tv Duncan White Cold Warriors CSPAN September 21, 2019 5:30pm-6:15pm EDT
my and and pleased to welcome you evenings if went with duncan white presenting his new book "cold warriors" in conversation with lauren kaminsky. you can learn more at mass communities.org. we have several events are the next components which includes allen lightman pulitzer prize winner samantha power's and "new york times" best-selling novelist al huffman.
more details and information on these and many other upcoming events please visit our events calendar at harvard.com sign up for a weekly newsletter. we are pleased to have c-span's booktv here with us today. when asking questions for q&a please know you'll be recorded and wait a moment for the microphone to come over before asking your question. we will have a book signing right here at this table. be careful of the camera. we have copies for sale at the register and an excerpt of it like to take a moment to say thanks to the harvard bookstore. today is the first date and get copies of this book so congratulations. [applause] a quick reminder to silence your cell phones. now i'm pleased to introduce tonight speaker.
duncan white is a history literature professor and assistant director for the modern world at harvard university in his previous book and he co-edited a collection of essays. his journalism has brought him to the daily telegraph where he serves as a literary critic. lauren kaminsky is a historian of gender in the soviet union who served as a faculty associate at the davis center for russian studies at harvard university. she is also the director of studies at the degrees in history and lecture. tonight they are here to discuss "cold warriors" writers who waged the literary cold war which was praised by award-winning author kevin burning ham who said now more than ever we need a book like this to remind us of the importance of writers and the written word. we are so pleased to have him here with us tonight. please join me in welcoming duncan white and lauren kaminsky.
[applause] >> there are five different kinds of microphones and father thus and i'm not sure which one we are supposed to use. so congratulations. i love we have the event on the day of your public debut. >> it's exciting. i did the interviews this morning for various radio stations around the u.s.. i'm ready for even the craziest questions. >> get ready. it early in the book you call it a biography but it's so many other things also so tell us what is the book and in general what is it? >> well the idea for the book was to try and tell a
comprehensive, attempted teleconferences history of the cold war and the literary cold war and from the 1930s through the collapse of communism. the first draw ahead on the idea was their issues like censorship and repression and all these kinds of ideas. then i thought it might work better as a biography as a story that is focused on a handful of writers and the various other people they were connected with weaving through as much of the story and trying to focus in on their lives a little bit more. >> the person you open with his orwell which is great. there's an incredible section on the spanish war which i'm already excited about.
you may not be excited yet but you should be. super thrilling orwell and double agents and it's like fascinating. but orwell leno for his journalism and we also know for his fiction and you have been a journalist. you are a recovering journalist. you are a sports critic -- a sports journalist and a book critic. you have this moment where you are like it's the moment when course well and orwell figure out they can do more with fiction than they can with journalism. i wonder if you have a similar moment as a fiction writer. i wonder if, i don't know what your feelings are about what you can do in terms of your own journalism and your own writing. >> yamma i mean the idea of fiction is poorer. i'd be so terrible at it but
when i think the people who make fiction themselves is just fascinating. i got a ph.d. in english and yes there are ways in which thinking about orwell for example he went to spain and he had these transformative experiences. he kind of had a slightly simplified view of what was going on in spain and he was quickly disenchanted of that and he came back and was really concerned about what he saw as a totalitarian strike and stalinism. and he tried to tell it journalistically. in the book in catalonia he was incredibly rigorous and disciplined in the way that he tried to tell that story and all its complex detail and nobody read it. i think it didn't even sell off
his first run. he sold 700 book so he has two go back and think how my going to get the story across and of course it was sort of a parable the fairytale that the model was that he had once. that's how he physically told a story about stalin by going back and thinking about the simplest and most effective way of telling a story. >> how did you come to the topic? what was it that made you light onto this? >> when i was growing up bookshelves were lied. i thought he was dreadful until i actually read him. people of our generation grew up with the end of the cold war and i was living in germany the 80s and not being allowed to drink milk for a few months. i remember the wall coming down
