In this article, I explore how US writers and intellectuals in the years following World War II responded aesthetically to the questions of complicity raised by anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. I discuss two short stories in particular: Vladimir Nabokov's “Double Talk” (1945) and Mary McCarthy's “Artists in Uniform” (1953). These form part of a group of literary works that share a striking and singular theme: the nightmare of the liberal intellectual finding herself or himself complicit with anti-Semitism in the confined space of a social encounter, and unable to escape. In reading these stories for their points of contact and shared concerns, we can begin to build an account of how complicity was addressed by members of a particular cultural formation in the early cold war, that of an East Coast intelligentsia characterized by its rejection of Stalinism, adherence to classically liberal political values and commitment to the aesthetic values of European modernism. More specifically, we gain an insight into why the aesthetics of complicity should be understood as a necessary and constitutive element of this group's intellectual ethos.