tv Duncan White Cold Warriors CSPAN September 8, 2019 6:00pm-6:44pm EDT
literature, philosophy and other discipline to enhance and improve the people of massachusetts. we have a great lineup at harvard bookstore events over the next couple of months, which includes alan lightman, some of the powers and new york times vessel he hoffman. more details and information on the upcoming events, please visit our calendar at harvard.com/event and sign up for weekly e-mails. we are very pleased to have c-span book to be to us here today. when asking q&a please know you'll be recorded and wait a moment for the microphone to come to you before asking questions. after tonight q&a we will have a book signing at this table. copies for sale at the register in the next room. i would like to take a moment to say thank you, today is the
first day you can get the copy of the book. congratulations. and finally. [applause] please silence your cell phones for the talk. knowing very pleased to introduce tonight speakers, duncan white is a history and literature professor in the assistant director of studies for the modern world at harvard university. his previous book, heico edited call transitional. it is brought into the to daily telegraph road he's a historian of the soviet union, served as a faculty associate at the davis center for russian and asian studies at harvard university. she is also the director of studies for the committee on degrees and literature tonight they're here to discover later
discuss "cold warriors", it was praised by award-winning author who said no more than ever, we need a book like this remind us of the importance of writers in the written word. we are so pleased to have him here tonight, please join me in welcoming duncan white. [applause] >> congratulations. i love that we have this event on the date of republication. >> is exciting. as you know, i did 20 interviews this morning with radio stations around the u.s.. >> here is a disease question,
early in the book you call it a biography but it's so many other things also, tell us what is the book, and general what could've been. >> the idea for the book was to try and tell a comprehensive history of the cold war, the literary cold war and from the 1970s through the collapse of communism. in the first drop ahead was to do and systematically and to think about issues like censorship and repression in all these ideas but then it came that it might work better as a biography as a story that i'm focused on a handful of writers in all the various other people that we were connected with and
weaving through as much as a story and focusing their life. >> one of the people, the pope e person you open with -- there's an incredible first section of the civil war which i am already excited about, you may not excited about yet but you should be. super thrilling, everybody is a double agent and it's fascinating but like we know, for his journalism and we also know for his fiction, and you, have been a journalist, recovering journalist, book critic and also the value written of the book. give a great moment where you like here's the sense in the moment where they figure out they can do more with fiction
then they can with journalism. i wonder if he had a similar moment with fiction writers, i wonder what your feelings are about what you can do in terms of your own journalism? >> the idea was the worst possible thing, i'd be so terrible at it. but writing about people who make fiction themselves is fascinating. it's a reason why i did it. and, yes there's ways in which they can about, he went to spain and have these experiences in flighty simple find view of what was going on in spain, he was quickly disenchanted of that and he came back and really concerned about what he saw about the soviet kantianism. and he tried to tell it try
mystically. it's more realist, he's incredibly rigorous and discipline in the way he tried to tell the story and all the complex detail and nobody read it. and it didn't even select in the first run like 700 books. he has two go back and think, how will i get the story are crossed and of course it was a parable, a child's fairytale and that's how he basically told his story about it by going back and think about maybe even the simplest most effective way to tell a story in a child's fairytale. >> how did you come to topic, what was it, what led onto this? >> this is a slight issue, winners growing up the bookshelves were lined and
obviously that was dreadful until actually read him and then realize, the cold warrior, the people group at the end of the cold war, i'm living in the germanies in the 80s and had a drink built for a few months because of the disaster, i remember the world coming down and then i had an exciting episode in one of my friends at school his parents will arrested as spies when the word came down. so i was fascinated by the sto story, it's like the americans which is the show i love now, they live in ordinary life. i got introduced espionage but i never got something serious to study. then i just came upon this and
there were some of the stuff, and there was his cousin and he was involved in a lot of the things that went along and i found it fascinating and started looking and i realize, that to bring some of my studies from both sides of the same time, did been good breakdown on the cia that is influence in literature and sinks, and great books and things on culture and the soviet union, and look at how they work and i thought it was really worth it. >> you are going to the nato pool. [laughter] a family that is actually spies of this cop.so you're going to h
the native, and all of a sudden there were the which this book is written, by the time you get to the chapter in kim filby, we are already deep in mango and logic of espionage. that was a choice to write it in the style novel. why did you do that? >> one, is exciting, it can be a little boring at times, i want people to get excited about literature in ways that i get excited about this material winners reading it. the temptation is to distance yourself from it. so i thought at times, i don't think some of this cold war
style that they were experts at anna was not just a narrative, it was not just a choice, he is not to try to make up on, and getting away the problems i saw was a sweeping account of the cold war. in the agency, writers become puppets or chess pieces that are moved around and by sinister forces and so forth, the cia, the k pp, that's an easy thing to think an easy motive because they were manipulative people but the white was so much work obligated and messy and conflicted then this account of
the cold war. and it allowed us to understand. that was a real aim to try -- and see what was replaced in the complex of the position and being caught between the forces. >> i think that's one of the brilliant parts of the book and yet, you do very suddenly make these cases, one of the cases you make very persuasively, we are accustomed to thinking about the politics shaping culture, we are less cultured and warriors in the cold war, after there were agents so to speak. so why is he in the book when it's a whole book of writers?
