Gertrude Stein’s collaboration with the fascist Vichy government was never a secret. But, until now, many have simply ignored it; or, to use the critic Frederic Jameson’s phrase, given over to the “innocence of intellectuals.” Stein’s avid support for Petain, the Nazi collaborator who headed the Vichy government, has often been written off as merely the tragic consequence of many a brilliant artists. What mattered was her prose, not her politics.
In 1941, George Orwell wrote what may stand as the pithiest piece of writing about art and propoganda to date. His essay "The Frontiers of Art and Propaganda" argued that, by the 1930s, it was impossible to be an English writer and not write about politics, however you chose to cloak it. The aesthetic concerns of an earlier age--"art for art's sake," as he called it--were only possible when the climate was not choked with insecurity and political upheaval.