and i had this exciting exercise when i was young. one of my friends at school his parents were arrested for being spies after the wall came down. >> of course. >> i was just fascinated by this story these americans which is what i love now. people live as ordinary life. and it turns out they are working for the stasi. i never thought of it as something serious to study. i was fascinated by literature and then i just came upon this story. the book was on the fringes of some of this. his cousin nicholas was involved and among other things. i found it fascinating and started looking and then i realize actually that i could
bring some of my islamic studies to bear. i try to tell the story from both sides at the same time and i hadn't seen that done before. there've been some good work done on the caa's influence and there's a great books on culture and doll and had the soviet union but looking at how they worked across the iron curtain was something that i thought was really worth it. >> okay. let me get this straight so you are going to the nato pool, family that they are actually spying for the stasi. >> so you are going to the nato pool in the late 80s so all of a sudden the way in which the book was written makes so much more sense to me. by the time we get to the chapter on kim's still be we are
already deep into the full lingo and logic of espionage. so to write it in the style of the le carré novel. why did you do that? >> there are a couple of reasons. one of the things i demonstrated in my own academic work was i can be a little touring at times and i wanted people to get excited about literature in ways that i got excited about this material when i was reading it in the temptation. i thought i would try to write a adopting some of this style that people like let kerry and green were experts at but it wasn't just the idea of writing a narrative biographical novel was not just choices. it was more than just trying to make it fun. it's also way at getting one of
the problems that i saw the sweeping accounts of the cultural cold war. that was in some of these accounts writers agency of writers, writers become puppets or chess pieces that are moved around and by sinister forces and so forth. by the cia and the kgb. that's an easy thing to thank and it's an easy mode to fall into because you know they were manipulating people but the writers were so much more complicated and messy and conflicted then this account of the cultural cold war that allowed us to understand. that was kind of a name of mine to try and tell it from the right perspective and then see the kind of dilemmas that they were placed in and the complexity of their position and being caught between these
forces. >> i think that's one of the stealthy brilliant arguments in the book and it's not an argumentative book. send narrative but can you do make several cases. one of the cases made. decisively as of course we are accustomed to thinking about the way cold war politics shaped culture. what we are less accustomed to thinking about is the way these cultural workers were actually yunel warriors and it's even in the title "cold warriors." they were agents. kim's still be more than most. >> that's a good point and sylvia was not a novelist. it was very readable. he's. obnoxious but he writes very well. he is there partly because he's
the kind of glue that connects some of these writers to the cold war in fascinating ways. in the case of look air a kamala kerry houston philby is a fictional model and signed something in philby something fascinating about the way these spicer writers were manifest. graham green had the same interest in espionage. he loved when world war ii he loves nothing more than the spies that they were working with who are just making stuff up. some of them just for a paycheck. some of them are just getting their money for this stuff but some of them were doing it because they were ideologically opposed to the nazis and they were regarding this false information that's where a man in havana comes from. this ideas that this sort of spy who is not wildly different.
>> your chapter about ken greening cuba is amazing is amazing because of course we are not unfamiliar with disinformation campaigns and here's the disinformation campaign on a massive scale. nothing seems less plausible than the missile crisis that is about to happen which is happening about round. but you established very early on that you are interested in the question of complicity about figuring out how much the writers are involved and how much they knew and how much they did not know. i think well i will say i thought he knew what you meant. from the introduction you declared it an unlike yeah because of course we know that many of these prominent american and british writers were indirectly spotted by the cia and awards and conventions that were set up.
