Tuesday, September 04, 2012

"Spying and writing have always gone together. In Britain, where the modern intelligence agency was born, intellectuals moved smoothly back and forth between secret government service and the literary life, some, like journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, even spending the morning at the typewriter before consulting with MI6 after lunch. Somerset Maugham, Compton Mackenzie, Graham Greene, Ian Fleming, John Le Carré: all placed their powers of observation and divination at the disposal of the British secret state while mining their experience of intelligence work in their fiction. It was not just a case of satisfying the reading public's apparently insatiable appetite for the espionage novel. There seemed to be some basic connection between the roles of writer and spy: both were iconic, even heroic, figures in modern culture, necessarily detached from ordinary society, yet gifted – cursed, perhaps – with unique insight into the darkest realms of human existence. 'I, from very early, lived a secret life, an inward life,' Le Carré once told an interviewer. 'I seemed to go about in disguise.'

"In this respect, the spies of the CIA were no different from their British counterparts. Indeed, the 'man of letters' was, if anything, even more conspicuous a figure in the upper echelons of the American secret service than in MI6. During World War II, Norman Holmes Pearson, a noted Yale professor of literature and editor, with WH Auden, of the five-volume Viking Poets of the English Language, ran 'X-2', the London-based counterespionage branch of the Office of Strategic Services. After the war, when the OSS was resurrected as the CIA, the task of counterintelligence – protecting one's secrets from the theft by rival agencies – was inherited by another 'Yalie', James Jesus Angleton, whose obsession with hunting for 'moles' later came to verge on paranoia. A founding editor of the influential 'little magazine' Furioso and friend of Ezra Pound, Angleton (who inspired the 'complex and convoluted' character of Hugh Montague in Norman Mailer's CIA novel Harlot's Ghost) was known, among his many other code- and nicknames, as 'the Poet'. One of Angleton's several protégés in the Agency, Cord Meyer, had edited the Yale Lit and published several short stories in the Atlantic Monthly before becoming a spy. He used his position as Deputy Chief, then Chief, of the International Organisations Division to recruit to the CIA a number of young critics and poets associated with John Crowe Ransom's Kenyon Review, house organ of the New Criticism, a rigorously formalistic method of reading literary texts."

from The Mighty Wurlitzer by Hugh Wilford


Anonymous said...

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