothing serious for them to do with their training. A proletariat is that class uprooted, usually by social action, from the soil of its culture. (This is perhaps why the dictatorship of the more or less urban proletariat in Russia has been cruel in revenge upon its origins. Let us pray the intellectuals never achieve a dictatorship!) A proletarian has no capital interest in his society; he works for day wages only. In America the intellectual, as such is now the only proletarian. Call it what you like, the double apparition of mass society and universal education is producing a larger and larger class of intellectually trained men and women the world over who cannot make a living in terms of their training and who cannot, because of their training, make a living otherwise with any satisfaction. The American distrust of the intellect, and the painful shrinkage of the confidence of the intellect in itself turns out to be a natural phenomenon of mass society and universal education. Even in Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey the intellectual has no collectable claims on society. I think the cause is in the dilution, the intrusion of the new illiteracy, into higher education; so that it is only an effect, and wrongly understood, when we say, as Italy and France and Germany have to say, and as America will say in the next depression, that we have too many college graduates or too many PhDs or too many what-nots. It struck me as much in Cairo or Ankhara as in Bologna or Munich or Princeton or Harvard that our distrust of the intellectual, as he becomes a massive phenomenon, is a result of the inadequacy of his preparation and the following failure of the independence of his mind. We think we can make the intellectual with the tools of the new illiteracy. All we do is uproot an increasing number of individuals from any vital relation to either society or to themselves. We create out of our possible intellectuals a proletariat. We grease the salt.
As if we were not content with that, we proceed to develop a habit of mind in which we think we "believe" (we do nothing of the sort; we opine) that we must distrust the ability of the audience to respond adequately to any expression of purpose or choice. That is to say, we deliberately take the quality out of our thought precisely when it is most valuable: when we wish to persuade others of the truth or desirability of what we believe. In the end, it is only the quality of thought that commands attention; for the quality of expressed thought is the effect it takes on from the conviction of the thinker, the impregnation of the cliché with life blood, the restoration of doggerel to poetry, the redemption of slogan to insight. Instead of telling our audience what we believe we tell it what we suppose in our own more futile moments they already believe; tell them with a little more outward noise and considerably less inward intensity than we ourselves feel. We believe our audience is not up to what we really have to say, and we end up so inferior to the potential response of the audience, that there is no more good in our talking at all. If we win, we are playing a game with the stakes left out; if we lose, our very best instincts are distrusted in return. In either case we have degraded both our audience and ourselves: we have in each case induced one more step into the general new illiteracy, and got further and further from the project of understanding (the hoped-for concert of conflicts that lie between us) with which we take up our effort of thought and act about building on common interests. Our distrust of the audience is a result of our distrust of our own reason and our own imagination, of our own sinking into the sloth of hope, of our fearful unwillingness to rise into that energy of hope which has something to do with faith; all this we throw away because we have come on a skill which has nothing to do with thought which we fancy can substitute for thought in securing the purposes of thought. Sometimes we call this skill psychology, or psychological warfare, sometimes we call it advertising or aiming at the target. As it comes from, it can only touch, except with horror, the baser parts of both audience and ourselves: the parts where we act willy-nilly, having given up. At worst, we buy the refrigerator we don't want; at best, we murder the manufacturer; in the middle, we subscribe to the Book of the Month Club or Time magazine. We forget that thought in action (and nobody can tell for sure when thought is going to take to action) is the most intense of human energies and cannot be dealt with by any energy less intense, except with degradation and incalculable uncontrol. This is indeed the "uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor." Force is better: thought best.
Force is better, thought best; but only if thought is regarded as force; which---let now the poetry be gone---which is precisely what I have been leading up to all along. I want the force of the Rockefeller Foundation to be applied to elicit the other force of thought in the face of all the other efforts to degrade the force of thought to the level of the new illiteracy, and its accompanying ills of the intellectual proletariat and the distrust of the audience. With the State Department and USIS, with the Ford Foundation and the NY Times and Tribune, with Franklin Publications and our regular commercial adventurers out of Hollywood, all gathered in unpremeditated unanimity to sink the force of thought in the mud-tide of the new illiteracy (as they themselves feel its momentum), there seems as much a chance for the Rockefeller Foundation to use their power of money and initiative for intellectual purposes in the humanities in the middle east as they have previously used their power in tropical medicine, sanitation, and general medical education: the chance is equally propitious for permanent, or nearly permanent, results. The Middle East?---It is the same only more so in Europe, and most so in America. Egypt only exaggerates Italy as Italy exaggerates Wisconsin. So far as I can see, every government in the world is committed to universal education at a low level (as a natural necessity for the mass society which is the result of better tillage and better sanitation) and none of them is committed to higher education except at either a technical or degraded level. The master forces much be domesticated: murder in the home. The University of Hull is nearly as bad as the Fuad I (now with a new name, post Naguib) University at Cairo with respect to the substitution of pabulum handed out instead of work required. The characteristic of the society of the new illiteracy is that when its members come up to a new state of education they do not expect to have been trained, or even interested, in preparation for it: whatever it is, they like to think they are by nature fitted for it, and the better fitted the less informed. The business of the foundation is to take care of the remnant: those in whom the force of thought exists.