i thought that's what you were doing then you threw me a curveball or great. as a person who works in the soviet union this was the mid-60s trial of a soviet writer who claims he is apolitical and yet it's being published abroad and journals that are being and directly watch by the cia and we have a figure who is not. his ideology is complicated and all of a sudden i read your statement about complicity in a different way. >> yeah. it's often looked at as an inescapable trap in the west. if you are from the soviet union you're excusing the good login excusing stalin and if you criticize the vietnam war too much what does that say about the north vietnamese were behaving with prisoners and so forth. in the soviet union i felt so
many dissident writers partly because of the way they were during the cold war and i thought it was sort of the pass in a way. maybe not a pass but their courage was undeniable. they did incredible work and smuggling the manuscripts and telling truth to power in many ways. but they didn't allow them to escape from their work becoming complicit not to their own desire but becoming complicit in the cold war because the stuff was snapped up by magazines like encounter another cia funded operations. for them writers were ideal propaganda. these heroes running the regime and that complicity in that case is this ironic tragedy because at the end of this court case they are accusing him of all kinds of crazy stuff. you've been published by these magazines which are cold war
propaganda and they were. he had made himself an overtly complicit with the west. >> you tell a different version with mccarthy and her trip to vietnam which maybe for some of us in this country who are made familiar but maybe not. what are you doing with the question of ideology and culture in that chat or? >> well so mary mccarthy in the mid-60s and she had just written a book called the group which was an unbelievable bestseller, hugely popular and it was transformed into a movie. she moved to paris and married an official. she was fiercely opposed to the vietnam war. she had been a left-wing isolationist from when she was quite a young woman and she felt
it was a disaster. she got herself out as a reporter. in her own words she didn't know a grenade from a pomegranate. she wrote some magnificent pieces from saigon. she was a tough cookie mary mccarthy and she sort of softer a lot of the official rhetoric and the euphemisms and pacification cleansing and attacked a lot of the u.s. policies and the level of language, interesting stuff. then she went back again and she went to hanoi. she went to north vietnam and that's when things got complicated for her. she had gone looking in her words again for a story against the american interest. in the hanoi but suddenly she found herself having to battle her own instincts which told her
this propaganda she was being shown was nonsense and her desire to try and sort of valorize the north vietnamese. at one point in a museum she was presented with the ring and she accepted and she put it on and she was told it was made from the wreckage of the downed american fighter. in this moment she didn't take it off. she took it off later and then she was sort of having these staged interviews with american p.o.w.s in downed pilots. she wrote about them in sort of an excoriating way. you want to make a point about how these american pilots were essentially dump and uneducated and just sort of chewed up by a poor education system and then by the military and committed these atrocities. she sort of went into a physical description of these guys in
something tortured her extensively from the preceding moments. even as someone as sharp and smart as mary mccarthy. i was fascinated by that drama and trying to navigate this complicity. >> the mccarthy story, as you write it i think it's very powerful and because you feel the pull from both sides. even the story about the ring. he if i read it it's a painful story about you know in some ways a gendered response to not wanting to refuse a gift. it's awful but that's part of it and here you have her as a figure who is like caught in between these two ideological poles. it makes me realize do you feel
like there are figures in your book and navigate that more or less adroitly? so many of them seem branded actually and i'm thinking about richard wright who literally leaves new york and goes to paris. he wants to leave american politics and then you know actually it's my favorite chapter, the chapter about the conference in 1955. you write it in this way that makes 1955 seem like yesterday. all of a sudden you've been in this u.s. cultural moment which is caught up in mccarthy in the 1950s and then the soviet union with his seven needs to and then you cannot do this this political stage which is very similar to our current moment in the sense that it's very difficult to imagine a
solidarity that can succeed given the roadblock of international capitol. all of a sudden you are like all right that was like yesterday. 1955 was not that long ago. do you feel like all of your writers are caught in the middle >> some of them sort of made their own beds. he is almost part of the establishment by richard wright he's searching for a way out and some of the leaders of the so-called nonalignment movement were way out in this bipartisan conflict. the pressure especially the economic pressures being exerted where it's kind of impossible to
escape in many ways in richard wright living as a writer he needed the market and he moved to paris. he went to in tunisia for the conference but he also that trip was sponsored by a cia funded operation. even when he was doing the writing he was actually being caught up in the kind of machinations of the cold war. but it is interesting to look at that moment and see how familiar it is. of course there is jim crow america that richard wright was for fleeing from that the conference is derided against racist against white people because they had been excluded from this famous meeting. there are echoes of a similar impasse that be have maybe
