This archive document contains both parts of this story, which ran on September 29, 1995 and October 6, 1995.
Part I: The University Goes Ballistic
“Do you ever wonder what happens to little boys who scratch dirty words on railroad underpasses? They go to college and scrawl obscenities in the college literary magazine. A magazine published by the University of Chicago is distributing one of the foulest collections of printed filth I’ve seen publicly circulated.” So wrote Jack Mabley in a column for the Chicago Daily News on the last Saturday of October in 1958.
Could such a thing be possible at the University of Chicago? Had Robert Maynard Hutchins’s glorious experiment in liberal education, the home of the Manhattan Project, somehow become involved in the smut business? Now Mabley turned coy. “I’m not naming the magazine because I don’t want to be responsible for its selling out.” At that, most Daily News readers probably glanced over the tops of their papers, thought “I always knew something was wrong with that place!” and forgot the whole thing. But for anyone sufficiently interested, there was only one student literary magazine at the University of Chicago.
Even before Mabley’s column appeared, plenty of people were interested in the Chicago Review. Just three weeks earlier the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, had reported on the “significant national and international reputation” the Review had developed. Two issues published during the 1957-’58 school year had caused “much comment,” according to the paper.
This comment had been occasioned by the group of writers the Review was now publishing, whose supercharged language, uniquely American rhythms, and starkly personal themes set them in stark contrast to the mannered and bloodless heirs to modernism that populated the pages of most literary journals at the time. Many of these writers in the Review were bound by a connection–actual, invented, or imagined–to the city of San Francisco. They were Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Michael McClure, John Wieners, Philip Lamantia, Philip Whalen, and the completely unknown William S. Burroughs–few of whom had ever been printed in so prestigious a publication. Issues in which their work appeared were the most popular and successful in the Review’s history.
One month after Mabley’s attack, an inconspicuous article in the Maroon announced that the editor of the Chicago Review, Irving Rosenthal, had resigned and was planning to leave the university. A successor had been elected by the staff. A perfectly routine story.
At least until the next Maroon appeared a week later. The lead story reported on a letter to the editor from Charles Horwitz, a colleague of Rosenthal’s. Horwitz charged that Rosenthal had been forced out. The staff had been given an ultimatum: publish an innocuous issue or the university would end its financial support. That’s why Rosenthal had quit. The university, charged Horwitz, had “exercised the most blatant form of censorship–it suppressed the publication of the entire forthcoming winter issue.” Not just Rosenthal but five Review editors–the entire full-time staff but one–had walked out in protest.
What happened at the University of Chicago back in 1958? Why did an institution that professed “freedom of inquiry in all intellectual pursuits” turn against its student editors? Had a single piece of newspaper sensationalism terrified it?
When Irving Rosenthal joined the Chicago Review in the fall of 1956 it hardly seemed likely that within a year he would have taken over the magazine, and that within a year and a half he would have stamped it indelibly with his personality and his taste, discovered William S. Burroughs, and helped create the “beat generation.” He had taken no classes in literature or writing. He had no editing experience. He had only a general interest in literature.
He had come to the University of Chicago from San Francisco to do graduate work in psychology. His particular interest was personality theory, especially the work of Carl Rogers, then a professor at Chicago. The only writing he was doing himself was his doctoral dissertation. He and his friend Eila Kokkinen joined the magazine together. Years later neither could recall exactly what had prompted them to do so.
Kokkinen remembered Rosenthal as a very lonely man. He was an avowed homosexual, an outsider in the department of psychology. He hung out with black jazz musicians and the like. Other outsiders.
Ed Morin joined the magazine at the same time as Rosenthal and Kokkinen. Morin recalled that “Irving was quiet, courteous, very small, very quiet. He didn’t want to impose. He wouldn’t hurt a flea. He didn’t have what are popularly called social skills. He was really kind of fearful and helpless around people. There were times when conversation was called for and he’d just freeze up. He wouldn’t be able to talk, especially to important people.”
Rosenthal was even like that as an editor, according to Doris Nieder, who worked for him. “Irving was there at the first Review meeting that I went to and he gave a little talk about the magazine. I thought he looked terribly affected because he held a glass of water in his hand the whole time. I didn’t realize then that it was because he couldn’t talk out loud. It wasn’t affectation. He couldn’t talk.” But becoming editor of the Review changed Irving Rosenthal. “When we joined,” Eila Kokkinen recalled, “Irving Rosenthal was very quiet, a meek little soul. Absolutely. But in a matter of months he had taken over, like a dictator.”
As editor, Irving Rosenthal apparently continued to cultivate his differences. He kept bats in his apartment as pets, Kokkinen says, and for a while had a pet iguana. Paul Carroll, Rosenthal’s poetry editor, remembers Rosenthal’s room painted completely white, the walls bare but for a single peacock feather stuck into a hole and a sign over his desk that read Think Zen.
Rosenthal and Kokkinen (and Morin as well) started out like most other students at the Review–as associates. They sifted through manuscripts, read and commented on them; they helped with correspondence and the quarterly mailings to subscribers; they were gofers. The work was completely unromantic and there was always a lot of it. Attrition among the associates was high.
Students who showed aptitude or interest, or who simply stayed around long enough, might eventually be asked to solicit a manuscript or edit one on their own. Or, in Eila’s case, solicit artwork. Kokkinen was studying art history at the university. Her focus was modern art, her great love abstract expressionism. Editor David Ray named her art editor in the spring of 1957.
After the fall semester, Rosenthal had gone to Hawaii to work on his dissertation. But before leaving he’d given Ray a story he’d written, a piece introverted to the point of claustrophobia. Ray liked it though, and “An Invitation to Sleep” was published in the spring ’57 Review. The story made such a good impression on Ray that when he had to give up the editorship he appointed Rosenthal to succeed him.
The Chicago Review was founded in 1946 by Chicago’s then dean of students, Lawrence Kimpton. It enjoyed no special prestige on campus; it was “just like the bowling team,” one former staffer put it. But though administered by Kimpton’s office, the magazine enjoyed the status of an independent, student-owned corporation, just like the Maroon. It was required to meet its budget through sales, subscriptions, advertising, and special events.
A typical issue contained about 50 pages of essays, poetry, stories, and reviews. An occasional second-drawer piece by an author such as Marianne Moore or Paul Goodman might be published. But the work of unknown writers predominated–Byron Herbert Reece, Jules Zanger, Abol Farmanfarma, Edward Blank, Kermit Eby.
The Review played in the minor leagues of literature, and it had trouble generating enthusiasm even in its home park. Circulation didn’t extend far beyond the edge of campus, and the staff sometimes wondered if anyone on campus actually read it. The emergence of editorial ambition–one could almost call it hubris–began in earnest with F.N. “Chip” Karmatz, who presided over the Review from 1953 until 1955. Envisioning the Review as a national magazine, Karmatz went after names: Bruno Bettelheim, E.E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams, Ben Shahn, Nikos Kazantzakis. Karmatz’s issues have a bit of a ponderous, academic feel. Still, he was trying to improve the Review. And he provided a model for his successors.
Unfortunately, Chip Karmatz’s deepest mark on the Review was less positive. Part of his scheme to go national involved attracting prestigious New York advertisers. Toward that end he committed one issue to an especially large print run. At a time when circulation was never more than 3,000, advertisers were promised a reach of between 10,000 and 15,000 copies. The plan backfired. Thousands of unsold copies piled up in the basement of the Reynolds Club, as the Review plunged $7,400 into debt.
The school paid off the debt. But in exchange the Review lost its financial autonomy. Kimpton, now the chancellor, may have been the Review’s founder but he was also a no-nonsense administrator. He decided that the school could not afford such high costs for a student activity and began making plans to close the magazine down. At the last minute Napier Wilt, dean of the division of the humanities, intervened; the Review was placed under the joint administration of Wilt and Robert Streeter, dean of the college. No longer owned by the students, the magazine became “an official university publication,” a distinction Chancellor Kimpton would make much of later.
The old faculty adviser was replaced by a two-man board. This board was explicitly charged with overseeing Review finances. And, of course, with offering the editor literary advice if he asked for it. Officially, the Review was free from all outside control in matters of literary content. Even as the school forbade Rosenthal to publish his winter 1958 issue, it reaffirmed its dedication to this principle over and over.
Rosenthal’s first and perhaps most valuable acquisition was Paul Carroll, a poet with a long history at the Chicago Review. He’d been the Review’s poetry editor as an undergraduate, and in the fall of 1956 he’d helped David Ray organize a series of readings by local poets. Carroll stayed on with Ray as “guest poetry editor” in 1957, by which time he was teaching at Loyola University. His poems had appeared in diverse literary publications throughout the nation and he was beginning to establish a reputation. He was already an institution at the magazine: in terms of frequency of appearance, Paul Carroll was the most published author in the Chicago Review during the 1950s.
Eila Kokkinen met Carroll first, and after Rosenthal returned from Hawaii in the summer of 1957 the three of them had dinner together. Not long afterward Rosenthal invited Carroll to join his staff. “I had actually left the university,” Carroll remembers, “and technically I shouldn’t have been on the staff. But I was a guest editor, which was fair according to Irving. According to the bylaws too. But I was permanent guest editor for two or three years!”
Irving Rosenthal and Paul Carroll were opposites in nearly every way imaginable. Rosenthal barely five-foot-two, dark, bearded, usually dressed in jeans and layers of old sweatshirts; Carroll over six feet tall, fair, impeccably groomed in tweed coats and three-piece suits. Rosenthal was from a Jewish family; Carroll’s was Roman Catholic. Rosenthal was gay, Carroll straight. Kokkinen says she and Rosenthal, though not precisely working-class, thought of themselves as “emotional socialists.” Carroll, whose father had been a millionaire until he was wiped out in the Depression, seemed anything but. He felt perfectly at home in the highest echelons of society. “Paul Carroll knew how to kiss their hands in just the right way,” Rosenthal remembered.
But everything about Paul Carroll made him a valuable asset to any editor who hoped to break through the narrow confines of the university campus into the real world of literature–and all of them wanted to do that. He was a practicing poet; he followed new poetry. He had well-honed, discriminating tastes. Of even more importance to an editor hunkered away in Hyde Park, Paul Carroll had connections. In Chicago he was on a first-name basis with the likes of James T. Farrell, Nelson Algren, and Karl Shapiro, the former editor of Poetry. He knew numerous other writers throughout the country. Authors he didn’t know personally he could usually reach through his network of friends. Besides writers, he had influence with quite a few of Chicago’s movers and shakers.
Not long after he became editor, Rosenthal sent a note to faculty adviser Richard Stern requesting that Paul Carroll be given privileges at the university library. “I don’t know about stack privileges for Paul Carroll,” Stern replied. “I’ve meant to call you and him about his status. A couple of other faculty feel the Review should be run exclusively by students. I agree. I’ll call Paul and talk to him. Meanwhile you should try very hard to recruit a poetry editor from the student body.”
Stern’s advice was unacceptable to Rosenthal; he had no intention of settling for second best. Carroll would remain with the Review, with or without a library card. To mute Stern’s voice, Dean Wilt added three new members to the faculty board.
It was not easy working for the “emperor of the Chicago Review,” as Rosenthal called himself 30 years later. Even his friends found him difficult to get along with. Paul Carroll says, “The Chicago Review was brilliantly edited by Irving Rosenthal. He was the man; he set the tone of the magazine. It was his magazine, really, and editorial policy was determined by Irving–in consultation with his editors, but the editors changed according to his weird whims. He was quite dictatorial.” Doris Nieder, another Review editor, says, “Irving Rosenthal was hard to get along with. I always felt a certain affection toward him, but some of the staff disliked him intensely. Although he was genuinely interested in literature, he wanted to control people. The love of his life was to have control over other people.” Looking back, Rosenthal observed, “The Chicago Review was the first time in my life I had complete control over something.”
Irving Rosenthal already had a reputation as a close copy editor with an eye for the small detail. As editor in chief he was a perfectionist. Editor Hyung Woong Pak remembered, “We got a letter from Jack Kerouac. He said, “Don’t change anything. Even include my typographical errors.’ It was really spontaneous writing. That boggled the mind of Irving, who was a compulsive editor. He wouldn’t let a line go by without thinking about it for hours. He was very meticulous. He’d write a sentence 20 times to see which one best expressed a thought.”
Rosenthal got off on the wrong foot with Richard Stern, now chairman of the faculty advisory board. Stern was an assistant professor scarcely older than Paul Carroll. He’d come to the university in 1955. He’d published short stories in various literary journals and in 1958 he was burning the midnight oil to finish his first novel, Golk. Stern found Rosenthal arrogant and stubborn; Rosenthal considered Stern conniving and manipulative. Rosenthal later wrote of Stern’s “extreme dislike for me (which I always returned)”; Stern said, “It was clear that he didn’t like me, which made me dislike him.” Chancellor Kimpton would recall, “There seemingly was bad blood between Stern and Rosenthal. They did not seem to like each other.”
Stern was the only member of the board to take even a passing interest in the Review, an interest that Rosenthal decided was anything but altruistic. He’d complain to John Ciardi that Stern breached ethics by submitting his own pieces to the Chicago Review. In September of 1957, Rosenthal would recall, Stern suggested in so many words that they “share” the editorship. Perhaps Stern sensed a power vacuum at the Review with David Ray gone. Or did Rosenthal simply misread Stern’s intentions?
The encounter made Rosenthal uncomfortable, but he let it pass. Later Stern sent over an interview he had conducted with Lillian Hellman. Rosenthal did not like it much, but he felt himself in a ticklish situation. How was he supposed to react toward a faculty member, indeed the Review’s faculty adviser, who seemed to be overstepping the bounds of propriety? There was no gracious way to deal with Stern, who seemed either unaware of or indifferent to a conflict of interest Rosenthal saw so plainly. Not knowing what to do, Rosenthal did nothing. He held the piece until Stern finally inquired about it. Then Rosenthal sent it back through the campus mail with as inoffensive a rejection slip as he could write. Stern sent more. His submissions became something of a joke around the Review offices, always returned the same way, via the campus mail, with nothing said between Rosenthal and Stern.
By October of 1957 Rosenthal faced a problem. What could he publish? David Ray had left behind a sizable backlog of manuscripts. But all of them were ordinary, lackluster, academic. Rosenthal and Carroll returned almost everything to the authors. Eila Kokkinen knew quite clearly what kind of art she liked–abstract expressionism–and she was busy soliciting it from artists in New York and Chicago. But Rosenthal didn’t know any authors and didn’t have any experience soliciting manuscripts. Furthermore, his standards were largely intuitive. All he knew for certain was that he wanted to publish “interesting and beautiful material.”
