And now it’s, ahem, TPR’s turn

Things are a little weird right now with Hurricane Dorian on track to turn Florida into Haiti, so UFOs aren’t getting my full attention. I’m not paranoid or anything, but if I were, this is what I’d write (but I’m not):

In 1953, aspiring young novelist Peter Matthiessen co-founded The Paris Review, whose mission statement, written by William Styron, short-changed nonfiction. The quarterly magazine, wrote Styron:

“… hopes to emphasize creative work – fiction and poetry – not to the exclusion of criticism, but with the aim in mind of merely removing criticism from the dominating place it holds in most literary magazines … I think The Paris Review should welcome these people into its pages: the good writers and good poets, the non-drumbeaters and non-axe-grinders. So long as they’re good.”

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea” — Henry James/Credit:

So long as they’re good, and thus it was. TPR went on to become the gold-standard platform for the 20th century’s literary giants, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Roth, Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, James Baldwin, Jack Kerouac, etc., etc. What no one knew, at least not until The New York Times broke the story in the 1970s, is that Matthiessen, during his time in postwar Paris, had been a covert CIA spook. In fact, TPR was conceived as an Agency asset for keeping tabs on lefties and commies touting subversive ideas in French intellectual circles.

Matthiessen was on the CIA payroll for just two years, and he would later express his regrets publicly. “I was no good at this low work and hated the deception that went with it,” he wrote before his death in 2014, “which I found nerve-racking and disagreeable and made worse by the fact that it all seemed petty and pointless as well as an idiotic waste of public money.”

Still. First impressions and all that.

This brings us to an article published in TPR on Monday, by bestselling nonfiction author Rich Cohen, a contributor to Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, and a script writer/collaborator with Martin Scorsese. It’s fair to describe Cohen as a significant opinion-shaper in the United States. And not a novel or a poem on the official bio.

In his “More UFOs Than Ever Before” essay, Cohen indicates he knows why there are More UFOs Than Ever Before. “The answer,” he informs us, “can be found in our political history.”

Now, TPR isn’t normally where you’d turn for the latest solutions on The Great Taboo. Its traditional audience is a little too high-brow for UFO skank. Last year, it ran book excerpts from UFO Drawings From The National Archive, by British debunker David Clarke. In 2016, it excerpted Flying Saucers Are Real!, James Womack’s droll and whimsical take on atomic-age UFO book-cover art (roll over, Stan Friedman, Donald Keyhoe). Meaning, TPR will occasionally stoop to present the Great Taboo as a subject for cultural criticism, vaguely amusing if one is sufficiently detached.

But the vexing facts that have been stacking up over the past 20 months – the Pentagon’s release of gun-cam UFO vids, stone-cold sober coverage by the NY Times, the F-18 pilot testimony, the Navy’s announcement of revised UFO reporting guidelines, related congressional briefings, and that horrid horrid little “Storm Area 51” thing going on next month attracting hordes of hoi polloi – are surely giving fits to patrons of the TPR. But no worries — it’s Rich Cohen to the rescue.

Cohen actually gives more space to the facts than he needs to. He even finds room to mention UFO activity over U.S. nuke bases, from Malmstrom in ’67 to F.E. Warren in 2010, and he throws in Harry’s Reid’s AATIP program as well. But Cohen controls the volume and focus here, so just chill, take another sip of Darjeeling, and plop those ol’ slippers back on the ottoman:

“If you believe such stories are true, you also believe that our inept, inefficient government has maintained a nearly perfect cover-up across thirteen presidential administrations. Because they’d have to know – there would be pictures, eye-witness accounts, alien hardware, alien DNA.”

No sensible TPR reader wants to read about that alien crap. Still, Cohen does his best not to sound condescending: “People believe in witchcraft, yet there are no congressional subcommittees on warlocks.” That’s a fact. Yet,  he feels for the “believers” because really, he’s just like them, kinda. “I want to believe,” he writes, “but find it hard.” Don’t we all? “I don’t know why.” Me neither. “Belief in UFOs is really no stranger than any other sort of belief, no stranger than a belief in prophets or ancient codes. But I just don’t feel it.” I can feel the wind howling through Cohen’s barren interiors just by retyping his words here. “I wish I could see one for myself, as I wish I could see the Virgin Mary floating above the yellow roses in my backyard.”


Cohen then leads us gently into the sanctuary of rationality, back through history, into the beginning of the nuclear era, the Cold War, the way weapons technology forced us to reexamine our place in the universe, the attendant anxieties spawned by that reassessment, the sheer complicated nail-biting angst-inducing dyspeptic velocity of it all. But Cohen brings us good news: It’s not our fault.

“It’s the hysteria of the modern,” he concludes. “Too much, too fast. It’d make anyone see aliens.”

And that’s it — end of story, mystery solved. Nonfiction. In TPR.

Dude, if I were writing fiction, poetry, or criticism for the CIA’s literary journal? This is exactly how I’d handle it, man.

The post And now it’s, ahem, TPR’s turn appeared first on De Void.

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