Der Monat, Encounter and Preuves

As part of the SpaTrEM project I have been considering the relations between three magazines with interconnected agendas and interwoven geographies: the English-language magazine Encounter, founded in London in 1953 and edited initially by Stephen Spender and Irving Kristol; Der Monat, a German magazine begun in Berlin in 1948 under the editorship of the American Melvin Lasky; and the French magazine, Preuves, started in Paris in 1951 and edited by François Bondy, who had been born in Berlin but brought up in Switzerland. These three magazines illuminate a significant moment in European history and share a focus on rebuilding culture and intellectual debate after the war, with contributors and pieces published in one magazines often appearing in translation in another of them. Indeed, Melvin Lasky later became co-editor of Encounter in 1958.  But the magazines are perhaps best known – now notoriously so – as being associated with the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an organisation established in 1950 in Berlin to promote ‘Western’ liberal values as a counter to the Communist countries of the ‘East’. I say notorious because since the late 1960s the CCF has been known to be an organisation funded, in a variety of ways, by the CIA as part of the American Cold War agenda.

Debate continues amongst scholars over the precise nature of the editorial influence the CIA exerted (if at all) on the particular magazines for which it provided financial support (there is a great book of essays from 2017 edited by Giles Scott-Smith and Charlotte Lerg exploring the full range of CCF magazines). Though getting to grips with the cultural politics of the Cold War is proving fascinating, initially I’ve been to trying to make sense of these three magazines in terms of their shared features as magazines: what can we learn by comparing their covers? Which contributors did they have in common? Did they share adverts? Or ideas about design and layout? Was there a common set of formatting features they all exhibited? Can they be said to share a common attitude towards European identity after the war – or were they more concerned to address, both in their contents and their appearance, particular national traditions of magazine publishing? Clearly these are questions that will bear more scrutiny as I continue to work on these magazines.

Magazines are never created ex nihilo: editors always have models in mind on which to base or adapt their own creations. Spender, for example, had worked at Horizon in the 1940s and also revered T. S. Eliot’s pre-war Criterion as a model of a critical review style magazine. Lasky had work published in the Partisan Review and, intriguingly, suggested that Der Monat should be akin to an amalgam of Partisan Review and the rather more mainstream, Harper’s magazine. One of the aims of Preuves, allegedly, was to produce a magazine to counter the hegemony of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Les Temps Modernes amongst left-bank intellectuals in Paris. All three publications are very text heavy both on their covers and in their contents, with few illustrations (both Preuves and Encounter start to use visual images on their covers from the mid-1950s) and minmal use of colour. All three have the same two column format, page lengths, and similar kinds of sections: critical articles on culture, politics, current affairs, and philosophy dominate, along with book reviews, travel writing, and some pieces on cinema and music. Unlike many modernist ‘little magazines’ creative work is rare.

Even from early on there were close links between the magazines. When preparing to launch Encounter in 1953 Spender records in his journal that Kristol conceived that the magazine should be ‘a mixture of Preuves and Der Monat’ and that it should be ‘international’ in its focus. To cite just one instance of their interconnected nature as European magazines we see that in the May 1955 edition of Encounter there is an advert for Der Monat promoting this German-language magazine to any of its readers ‘with a knowledge of the German language’. Der Monat, the advert proclaims, is ‘A Bridge Across the Channel?’ (note, however, the ambivalent question mark here) and that ‘informed Continental opinion need not be “cut off from Britain”. Nor need thoughtful English readers feel puzzled by the currents of thought in the heart of Europe.’ Prescient comments we might say. In the same issue an article by Arthur Koestler, ‘The Trial of the Dinosaur’, explores world politics under the shadow of atomic weapons; Koestler’s piece appears only a month later (translated by Denise van Moppès) in Preuves as ‘La bombe H et le dinosaure’. Such sharing of material only increases the perception that bringing these magazines into closer dialogue with one another can help illuminate key issues within post-war Europe. Der Monat may have presented itself as a bridge over the English Channel, but it seems that the triumvirate of Der Monat, Encounter, and Preuves offered something of a bridge between Europe and America.

Andrew Thacker

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