He started reading through other little magazines, dozens of them, looking for writers with that certain spark. His frustration only deepened. He sent a note to Stern. “I read a James Hall story in ACCENT, and didn’t think him good enough to solicit mss. from. Most of the stories in little magazines–and I mean to include PARTISAN, HUDSON REVIEW, etc.–should not have been printed. I say this after about a week of reading nothing but stories. They are all slick and colorless. Probably there are too many magazines. We’ve got a couple of stories that seem a cut above most, but I think I’ve decided that ‘the least bad’ is not good enough criterion.”
Rosenthal, the graduate student in psychology, summed up his nascent aesthetic in a rejection letter he wrote: “Though your story is very talented, and you are obviously interested in the human emotions, you do not seem to be sufficiently interested in art. If the story does not transcend emotions, there is no point, it seems to me, in writing. Go out and have experiences. On the other hand if this is the kind of story you mean to write, if it’s the emotions themselves that interest you most, you certainly will find a publisher, since you are a talented writer. Or rather, psychologist.” Rosenthal wasn’t interested in art that transcribed life; he wanted art that transformed life, art that would transform his own life. In his note to Stern about the Lillian Hellman interview, he said, “I’m beginning to understand the whole trouble is interviews are too diluted, just like life.”
Somehow he scraped together enough material for the winter 1958 issue, a haphazard collection of poetry and essays. And he poured out his feelings in a letter to the novelist Marguerite Yourcenar: “I have just finished Hadrian’s Memoirs. It is the only novel I have been able to read in the last six months, when I have been so busy otherwise sifting through trash: nothing else I have started has drawn me to it with the vitality of your book: I have none of my own to give; as I say, I read manuscripts and they sap me. . . . I simply refuse to publish the kind of simpering stories that flood the office and that have, alas, found their way into the magazine in the past. . . . I almost cry at the thought of receiving something I would be proud to publish.” But Yourcenar had nothing to offer him. His only hope lay in some other writing he had caught wind of, writing being done on the west coast and in northern Africa.
Carroll was also looking for something new. “I was tired of a lot of the poetry I was getting,” Carroll says. “It wasn’t bad–it was competent workshop poetry. But a lot of it was so goddamn boring! So one day in 1957 I said, ‘Irving, I’ve heard tell that there’s some good writing out in San Francisco. I’d like to get together some of their work, if they have it, and we could have a San Francisco issue.’ He said give it a try.
“I only knew a few of the names,” Carroll says. “Robert Duncan was one. I knew Ginsberg’s name, and I had heard of ‘Howl.’ I hadn’t actually read it at that point but I’d heard of the censorship of this poem ‘Howl.’ But I didn’t know how to contact him. I also knew Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s name, and I knew he had a bookstore out in San Francisco. So I wrote to him and said we were thinking of having a San Francisco issue of the Review. Lawrence sent back a letter with a lot of names and addresses, including Ginsberg’s. We contacted all of them and stuff started coming in. Some of it wasn’t so good, but some of it was terrific.”
Allen Ginsberg responded, in Paul Carroll’s words, “like a mad bibliographic scholar.” He sent typewritten letters, single-spaced, six pages, seven pages, or more, full of names, work, criticism, philosophy. One of Ginsberg’s letters advised, “Write to Burroughs.” Carroll did, thinking he was another poet. Not long afterward Ginsberg sent another letter that included a section of Burroughs’s work in progress. It had been in progress most of the decade; it was a novel Jack Kerouac had titled Naked Lunch. Irving Rosenthal and Paul Carroll were both in the Review office when the excerpt arrived. Rosenthal recalls seeing a quizzical expression cross Carroll’s face before he handed it over. “I started reading it with difficulty,” Rosenthal recalled in a letter written in 1987, “due to typing mistakes, misspellings, ellipses (I mean dots though there were plenty of ellipses of thought), and the weirdest, most contracted syntax I had ever seen. But it was funny–really funny. I thought it was the most important bit of writing Allen had so far sent us or that we had so far collected. I wrote both Allen and Bill Burroughs for more.”
Carroll wrote to Burroughs again as well, and asked, “Who are you, living in Tangier, knowing so much about how we talk and feel in the States?” Burroughs replied with a single unpunctuated sentence: “Name Wm Seward Burroughs III Sole male heir of Burroughs Machine Corp St Louis Mo Harvard Phi Beta Kappa 37 with postgraduate work in anthropology and psychology Columbia For the past 15 yrs have been acknowledged drug addict I am homosexual Who are you???”
Burroughs’s career as a writer had begun in earnest in 1953, when Ace Books published Junky. A paperback original, the book did well, selling over 100,000 copies. In 1954 Burroughs moved to Tangier, where he worked on magazine articles he couldn’t sell and a novel he couldn’t finish, most of the time addicted to dangerous drugs he couldn’t kick. It was a frustrating time. Burroughs was looking for a voice, but in vain it seemed. He found it at last in his “routines”: brief pieces saturated with Burroughs’s acerbic and obscene wit.
Burroughs would write alone in his Tangier room, often cackling to himself as he typed. Once a routine was finished, he mailed a copy off to Ginsberg, who, the sane bibliographic scholar, preserved it carefully in a big black folder. Meanwhile Burroughs worked on, adding a section here, losing a section there, revising this routine and forgetting about that one, but forwarding everything he finished to Ginsberg. As a result, Ginsberg often had several versions of the same episodes. According to Rosenthal, by November 1957 there were three different Naked Lunch manuscripts extant: Ginsberg’s copy in the United States, Burroughs’s copy in Tangier, and an earlier version in Italy.
A “master” copy of Naked Lunch had been begun early in 1957 when Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac visited Burroughs in Tangier. One thing Ginsberg and Kerouac were concerned with was devising an overall structure that would unify the otherwise disconnected routines Burroughs had written. Kerouac suggested introducing a character on the lam. In his efforts to elude the police, he would make his way through the book’s various scenes. With that in mind, Burroughs wrote the piece that eventually became the novel’s opening chapter (as well as the first excerpt published in the Chicago Review.) Nonetheless, Burroughs saw the fragmentary quality of Naked Lunch as inherent to the work. In September 1957 he wrote to Ginsberg, “As regards MS., I think any attempt at chronological arrangement extremely ill-advised. . . . It is not at all important how anybody gets from one place to another. Entirely too much space is wasted in this transporting one’s characters here and there which, with the aid of American Express, they are able to do for themselves. The MS. in present form does not hold together as a novel for the simple reason that it is not a novel. It is a number of connected–by theme–but separate short pieces. . . . But I do not see organization as a problem.”
While in Tangier Kerouac started typing a clean copy of the manuscript. He quit halfway through when the book started giving him nightmares.
Ginsberg had been shopping the manuscript around before it reached Chicago. The difficulties that had made the work so daunting to Rosenthal had put off other publishers completely. Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press in Paris had rejected the book as unpublishable just weeks before it reached the Review. Barney Rosset at Grove Press had turned the manuscript down as well. Robert Creeley was preparing to publish an excerpt in Black Mountain Review; but this was second-rate Burroughs at best, and Rosenthal says that if the excerpt had been the only Burroughs he had seen he would never have asked its author for more.
One day Carroll got a call from Rosenthal. Could Carroll come over to his apartment in Hyde Park right away? When he got there, Rosenthal showed him a cardboard box that had just arrived from California: Ginsberg had sent the entire Naked Lunch manuscript. As they read through the work they realized what a job they had on their hands. Despite frequent reworking, Naked Lunch was, in Rosenthal’s words, “as close to formless as a book could possibly be.” It was little more than a mass of fragments; the routines Burroughs had been knocking out and rewriting for more than five years had simply been strung together. Much of it had been composed in an idiosyncratic syntax that reproduced the rhythms of spoken American English but looked weird and taxed understanding. Some sentences, Rosenthal would recall, were incomprehensible. The recondite argot of criminals and drug users that Burroughs used so freely might as well have been Estonian to the Review editors. To top it all off, Burroughs had broken up the already fragmentary text even more by peppering it liberally with ellipses . . . a la Celine.
As if its stylistic difficulties weren’t bad enough, the editors had to cope with the physical condition of the manuscript. William Burroughs seems to have been more nonchalant about his writing–in the 1950s, at least–than any great writer in history. Paul Bowles once visited Burroughs’s room in Tangier and found the floor littered with loose sheets of paper that were scattered everywhere and covered with footprints and old food. Bowles, a fastidious writer, was appalled when told the “rubbish” was Burroughs’s manuscript.
Burroughs had worked and reworked the book so many times that by the time it reached Chicago it was in even worse shape. “The thing I remember,” said project editor Barbara Pitschel, “is what a horrible-looking manuscript it was. It was on the worst paper you ever saw. The ink was all smeared, things were handwritten in the margins. Stuff was crossed out or hand erased and written over. Sometimes changes were just pasted in on top. It was the kind of manuscript you’d never send to a publisher. I just looked at it and thought, ‘Oh my God!’ Because I had to copyedit it.” Doris Nieder remembered Burroughs’s typewriter, a machine that seemed to spray letters all over the page rather than printing them in straight lines.
Yet Rosenthal and Carroll knew they had a masterpiece on their hands. At its best the satire was scathing and the language concise, and Rosenthal was confident that with some effort Burroughs could bring the entire book up to the same level.
Overshadowing the textual difficulties, though, was a more serious problem for a potential publisher. A superficial glance through the manuscript showed it liberally sprinkled with “cock”s, “cunt”s, “fuck”s, and “asshole”s; it was the unvarnished language of the street. A closer reading revealed a nightmare world in which ritual murder, necrophilia, cannibalistic sex, and the abuse of drugs “not yet synthesized” were the norm. Brutal racial and sexual stereotypes were part and parcel of the satire. Everything was described in excruciating detail. It was a vision of the world that had given Jack Kerouac nightmares in Tangier, the world of Hassan I Sabbah in which nothing is true so everything is permitted. Add to all this an uncompromising homosexual orientation. To proceed with Naked Lunch, any serious editor would need an unswerving faith in its artistic worth.
Blunt and unblushing homosexuality may have been Naked Lunch’s most problematic aspect, if the editor’s eye was on the censor. But Irving Rosenthal was gay himself, unrepentantly so. In Burroughs he found a writer who wrote openly and unashamedly about homosexuality. More to the point, Burroughs offered an overwhelmingly positive portrayal of homosexuality. It wasn’t afraid to speak its name, it didn’t cower, it didn’t hide. Here was a proud image of homosexuality that Rosenthal had never seen before in prose written by an American. “Now look, you tell Solomon I don’t mind being called queer,” Burroughs wrote Ginsberg in 1952. “T.E. Lawrence and all manner of right Joes (boy can I turn a phrase) was queer. But I’ll see him castrated before I’ll be called a Fag. That’s just what I been trying to put down uh I mean over, is the distinction between us strong, manly, noble types, and the leaping, jumping, window dressing cocksuckers.”
It was a revelation. Rosenthal’s struggle to publish Naked Lunch, which extended to editing the book for Grove Press, came down to a struggle to show that homosexuality could be defiant, vigorous–and funny. When people started screaming about “obscenity” and “filth” they were reacting to something whose name they could not bring themselves to think, much less utter, even when it stared them in the face. This exchange is said to have taken place at one of Allen Ginsberg’s readings in the late 1950s:
Listener: Mr. Ginsberg, how come there are so many homosexual references in your poetry?
Ginsberg: Because I’m queer!
Afterward, Rosenthal was sure that without Burroughs, and to a lesser extent Ginsberg, those two outspoken queers, no one would have paid any attention to the Review, with or without its four-letter words.
In the fall of 1958 censorship was in the air; throughout America a gale had begun to blow. The courts were beginning to grapple once again with the infuriating problem of obscenity. Publishers and booksellers found themselves embroiled in another arduous and often expensive round of attempts to clarify the limits of freedom of speech.
In 1948 the Supreme Court had upheld a New York court’s conviction of Edmund Wilson’s sexually explicit (for the time) Memoirs of Hecate County for obscenity. Even books that didn’t portray sex as frankly as Wilson’s did had to tiptoe delicately around the censor. That same year, for example, Norman Mailer felt compelled to put the improbable “fug” into the mouths of the soldiers in The Naked and the Dead. A few years later his publisher refused outright to publish The Deer Park, citing the probable obscenity of a novel that described, however fleetingly, however decorously, an act of fellatio. Six other publishers also refused to touch the book.
When Ulysses had been tried in 1933, the decisive criterion for obscenity looked very straightforward: Did a work tend to deprave or corrupt readers? Did it excite prurient interests in readers? In a nutshell, did it get readers sexually excited? But the Ulysses decision didn’t affect other books much. A New York court ruled that Ulysses did not excite such lustful interests, but the obscenity of other works would still be measured by the same old yardstick. In 1957 the Supreme Court, in the landmark decision Roth v. U.S., ruled that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment. Books such as Tropic of Cancer and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were considered highly serious, beautiful works of 20th-century literature by critics and academics, but the U.S. Post Office and Bureau of Customs had defined them as criminally obscene. For the average American, reading these works was virtually impossible.
By the latter half of the 50s, the smut question was burning in America as the communism question had burned just a few years earlier, and plenty of groups were making sure ordinary citizens didn’t soil their minds with literary filth. The Customs Bureau saw to it that such material did not enter the United States; the Post Office made sure it wasn’t sent through the mails. And police departments and local groups like the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice kept an eye open for the merchants of porn. Every community had its self-appointed vigilantes as well, be they local church or fraternal groups or national organizations like the Citizens for Decent Literature and the Legion of Deceny.
As it happened, in the ten years after Roth, restraints on speech fell away with breathtaking speed and an inconceivable thoroughness. But in the fall of 1958 the forces of reaction seemed firmly in control. And if Lady Chatterley was considered so shocking, what chance did Naked Lunch have?
The arm of the censor had already begun reaching into universities. A story in the Maroon described a student paper’s fight against efforts by the California state legislature to control its editorial content. A week later the Maroon ran a story about a student editor who had been fired for publishing an article critical of his school’s ROTC program. Another piece was simply a list of abuses collected from schools around the country, a sort of university censorship watch.
Most people at the University of Chicago felt that their school was different. As classes were getting under way in October 1958, the Maroon expressed the general feeling in an editorial “UC’s Most Important Tradition–Freedom.” “The University of Chicago, now your university for four or perhaps more years,” the editorialist wrote, “has a tradition that we feel stands above all others. This is freedom of inquiry in all intellectual pursuits in both academic and extracurricular areas. It is this tradition which has made Chicago one of the foremost centers of education in the world.”
