A Gumshoe Conspiracy?

by Richard Kostelanetz (February 2012)

I’ve written before that the most deflating “rejection letters” ever to come my way were written by unidentified factotums at the FBI and CIA, both declaring, in response to my Freedom of Information requests, that they had no files on me. I didn’t believe them then and don’t now, not only because their offices were filled with guys who clipped periodicals (well before they got computers) but also since my name is unique. Furthermore, back in 1959, while a freshman at Brown University, I published in the undergraduate newspaper a favorable review of a book critical of the FBI, incidentally recommending the decriminalization of illicit drugs as the surest way to reduce crime in America. (The review is reprinted in my Political Essays (Autonomedia, 1994).) That review along with that opinion should have marked me as henceforth worth the FBI’s attention, n’est-ce pas?

Before that, I went in the late 1940s to Downtown Community School, a “progressive” institution then in the East Village of downtown Manhattan. Among my classmates were kids whose Communist fathers were then imprisoned. I also went in 1951 to Camp Woodland, whose chief also ran DCS, whose peculiar culture was diminished in a Ron Radosh book simply titled Commies (2001).

Don’t forget that Brown university’s president, Barnaby Keeney, has also been a CIA operative who later confessed that he thought he did no wrong. Indeed, several Brown alumni, beginning with E. Howard Hunt, later discredited for other reasons, had CIA careers. Tis said that the CIA especially was recruiting Brown undergraduates, though I’m not aware of any who were hired, not alone interviewed.  (One classmate worked, instead, for the US Army in intelligence.) In the 1960s my critiques appeared in several radical magazines and that I resided among New Lefties in NYC’s East Village though probably not as visible as certain others. Can we believe their claim not to have noticed me?

In December 2011, I received from unified Berlin another deflating letter, this from a repository for files from the Stasi, the dreaded East German secret police. For three reasons they should have noticed me. In 1983, I published in the Sunday travel section of the New York Times two articles about East Berlin. The first offered advice about going through the forbidding Wall (remember it?). The other was an appreciation of the Great Jewish Cemetery there.

Secondly, I made with a partner a short film about that cemetery to which we had to receive not only special official clearances but also hire a “translator,” who was actually a minder. (She snoozed a lot on her job.) Thirdly, my father’s first cousin (and thus my second cousin, the grandson of my grandmother’s brother) was the Soviet cultural commissar in East Germany after WWII. Even though I never met A. L. Dymshitz, who died in the 1970s, I often mentioned my connection in the early 1980s to my East German contacts, who in turn told me about his importance. Indeed, at least one of these “friends” was later exposed at a Stasi informer. Nonetheless, I recently received this communication: “The Stasi had only registered you in connection with making the Film back then, but did not pay further attention.” Am I supposed to believe that the Stasi that reportedly knew everything didn’t know about me? Huh? Nil?

The “Referatsleiterin” at “Der Bundesbeauftragte für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik” (no joke) added, in English, this incomplete sentence: “Sorry for having to disappoint your expectations.” That’s another rejection, dammit. Could it be that some paranoids suffer from real censors? Did the Stasi collaborate with the FBI and CIA in denying my presence?  Or are they equally bum gumshoes?

Individual entries on Richard Kostelanetz’s work in several fields appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Webster's Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in American Art, NNDB.com, Wikipedia.com, and Britannica.com, among other distinguished directories. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born, unemployed and thus overworked.


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