>> yes, that is a good point. he was not a novelist, he wrote quite a novelist memoir, he's pretty obnoxious but he rates very well. he is there partly because he is a kind of glue that connects the writers to the cold war in a fascinating way. and ma he used them as a model d something fascinating about the way that these connections between spies and writers were manifest in the ideas of watches and inventors, they had the same interest in espionage. in world war ii, when he was working, he loved nothing more than the spies they were working with who were making stuff up. they were delivering false information, some just for paycheck and getting beer money.
but some are doing it because their post to the nazis that were providing false information to. that's where he'll be in a tub from. in the idea that the spy inventor who is not widely different. >> your chapter about cuba is amazing, it's amazing intercultural moment because of course were not unfamiliar with this information campaign. and here is information campaign on a massive scale but were actually, nothing seems less plausible than the missile crisis that is about to happen and it's happening in the background and that's also true. but very early on you told us you are interested in the question of complicity and figuring out how much the writers are involved and how much they knew and did not know, and i think -- i will say i
thought i knew what you meant, in the introduction that includes that, now we know that many of these british writers were in directed funded by the cia through various magazines and awards and conventions and you threw me a curveball, he got to the trial which is something in the union that i thought i knew about. who claimed his lat work is political and be published abroad. and being indirectly funded by the cia and we have a speaker who is not, his ideology is complicated and i read your statement in a different way. >> it's a trap in the west, and
you're excusing the soviet union, sterling, and too much, what is that say about your sympathy in the way in the prisons you know. and partly because of the way in the cold war, you got the past and way because -- maybe not the past but the encouragement is undeniable and they did incredible working in the manuscripts and telling truth to power in many ways. but you did not allow them to escape from their work becoming complicit not to their own desire work, this is was snapped up by an encounter in the cia operation in this is where ideal
propaganda, heroes divining the regime and in that case, it's ironic tragedy because of the in of the cold case, they are accusing them of other crazy stuff and you been published by these magazines which are cold war propaganda and they were, that's one thing they were right about. they had made themselves in overtly complicit in the west. >> utility different version and her trip to vietnam. which may be, the more familiar story, a lot of my students don't know who mary mccarthy is. what are you doing with the question of ideology and culture in that chapter? >> mary mccarthy in the mid 60s and she wrote a book called the group which was an unbelievable best seller, hugely popular and transformed into a
movie and she was -- she moved to parent under purse and married his state department official. she was opposed to the vietnam war. she is a left-wing isolationist which is quite a young woman and it was a disaster. she got herself out as a reporter, she didn't know a grenade from a pomegranate. [laughter] but she got there relatively recently york review of books and she wrote magnificent pieces from the saigon, she was a tough cookie, mary mccarthy in flu through the rhetoric and pacification and cleansing and attacked a lot of u.s. policies as the level of language, interesting stuff.
