The worldly uses of literature

The Sunday Boston Globe’s Ideas section carries an interesting article on the influence of the currents of literary analysis taught at Yale on the work of the CIA and its institutional precursor: “School for spies.”
According to the author of the article, “Yale’s literature specialists played a key role in shaping the agency’s thinking. Mole-hunter James Jesus Angleton, the most controversial figure in CIA history, began his career as an apprentice of the New Critics on Yale’s English faculty, and his literary training in ‘close reading’ may have shaped his hyper-skeptical (some would say paranoid) approach to counterintelligence. With their emphasis on wide-ranging historical research and, later, the minutely detailed examination of language, Yale’s literary scholars shaped the CIA’s understanding of the world — for better and for worse.”
For a corrective to the author’s conventional gloss on Angleton, Mark Riebling’s book Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11: How the Secret War Between the FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security is a good place to begin. Angleton is an important figure in several of the hottest Cold War intelligence issues and an utterly compelling character in his own right. Riebling devotes several chapters of Wedge to an exploration of events in which Angleton played a key role, including the molehunt referred to in the Globe article.
Unfortunately, the author’s account of the influence of literary analysis on intelligence begins and ends with the founding generation of the CIA, while Yale long ago abandoned the traditional methods of literary analysis discussed in the article to remain au courant. It would be interesting to know if the succeeding schools of literary analysis have played any role in the agency’s methodology since Angleton was forcibly retired from the agency.
One does not need to employ any sophisticated literary analysis to detect the literary antecedent of the living nightmare experienced by former Harvard graduate student Giorgi Zedginidze — let’s call him Giorgi Z. — in another Globe story: “Cleared by a jury, but not by Harvard.” One needs only to have some general familiarity with the work of Franz Kafka.
The story of Giorgi Z. recalls that of Josef K. not only in form but also in its irresolution and its galling injustice. This is a deeply troubling story.


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