The topic of literary censorship was considered important enough for the university to sponsor a lecture series on it that fall. Edward Rosenheim, a professor of English, opened the series. “No one today has the guts to talk about art for art’s sake,” Rosenheim told his audience. Then he outlined two distinct approaches to a piece of writing. One frame of reference was aesthetic: Simply put, was the work of art well or badly made? The other frame of reference was pragmatic, a viewpoint that could encompass hundreds of questions. What effect did the work have on its readers? (For example, did it get them sexually excited?) What kind of person was the work’s author? These questions may be legitimate, Rosenheim said, but they do not help us decide the crucial question–namely, whether a piece of writing is art.
Rosenheim offered the example of A Farewell to Arms. Italy banned the novel because of the historical events it related, Ireland because of its religious skepticism, Germany because of its pacifist message, the United States because of its profanity and immorality. In every instance, A Farewell to Arms was judged on pragmatic grounds. “In each case,” Rosenheim told his audience, “these allegations were obviously factual. Yet no one asked if Arms is art.” Obviously, for Rosenheim aesthetic criteria took priority over pragmatic ones. “Today, production codes never mention artistic excellence,” Rosenheim observed. “The danger is that Hollywood and TV producers will define my children’s notion of what is beautiful.” His pointed conclusion: “We are fast becoming a nation of boobs, not idiots or rapists.”
Everyone was aware that Naked Lunch could cause problems for just the sort of pragmatic reasons Edward Rosenheim had enumerated. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who published “Howl,” had rejected the book as “disgusting.” Ginsberg had warned the Review that the book was probably “too raw” for the United States. Burroughs himself was convinced his work was “unpublishably obscene . . . hopelessly unsalable.”
But Rosenthal put aesthetic considerations foremost, and he was adamant in his resolve to print Naked Lunch. He believed the image of the University of Chicago would be enough to protect the magazine from the Philistines. And if obscenity charges were pressed, the school would come to their defense. Eila Kokkinen had an even more sanguine outlook. “We didn’t expect any trouble from obscenity,” she’d later remember, “because we didn’t think anyone would read it in the Review except those people it was meant for.”
In addition, Irving Rosenthal placed almost unquestioning faith in Dean Napier Wilt. The dean of the division of the humanities was a gruff, burly, cigar-smoking 60-year-old whose spectacles framed a broad face punctuated by two tiny eyes. He’d been at the university almost as long as anyone could remember. He had taught literature at Chicago and he was not afraid of new ideas. He had been one of the first professors in the nation to introduce Henry James into the curriculum, and the course, first taught in the 1920s, was famous. Paul Carroll took it when he was a student at Chicago, as well as Wilt’s course on Walt Whitman. Besides being fond of literature, he felt extremely close to Chicago’s student body. “If ever a man was prostudent,” Edward Rosenheim says, “it was Napier Wilt.” This combination of sentiments made Wilt very sympathetic to the Chicago Review.
Irving Rosenthal felt intimidated by Wilt, and found himself trembling the first time he had to talk to the dean. The new editor was dwarfed by Wilt physically, overwhelmed by his authority at the school, intimidated by his taciturn nature. But Rosenthal warmed slowly to Wilt as it became obvious that although he did not sit and chat away the hours at the Review, and although he was sparing with compliments, the dean always listened and he always acted. Wilt saved the Review and then got it a subsidy. Wilt got the Review its own building. Wilt put an end to the pressure to get rid of Paul Carroll. Wilt increased the faculty board from two to five members to limit Richard Stern’s influence. He was always there, like a guardian angel. Apart from the Review staff and Richard Stern, Wilt may have been the only person on campus who cared at all what happened at the magazine. After he had been editor a full year, Rosenthal called Wilt “the Review’s strongest backer on the faculty. . . . He is probably the only professor at Chicago who has a real disinterested interest in contemporary literature.”
If the need arose, if there was an uproar over Naked Lunch, Rosenthal was sure Wilt would plead the magazine’s case before the university’s upper echelon. Time and time again the dean had given Rosenthal carte blanche; what’s more, he seemed to like what the Review was doing. Why should he fail the magazine this time?
Nevertheless, Rosenthal decided to play it safe. His plan was to publish a series of excerpts, each stronger in tone and substance than the one before. If a particular selection didn’t evoke protest, and the next was only slightly more offensive, a potential censor was likely to say, “Well look, why bother raising a stink now? We let the other stuff pass, didn’t we?” Before anyone had noticed–so the plan went–Naked Lunch would be a fait accompli. Rosenthal believed ardently that once Naked Lunch had been published in the Review, once it had been read and appreciated by the nation, American publishers would flock to Burroughs with publishing contracts and that would be the story’s happy ending.
He went to work, sifting through the vast manuscript, looking for material that could be used with a minimum of editorial effort. Although he realized that the book as a whole required a tremendous amount of work, he was encouraged by the masterful first chapter Burroughs had written at Kerouac’s suggestion. He began corresponding with Burroughs, asking questions and making suggestions, having him explain unfamiliar terms and rewrite unintelligible sentences but taking pains to retain Burroughs’s exhilarating syntax.
Burroughs was working on the book like a possessed man. In January 1957 he wrote Ginsberg, “Often I do not know what I wrote last night till I read it over–the whole thing is a dream. . . . Incidentally the most obscene thing I ever read.” And later in February: “This is almost automatic writing. I often sit high on hash for as long as six hours typing at top speed.” By fall he could write: “I literally don’t find ten minutes from the time I get up glued to this fucking typewriter.” Burroughs gave Rosenthal a free hand in editing Naked Lunch for the Review. Six months earlier it had seemed Naked Lunch would never be published. Suddenly the first excerpts were being prepared for publication, at the University of Chicago of all places. Burroughs exclaimed, “Rosenthal, the editor of the Chicago Review, is the only editor who really understands what I am doing.”
In March 1958 the Review’s spring issue, titled “The San Francisco Poets,” appeared. It included poetry, prose, and essays by a cross section of authors–Ginsberg, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Wieners, Robert Duncan, McClure, Whalen, Lamantia–and the first selection from Naked Lunch.
Of course, not everyone liked the new literature. Two editors already had been fired from the Review for speaking their minds too vehemently on the new writing. Another editor, Barbara Graymont, asked Rosenthal to leave her name off the masthead of the spring issue. She objected to the “hipster fiction”–she could only have meant Naked Lunch–the Review was about to publish. Rosenthal responded calmly with a note and an invitation. “I didn’t know you felt so strongly–or in fact felt at all. Maybe we can get together and discuss the SF writing because I gather you see only vice there, and I think there’s a lot of virtue, aesthetic and moral.” Graymont was not convinced. Paul Carroll held a couple of seminars for the Review staff at which he explained what Burroughs was trying to do.
Rosenthal’s summer issue took its cue from the growing interest in Zen Buddhism generated by Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Gary Snyder. “Zen” included work not only by poets such as Kerouac, Snyder, and Whalen, but also by Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, and Japanese authors being translated for the first time. The first anthology on the subject, “Zen” was another immediate success.
In October, the Review released its autumn issue, which, though not themed, was not much more heterogeneous than the San Francisco or Zen issues. It contained prose and essays by David Riesman, Hugh Kenner, and John Logan, but also Whalen, and poetry by Carroll and “San Francisco” poets Brother Antoninus and Joel Oppenheimer. Rosenthal also printed two letters Allen Ginsberg had sent the Review attempting to explain what the new writers were up to. The issue led off with nine more pages of Naked Lunch.
Copy for the winter issue was supposed to be at the university’s printing department on September 30. As usual it was late. Students at the Review had never been bothered much by deadlines, and with fall term not yet under way there weren’t many students around the office anyway. The winter issue was behind schedule for another reason: it was the Review’s most ambitious project ever. It was going to be the work of editorial art Rosenthal had been working toward since he first began poring over countless manuscripts and little magazines, despairing of ever finding anything worth publishing.
Irving Rosenthal called his publishing philosophy “purity and directness”; it entailed stripping away everything false and inessential. The process had started in the fall of 1957 when David Ray’s backlog was returned. It continued with the elimination of the tacky advertisements for local menswear stores and bars that had appeared in the magazine for years. Eventually Rosenthal began cutting back on book reviews and critical essays. He had come to see that sort of writing as little more than filler. Poetry and fiction were the important things.
The winter issue was shaping up to be the most thematically unified of all his Reviews. For despite the rumblings of one-sidedness, both “The San Francisco Poets” and “Zen” were really only regular issues, grab bags with longer or shorter thematic sections. By contrast, the winter issue would contain only four pieces by three authors: “The Garment of Ra” and “The Further Sorrows of Priapus” by Edward Dahlberg; “Lucien Midnight” by Jack Kerouac; and more Naked Lunch. All were highly experimental, highly stylistic, highly difficult pieces. The winter issue was Rosenthal’s first real “theme” issue, except that it would never be published as planned.
Rosenthal and Eila Kokkinen were developing the look of the issue. The words “Chicago Review” would appear only on the spine and title page. The front cover would bear no typography, just a drawing. She was already collecting samples from artists such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Philip Guston. Rosenthal was convinced that the mystique the Review had developed by then would be enough to sell the issue.
It was taking time. Burroughs was working feverishly on Naked Lunch in Tangier, 12 hours a day or more. Rosenthal was working with equal fervor in the United States to edit the unwieldy, hermetic manuscript. He was publishing Burroughs as fast as he could edit him, but the novel was an editor’s nightmare and required painstakingly slow work. Rosenthal had included about six pages of Burroughs in the San Francisco issue, the only six pages out of the boxful of manuscript that was fit for immediate publication. Six months later Rosenthal had finished another ten pages for the autumn issue. But the winter issue would contain some 30 pages of Burroughs, 30 pages meant to win Burroughs not only readers but a publishing contract.
Jack Kerouac, one of the other two authors in the winter issue, was already famous for On the Road, published in the fall of 1957. But the book had been completed five years earlier and Kerouac had evolved a long way from its lyric realism. With “Lucien Midnight” he occupied a remote literary position–some would call it a dead end–somewhere between the elaborate multilingual wordplay of Finnegans Wake and the rhythmic, melodic, and meaningless improvisations of scat singing. Readers were confronted alternately with concentrations of meaning and empty sound. There were enough four-letter expressions to offend prudes everywhere, but they were hardly the kind that encouraged prurient thoughts:
Then when rat tooth come ravin and fradilaboodala backala backed up, trip tripped himself and fell falling on top of Old Smokey because his pipe was not right, had no molasses in it, tho it looked like a morasses brarrel, but then the cunts came. She had a long cunt that sitick out of her craw a mile long like Mexican Drawings showing hungry drinkers reaching Surrealistic Thirsts with lips like Aztec–Akron Lehman the Hart Crane Hero of Drunken Records came full in her cunt spoffing & overflowing white enlightened seminal savior juice out of his canal-hole into her hungry river bed that made the old nannies gab and kiss that.
Probably few who bought the Chicago Review for its beat writing had ever heard of the winter issue’s third author, Edward Dahlberg. He had been around American letters for a long time, but his demanding, self-righteous, abrasive personality had forced him into internal exile from his literary contemporaries. It is difficult to imagine a writer with a style and sensibility further removed from Kerouac’s “bop prosody” or Burroughs’s hip detachment, or less appealing to their readers. Kerouac and Burroughs were “now” writers. They were riding or approaching crests of popularity. The world they described was contemporary and they described it in contemporary terms. Dahlberg was modernist, like Pound or Eliot. Dahlberg’s was a mysterious, oracular, introverted modernism whose subject matter, in “The Garden of Ra” and “The Further Sorrows of Priapus” at least, was rooted in the distant worlds of prehistory and classical antiquity. Irving Rosenthal admired Dahlberg as “a master of the sentence”; but to the uninitiated, Dahlberg was likely to seem as fragmentary as Burroughs or Kerouac and off-putting in his preachiness.
Man is a war animal, either in heat or bored, and only half-domesticated. Battle and gain are his religious amusements. Man casts away peace for war, always for Ilium and Helen, pelf and copulation.
Epical companionship is the hymn of Ares; it is battle and strife; one must be prepared for truth, love, or a friend, as Diomedes was ready at all times for war, sleeping on a hard bed, and with upright spears planted near enough to grasp them. Chrysostom said that the Thebans bore the marks of spears on their bodies which had been left by the dragon’s teeth Cadmus had sown. As man is a negative animal, legends and history inform us that he is seldom trustworthy except in battle. War is the father of virtue; without strife there is no ripening.
The core staff were rabid Burroughs enthusiasts. But few aside from Rosenthal pretended to understand, much less like, the pieces by Dahlberg and Kerouac. Doris Nieder told Rosenthal that she thought Dahlberg was “an old bore.” She tried to read “Lucien Midnight” but finally gave up in frustration. “I went to Irving and asked him what it was supposed to be about,” she remembers. “He just said, ‘I don’t care what it’s about, I just like the style.'” Rosenthal told Paul Carroll why he published the piece: “His idiom is simply compelling. . . . He is a rampant bore . . . but the power and originality of his English for sound alone is incomparable.”
As it neared completion, Rosenthal realized that the winter issue represented the pinnacle of his own work. He would not be able to express himself any further as an editor. By the beginning of October he had decided to abandon his nearly completed doctorate in order to pursue his own writing. He was tired of his studies, disillusioned with academic life, and in a few months he would have to leave the Review when his program in human development officially ended.
Something else was influencing Rosenthal. In September 1958 he, Barbara Pitschel, and business manager Dick Sheldon had piled into Charles Horwitz’s car and driven to New York City to collect writing and artwork for the Review. “Irving was so excited,” Pitschel remembers, “that as soon as we were in New York City he jumped out of the car and did a dance of celebration on the circles in the sidewalk in front of the Guggenheim Museum.” After corresponding for nearly a year, he finally met Allen Ginsberg. Laying eyes for the first time on the frail, diminutive Rosenthal, Ginsberg exclaimed, “I thought you’d be six-foot-two with horn-rimmed glasses!” Ginsberg introduced the Reviewers to everyone in the New York scene: Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, Leroi Jones, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Gore Vidal, Evergreen Review editor Donald Allen. D.T. Suzuki brewed them green tea. Edward Dahlberg copied out a reading list on hotel stationery for Rosenthal.
Coming as they were from the cultural steppes of Middle America, New York affected everyone deeply. “It was a tightly knit community in New York,” says Horwitz. “What was amazing was the discovery of people who ate, slept, talked, and breathed nothing but poetry, people who lived art 24 hours a day.” Later Rosenthal wrote John Ciardi, “Do you realize that there are people running around New York who are willing to die for literature, for writing I mean?” The trip gave Irving Rosenthal a more focused perspective. He had already put together a group at the Review that stressed commitment to the common cause of literature and the magazine. But trapped in Chicago’s desolate, even hostile landscape, Rosenthal’s little group had reached the outer limits of growth. Student turnover at the university was constant. As people left and were replaced by others less dedicated to the common values, the Review community was doomed to selfdestruct. How much freer, how much broader the horizons were in New York City, where so many like minds worked together unforced and unfettered.
