Pearl S. Buck's FBI File, 1938-1945

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This article analyses data selected from declassified, public-access FBI files on American writer Pearl S. Buck compiled before and during the Second World War. The argument establishes a crux between literary production and Cold War ideology, such that the FBI, backed by emerging technologies of surveillance, sought to create near-evidentiary “realities” out of what were merely literary tastes and ideological propensities. I call this powerful, period curtailment of literary interpretive range, in the context of the Second Red Scare, evidentiary realism. As privileged readers who constructed their own canons out of published materials, deemed acceptable or unacceptable, FBI case managers “close-read” literary materials for evidence of political subversion. Where they could not locate direct and actionable evidence of subversion in Buck's literary texts or pronouncements, case managers activated otherwise latent data by providing crucial interpretive links joining disparate signifying chains. Likewise buoyed by the ad hoc submission of data delivered along networks of enthusiastic volunteer informants nationwide, such government-backed interpretive communities, formal and informal, imposed strikingly narrow (statist) regimes of literary preference. At the same time, officials at the FBI enforced modes of censorship—alternating between the selective suppression of pertinent information and its opportune release—when delivering classified, confidential, or otherwise inaccessible information to the public.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914-1945
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


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