This is very lucky; for the remnant is also the future. I do not mean to suggest that the Foundation does not already know this, I mean only to emphasize the urgency of acting on the knowledge, imaginatively, practically, and as a lever---perhaps most of all as a lever, whenever masses are found that can be pried into motion. One of the great accidents of history was that in Athens Greek Tragedy was popular art. But it is also true that Bach wrote his Goldberg Variations to help assuage the insomnia of a single diplomat on his travels. We should aim at the Athenian audience without ever forgetting Goldberg playing to the sleepless Count von Kayserling. If we always assume that the audience is larger than anyone knows and is also unique to each performance we shall never confuse quality with quantity or send Tarzan to catch Tolstoi. The audience is precisely as large as we choose to reach, and always a little larger. There is always an audience ready for that which moves with the force and sweetness of the mind. Gandhi proved that in the most unlikely place in the world, illiterate India, and proved it, not by ignorance, but by the quality of his trained imagination. Anything that promotes the circulation of books and other works of art which have the goodness and sweetness that go with force of mind, by that much makes the audience bigger than we thought we could trust it to be. The mind which is exposed to force of mind irresistibly begins to work. That is why we used to burn those whose force of mind differed from ours. That is why the image of Cranmer shoving his recanting hand into the fire until it was consumed is a noble image: Cranmer had at last found force of mind. A hundred copies of The Education of Henry Adams in Israel is worth ten thousand copies of Tarzan, but Tolstoi's Anna Karenina is worth perhaps a little infinity more, whether it is our friends in Moscow who put it there, or, were we wiser, our own American selves. And if we prefer Tom Paine, which in our liberal moments we are likely to, we have again given up the quality of intellectual force, for its mere machinations. Etc., etc., etc.
As a practical example of what could be done in the Middle East, because it is a practical example of what has been done in the United States during the last twelve months, I suggest an examination of the list of books so far published in the Doubleday Anchor Books. So far as I can discover these books have sold very well and have, I believe, paid their own way in the bookkeeping sense. Yet all of them are high-brow; none of them are reprints of famous best-sellers; most of them require work at a serious level to be read at all. The audience was larger than was thought. The curiosity is that most of the first 23 titles had been allowed to go out of print in ordinary editions in America. My suggestion is that this list be taken as a guide or paradigm (not the list itself) as to the sort of books desirable to translate into Arabic and Turkish. As it happens few of the books on the list are American in origin. If the agency of publication happened to be "American" in the State Department sense, it would be interesting to see what would turn up on a list of pure-bred American books comparable to the Anchor list. I suspect that there might be some adjustment of the sense of the content of American culture; so much of it would turn out to be "foreign"; but I also feel that the effort to make an "American" list along the Anchor line would nevertheless come out very creditably. We would discover what we really had with which to find an audience, to reassure the intellectual proletariat, and to reinfect the organism of the new illiteracy with the enzyme of true literacy: both at the level of the Athenians and at the level of Goldberg playing to von Kayserling. W. B. Cannon's Wisdom of the Body, is almost as interesting as Sir Charles Sherrington's Man on His Nature. The point is, both books should be on the same list and should probably have as a remaining companion Claude Bernard's Experimental Medicine. Etc.
For the rest: there is the exchange of persons: the exposure of individual sensibilities to fresh versions of the force of mind. I do not know how else the nature of true empire may be found. This is no conclusion, but there is no conclusion to what is inconclusible; and that, too, has something to do with true empire: not the whey but the precious blood.
ALLISON VANOUSE is Associate Editor of The Battersea Review, and editor of The Complete Poems of R. P. Blackmur, recently completed as a Master’s thesis under the direction of Christopher Ricks at the Boston University Editorial Institute. Her study of aviation, The Logic of the Air, appeared in The Battersea Review, vol. 1, no. 3.