The Covert Canon

The CIA and the Literary Canon: The Case of Encounter Magazine

Jason Harding, 17 Nov 2015, CEIR Seminar Series

Roughly half an hour before Jason Harding (Durham University) arrived to give his paper on ‘The CIA and the Literary Canon: The Case of Encounter Magazine’, Anthony, Mikey and I were trying to think of a good hashtag for the talk’s live-feed on Twitter. Several suggestions were made, including #HardingCIA, or simply #CIA. Anthony, however, cautiously suggested that these could attract unwarranted attention from the organisation, who are, in fact, now users of the social network.

With over one million followers, at first it seems strange that America’s Central Intelligence Agency would make use of a platform that has, in the past, had significant cyber-security issues. The organisation’s Tweets, however, draw very little attention to their work, which leaves their posts quite uninteresting. (They frequently circulate facts about former US Presidents, and post photographs of combat aircraft and military uniforms.) Yet behind this unadventurous façade, their presence on Twitter does suggest covert observance or undercover surveillance, and there is, of course, no way of tracking which pages they frequently monitor. (more…)

Visiting Speaker, 1 Dec 2015: Jennie Batchelor on The Lady’s Magazine

Jennie Batchelor (University of Kent) will be presenting her paper, ‘“The world is a large volume”: The Lady’s Magazine and Romantic Print Culture’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 1 December 2015. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.01, and will be followed by a wine reception.

This talk examines the position of the Lady’s Magazine: or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex (1770–1832) in Romantic-era print culture and the scholarship surrounding it. Aside from the periodical’s extraordinary popularity and longevity, a number of ambitious claims have been made for the Lady’s Magazine’s historical and literary importance. Chief amongst these is Edward Copeland’s 1995 claim that the Lady’s Magazine defined women’s engagement with the world in the Romantic period. This argument is as seductive as it is unsubstantiated. Eighteenth-century periodicalists commonly overlook the title, which emerges after the often lamented if somewhat exaggerated demise of the essay-periodical epitomised by The Tatler and The Spectator. Romanticists, meanwhile, have tended to privilege the self-professedly ‘literary’ magazines of the turn of the century, in which writers such as Hazlitt and Scott, well known for their work in other more canonical genres, were involved.

This paper seeks to address this oversight by explicating how the magazine self-consciously and strategically positioned itself in relationship to the wider and highly competitive literary marketplace in which it thrived against the odds. In making these claims, I draw on initial research findings from our two-year Leverhulme-funded Research Project Grant: ‘The Lady’s Magazine (1770–1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre’. The project offers a detailed bibliographical, statistical and literary-critical analysis of one of the first recognisably modern magazines for women from its inception in 1770. In its three-pronged book history/literary critical/digital humanities approach, the project, like this talk, aims to answer two main research questions: 1) What made the Lady’s Magazine one of the most popular and enduring titles of its day?; 2) What effects might an understanding of the magazine’s content, production and circulation have upon own conceptions of Romantic-era print culture, a field still struggling fully to emerge from the shadows of canonical figures and genres? (more…)

Reminder: Jason Harding’s paper on the CIA and Encounter magazine tomorrow


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.

Tintern Abbey

BARS 2015: Romantic Imprints – 1st Call for Papers

Proposals are invited for the 2015 British Association for Romantic Studies international conference which will be held at Cardiff University, Wales (UK) on 16–19 July 2015. The theme of the interdisciplinary conference is Romantic Imprints, broadly understood to include the various literary, cultural, historical and political manifestations of Romantic print culture across Europe, the Americas and the rest of the world. Our focus will fall on the ways in which the culture of the period was conscious of itself as functioning within and through, or as opposed to, the medium of print. The conference location in the Welsh capital provides a special opportunity to foreground the Welsh inflections of Romanticism within the remit of the conference’s wider theme. The two-hundredth anniversary of Waterloo also brings with it the chance of thinking about how Waterloo was represented within and beyond print.

The confirmed keynote speakers for Romantic Imprints will be John Barrell (Queen Mary, London), James Chandler (Chicago), Claire Connolly (Cork), Peter Garside (Edinburgh) and Devoney Looser (Arizona State). (more…)