Style was the point. New York must have made it clear to Rosenthal, if it wasn’t so already, that “style” wasn’t simply a matter of literature. More importantly, it was a matter of life. How you lived. The lifestyle revolution was taking shape. But this was the pure revolution, still uncorrupted by commerce. It was determined instead by things like literature, drugs, and homosexuality, intensely personal choices that could not yet be sold. Rosenthal would write in his novel Sheeper: “Professor X complains that my book is about style and that’s all it’s about. He is right. All you reading rate control addicts and skimmers, all you commuters who want some meat in a novel, leave mine alone. (Fuck the rhetoric, he is wrong. This book is about a mental shift.)”
The Chicago Review anticipated the students of the 60s. Its staff would resign in protest and form its own magazine. Earlier it spearheaded a movement on campus to save Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, which the school was planning to demolish. The magazine publicized the issue; Rosenthal invited Wright to the university, where he spoke to a full house. In the fall of 1967 Rosenthal would return to his hometown, San Francisco, and help organize a commune where he can be found to this day.
As October 1958 drew to a close the Chicago Review was riding a crest of popularity and esteem unequaled in its 12-year history. Circulation had nearly quintupled since Rosenthal took over. The Review was being sold on newsstands in cities such as New York, Paris, and Mexico City. Individual orders arrived daily from all over the world, from libraries as well as individuals. Orders for the San Francisco and Zen issues continued to pour in. The Review was in such sound financial shape that Rosenthal was able to pay his autumn authors a nominal fee. Demand for this issue was so high that Rosenthal upped the print run from 2,500 to 3,500 copies. Though behind schedule, work on the winter issue was well under way. The magazine was sponsoring a lecture by Alan Watts in early November. And everyone–especially Irving Rosenthal–was anxiously awaiting a reading by Allen Ginsberg in December.
The best news was the apparent success of the Burroughs strategy. The autumn issue had been out for nearly a month without raising any eyebrows, and the winter issue would be in galleys in a week or so. On October 24, the last Friday in the month, Rosenthal locked up the office and went home feeling in complete control of the situation.
The next day things started unraveling. Jack Mabley’s attack, “Filthy Writing on the Midway,” was published on the front page of the Chicago Daily News. “A magazine published by the University of Chicago is distributing one of the foulest collections of printed filth I’ve seen publicly circulated,” Mabley wrote. “I don’t recommend anyone buying the thing out of curiosity because the writing is obscure to the unbeat generation, and the purple prose is precisely what you can see chiseled on washroom walls.”
What, precisely, had gotten the columnist so upset? Perhaps Philip Whalen, who wrote in “Prose Take 1:VI:57”: “At last it was, ‘What good is it? I can’t eat it, I can’t fuck it, it’s just beautiful.'” And later in the same piece: “I have a complete and functioning set of male sexual equipment. I wonder what sunrise feels like if one has a cunt?” Or maybe John Logan in “The House Jack Builds”: “Something the matter with his dick too. He wore a little rubber cup they say smelt of pee.” Or was it Burroughs? “Please Boss Man. I’ll wipe your ass, I’ll wash out your dirty condoms, I’ll polish your shoes with the oil on my nose . . . ”
If Mabley was talking overtly about smut, his subtext expressed what many working-class Chicagoans had always felt about the University of Chicago. “The beat generation has quite a representative on the Midway,” Mabley wrote. “I haven’t had much personal contact with these people, but I get the impression they are young, intellectual, need baths, and have extreme contempt for the less fortunate than themselves, which is almost everybody. I’m sure these words won’t bother them because they wouldn’t be caught dead reading anything so plebeian, even for a good sneer . . .
“The obscenity is put into their writing to attract attention,” Mabley declared. “It is an assertion of their sense of bravado, ‘Oh boy, look what I’m doing’ just like the little kids chalking a four letter word on the Oak Street underpass. What is legally obscene and what is not? If anyone used these words orally in public, in a park, on a public street he would be arrested. If the obscenity in the magazine were read in a public performance as a literary presentation, the performers would be arrested and charged with indecency, in my opinion. Yet, in print, stamped ‘This is literary,’ they get away with it . . .
“Let’s concede that I’m a bluenose,” Mabley concluded. “I don’t put the blame on the juveniles who wrote and edited the stuff, because they’re immature and irresponsible. But the University of Chicago publishes the magazine. The trustees should take a long hard look at what’s being circulated under their sponsorship.”
Paul Carroll got a good laugh out of that. “A long, hard look!” he cried. “Irving, we have to get him to write for us!” The whole thing was ridiculous: Here was a man trying to insult students at the University of Chicago by calling them “intellectual,” a man who compared Burroughs, the master satirist, the stylist supreme, to a brat with a crayon. He had read the autumn issue so closely he thought the students themselves had written it.
Rosenthal didn’t take the matter quite so blithely. It was confusing, even frightening to be so completely misunderstood. Possibly even dangerous. There was no telling how many trustees read Mabley every morning over breakfast. Saturday afternoon Rosenthal called a staff meeting. They discussed writing a letter to the editor of the Daily News responding to the attack, but in the end it was hard to think of the column as anything more than a weird, fascinating aberration. The more they talked about it, the less able they were to believe that any reasonable person could take Mabley’s simpleminded attack seriously. Not at the University of Chicago anyway.
But first thing Monday morning Rosenthal got a phone call from Ruth McCarn, the assistant dean of students. She asked him to bring her a copy of the autumn issue; she had misplaced her complimentary copy. He left for McCarn’s office right away. When he got there she asked if he had seen Mabley’s column. He admitted he had and told her about the discussion at the Review on Saturday. McCarn breathed a sigh of relief when Rosenthal told her that the staff had decided against writing a letter to the editor. We realize Mabley’s just a simp, he explained. It doesn’t really matter what you think of him, does it? McCarn snapped back; the Daily News has a high enough opinion of him to put his column on the front page every day. Glancing at the magazine, she asked Rosenthal which articles might have offended Mabley. Most likely the first one, Rosenthal answered, the Burroughs excerpt. He admitted that some of the other pieces might also have caught Mabley’s attention. Before Rosenthal left, McCarn told him that she would read through the issue herself. She might want to talk to him again after that. Most importantly, McCarn instructed Rosenthal, don’t make any public statements on the matter that have not first been cleared by the office of press relations at the university.
Not long afterward, Rosenthal ran into Napier Wilt. The dean told him not to worry. This was the University of Chicago, where the spirit of intellectual freedom prevailed. Wilt was confident he could calm everything down before trustees started calling Kimpton. Wilt’s confidence was infectious. Returning to the Review, Rosenthal also felt sure that the affair would die a quick death.
But the very next day, Rosenthal had a more ominous encounter with Wilt. The dean’s mood had turned around completely. Individuals high in the university were quite unhappy with the Review situation and there was a good chance the magazine would be closed down, especially if Rosenthal didn’t reconsider his plans for the winter issue. All because of Mabley. Wilt apologized to Rosenthal for so badly underestimating the situation. He assured Rosenthal of his full support and promised to do whatever he could to save the magazine. But given the situation, its prospects did not look good.
The faculty board was holding its annual meeting that same afternoon. Elder Olson was away on sabbatical, so only four members–Richard Stern, Joshua Taylor, Edward Rosenheim, and Reuel Denney–were in attendance. Though the meeting had been scheduled well in advance of Mabley’s article, Rosenthal felt apprehensive as it started. Yet no one mentioned either Mabley’s column or the contents of the autumn issue or upcoming winter issue. Toward the end of the meeting, Rosenthal was asked about a possible successor. He hadn’t given the matter any thought, he said. The board seemed satisfied with the answer. Rosenthal didn’t have to give up the editorship until the end of the school year, so the issue was not particularly urgent.
Leaving the meeting, Irving Rosenthal must have felt he’d just dodged a bullet. But Richard Stern chased him down in the hall. Rosenthal, there’s something I meant to ask you about, Stern said, but I forgot about it until just now. The winter issue, have you decided what’s going to be in it yet? Sorry, Rosenthal stalled, but I haven’t put the table of contents together yet. OK, Stern said, but send me a copy as soon as it’s ready. Dean Wilt wants to see it.
What was going on? Wilt was saying the Review probably was going to be closed down; Stern wanted to screen an issue’s contents prior to publication. Wilt laid the blame on anonymous individuals somewhere within the administration, but who could they be? Why had Stern waited until the faculty board meeting was over, when he and Irving Rosenthal were alone in the hallway? Why wouldn’t Wilt come out and say exactly who was objecting to the autumn Review, and on what grounds?
Rosenthal’s impression was that the problem originated in the uppermost echelons of the university, with Chancellor Kimpton and the board of trustees. And indeed the administration was very concerned. Ruth McCarn had sent her copy of the autumn issue straight to the university’s legal department for an opinion on its possible obscenity. Immediately after the faculty board meeting, someone close to Kimpton had debriefed Edward Rosenheim. Almost certainly, according to Rosenheim today, that someone was William Morgenstern, the former head of university public relations and at that time special adviser to the chancellor–Rosenheim doesn’t precisely remember the meeting, but he can’t imagine the damage control being done by anyone else. Rosenheim told Morgenstern that the board had not discussed the autumn issue with the Review editor; it considered itself an auditor of finances and nothing more. Rosenthal’s term as editor was almost up, Rosenheim added, and the board was hoping to replace him within the next two issues. It wanted to avoid any action that might appear “punitive.”
Morgenstern also asked Rosenheim about the university’s ethical position. Rosenheim was an expert on censorship; would the withdrawal of the Review’s office space and subsidy constitute an act of censorship? No, he answered–there was “a real difference” between the two. But he predicted that such an action would cause an uproar on campus.
When Morgenstern sent his unsigned memo to Kimpton, he struck a note of urgency: the winter issue would be “fully as objectionable” as the issue Mabley had publicly criticized. Morgenstern did not reveal how he had come by this particular piece of information, which could only have come from Napier Wilt or a member of the faculty board. Ruthlessness was advised. “In view of the pressures on you, I think consideration should be given to withdrawal of the subsidy, office space and use of the University’s name. Rosenheim says this will raise a howl. My position is that this is the kind of howl you can well raise; it puts you, the board, and the University on record. It is not censorship or violation of academic freedom,” the memo asserted, “but primarily a budget action similar to cutting or eliminating a subsidy for a journal.”
Morgenstern shifted his sights. It seemed Richard Stern, in his capacity as chairman of the Review’s faculty board, had given a statement to the Maroon. Stern had said, in essence, that the university did not screen or censor student publications. This was a message the administration did not want to give the public. “The statement to the Maroon should be withdrawn,” the memo advised. “Stern is itching to fight the issue of freedom. . . . We could get the Maroon to suppress it, but then I think we are open to the serious charge of interfering with the academic freedom of members of the board.” The memo concluded: “Time is short on this; Maroon prints tomorrow.”
All Kimpton heard those last days of October was how offensive the autumn issue of the Review was. R.W. Harrison, the dean of faculties, sent Kimpton an assessment: “Every article within the first fifty pages, except one, contains one or more rough, nasty, or indecent words or statements. Maybe my innocence caused me to miss something in the poem. This is outlandish in my book.” Ruth McCarn wrote the chancellor: “I tried reading this material. In my opinion it is extremely offensive. I wonder if it breaks the laws of the United States Post Office.”
Before week’s end the legal department delivered its evaluation of the autumn Review. “The magazine contains filthy and obscene language that is associated with the gutter rather than with a literary publication of an institution of higher learning. It would be classified as an obscene and lascivious publication under the United States postal regulations.” Some extralegal considerations entered counsel Howard Moore’s analysis. “How this filth could be published in what must be regarded as a University publication will be very difficult for the public to understand. We think that this incredible publication will have a very serious effect upon fund raising, enrolment [sic] and our public relations generally. In our opinion prompt and immediate steps should be taken by the University to try and undo the incalculable harm that has resulted from our publication of this magazine.” Moore proposed a drastic solution to undo the damage: close the magazine down completely, as “a temporary suspension of publication privilege would not meet the requirements of the situation.” He urged written apologies to all Review subscribers and to anyone else who complained.
The complaints were not long in coming.
One woman sent the trustees a handwritten note: “Enclosed find a clipping from the Chicago Daily News. May I suggest that you read it carefully? I have an Indiana address, but I have five grandchildren going to school in the Chicago vicinity, one just graduated at Urbana. I am interested and very much alarmed when a book like “Gold [crossed out] “God’s Little Acre” can be published in this country. I think it is time someone woke up.” A woman from Hyde Park wrote: “Your attention is called to the attached article by Jack Mabley in a recent issue of the CHICAGO DAILY NEWS, entitled “FILTHY WRITING ON THE MIDWAY.” If statements in this article are true, I think that all members of the Board of Trustees should be alerted to this disgraceful and unhealthy condition. I should appreciate if one of your number would take the time to write to me regarding this subject and let me know what, if anything, is being done about it.”
A friend of Kimpton’s described an embarrassing incident involving the autumn Review: “This particular copy was picked up by the daughter of a friend of mine who brought it home for general family discussion. They apparently without knowing its contents decided to do some reading at the table, that is the dinner table. They were rather completely shocked.”
The president of a Chicago advertising firm–who like many of the letter writers seems not actually to have seen the autumn issue–wrote Kimpton: “My question is this: Why has the University of Chicago seen fit to allow and condone the publishing of a publication that has caused even a hard-bitten newspaperman to admit that its contents were repulsive to him? I have made it part of my duty to financially aid young people in order to make it possible for them to attend college, and I have one such student at your University at the present time. Therefore, I feel that I have a right not only to ask the question, but to receive a detailed answer. Why is this type of material published? . . . What is the intent of its contents and its writer? . . . How does it help the student not only in present day life, but in his future life? . . . Does it aid or help juvenile delinquency? Looking forward to enlightenment and a complete answer.”
These questions were to the point; Kimpton treated them as merely rhetorical. “Because your letter was temperate and asked questions that were pertinent, it was used to illustrate the reaction of informed and intelligent individuals,” he replied later in the month, after he had presented his case for censoring the Review to the faculty senate. “The faculty and administration were as genuinely disturbed by that number as you were. Whatever the merits and influence of the “beat’ school of literature, this particular representation of its work clearly was not for such an institution as ours to present.”
The president of a Chicago chemical company–the only actual Review subscriber to complain in writing–sent Kimpton a two-and-a-half-page letter, alternately thoughtful and strident, that posed a variety of philosophical and sociological questions. It opened with a thinly veiled threat. “A year ago I subscribed to the Chicago Review, which identifies itself as the quarterly of art work, book reviews, drama, essays, poetry and prose fiction published at the University of Chicago Press. The owner is the University of Chicago. As a consequence, four issues . . . have been delivered into my home through the assistance of the United States Post Office system” (emphasis added).