then she went back again and she went to hanoi, north vietnam, that computed for herbert shandon looking for stories against the american interest and then in hanoi she found herself having to battle her own instincts of the propaganda that she was being shown with nonsense and her desire for the north means. and at one point she was out so many museums and presented with a room and she accepted and put it on and was told it was made from the bound american fighter. and she did not take it off, she took it off later, and then she was taken to the interview of the american pows down in pilots. and she wrote about them and in
a way she wanted to make a point about how the american pilots were dumb and uneducated and who were chewed up by the education system and by the military and committed these atrocities. and she went into a tickle description of these guys and found out they tortured the preceding moments and she allowed herself to get sharp and smart, i was fascinated by them. and the always writers facing one way or another with the complicity. >> as you read it, i think you feel the pull from both sides, even the story about the ring, as i read it i have a story about in the response to not
wanting to refuse a gift, it is awful but that is part of it. and, i'm sure you have her, as a figure who is caught between the two poles, and i wonder, it makes you realize you feel like these figures in your book who navigate that more or less adroitly, because so many of them are seen stranded and i'm thinking richard wright who leaves new york, goes to paris because is looking for an outside. and then it's like my favorite chapter, the chapter about the conference in 1955 because you read and away that makes it an acceptance, it seems like yesterday and all of a sudden you are in the u.s. culture moment which is caught up in
mccarthy and the blacklist in the 1950s and then the soviet union and so on. and then you zoom out to the international political stage, it is very similar to our current moment in the sense it's very difficult to imagine the solidarity that actually can succeed given the roadblocks of international and capital, it's a chapter of all of a sudden, that was like yesterday, 1955 was not that long ago. i wonder to fill all your writers were caught in the middle. >> in one way or another. i feel like we should write -- he is searching for a way out
and some of the leaders of the third world movement with this conflict in the problem was, the pressures especially the economic pressures being exerted where it was impossible to escape them anyways. and richard wright had economic pressures living as a writer he needed readers and a market and he moved to perth, went to indonesia for the conference and he also -- that trip was sponsored by the congress of cultural freedom, he did not know at the time but it was a cia operation. even when he was doing the right thing, he was actually in caught up in the imaginations of the cold war but, it is interesting to look at that and see how familiar it is and of course it
was jim crow america that richard wright was fleeing from but you see the conferences as being racist against white people because they been excluded from the famous meeting. and there are echoes of the simile impasses that we have, maybe without the ideological divide but still the same economic inequality. >> you are just coming off of oppresseoppressed day. i imagine you get a lot of questions about the current ideological polarization and get separate political moment. i wonder is you are writing this, where you think about any residents of the cold war. >> absolutely, i touch on a couple of these things, one of the things, an idea of the cold war, i think that actually is an
approach to take. were in a special and interesting moment that has the roots in the cold war like you see, putin is an agent. that legacy is clear to be seen but the cold war was ideological, and the ideas and why books were so important, there is a changes in technology, that was really important aspect and but these days really, there is no communist regime competing with the global -- north korea, but everything is kind of on a sliding scale of capitalism whether social democratic capitalism of scandinavia in the authoritarian of china. it is made very eloquently and
an open tickler place and there are many echoes and propaganda in this information in the consumption and people are very interesting at that moment. but in terms of russia, that is deathly needed times of the structure is very different. >> wonder if there's something that you never get to talk about like an easter egg that you can trust or something interesting he found in the research that gets buried. >> i knew you would ask this question. it's not an easter expand. >> what something you discovered that is intriguing. >> there's a decadence of stalin's courts. i thought i knew, but not how
quite how sex obsessed in the gravity, is astonishing. that generally surprised me. and i think, these other figures in history you dehumanize and think if there seen in the human eye. it is quite shocking. >> one more question, what is next? do know what you might right next or what do you think about these days ? >> i have an idea for a book that will go back a little further, this is an idea, a little bit out of brexit. and it's an idea of looking at these kind of panic in the
pre-world war i. in the united kingdom. and invading germans in the german spies and being everywhere and there's a very interesting story to be told, but i think there's an interesting story to be told about fake news and how these panics were disseminated and journalism pre-and about the moment of looking less on the part of my home country. >> i wonder if we are going to take questions? >> the cia publication in the
west, what was his alternative, what other choice was her. >> he personally could not -- this is my point about inescapable ability of the way this was set up. his writing to me is fascinating and the kind of view is pretty bewildered by some of his work because is deeply embedded in the russian tradition in the style. in one of the reasons why he gets projected in the way that he did was because of the cold war, he was seen in his dissent, is not really fully understood. now to hold him personally accountable for that would be, i don't agree that at all, but the work of this was elevated out of