without the ideological divide but still the same economic inequalities. >> you are just coming off of press they. i imagine you are getting a lot of questions about our current ideological polarization in our contemporary political moment that i wonder is you're writing this you are thinking of any resonances between the cold war and today? >> absolutely and i touch on these things in the book. one of the things i'm not keen on the idea that we are in a new cold war. i think that that is not the approach to take to wearing a special interesting moment. putin was a kgb agent. that legacy is clearly seen but the cold war was the ideological
it's why books were so important alongside the change in technology which was really important aspect of this. but these days really there is no communist regime competing with global trends. north korea but everything is kind of on a sliding scale whether it's social democratic capitalism in scandinavia through the authoritarian capitalism of china. this is a point that the west has made very eloquently and we are in our own particular place here. there's not to say there is an propaganda misinformation and even from socialist cold war nostalgia. i just watched the chernobyl doc
and with russia that is some ways reminiscent of the cold war but the structure. >> is there something you never get to talk about some little easter egg or something you found in the research that gets buried? >> i knew you would ask me this question. a little easter egg that hidden away. >> something that you found interesting. >> the decadence of stalin's court. i had no idea. i thought i knew but just quite how, sorry kids sex obsessed that a lot of these guys were and the depravity and i mean it's just astonishing. that genuinely surprised me. i think you know maybe stalin
like some of these other figures of history. seeing him in the human element was quite shocking. >> maybe one more question. what's next? do you have ideas about what you might write next or what you might be thinking about these days? >> i have an idea for a book that would go back a little bit further and this is an idea that is a little bit out of brexit and it's an idea of looking at these kinds of spy novels that created a panic in the pre-world war i period in the united kingdom about germans invading like german spies being everywhere. there's a very interesting story to be told through the creation
of the intelligence services in britain but it's an interesting story about fake news and how these panics would -- were disseminated in fiction and in journalism and the kind of moment of inward looking on the part of my own country. so we will see. >> i wonder if we might take questions. >> i think we have a couple of hands. >> what was his alternative and what other choice quniyapack? and that's an excellent point. he personally couldn't. this is my point about the inescapable the that was set off because shereshevsky's readiness to meet fascinating so a lot of
the reviewers were. bewildered by some of his work because it's deeply embedded in their western tradition andy's writing in an agoura cat dial. you know the reason why he gets rejected in the way that he did was because of the cold war. there was value seen in his dissent that wasn't really fully understood. now to hold him personally accountable for that, i don't agree with that at all but the idea that the work of dissidents was kind of elevated out of cold war politics i disagree with that too. i think their work could not be implicated in some of these dynamics. did that answer your question? thank you. >> i read that there was an
early draft of darkness that would discovered in a zürich library. i wonder, have you read it? is supposed to identify actual historical contemporary figures, more than what we have which was i think his english mistresses translation of his writing. back the publication of his book was kind of a mess because he was running from the vichy police and he left them and escaped lying on on the best way they took everything else that left that at one stage. all that he was left with was dorothy hardy's ankle is asian of his work and what they found i think was the german original writing. it would be fascinating to see what changes there.
>> i don't know if researchers are allowed to look at it yet but i know they are publishing in a dated edition which would be fascinating. the french edition of that look with sitesmack and its impact treated sold-out in every store around the block and it really challenged a lot of people into how they were thinking about the soviet union. all of that was based on this kind of british version that was written in these chaotic circumstances so it would be really interesting to see. thank you. >> i was thinking about this.
there at least two major understandings of culture. one is culture as a producer of art and the other is a more scholarly culture is how many changes over time. i was wondering if you could talk about if you found complicity or how those meanings change over time especially in light of the static ideological version of the cold war. >> that's a good question. the book itself is very anchored in a approach in ideas like repression and censorship and i think you see writers becoming much more nuanced in their understanding of their application with institutions with the states and obviously you get in postmodern fiction a
really playful interaction with that. you get a way of making up part of the narrative and i remising it. in the case of writers like that it becomes a thing. becomes part of the cuts. torreo thing. a lot of writers did retain a traditional view of the relationship to society and trick the power and talking about living in truth. they had a more modest idea about the writer's role in society and may be spurring the larger population and in so doing not something that was conducted just by intellectuals but ordinary people but they did hold quite traditional views which is a slightly ironic idea
about culture. >> can you say something about the cold war? >> i would imagine so. in some ways it was kind of a simpler, the opposition can be seen as simpler. you were either for the vietnam war or you were against it. you are either for the war in afghanistan or your instant. you the lion i stolen or you recognize he's a carnal whereas if you are thinking about the contemporary right in thinking about the implication and if i can use the word in liberal dynamics it's a much more nuanced and difficult picture. it's hard to navigate i think.