Ten short passages that in all contained 12 offensive words were then quoted–from Naked Lunch, “Prose Take 1:VI:57,” “The House Jack Builds,” and a book review of Edward Dahlberg’s The Sorrows of Priapus. The 12 culprits had been deleted and replaced with blanks (which someone thoughtfully filled in for the chancellor’s benefit). “This is a sampling,” wrote the president of the chemical company. “A complete and thorough study would require a stronger stomach than mine . . .
“Obscenity is not just dirty words,” he continued. “It is action that took place ‘off scene’ in the theatres of antiquity. It is the vulgarity and ugliness of real life which a society that still has a respect for values shields from the public view. Just because garbage cans behind our homes are necessary concomitants of human life, must we go sit in them? . . . We businessmen are busy, but not too busy to think about the consequences of ideas in gestation in our universities. As you know, we are continually asked to contribute corporate funds to universities.” Kimpton sent this letter to Wilt with a short note: “I attach a fan letter of a somewhat more thoughtful kind than I have been receiving. It is really hurting us with some rather superior people.”
On Halloween the Maroon reprinted Mabley’s column in full, plus the statement by Richard Stern, the one Kimpton had been warned about. But Stern betrayed a hesitation that was fatal to the Chicago Review. Unlike the Maroon editorial in the same issue, which bluntly took Mabley to task for shoddy journalism, Stern’s defense of the Review was unfocused and hedging. “The University of Chicago,” he wrote, “does not censor student writing nor does it exert controls on the editorial policies of the responsible student editors of its publications. Individual faculty members may dislike articles, stories and poems, may even be annoyed at their puerility . . . or lack of taste, but the expression of such dislikes does not take the form of censorship. Of course, the University is legally responsible for the publications and it will try to see that the laws of libel and other pertinent laws are not violated by them.”
This language confused and offended the Review staff, in particular Rosenthal. The notion of libel came from out of the blue. If anything, Stern’s insinuation seemed to flirt with libel–though he was probably just tiptoeing clumsily around the obscenity issue. His suggestion that there were faculty members who felt the magazine was “puerile” was just as disturbing. The plain truth was, no faculty member–aside from Richard Stern–had ever had anything but good things to say about the Review, and Rosenthal couldn’t help but think that Stern still harbored lingering resentment over his pieces the Review had rejected.
In conclusion, Stern acknowledged “that the work of Burroughs which the Chicago Review printed in its last issue is lively and quite brilliant, and I myself would have accepted it for publication in a serious magazine (not of course in a family newspaper).” He disparaged what he termed “hipster writing” in general, calling it “pretty feeble and very dull,” while admitting that it was being discussed seriously in a wide range of publications. “The implications [of this writing] are, I think, serious ones, and it is, I feel, best to be aware of them . . . even in the cruder forms of their expression. In this sense, the Chicago Review seems to me to be performing a useful social, if not a literary function.”
Stern had shown himself reluctant (or unable) to take a firm position, and he managed to offend both sides of the controversy. As the only faculty or administrator quoted in the piece he was, by implication, speaking on behalf of the entire university, and he seemed to be saying that it was a violation of university policy to do precisely what Kimpton was then preparing to do. He had invoked the word no one in the administration wanted uttered–“censorship.” And in defending the Review’s publication of “hipster writing,” including Burroughs, the most pernicious of all the autumn authors, Stern had denied the administration the moral high ground it wanted to occupy.
On the other hand, in implying that they were not only irresponsible but possibly lawbreaking, Stern was attacking Rosenthal and the Review staff. In failing to mount a vigorous and straightforward defense of the Review, he seemed to be discrediting the magazine and substantiating Mabley’s claims. Neither Stern nor the Maroon editorial board bothered to invoke academic freedom or freedom of speech. Irving Rosenthal had followed McCarn’s instructions; he refused to comment.
The consensus among faculty seemed to be that the school–that is, the administration–should address the matter publicly. Some professors in the school of education told Ruth McCarn they believed the university should “make a stout reply” to a “smear” like Mabley’s. The Maroon editorial had spoken out in support of the magazine; the school had to do so as well. Every professor McCarn spoke to believed that the university had to make some kind of public statement, even if only to admit the Review had been offensive and express regret.
During the next week, the first in November, Kimpton called a meeting. The coadministrators of the Review, deans Wilt and Streeter, attended, as did the four faculty board members–Denney, Taylor, Rosenheim, and Stern. Stern and Rosenheim had never before met the chancellor, much less been summoned by him. At the far end of the conference table sat William Morgenstern.
Without a trace of anger or distress Kimpton explained that the Chicago Review had presented him with a problem, with a situation. Since this Mabley piece hit the papers, he had been feeling pressure from certain individuals with a financial interest in the university. From a few influential trustees as well. Pressure to do something about the questionable material the Review had been publishing. Now he had been told that Rosenthal was putting together another issue. No one knew what was going to be in it, but it was supposed to be even worse, if that was possible, than the one that got Mabley so excited. It was right there at the end of Naked Lunch in the autumn issue: “To Be Continued.” Kimpton told the meeting bluntly that he could not afford any more adverse publicity. If Mabley’s criticisms were repeated he would be in a very bad position. So he meant to see that they weren’t. Even if it meant intervening personally.
He told the group that he had been looking rather closely at the Review situation. He found the magazine’s relation to the university a little peculiar. Wasn’t it strange, for example, that the school owned the magazine yet did not directly supervise any of its operations? What if this material the Review was publishing–and mailing to its subscribers–violated postal obscenity laws? Wouldn’t the school be obliged to step in then? And if it were obvious that Rosenthal intended to print more of the same, what could the school do? Well, that was easy, Kimpton said. The school owned the magazine. All the board had to do was take a look at the forthcoming issue beforehand, he said nonchalantly. If they didn’t like what they saw they’d just squelch it. And if the magazine caused any more trouble, they’d simply cut off its funding altogether.
Stern would say he felt his body tighten a little when he realized what Kimpton was saying. He says both he and Wilt jumped to the Review’s defense. The real issue, Stern argued, was literary freedom. Of course there might be language that the typical housewife or someone unsophisticated in matters of literature might find obscene. Stern had already said in the Maroon that he wouldn’t have published Naked Lunch in a family newspaper. But, he told the chancellor, a university wasn’t a family newspaper, and from its standpoint such an attitude was reactionary and repellent. Even the courts had recognized that there was a place for obscenity in literature. Just look at Judge Woolsey’s Ulysses decision. A university can’t even tint the matter with suppression, much less actively censor the Review, Stern said. In fact, you have to publish everything that Rosenthal’s accepted. If you reject anything, you’re going to look like a censor, “and if that’s the stink here,” Stern remembered telling the chancellor, “you’re going to get a lot of resignations. Including mine, I have to say.” The group discussed the question for a time. The prevailing attitude seemed to be, let Rosenthal publish his winter issue as planned. Stern said the arguments he and Wilt had marshaled in favor of the Review won Kimpton over. When Kimpton adjourned the meeting Stern felt quite proud of what he had done.
Not everyone present agrees with this account. Edward Rosenheim would not recall a spirited defense of the Review being made by anyone at the meeting. “I think if anyone on the committee stood up and raised hell I’d remember it. I think it was with the complete concurrence of the committee. We certainly did not tell Kimpton, ‘You must not do this.'”
Regardless of what the others thought about the practical or ethical considerations of the situation, Chancellor Kimpton was highly dissatisfied with any course of action that would permit Rosenthal to publish whatever he wanted. Not long after his meeting with the faculty board he invited Stern to another meeting. This time the faculty board chairman was alone with the chancellor. Kimpton’s purpose seems to have been to give his champion of free speech, the Review’s public defender, and the only board member to whom the Review seemed to matter at all, a lesson in practical politics at the University of Chicago. It must have been with some small sense of personal importance that the young associate professor began his private consultation with the head of the university.
Stern recalled that the chancellor began by telling him that the issue wasn’t as cut-and-dried as it might appear to an outsider. The fact was, the pressure he was getting was coming from a variety of directions. The Catholic Church in Chicago was at the center of it all. For instance, certain Roman Catholic trustees were highly sensitive to the possibility that their school was producing pornography. Many of these trustees were hearing complaints from their own parish priests about the Review.
Complicating the issue further was the urban renewal of Hyde Park. The Hyde Park-Kenwood Plan was then on the verge of implementation. The university, Kimpton reminded Stern, was surrounded by a slum neighborhood that had been encroaching upon the school inexorably. The belief was widespread that the University of Chicago was a tiny island in a sea of crime and poverty, and this belief had led to steadily declining enrollment over a number of years. This urban renewal project was one of the most urgent tasks that had been entrusted to him when he took over the chancellorship from Robert Hutchins in the early 1950s.
A large part of the job was public relations. Kimpton was engaged in a pitched battle to turn around damaging stereotypes about the university. For example, as the Hyde Park-Kenwood urban renewal plan was implemented, it was inevitable that families would be forced to move. Unfortunately, many of these families were black. But somehow a specter had been called up of thousands of displaced blacks streaming into nearby white neighborhoods, especially the largely Catholic Back of the Yards not far from Hyde Park. The priests there were using the power of the pulpit to incite parishioners against the university, Kimpton told Stern, and an obscenity charge would only give them more ammunition.
Kimpton stressed that the University of Chicago didn’t exist in a vacuum. On one hand, Hyde Park-Kenwood’s urban renewal depended ultimately on the city of Chicago. Mayor Richard Daley had told Kimpton that the Catholic aldermen in the City Council were the swing votes that were absolutely necessary if they were to win approval for the Hyde Park-Kenwood Plan. If the University of Chicago suddenly developed a reputation as a smut merchant, those aldermen were likely to bolt the coalition. On the other hand, a power struggle had developed in the Chicago church upon the sudden death of Cardinal Stritch, and certain factions were not above using the Chicago Review affair to gain political advantage.
The upshot, Kimpton said, was that something had to be done about this Review business. And quickly. It couldn’t go on as it had. More publicity like Mabley’s would make a bad situation even worse.
Stern repeated what he had said at the faculty board meeting: If you start suppressing things, if you start forbidding the magazine to publish certain pieces, you’re going to be labeled a censor. That was completely unacceptable at a university. Fine and good, said Kimpton. But the students don’t always have to have the final say. Students come and go, they graduate; the university is always there. It has to live with the consequences. And remember, Kimpton said, the students don’t put up a penny for this literary magazine; all the money is provided by the University of Chicago. Even so, Stern answered, you can’t forbid anything, you can only postpone it. Eventually you have to publish everything that Rosenthal’s planned for the winter issue. Perhaps not all together in one issue, perhaps not while Rosenthal is still editor, but eventually. Not only that, everything Rosenthal has ever accepted has to be published, period. Anything less, Stern would say he told the chancellor, would be censorship. And that was something the university could never justify.
According to Stern, Kimpton listened to him carefully and seemed impressed by the arguments he had heard. In the end, the chancellor gave Stern his word that under no circumstances would he censor the Chicago Review. But Kimpton had long since made up his mind to take action against the magazine and Rosenthal. Part of the action involved marshaling a bank of complex rationalizations that would enable the university to silence Rosenthal without actually “censoring” the Review (for example, Rosenheim’s expert opinion that cutting off Review funding and evicting the magazine from its university office space did not technically constitute censorship). Stern did not bother to ask the chancellor what constituted censorship in his eyes.
Stern’s account, related years later, is the only one that connects urban renewal of the university neighborhood to the action against the Chicago Review. But Julian Levi, the architect of the Hyde ParkKenwood Plan, was apparently watching the developments at the Review with an interested eye. He made sure Chancellor Kimpton was provided with all articles from the New World, the weekly paper of the Catholic archdiocese, that mentioned the Review. His interest led to a bizarre communique Kimpton received from his public relations people in early December 1958: “Julian Levi telephoned at 4:45 pm to report that his man, Blakiston, has been told by Hyde Park police that they picked up a 13-year-old boy carrying a copy of the Chicago Review. The boy is suffering–also–from syphilis and is now in juvenile home. The magazine has been sent to the Chicago Police Youth Bureau at 1121 S. State. More action can probably be expected.” Was the memo written to convey a potential problem, perhaps that the university might be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor? Or was it simply meant to illustrate the pernicious influence of beat literature and the Chicago Review?
Whether or not Stern’s words impressed Kimpton, the chancellor’s words had a most definite impact on Stern. Thirty years later he still recalled the talk with Kimpton as the moment he became fully aware of the complex interconnections between the apparent seclusion of academia and the outside world, especially its political sphere. How tiny actions could ripple out and have huge consequences.
Stern had been persuaded to come over to the chancellor’s side. Kimpton’s move in this game of chess–although Stern seems to have been unaware of it as such–was masterful. The faculty board chairman’s arguments in favor of the Review–literary freedom, freedom of speech–looked incontrovertible, especially within the ivied walls of the University of Chicago. What better way to neutralize this line of attack than to make the critic privy to confidential information that purported to show that larger, more important interests existed that superseded the Review’s right to publish? What better way than to give Stern the gift of information that by its very nature could not be made public?
Irving Rosenthal met with Dean Wilt every couple of days as the crisis unfolded. On Friday, November 7, around the time Stern was having his private discussion with Kimpton, Rosenthal was taking some of the winter issue manuscripts to the university press to be typeset. On his way over he ran into Wilt. The dean had bad news: Certain “financial authorities of the university”–he would not say anything more about them–had informed Wilt that unless the winter issue were “toned down” the Review would be shut down altogether. What did they mean by “toned down”? Rosenthal countered. What kind of writing did these unnamed financial authorities want him to print? Wilt shook his head unhappily. He wasn’t sure of that himself. All he knew for sure was that these individuals were very upset about the “gamy writing” that had been appearing in the magazine. The winter issue had to be “completely innocuous and noncontroversial so as not to offend even a 16-year-old girl.” If this condition was not met, the university wouldn’t allow the winter issue to be published.
That took Rosenthal aback. He was beginning to have a problem with his conscience: He didn’t want to compromise the literature or his authors, but he was equally loath to do anything that might close the Review. What if I asterisked out any words that might be taken as offensive? he asked. They had discussed that option already and Rosenthal was willing to go that far for the sake of the magazine. That would be a puerile thing to do, Wilt answered; let’s not unless we absolutely have to. Rosenthal took his manuscripts over to the press as they were, knowing full well they satisfied the criteria for that “gaminess” the invisible censors had already proscribed. But encouraged once again by Wilt’s optimism, Rosenthal felt the prospects were good of actually seeing his winter issue through to print.
