Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Cold War Modernists

Cold War Modernists: Art, Literature, and American Cultural Diplomacy

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Cold War Modernists
    Book Description:

    European intellectuals of the 1950s dismissed American culture as nothing more than cowboy movies and the A-bomb. In response, American cultural diplomats tried to show that the United States had something to offer beyond military might and commercial exploitation. Through literary magazines, traveling art exhibits, touring musical shows, radio programs, book translations, and conferences, they deployed the revolutionary aesthetics of modernism to prove--particularly to the leftists whose Cold War loyalties they hoped to secure--that American art and literature were aesthetically rich and culturally significant.

    Yet by repurposing modernism, American diplomats and cultural authorities turned the avant-garde into the establishment. They remade the once revolutionary movement into a content-free collection of artistic techniques and styles suitable for middlebrow consumption.Cold War Modernistsdocuments how the CIA, the State Department, and private cultural diplomats transformed modernist art and literature into pro-Western propaganda during the first decade of the Cold War. Drawing on interviews, previously unknown archival materials, and the stories of such figures and institutions as William Faulkner, Stephen Spender, Irving Kristol, James Laughlin, and Voice of America, Barnhisel reveals how the U.S. government reconfigured modernism as a trans-Atlantic movement, a joint endeavor between American and European artists, with profound implications for the art that followed and for the character of American identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53862-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Art & Art History, Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-24)

    In his 1976 polemicThe Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Daniel Bell argued that modernism in the arts led to what he saw as the social ills of the 1960s and 1970s: divorce, pornography, crime, drugs, the counterculture.¹ Bell was not the only prominent intellectual or artist for whom modernism was a deeply insidious threat to the social and cultural order, even after the movement had lost its vitality and energy. In the early 1970s, for example, poet Philip Larkin became a kind of spokesman for antimodernist artists when he lashed out against “Pound, Picasso, and Parker[’s]” pursuit of experiment for...

    (pp. 25-54)

    Today paul goodman’sGrowing Up Absurd(1960) is read primarily as one of the first tentative shoots of what would become “the Sixties.” Along with such other influential works as Herbert Marcuse’sEros and Civilization(1955) and Norman Brown’sLife Against Death(1959), Goodman’s book attacked the conformity, complacency, venality, and philistinery of the United States in the 1950s, charging that the American way of life damaged the nation’s youth. These works inspired many to condemn American society as inherently psychologically repressive and to explore new ways of individual expression and communal living later known as “the counterculture.” But in...

  7. 2 “ADVANCING AMERICAN ART”: Modernist Painting and Public-Private Partnerships
    (pp. 55-92)

    “If this is art, I’m a Hottentot,” President Harry S. Truman said in 1947 when he saw Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s paintingCircus Girl Resting. Not by training an art critic, Truman was prompted to issue his assessment of this and other American paintings because they had become the center of a public uproar. Kuniyoshi’s work was one of seventy-nine paintings in a touring US State Department exhibition entitled Advancing American Art. The exhibition sought to demonstrate that, contrary to common belief, the United States did have a vibrant and fertile art scene and that the developments of international modernism, particularly in...

  8. 3 COLD WARRIORS OF THE BOOK: American Book Programs in the 1950s
    (pp. 93-135)

    Not widely known today, Edmund Wilson’s 1946Memoirs of Hecate Countystill holds some interest for a contemporary reader. Primarily, of course, the book is one of the prolific Wilson’s few works of creative literature and provides an important perspective on the accomplishments of the dominant literary critic of mid-twentieth-century America. In its setting and subject matter,Hecate Countyalso provides a prism for looking at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work in that the fictional Hecate County resembles one of New York City’s suburban counties where Fitzgerald set many of his works, and of course Wilson had been a close friend...

    (pp. 136-178)

    No cultural institution is more entwined with the history of modernist literature than the “little magazine.” Modernist literature entered the world in little magazines; in little magazines, modernism’s strains and factions and tendencies evolved and defined themselves; reviews and critical articles in little magazines allocated prestige and cultural capital to writers and movements; little magazines even provided financial support for modernist writers by paying for articles and bestowing prizes and jobs.¹ Many little magazines expressed modernism’s antipathy to mass culture and commerce, self-consciously employing manual typesetting, letterpress printing, and handmade paper rather than taking advantage of the economies afforded by...

    (pp. 179-216)

    Ifencounterput forth a vision of modernism as a brooding Ozymandias spawning despair in later writers, a whited sepulcher full of dead men’s bones, another parallel project offered a much less moribund portrait. AlthoughPerspectives USA, a short-lived journal headed by James Laughlin of New Directions Books and underwritten by Ford Foundation money, never really competed with the much more widely circulatedEncounter, it played a small but key role in identifying a characteristic American modernism; in directing modernism away from its radical origins and toward bourgeois individualism; in transforming modernism from an avant-garde, oppositional movement to a style,...

  11. 6 AMERICAN MODERNISM IN AMERICAN BROADCASTING: The Voice of (Middlebrow) America
    (pp. 217-248)

    In 1952, late in the second Truman administration, Voice of America direct or Foy Kohler wrote to his boss, newly installed IIA head Wilson Compton, to tell him—perhaps self-servingly—that “radio is the principal medium for the conduct of the cold war, carrying the entire burden (with the relatively limited aid ofAmerika magazine) of the psychological warfare effort behind the Iron Curtain.”¹ Whether this was actually the case or not, the several official and unofficial American radio broadcasters that produced programming for foreign consumption certainly did conduct a significant portion of the psychological-warfare campaign of the early Cold...

    (pp. 249-258)

    The end of the Eisenhower era, then, largely marks the end of the Cold War modernist project. The Kennedy administration did not abandon art and literature as tools of cultural diplomacy, but its focus shifted away from unidirectional informational programs to contacts between individual citizens. Person-to-person cultural exchange had been taking place since 1946, when the Fulbright Act (Public Law 584) authorized the use of funds from the sale of post–World War II surplus properties abroad to finance international educational exchange programs. The Lacy–Zaroubin Agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1958 expanded the number...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 259-304)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 305-322)