>> i read the first five pages and i looked through the pictures and i read to the last few pages in the last chapter. the wall comes down on the cold war and in the vaults open and there's an explosion of text. i'm wondering if those texts, if your readings of those tax actually reflect back on this structuring of your argument. do they change the argument or are they personal to the argument? i didn't get far enough to understand the function of the text. i wonder if you talk about that. >> he so you know i'm interested in a lot of the text in the west. it was crazy. it was like a moment where over
the space of a couple of years dozens of these masterpieces suddenly become available. he went to the bookshop and oh here's another one suddenly available. also western books. orwell started to become available and people started to publish those. it was a moment, it would be hard to imagine what it must have been like to be especially in older soviet citizen and a suddenly have all this stuff all this literal reproduction in the space of a few moment. a truly remarkable moment. at the same time the archives are being pried open and historical evidence of what had been done was being published. fortunately the lid was put back on a lot of those archives not too long after and i would imagine they remained shut.
it was a think and extraordinarily cathartic moment at the end of the cold war to have this explosion of literature with people reading books everywhere and i can't remember the name and who has been editor of "the new yorker"? david remnick was a "washington post" correspondent he remembered seeing everybody reading all the time. there were just consuming all the stuff. >> hi. he talked about language with regard to the novel. the book that has been transcended by the girlfriend. can you say anything to me just translation or language come into this at all? you are talking about original manuscripts coming out and previously had only had versions and translations. >> a lot of energy went into the
translation of things. one of the stories it tells the beginning is the translation of animal farm into polish. and they produced it in a white let -- lightweight papers talk funded by the cia. it hatch -- attach these additions to weather balloons and flew them over the iron curtain. he'd go up to milk the car -- milk the cow when there were 20 copies. you have these, there are many ways in which it plays an important part and it's hilarious to read the cia and literary assessment of dr. zhivago. they were like what is it? is a good? where the bits where they really go for lenon and it gives this
accomplished assessment of the novel and why it couldn't he published in the soviet union but yeah. conversely it was something that shereshevsky had an in something that could bring you under suspension -- suspicion with western intervention and so forth. a great question. >> is a difficult question. if the soviet edition of "for whom the bell tolls" -- or is it the book that hemingway wrote? he probably don't even know. >> i don't know to be honest. i would be surprised if the edition was brought out. we are talking mid-30s right at the height of cultural
control. do you know? seen it guesstimate the original translation was prepared shortly after the western edition and then that circulated. it couldn't be circulated for a long time because of the depiction of andre bartee and other communists. probably in the 60s. >> he was approached by the soviet journalists. they were both sleeping with his wife. not a good idea. >> everyone is sleeping with everyone's wife and everyone has one or both. at the whole scene in which i don't know, i'm like reading a
book on summer vacation because classes haven't started again and i'm feeling myself in his espionage in a credible way. you do re-create that. >> thank you very much. that's very kind. it was a lot of fun but some of it was nightmarish. a lot of it was fun to write partly because these people lived crazy lives. they generally did and it was fascinating. >> peace are great stories and to some degree that once but how did it matter? it the end of the day what difference at did all of this may? >> well, it's a good question because this is an argument, one that i bind to slightly that those sides elevated literature in a way beyond its utility in terms of propaganda.
they had no way of measuring it. how do you measure if a polish farmer read the copy of animal farm and thought ho-hum? but it was almost a self-reinforcing mechanism whereby the more once i've invested in the more the others would arms race in it and it's kind of fascinating. there are limits where you see a definitive shift happening and publication of gulags archipelago would be a moment when you see attitudes especially in european communist change to soviet communism and away where i really do think definitively over the course it --
>> all right. we have perfect. thank you so much everybody for coming out. i really appreciate it. it was so wonderful to be here and thank you so much and thank you especially lauren kaminsky into harvard book store for me. thank you. [applause] >> congressman bill johnson represents ohio's sixth district. what he reading? >> oh my goodness it's too big to say. i'm in the process of five different books. i have pretty much finished one of them, the latest one