Not all of the winter manuscripts were ready that Friday, because of a minor snafu with the Kerouac piece, “Lucien Midnight.” “Lucien” was Kerouac’s friend Lucien Carr, who had been convicted of murder in the late 40s. Carr had served some prison time, but by 1958 he was a free man again. Kerouac referred to the crime in “Lucien Midnight.” When Carr found out he became enraged. He put word out through the grapevine that the work had better not be published as it stood. Rosenthal was putting the final editorial touches on the manuscript and preparing it for the typesetter when he received a frantic telegram from Ginsberg. He had to delete all references to Carr from the text. Especially the title. “Lucien Midnight” became “Old Angel Midnight.”
The Chicago media provided a sudden bounty of clippings for Chancellor Kimpton’s swelling Chicago Review file. On Thursday, November 6, the Daily News reported on a group of college students in Ohio who had been discovered printing pornography off campus. The paper contrasted this activity with the University of Chicago, where students published pornography on campus.
On Friday Jack Mabley apologized to the university and its student body. He quoted a letter from a student who’d chastised him for encouraging “readers to form their opinions of the University on the basis of one publication. Many of us here are nothing more than serious-minded students who study five nights a week . . . and read nothing fouler than the Daily News, Time and Scientific American.” Now Mabley called the school the only institution in the city that kept Chicago from “being pictured in world opinion as totally barbaric.” He praised its distinguished faculty, its hardworking students (the “overwhelming majority” of U. of C. students, he said), and the school’s role in the development of atomic energy. He called the university “an intellectual place”–but this time “intellectual” was intended as a compliment. Conspicuously absent from his article was any reference to the foul literary magazine that had occasioned his original remarks. He didn’t quote any letters in defense of the Review, but he probably hadn’t received any. Anyway, Jack Mabley was not apologizing to the Chicago Review or its staff (the troublesome minority of Chicago students) and he did not retract his charge of obscenity.
The Catholic New World also made a small contribution to Kimpton’s collection. Columnist J.M. Kelly discussed Mabley’s original article, beneath the understated headline “Smut, Filth, Obscenity and the U. of Chicago.” Kelly wrote: “Recently, I scanned the ‘literary’ magazine he referred to. What I saw was decadent rot–the profane and obscene gibberish of so-called intellectual students. . . . It would seem that they [University of Chicago officials] have lost control of their university.” With an almost audible sigh of relief, but without citing any sources or elaborating, Kelly added: “I understand that these officials are considering or have taken drastic steps to prevent a recurrence of such obscenity. For this we are thankful. But–it should never have happened in the first place; nor should it–having happened–be covered up.”
Then the Tribune published a piece it had been preparing on the magazine. Reporter William Leonard had contacted Rosenthal about doing the story in late October, before any trouble had started. It’ll all be from a literary angle, Leonard assured Rosenthal. Thinking at the time some publicity might be helpful, Rosenthal took the reporter at his word and agreed to talk to him.
But reading the article, titled “In Chicago, We’re Mostly Unbeat,” in the Tribune Sunday Magazine, Rosenthal realized he had been the victim of a deception. The story was not about the Review at all: it was about beatniks. He must have cringed as he read the opening paragraphs: “The hipster of the ‘beat generation’ is (to borrow one of his own cliches) ‘way out.’ Happily, from where Chicagoland sits, he’s way out on the west and east coasts, instead of being closer to home. The beatnik, this generation’s own special type of Bohemian, is extremely few in numbers, altho exceedingly loud of voice, and has been the topic of more written and spoken words than he merits. But he doesn’t take root in the grass roots.”
The piece was a search for the beat generation in Chicago, a search the author concluded–much to his own relief–was in vain: the weather in the midwest was too cold for lying on the beach contemplating one’s navel. Tossing around phrases like “sick folk,” “fashionably beat,” “poseur,” “a spokesman for something or other,” and “the avoidance of hard labor,” Leonard made his opinion of “beatniks” obvious. “You can’t blame the grass roots gentry”–he was talking about the “average unbeat American in Chicago or any other town”–“for distrusting the beat generation as a bunch of phonies.” Then he added with a straight face: “Chicago continues to be alive, vibrant, critical (perhaps too critical) of itself, never smug or patronizing.”
Midway through the article, he managed two sentences about the Chicago Review: “The Chicago Review, student literary publication at the University of Chicago, has published almost all the San Francisco writers and poets of the ‘beat’ cult within the last year, and devoted one whole issue to the beatniks’ Zen Buddhism–an issue which sold so well it went into three printings. But Irving Rosenthal and his staff disclaim any beat philosophy for themselves; they’re simply giving the beatniks an outlet in the middle west, they explain.”
So much for the literary treatment. Although Irving Rosenthal was disturbed by what he read, it probably would have made little difference–except for the photograph: the Review staff–Doris Nieder, Hyung Woong Pak, Barbara Pitschel, and Eila Kokkinen, fronted by Rosenthal–posed outside the Review building. The photo took up a half page and dominated the article. Chicago was “Unbeat,” thank God, and the fine print, if anyone bothered to read that far, claimed the Review wasn’t “beat” either. It was just “an outlet,” probably something like the Sears catalog. But that photograph told a different story. There was the heavy-lidded editor, clad in his sweatshirt, hugging the Chicago Review, his untrimmed black beard framing a beatific smile. He personified everything beatnik. Reading the title and looking at that smile, you could almost hear Rosenthal speaking: “Everyone here is unbeat but me!” It was a possibility that didn’t go unnoticed by the New World the next Friday: “If they are not ‘beat,'” J.M. Kelly wrote, “some of them certainly have the unshaven and uncombed symptoms.” After this it became virtually impossible to find a mention of Rosenthal in the press without the qualifying phrase “the Review’s bearded editor.”
This was not the sort of publicity either Rosenthal or Kimpton wanted. Everybody knew beatniks were unkempt, dirty, didn’t have jobs, listened to cacophonous black music, wrote juvenile poetry, and spoke a patois that was alternately impenetrable and insulting, withal ungrammatical. On top of everything, they were probably spreading syphilis, juvenile delinquency, and communism. The average Chicagoan didn’t know anything about so-called beat literature or so-called beat writers or the counterculture in general, except what he or she read in the papers or saw on TV. That’s where the image of the beatniks was born and bred. TV was where the real beatniks, like Maynard G. Krebs, lived. Despite their degrees and their affiliation with the University of Chicago, Lawrence Kimpton, the trustees, and most of the faculty were just as “average” in this respect as a Polish-Catholic steelworker without a high school diploma. For almost all people, the beats were an exotic species they had heard disturbing rumors about.
The press created beatniks, ridiculing and trivializing the nascent counterculture, and at the same time transforming it into something alien and threatening. Not even the Maroon was exempt. Around midsemester the paper started running a comic strip called Benny Beat. Benny Beat was a beatnik, naturally. Everything you need to know about beatniks was present in the first strip’s three-panel exposition. Benny has a two-day growth of beard. His hair is a mess. He’s wearing dirty dungarees, a frayed sweatshirt, and sandals. His eyes are vacant, droopy, and dreamy. He’s clutching a thumb-worn copy of On the Road. His friend, who ten years later would be labeled a “straight,” says, “God, you look crummy today, Benny!” Benny perks up immediately, smiles sincerely, and answers, “Thank you!”
Part II: The Beats Strike Back (October 6, 1995)
In 1958 the student-run literary magazine of the University of Chicago began publishing writers loosely identified with the new beat movement–writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs. No one paid much notice to the Chicago Review’s venturesome change of course–aside from its readers, whose numbers multiplied–until columnist Jack Mabley wrote on page one of the Daily News, “A magazine published by the University of Chicago is distributing one of the foulest collections of printed filth I’ve seen publicly circulated.”
Mabley was reacting to the Review’s autumn issue, whose contents included a couple of Ginsberg letters and nine pages of Burroughs’s previously unpublished Naked Lunch. Even Burroughs’s friends had considered Naked Lunch unpublishable, thanks to its disdain for America’s blue laws. But Irving Rosenthal, the editor of the Review, had a strategy: Each issue he’d publish an excerpt a little stronger than the last until the whole book was before the public.
But as soon as Mabley’s column appeared, Chancellor Lawrence Kimpton began hearing from his trustees. And from prominent businessmen. The Review had created an awkward situation for him, and he meant to resolve it swiftly. The university paid the Review’s bills; the university could certainly rein it in. Word got back to Rosenthal–by way of faculty adviser Richard Stern and dean of humanities Napier Wilt–that the next issue of the Chicago Review had better be nothing like the last. If there even were a winter issue.
And Rosenthal was planning a winter Review that would be the most closely focused yet: nothing but more Kerouac, more Naked Lunch, and a short story by the experimental writer Edward Dahlberg. Unless Rosenthal caved, or the administration relented, there was no way this issue would ever appear.
“Of the charges made against us, to justify the suppression of the winter issue,” Rosenthal would remember decades later, “the hollowest was that we were “one-sided’ and would only publish “Beat’ writers–as if Gins and Dahl were the same Berg. What moved us to publish what we did (when our vision was clear, and as the dust was swept out), was its beauty, energy, ingenuity, truthfulness. If we were partisan it was to these values, which are not the property of any “school.’ Our faculty advisor, one infers, thought we should publish representative samples of different “schools’ of writing. This theory of editing never occurred to us (nor even, I think, to the dullest of my predecessors). However clumsily my staff and I may have carried out our goal, we edited the Chicago Review to seek truth.” Flipping through Rosenthal’s issues of the Review, it is impossible to overlook the many names unconnected with the so-called “beat generation,” including David Riesman, Hugh Kenner, C.F. MacIntyre, and Samuel Beckett.
Yet for a short, heady period, “beat” was the face the Review showed the world. At a time when his name was a buzzword in the mainstream and counterculture alike, at a time when he was synonymous with the emerging literary movement, the Chicago Review published Jack Kerouac in every one of its 1958 issues. “The San Francisco Poets” and “Zen,” two issues directly concerned with the new movement, appeared back-to-back. Aside from the Evergreen Review among major literary magazines, only the Chicago Review treated the new writing seriously–seriously enough to publish it in bulk, seriously enough to explore its aesthetic underpinnings, seriously enough to investigate its philosophy. Does anyone believe that it was Hugh Kenner or John Logan who made the Review so popular in 1958?
Recall the announcement that two high priests of the counterculture, Alan Watts and Allen Ginsberg, would speak in Chicago under Review auspices and it becomes even more difficult to claim that the Review was merely an “outlet.” However unique their individual styles were, the fact is that the beats had forged an aesthetic alliance. They were crystallizing a new approach to both literature and life. They were formulating a new set of moral and aesthetic values–values that were important to many on the staff of the Review, values that would become important to many more young people ten years later. The clash of values between mainstream and counterculture would reach a peak at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. In 1958 it was just taking shape at places like the University of Chicago.
The Tribune’s William Leonard had looked dismissively at the loser beats, the “bunch of phonies” beats. Reuel Denney, a member of the Review’s faculty board and David Riesman’s coauthor on The Lonely Crowd, saw a very different group. Denney used the expression “beatnik,” which was universally disparaging. Yet Denney considered them a positive force. “They are a reaction against the idea of automatic and compulsory consumption of all things that mass society produces so easily,” he told the Maroon. “I think that at least some of them are like the hot-rodders of the cultural field. That is, the hot-rodders of ten years ago revolted against the Detroit automobile and in a way almost helped to predict what’s happened in Detroit today. Detroit today can’t get away with the designing and merchandising policies it was getting away with in 1948.”
After a weekend spent ruminating and reading the papers, Irving Rosenthal took the newly edited version of Kerouac’s short story “Old Angel Midnight” to the University of Chicago Press first thing Monday morning. He went up to the composing room on the third floor and asked Anthony Principato, the foreman, for the other articles so he could insert “Angel” in its proper place. We haven’t got them, Principato said. Where are they? Rosenthal asked. Principato shrugged nervously and told Rosenthal he would have to speak to Robert Kline, the manager of the press. Rosenthal could see Kline trembling as he explained that he didn’t have the manuscripts either; they weren’t here anymore. Rosenthal was outraged. What about professional ethics? he demanded. What about confidentiality between printer and editor? A printer isn’t supposed to give copy to anyone except the editor it belongs to. Kline admitted the administration had them. You gave them our manuscripts! Rosenthal said in disbelief. I work for the university, Kline answered, not for the Chicago Review. He promised to call Rosenthal as soon as the manuscripts had been returned. (Later, Napier Wilt told Rosenthal that the manuscripts had left the press within one hour of being dropped off there on Friday afternoon.)
An hour later Kline phoned. The manuscripts were back, marked OK. Rosenthal returned to the press with the Kerouac manuscript. Kline gave him the rest of the copy. The comptroller’s office had had them, Kline explained. Rosenthal found this puzzling; what interest had the comptroller in an issue’s contents? Leafing through the three manuscripts, Rosenthal discovered that the pages were mixed up and turned every which way, as if a housebreaker had gone through them looking for valuables. He rearranged them and, with Kline’s OK, gave them to Principato to be typeset.
Rosenthal went back to the Review office and told the staff what had happened. The situation, they agreed, was becoming more precarious with each passing day. Rosenthal sat down and drafted a memo to Napier Wilt that spelled out his concerns. First, could the dean get assurances from the administration that Mandel Hall would not be withdrawn once Allen Ginsberg’s reading in December was announced? Second, had Wilt actually discussed Rosenthal’s offer to asterisk out potentially offensive words in the winter issue with anyone in the administration? There’d be no point in going to the trouble if the issue was going to be banned anyway. Finally, would Wilt provide a list of conditions, in writing, under which the Review could continue to operate? “Right now,” Rosenthal wrote, “staff feels that if we don’t fight this now, they might as well throw in the towel.”
Chancellor Kimpton was moving ahead quickly with his plans to silence the Review. Having settled on a course of action and with a rationale devised, he felt he needed the cooperation of the faculty senate. The senate, the comptroller, and the chancellor were the three separate but equal branches of the university government. As an extracurricular activity, the Review did not fall within the formal scope of authority of the senate. But Kimpton must have realized, especially after his conversations with faculty adviser Richard Stern, that there were issues of academic freedom at stake about which members of the faculty would be particularly sensitive.
On Tuesday, November 11, Kimpton presented the Review problem to the committee of the council, the faculty senate’s executive committee. Kimpton told the six-man body that given the grave nature of the problem he was facing he had decided to ask their advice. Kimpton reviewed the history of the Review, as well as the circumstances leading up to and following the Jack Mabley column. He emphasized the Review’s anomalous relation to the university. The school had no control over important editorial decisions; day by day the magazine was slipping further from the school’s grasp; there were already four staff members who weren’t University of Chicago students. (The chancellor was exaggerating the situation. Assistant editor Doris Nieder and art editor Eila Kokkinen were working on degrees at Chicago but hadn’t enrolled in any fall classes; Roland Pitschel was the younger brother–he was still in high school–of project editor Barbara Pitschel, who was enrolled at the time; poetry editor Paul Carroll was a former student.)