cold war politics. and i disagree without two. i think they were not to be implicated. doesn't answer your question? >> yes. >> i wrote this draft of darkness of noon that was in the library, have you read it? or have you seen it? >> it comes identify historical and contemporary political figures and what we have which was distinguished of his writi writing. >> this is a mass speaker running from the police at one state and left a manuscript line
on a desk and they took everything else unless that at one point. all he was left with was dorothy hardy's of work and if that was german original. so it would be fascinating to see what changes the there are. >> can you obtain the original? >> i don't know whether researchers are allowed to look at it yet but they're planning on publishing an updated version which would be fascinating. >> i'll be washing for tha watc. it was seismic and its impact, is sold out in a bookstore around the block and it challenged a lot of people sympathetic to communism and how they were thinking about moscow and the soviet union. in all of that was based on this
version that was written in chaotic circumstances. it would be interesting to see. >> i will be watching for that. >> you talked there's at least two major understandings of culture, one is culture as a producer of art and the other is a more scholarly culture as how meaning changes over time and i was wondering if you could talk about if you found complicity and how those meanings change over time in the version of the cold war. >> that is a good question. the book itself is very anchored in an approach in an idea like depression and censorship, i
think you sea life and you see an understanding of it in the application with institutions, the states and post fiction, really playful interaction with that and you get away of making that part of the narrative. for a while in the case, writers like, it becomes a thing, it becomes part of the theme and for a lot of the writers, the retained quite a traditional view of the writers relationship, and talking about living in truth and the problem had a more modest idea about the writer's role in society and
spurring the larger population into considering how it was not something that was just by intellectuals of many people and oppositions. but they did hold a traditiona traditional -- it was ironic lady about them and about culture. >> you said something about the cold war? >> i would imagine so. in some ways, it is a simpler, the positions can be see a simpler, you are for the vietnam war or against it, you are for the invasion of afghanistan or against it, you idolize stalin or you recognize he's a criminal, if you're thinking about the contemporary writer and thinking about zoning implications and you can use the word liberal dynamics, it's a
katie say anything, this translation or language come into the subtle, and meaner strips coming out and previously we only had translations. >> absolutely, a lot of energy went into the transition of things. industry at the beginning, the transition is animal farm into polish. they produced it in the lightweight keeper stock, small edition of the book in the group that was funded by the cia attach these two weather balloons and floated them over where they would drop and you would be going out to mock the e cow and there's 20 copies. but you have -- there's many ways in which translation plays an important part in meetings
that have these hilarious to read the cia and literally assessment about true bongo, they had to get a guy in. and the guys give accomplished assessment of white cannot be published in the soviet union. but yeah, your facility with english which is something that he had, i gave him access and also something that can bring you under suspicion. that is a great question. >> this is a difficult question, the soviet addition -- [inaudible question]
>> i don't know. i don't know to be honest. i would be surprised if it was, i'm surprised if the addition that the time wasn't sensitive and talking about it, late 30s right, this is the height of stolen. >> yes, the original translation was repaired shortly after the western tradition, and then is circulated. it could be circulated for a long time because of the communist. >> when was it finally circulated? >> probably in the 60s he was a soviet journalist that was recorded. >> they were both sleeping with his wife. not a good idea.
everyone is sleeping with everyone. [laughter] everyone high -- i began thinki, i'm like reading your book, on vacation, and i don't know, a feeling in myself in this incredible way, you do re-create that. >> thank you very much. some of it was a nightmare, but some of it was fun to write and partly because they live crazy lives and really genuinely did. it is fascinating. >> these are great stories and to some degree sad. what difference did all of this
make? >> good question, an argument and one that i find slightly both sides elevated literature in a way beyond its utility in terms of propaganda, they had no way to measure if the polish farmer read the copy of animal farm. [laughter] and, it was self reinforcing mechanism where the more one side invested in publishing goods than the other one do the armories untiso on. in definitive shift happening in the publication would be a moment when you see attitudes and especially in european
communist change. a change to the soviet commonest in a way that i really do think it altered the course of the cold war. >> all right, thank you so much everybody for coming out. i really appreciate it. it was so wonderful to be here and think is so much a thank you for you being in conversation and thank you to the bookstore for hosting. [applause] [inaudible conversations] >> you are watching the tv on c-span2 with top nonfiction books and authors every weekend.