Visiting Speaker, 17 Nov 2015: Jason Harding on the CIA and the literary canon

Jason Harding (Durham University) will be presenting his paper, ‘The CIA and the Literary Canon: The Case of Encounter Magazine’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 17 November 2015. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.48, and will be followed by a wine reception.

2015.02.hardingIn 1967 the New York Times revealed that one of London’s pre-eminent magazines of literature, arts, and politics, Encounter, had been launched and funded by the CIA. This talk will examine the control exerted by the CIA front organisation, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, over the contents of Encounter.

I want to propose some unsettling questions about the ideological pressures that shaped a literary canon during the Cold War. To what extent did Encounter’s literary editors – Stephen Spender and Frank Kermode – seek to neutralise the political extremism of the European avant-garde? Examination of this topic is allied to the contributions of leading contemporary writers – notably, Saul Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov – and the degree to which the great literature prized by Encounter was interpreted as an exemplum of (what Lionel Trilling called) the Liberal Imagination (“variousness, possibility, complexity, difficulty”) and thereby an antidote to those cultural works promoted by Soviet Communism.

About the speaker
harding-photoJason Harding is Reader in English Studies at Durham University. He has authored or edited six books and over fifty articles and reviews on modern literature, most recently volume four of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot and The New Cambridge Companion to T. S. Eliot. His book-length study of Encounter will be published by Princeton University Press in 2017.


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