To make matters worse, Kimpton went on–according to the minutes of the meeting–“There is some reason to believe that the tone of the new issue will be gamier than that of the number presently under criticism.” This could only mean more adverse publicity, a possibility unacceptable to the chancellor. Some kind of “remedial action” had to be taken. This, the minutes say he told the faculty committee, was “wholly an administrative problem for which he must accept full responsibility . . . without any undue delay.”
Richard Stern addressed the committee of the council “not only as chairman of the faculty advisory committee, but with the authority of a literary critic and creative artist,” as James Cate, the committee’s spokesman, later told the full council of the faculty senate. The Review adviser’s attitude had undergone a subtle change since he’d spoken to the Maroon two weeks earlier. He told the committee that he had objected not only to the lack of literary merit in the autumn issue, but also to its questionable taste. He did not indicate whether he had in mind four-letter words, subject matter, or something else entirely. The issue’s major shortcoming was the editor’s “inordinate fondness” for San Francisco writers. Yet those same writers, Stern acknowledged, were published and taken seriously by magazines of national repute. The Review itself, he added, had brought credit to the university in a number of literary circles, in large part because of the independence of the student editors. Any interference with that independence could discredit the university in those same circles.
In the discussion that followed, committee members agreed in principle that the university could not allow its name to be used by a periodical that ultimately was not answerable to the school. But they considered most of the alternatives just as disadvantageous. For example, cutting the magazine loose could result in the loss of “valuable literary property”; reorganizing the staff from above could lead to charges of censorship; and inaction might attract more hostile attention from the local press. The university had to choose between unpleasant possibilities–being criticized for censorship or being criticized for pornography–and the faculty present could not agree on which option represented the lesser evil. They could only hope that the faculty board and the Review would be able to work out some kind of compromise.
The administration was determined to get rid of Irving Rosenthal, and the search for a replacement was well under way. Stern met with the staff at least once, Barbara Pitschel would recall, and told them that the university administration was displeased with the direction the Review had taken. A new editor had to be elected. Not long afterward he began interviewing candidates–first Doris Nieder and then Barbara Pitschel and Hyung Woong Pak jointly–about assuming control.
Had Rosenthal mentioned that there was going to be an election? he asked. No, each answered; he hadn’t said anything about it. Well, Stern announced, there were big problems at the Chicago Review. The university had set standards and Rosenthal refused to adhere to them. Everyone was concerned about the magazine’s increasingly narrow focus, the administration as well as the faculty board. It had already published three issues full of the likes of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs, and now yet another one was in the works. The Review was shutting out too many other writers and too many other schools of writing, Stern asserted, shutting them out altogether. That was the problem. The university couldn’t be an instrument of propaganda for a single tiny group of writers. The Review was starting to look suspiciously like Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights in San Francisco. As a consequence, Stern said, the magazine was being given ten days to elect a new editor. He put it to each of them bluntly: You are a candidate for the job. If you were editor, what would your editorial policies be?
Each of the three editors, for different reasons, felt the tug of ambivalence. Nieder, for her part, did not feel as deeply committed to the writing as Rosenthal did. As for the upcoming winter issue, she felt William Burroughs was brilliant but she did not understand what Rosenthal saw in the pieces by Kerouac and Edward Dahlberg. She was working on her doctorate in English at the time, in a department that she felt deeply resented the magazine and the writing it was publishing. She felt neglected in the department; working on the Review only complicated the relationship. She had reached the point where she wanted to complete her studies with as few problems as possible. When Stern brought up taking over as editor she begged off.
Pitschel and Pak were both foreign students with roots in totalitarianism. Pitschel’s memories of the atmosphere of oppression in Nazi Germany were vivid. She moved to Chicago with her mother and brother in the early 1950s, and she was attending the university on a special scholarship for foreign students. She fell in love with Chicago’s campus immediately, with the buildings, the midway, her professors, the quiet respect for learning. She threw herself into the Review vigorously, doing whatever work was needed, usually the work no one else wanted to do. The projected German expressionist issue had been her idea and she had already translated a number of pieces for it. She had shown such enthusiasm and learned so much in her year at the magazine that Irving Rosenthal considered her the prime candidate to succeed him as editor.
But like Nieder, she began to feel that her work on the magazine was compromising her in the school’s eyes. She feared the school might even expel her because of her extracurricular activities. As much as she believed in the Review, her attachment to the University of Chicago was equally intense. Going into the meeting with Stern, she hoped she would not have to choose between the two.
Recalling the conversation later, Pitschel said Stern asked her what her editorial policies would be. Pitschel answered that the writing they had published was the best, most meaningful work they had received. That was the reason they had printed it. All well and good, Stern said, but the faculty board was looking for an editor with broader scope. For instance, the winter issue Rosenthal was planning. How did she feel about that? She liked the pieces they had selected, Pitschel said, and if she were editor she’d publish them exactly as planned. In other words, she’d follow her own tastes. You obviously have the flexibility of an old woman, Stern told her curtly, and that being the case, you should consider yourself out of the running for the editor’s job.
Pak may have felt uneasy for reasons similar to Pitschel’s: he’d come from communist North Korea. But perhaps his insecurity had another basis as well. Pak’s work on the Review, according to other members of the staff, was marginal. He had not solicited manuscripts and he had done little if any editing himself. One reason for this, most of his coworkers agree, is that Pak’s command of the English language, though perfectly adequate for most purposes, was not up to editing literature. Pak probably asked himself what he would be getting himself into if he accepted the job. On the other hand, it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When faced with Stern’s questions, Pak remained noncommittal. He did not defend Rosenthal nor did he advocate the literature the Review had been publishing. Indeed, he had never felt especially attracted to the beats. If he had any notion of the sort of writing he would publish as editor, he did not let on to Stern what it was. When the interviews were finished Pak was the leading, if not only, contender for the job of Chicago Review editor.
Rosenthal met with Wilt almost every day that second week of November 1958, and each day the conditions Wilt laid on the Review became more severe. Echoing Stern and Kimpton’s claim that the Review had become far too narrow, Wilt told Rosenthal that he would not be allowed to publish the pieces by Kerouac and Burroughs in the winter issue. In fact he would not be allowed to publish anything written by Kerouac or Burroughs, or by any other “San Francisco” author. Dahlberg was all right. The dean ventured that the manuscripts Rosenthal had already accepted could be published eventually, though not together. For the time being, however, the climate at the university was too explosive. Rosenthal asked if he would at least be permitted to include a note explaining that Burroughs and Kerouac would appear sometime later. That’ll probably be all right, Wilt said, but nothing stronger.
Throughout their conversation Wilt seemed sympathetic to the Review. He told Rosenthal he’d tried to muster support for the magazine among the faculty, but in vain. The problem was that orders were coming from very high places in the university, from the chancellor and certain trustees. Rosenthal asked if Wilt had actually read the problematic pieces. The dean admitted he had not, and what was more he didn’t want to, it would hurt him too much. He viewed his role in the affair with great distaste; that much was obvious to Rosenthal. “But when it rains,” Wilt said, “you have to put on a raincoat.”
The next day Wilt brought Rosenthal more bad news: Dahlberg had been added to the index of banned authors. In addition, the administration had decided that the Review could not run an explanatory note of any kind. The winter issue had to be “completely innocuous.” Furthermore, Wilt had to approve the manuscripts intended for the issue before they could be typeset at the university press. Similar “cooperation” between the faculty board and the Review editor in selecting manuscripts would continue in the future. Editorial autonomy at the Chicago Review was a thing of the past. It was not yet certain the magazine would survive, Wilt said. The faculty board was meeting on November 17 to decide whether the Review subsidy should be continued.
Don’t you have any other manuscripts on hand? Wilt asked. Something else you could publish? Rosenthal told him about the German expressionist pieces Barbara Pitschel had finished for a special issue. Wilt thought a moment, then shook his head. German expressionism would be too strong. When the conversation was over the dean gave Rosenthal a final warning. Don’t stir up any bad publicity over this affair. If the university is publicly embarrassed–in any way–the Review would be closed, immediately and unconditionally.
Napier Wilt is the most complicated figure in the Review saga. By now he had invested a sizable portion of himself in the magazine. He had saved it from dissolution once and managed to fulfill nearly every request Irving Rosenthal had brought him. What’s more, Wilt seemed to genuinely like what the Review was doing. Yet there he was, forced to engineer the emasculation of the Chicago Review on behalf of a chancellor whom many in the University of Chicago community looked down on as an unworthy successor to the legendary Robert Maynard Hutchins. Wilt seemed to want to shield Rosenthal from inevitable disappointment by constantly raising false hopes. Or was he simply engaging in clearheaded university realpolitik? The guardian angel defended the Review before Kimpton in closed session, but afterward the good soldier executed the chancellor’s orders.
Not always without complaint. At one point, filled with disgust at what he had to do, Wilt exclaimed, “Goddamn it, Irving, I’m going to resign myself!” Rosenthal naively took the dean at his word. But Wilt had spent too many years faithfully serving the University of Chicago to turn against it in the twilight of his career. Thirty years later, after a similarly long period of service to the university, Edward Rosenheim spoke about his own relationship to the school: “My feeling is the university always comes first. It would take a real breach of civil rights for me to really turn against the university.” As a member of the faculty board, Rosenheim had not considered the university’s action a breach of the Review’s civil rights. Presumably Wilt’s feelings were very nearly the same.
Yet even after the staff had been forced to resign, Wilt remained sympathetic. In a memo to the university PR department just after the resignations, Wilt praised the Review as the equal of such major literary journals as the Partisan Review, Evergreen Review, Paris Review, and London Review. Doris Nieder remembers Wilt making a point of seeing her after the big Ginsberg-Corso-Orlovsky reading for Big Table–a reading that generated an enormous amount of antiuniversity publicity. He asked how the reading had been. It was terrific, Nieder enthused. Wilt smiled and said warmly, “Good! I’m glad.”
Wild plans together with black despair whirled through Rosenthal’s head as the weekend began. One course of action was to publish the winter issue privately. He had made a few tentative inquiries in that direction, but the Review had become a political hot potato in conservative Chicago. There had already been so much overwhelmingly negative publicity that action by the Post Office or the Chicago police was a real likelihood. Rosenthal had spoken to lawyers at the ACLU who were positive about the magazine’s chances in court. But the problems were sufficiently imposing to put off local printers.
A more radical solution was to sever ties with the university and make the magazine fully independent once again, as it had been before debt had forced the school to absorb it. The University of Chicago could then disavow all responsibility for what the Review published. But going independent required money Rosenthal did not have. Dean Wilt had once mentioned to Rosenthal that there were a couple of trustees who were sympathetic to the Review. For a short time Rosenthal toyed with the idea of asking these trustees to provide the Review with an endowment that would enable it to cut its administrative and financial ties to the university.
But even an independent Review would not have solved Rosenthal’s problems with the chancellor. This was never really about the magazine’s legal status; that was part of the battery of rationalizations that had been carefully constructed in preparation for Rosenthal’s ouster. This was about image and power, and Kimpton, surprisingly, said as much when the student government interviewed him in December. “There are situations,” Kimpton said, “in which the legal status of a publication is irrelevant. Not even a student-owned publication can be completely irresponsible. No publication can fall outside the orbit of the university in any real sense.”
Kimpton stood between Rosenthal and the trustees. (Rosenthal did not realize or else forgot that student organizations were not allowed to have any contact with trustees.) And Rosenthal did not see the chancellor once during the entire affair. He asked Wilt if he might meet with Kimpton: to plead the magazine’s case, to read Burroughs aloud to him, to explain what they were trying to do at the Review. But Kimpton was not interested in being won over by Rosenthal, nor was he interested in having trustees won over. He had to do what he had to do.
To all appearances, Kimpton was precisely the type of technocrat Burroughs had ridiculed in Naked Lunch: “The naked need of the control addicts must be decently covered by an arbitrary and intricate bureaucracy so that the subject cannot contact his enemy direct.” The chancellor was working singlemindedly toward his desired end, deliberately upping the ante, placing Rosenthal in situations that were calculated to force him to resign, relieving the university of the onus of firing him.
Rosenthal played through these options over and over after his last meeting with Wilt. There didn’t seem to be an acceptable way out, short of giving in or quitting. Finally, desperate for advice, Rosenthal turned to Kimpton’s charismatic predecessor, Robert Hutchins. Hutchins was still a hero to the student body in 1958, even though he had left the chancellorship seven years earlier. On Saturday, November 15, Hutchins would be back in Chicago, speaking on campus.
Rosenthal saw Hutchins as the Review’s last hope. He went to Hutchins’s talk determined to ask his advice He had written Hutchins a note describing the situation and asking Hutchins to contact him as soon as possible. Worried that he or another member of the Review staff might be intercepted, Rosenthal asked Doris Nieder’s brother to deliver the message. Rosenthal watched from the audience as Philip Nieder handed Hutchins the note onstage; he saw Hutchins read it and slip it into his coat pocket. Rosenthal was hoping for an immediate reply, perhaps a time and place they could meet, even just a few words of encouragement. But Nieder returned empty-handed. So after the speech Rosenthal went back to his office and drafted a longer letter.
“I’m writing to you out of a sort of desperation,” he opened, “hoping that you might give me some tactical advice, or any other kind.” He described the furor raised by Mabley. Only a concerted fight by a few faculty–he must have meant Wilt and Stern but he never mentioned them by name–had convinced the administration to allow the magazine to continue, but only under the draconian conditions set down by Wilt at their last meeting.
“The feeling among the faculty & administration people who have been fighting for the continuation of the magazine is that the REVIEW is worth saving at nearly any price,” Rosenthal wrote Hutchins. “I myself do not believe this to be so.” But then he had second thoughts. “I take that back: probably when all this blows over, the REVIEW’s autonomy could be re-established.” It might be worth agreeing to faculty supervision temporarily, though for Rosenthal the question was moot–he’d be leaving the university soon. “I’m glad I won’t have the responsibility to make THAT decision . . .
“I do not at this point see how I can publish an issue with the criterion of innocuity,” he confessed. “As we’ve got it planned it won’t be innocuous. . . . The winter issue will be magnificent: about 30 pages of Burroughs, Kerouac’s best piece of writing to date, and about 30 pages of exquisite Dahlberg. These are all good strong writers thank God, and there’s not a chance in the world that they wouldn’t offend the wife of some trustee, or Jack Mabley again.”
The furthest Rosenthal was willing to go was to suppress the winter issue–but only to save the Review as an institution. “Do you think this is wise . . . ?” he asked Hutchins. “Or should I fight?”–at the risk of seeing the magazine closed down. If he did suppress the winter issue he would do everything he could to publish it privately. Did Hutchins know anyone who might be interested in underwriting such a project?
