The CIA Needed a Better Editor, and Other News


On the Shelf


This seemingly ordinary edition of Doctor Zhivago comes to you courtesy of the CIA. Photo via AbeBooks

  • Fact: a minor independent publishing house known as the Central Intelligence Agency published the first Russian-language edition of Doctor Zhivago in 1958. It was printed in an edition of 1,160 as part of an effort to undermine the USSR. Boris Pasternak “was irritated and disappointed, because the copy the CIA had published (and also presented to the Nobel Prize committee) was not complete in its editing and was full of errors … The CIA-Mouton editions were bound in nondescript, blue cloth covers, and the CIA surreptitiously distributed copies among Soviet visitors to Expo ’58, the Brussels World’s Fair. The rationale was that not only would the novel’s content cause outrage among Soviet citizens, but that also seeds of doubt would be planted when it came to light that the government had refused to allow publication of a novel by Russia’s most respected and celebrated writer.”
  • The public stage today cries out for figures like Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, examples of an extinct class of “celebrity intellectual.” Their 1968 debates qualified as a legitimate TV event, and the medium hasn’t seen anything like it in decades: “Vidal and Buckley were both patrician in manner, glamorous in aura, irregularly handsome, self-besottedly narcissistic, ornate in vocabulary, casually erudite, irrepressibly witty, highly telegenic, and by all accounts great fun to be around … Also, they warmly hated each other … The antipathy was personal at root, perhaps even psychosexual.”
  • Yeah, the Internet’s cool and fast-paced and totally au courant, but at the physical level it’s not terribly different from telegraphy. A map from 1877 shows the locations of copper telegraph cables around the world; it bears more than a passing resemblance to a map of the fiber-optic cables that connect the Internet. “Everybody thinks global technology is wireless … But it’s only wireless to the nearest base station or cell-phone tower. The rest of the way, it’s happening at the physical level. There’s wire and cables that link back to all these massive servers. The Internet is not a cloud … it’s under the ocean.”
  • Claudia Rankine’s poetry collection Citizen: An American Lyric doesn’t seem a natural candidate for adaptation to the stage. But Stephen Sachs has adapted it nonetheless, and it opens next month in Los Angeles: “My stage adaptation of Citizen is not a play … Like Claudia Rankine’s book, it’s a collage of colliding events, fragments, vignettes, and streams of consciousness that blend poetry, prose, movement, sound, music, and video images. An ensemble of six actors. Each is both a single citizen, and all citizens, interweaving. No conventional linear story, yet a powerful emotional arc. Fast-moving. Stylized … I hope the play makes our highly educated, professional, and privileged patrons uncomfortable in the best possible way. I hope it gets them thinking, gets them talking, opens their eyes, like the citizen in Claudia’s book who needs to put on her glasses to see what is really there.”
  • The Guggenheim’s Storylines series has writers—among them John Ashbery, Helen DeWitt, Ben Lerner, and Mary Ruefle—respond to works of art. Lerner, for instance, takes on Gabriel Orozco’s 2012 print Astroturf Collection: “The schematic arrangements (grids) of carefully sculpted ritual objects … points to what Anita Singh has called ‘the surrender of science,’ a declining belief in the adequacy of existing regimes of knowledge in the face of planetary upheaval.”