Rosenthal enclosed a copy of the autumn issue, along with the Maroon article that reprinted Mabley’s column, and dispatched the package to the airport to be given to Hutchins before he boarded his flight back to New York. Rosenthal did not hear from Hutchins for several days. By then the die had been cast: Rosenthal had resigned and plans to publish the winter issue independently were under way.
As Rosenthal turned to Hutchins, university counsels Howard Moore and William Morgenstern turned to Charles Merriam, an attorney specializing in copyright and publishing law. The law of obscenity was of no interest to the two men. They wanted to know about the university’s rights. Could it close the Review? Could it fire the editor? Could it dictate editorial policies? Merriam’s answer: The University of Chicago owned the Review. It also owned the copyright to anything published in the Review. It was “free to proceed as it sees fit.” Kimpton had the green light.
On Monday morning Irving Rosenthal returned to the university press and asked Tony Principato for the galley sheets. Principato had bad news. The winter copy hadn’t been typeset and there was no telling when it would be. What’s going on now? Rosenthal wondered, asking for the manuscripts. They’re not here anymore, Principato answered uneasily. Where are they then? Rosenthal demanded. You’ll have to go talk to Kline about that, Principato answered; he came and got them last week. Rosenthal went straight to Robert Kline’s office. Kline opened a safe near his desk and took out the manuscripts. Sorry, Irving, he apologized, but we’ve been pretty busy here. We just haven’t had the time to set them. When will you be able to do it? Rosenthal asked. I’ve got no idea, he answered, and handed Rosenthal the manuscripts. Kline promised to call when the press had time for the job. He never did.
Leaving the press, Rosenthal saw deans Wilt and Streeter for the last time. He’d later remember that the deans now told him point-blank that editorial autonomy at the Chicago Review was a thing of the past. The Review would be subject thenceforth to an annual review. The school would decide whether the subsidy would be renewed on the basis of the review. To Rosenthal, this was blackmail: If the university did not like everything the magazine published, financial support would be withdrawn.
Wilt laid out three courses of action open to Rosenthal. First, he could publish the winter issue as he had planned it. However that option would in all probability occasion a complete cutoff of funding and lead to the magazine’s death. Or Rosenthal could publish an issue “so innocuous as not to offend a 16-year-old girl.” Finally, Rosenthal could resign and let his successor put out the issue. For the good of the Review, the deans urged him not to select the first possibility. (As if it were even a real one. It presumed that the press would typeset and publish whatever Rosenthal sent them, a presumption contradicted by Rosenthal’s recent experiences there. Chancellor Kimpton would admit as much to the council of the faculty senate the very next day.)
Rosenthal answered that it was impossible for him to publish the sort of issue the administration wanted. On principle, but also on practical grounds. The simple truth was that he didn’t have any suitable manuscripts he could substitute. All he could do was present the alternatives to his staff and see what they said.
The next day the Review staff gathered to ponder the magazine’s future. At the same time Lawrence Kimpton was convening a meeting of the full council of the faculty senate to discuss the Review problem. James Cate, the council’s chairman, spoke first. He summarized the earlier committee of the council meeting and the situation that faced the chancellor. Referring to the Mabley article, Cate must have raised laughter. “Since the reporter studiously avoided mentioning the Chicago Review by name lest it get undue publicity,” he said, “I avoid naming him for the same reason.” By this time everyone in the room surely knew who the reporter was. Cate said the grounds for Mabley’s criticisms were “bad taste, manifested in the frequent use in some of the pieces in the Review of obscene words and expressions.” Some trustees had expressed concern to the chancellor, he told the council, but they had not as a body demanded any action.
Kimpton thanked Cate and took the floor. After the unfavorable publicity in the Daily News, he said, many members of the faculty, administration, and board of trustees had asked him what he intended to do about the magazine. He had read the autumn issue himself. He said he had found it offensive, so offensive that he made up his mind to do something about it personally.
After consulting with the committee of the council as well as with deans Wilt and Streeter, he had weighed what he called “the virtues of freedom of the press”–in other words, the possible effects of suppression of the Chicago Review on the University of Chicago–against what could happen if no action were taken. He reported that Wilt and Streeter had already spoken with the editorial staff of the magazine, and he hoped the staff would act responsibly on their own. If they didn’t, he was prepared to block publication of another issue as offensive as the autumn issue. This was simply his administrative duty, he explained; it was not the result of external pressure of any kind.
What would happen if Rosenthal and his staff resigned? someone asked. Kimpton hoped that a new editorial staff would reflect the literary taste and judgment of the humanities faculty. Bernard Weinberg, chairman of the department of romance languages and literature, pointed out how rare it was for a student publication to achieve such widespread literary acclaim. He would regret losing that acclaim. Richard Stern, present at the council’s request, added that the Zen issue had sold some 5,700 copies since summertime, a very high circulation for any little magazine.
Samuel Allison of the physics department admitted that he had never heard of the Chicago Review. He had read Mabley’s article, but he had not known what the columnist was talking about. Did the issue contain quality material? he asked. Would the faculty board have accepted the disputed pieces? Stern answered. The issue wasn’t distinguished for its literary quality, and Stern would have rejected all but one piece. Never in its history, he told the council, had the Review displayed such narrowness of taste. What would happen if the magazine were simply closed down? someone finally asked. Kimpton was prepared to assume all the Review’s financial obligations, including reimbursing its 600 or so subscribers.
As the meeting ended, Cate proposed that the Chicago Review discussion not be reported in the minutes of the meeting. This, in effect, would hush it up. But a slim majority–23 of the 42 faculty present–voted to leave the Review discussion in the public record. “The general sentiment,” the minutes reported laconically, “seemed to be against the grim alternative of discontinuance.” No one seems to have questioned Kimpton’s right to interfere in the Review’s affairs; no one defended the Review’s right to intellectual self-determination.
Nothing was said about the ban on Burroughs, Kerouac, and Dahlberg; about the disappearance of the manuscripts from the press; about the threat to close the magazine if Rosenthal embarrassed the school by standing up for his rights; or about Wilt’s final meeting with Rosenthal the day before.
The other meeting was under way in the Review offices. Rosenthal had made it clear how he would react if the stop-print order to the press were not rescinded. Even if he did not actively encourage others to resign, his fondest hope was that his action would set off a chain reaction, a wave of resignations extending from Dean Wilt through the professorial ranks down to the lowest echelons of the Review’s student workers. Some staff already had told him privately they meant to resign as well; others had said nothing, as if nothing needed to be said about so obvious a matter.
Joshua Taylor attended the meeting on behalf of the faculty board. Taylor, a professor in the art history department and, coincidentally, Eila Kokkinen’s adviser, had already lectured the staff once against being too one-sided in advocating a minor clique of writers above all others. Not that he had suggested the writing was bad or in any way intrinsically objectionable, Kokkinen says. They simply had a democratic duty to represent everyone. That lecture fell on deaf if not hostile ears. For Doris Nieder, Taylor’s message boiled down to, “Be careful! Be cautious! Be toadies!” Eila Kokkinen, who otherwise held Taylor in great respect, says, “In this case, he was very pompous and wrong.” Now Taylor briefly stated his position one last time, then adopted the role of silent observer.
Rosenthal explained that issues of vital import to the magazine’s continued existence had to be resolved. He described the terms outlined by Wilt and Streeter the day before. His only course under the circumstances was to resign. He would do that very soon.
The Review itself, he explained, had two alternatives. The first, which Rosenthal obviously preferred, was to refuse to comply with the university’s conditions and to use every means available to force the administration to withdraw them. What he had in mind was creating a flurry of publicity that would mobilize public opinion and embarrass the university. If this strategy failed, Rosenthal said bluntly, it could destroy the Review.
The second option was to find an editor who could in good conscience publish an issue acceptable to the university. Rosenthal was quick to add that although this might guarantee the Review’s existence in the short run, it also was likely to compromise the Review’s reputation. He asked–rhetorically, one imagines–if anyone present thought they could do it. To Rosenthal’s surprise, Hyung Woong Pak raised his hand.
For more than two hours the staff debated the question: to fight for their rights and put the Review at risk, or to bow to the administration’s demands and let Pak take over. Finally it was put to a vote. Taylor counted the ballots, and the margin was decisive. Fifteen to two, the staff had decided to hand the reins to Pak. For better or worse, the future of the magazine was sealed. Rosenthal adjourned the meeting and left the Review’s offices for the last time.
Five editors–Paul Carroll, Eila Kokkinen, Doris Nieder, Barbara Pitschel, and Charles Horwitz, most of whom had not attended the decisive meeting–resigned at the same time. Those five were the only ones. The wave of resignations Rosenthal had hoped for did not occur. It was difficult for Irving Rosenthal, an uncompromising idealist, to understand how college students, young and presumably still full of ideals themselves, would not take a stand on an issue so crystal clear. Al Podell had been business manager for about a month and he was one of those who stayed behind. He’d recall that most of the younger staff, many of whom did not join the magazine until the fall of 1958, felt little commitment to Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Edward Dahlberg, or to beat literature in general–or to Irving Rosenthal. Their primary loyalty was to the Chicago Review. Undoubtedly some were relieved to be out from under Rosenthal’s yoke.
A bigger surprise was Pak. Rosenthal had never doubted that at least his core staff would follow his lead. Pak was part of this inner circle, and Rosenthal’s close friend to boot. He had never shown anything but sympathy for Rosenthal.
But once Pitschel and Nieder had turned down Stern’s offer, there was only one other person capable of getting the magazine out every quarter. Whatever his limitations with the language, only Pak understood the mechanics of putting an issue together, setting up the copy, delivering it to the press, dealing with production problems, transferring funds–knowledge absolutely essential to an editor.
Pak came to be viewed by some as an opportunist. His own recollections, unsurprisingly, were different. He said years later that Rosenthal received his full support right up to the very end. The problem, Pak said, was that Irving Rosenthal was worn out even before the problems with the administration started. He was a tired young man: tired of editing, tired of his studies, tired of the University of Chicago. Mabley’s column and the events that followed it sapped Rosenthal of what little willpower he still had.
Pak said that Rosenthal resigned as much to escape a highly uncomfortable situation as to protest the university’s action or to start a new life. What’s more, when he did resign, he made it clear to the rest of the Review staff that he wanted his right-hand man to succeed him as editor. How else, Pak asked, could he have garnered such an overwhelming majority when the staff voted? Why did the others resign? Simple jealousy. If they couldn’t have the magazine for themselves they didn’t want to be there.
Pak insisted that even after he took over the Review, he continued to give Rosenthal his complete support. He allowed Big Table to publish the winter issue manuscripts, all of which technically remained the property of the Chicago Review. He even agreed to give up sponsorship of Allen Ginsberg’s upcoming reading, so the poet could read on behalf of Rosenthal’s new magazine. Far from being a traitor, he remained Rosenthal’s best and most loyal friend.
What have the others had to say about this?
Rosenthal: “He did have some excuse to think I supported him. . . . It could have come from some facetious remark to a question . . . or to a residual loyalty to him or the idea of an unbroken succession of editors, that kept me from criticizing him publicly. . . . If I had told him he had betrayed our ideals . . . would he have backed down and resigned? Maybe, maybe not.”
Eila Kokkinen: “I know Irving wanted Pak to stay. I don’t think anyone felt any jealousy toward Pak. I felt he was there to keep it running.”
Doris Nieder: “I could hardly imagine that Irving supported him! Some of the faculty wanted him. They picked him as the next editor. Irving Rosenthal did not like him and considered him as a traitor.”
Barbara Pitschel: “We considered Pak the traitor. He should have come with us. What we did, singly and as a group, was say, ‘We can’t work with the university. If Pak wants to that’s his problem.’ We weren’t jealous after he became editor because any of us could have had the job.”
Richard Stern: “I think the staff walked out as a result of seeing that Pak and the majority of the kids on the Review didn’t want them. Some of the people felt they were literary, too, and they wanted a voice.”
Before she resigned, Barbara Pitschel wrote Pak a note: “Dear Pak,” it read, “Since I don’t see how I can support the present policy of the Review, I am leaving the staff at this time. . . . Best of luck, and I’m sorry. Barbara.” She left behind the expressionist manuscripts she had been working on, asking only for a note crediting her as translator. According to Pitschel, Pak neither published the manuscripts nor returned them to her.
Rosenthal, accompanied by Paul Carroll and a few others, went to Napier Wilt’s office to give him the news and turn in his keys. Wilt was visibly upset, distraught even. He had wanted Rosenthal to be a good boy and publish one last issue–one last acceptable issue–before leaving. Rosenthal felt badly let down too. He’d wanted Wilt to support the Review by making an unmistakable gesture of solidarity, namely by quitting himself. But that was something Wilt could not do.
The Maroon did not report the change of editors for nearly two weeks, and when it did it gave none of the pertinent background. Rosenthal, the paper said, had resigned for “personal reasons.”
Rosenthal refused comment, despite Robert Hutchins’s advice to raise a stink. About a week after his talk on campus, Hutchins had finally called. He urged Rosenthal to initiate a media blitz in Chicago that would embarrass the university into giving in. In such university-versus-student disputes, Hutchins said, the students were always in the right. Certainly the administration must have realized all bets were off once Rosenthal gave up the editorship–yet Rosenthal, although he now had everything to gain and nothing to lose from a scandal, kept quiet.
Why? Decades later, Rosenthal himself wasn’t sure. Wilt had told him not to make the university look bad, and perhaps Wilt still intimidated him. Most likely he realized that, given the climate of opinion then prevailing, the Review could only come off on the short end. The interests of the media corresponded too closely to the university’s to allow them to be objective, much less critical, especially when the suppressed writers could be so easily portrayed as ne’er-do-wells and social misfits.
In December 1958, disparaging pieces were appearing with increasing frequency in the papers. Sydney J. Harris attacked the beats as conformists in disguise (hence middle-class hypocrites). Eliot Fremont-Smith claimed that the focus on beat writing had made the Review an embarrassment to the university. Even before he resigned, Rosenthal had approached a number of writers on the University of Chicago campus and asked them to publicly support the magazine. Every one of them, Rosenthal would recall, had some “good reason” not to help. Such experiences must have contributed to his pessimism.
On December 12 an ex-Review insider finally broke the silence. The Maroon published a letter by Charles Horwitz. The former project editor challenged Stern’s claim that the university did not “exert controls on the editorial policies of the responsible student editors.” The statement was “misleading,” wrote Horwitz, describing the series of ultimatums given Rosenthal. “It is obvious that the faculty committee, trustees and the University administration lack confidence in UC students’ ability to run a literary quarterly,” Horwitz closed. “This has been painfully demonstrated to us. Why doesn’t the faculty committee have the courage, at least, to admit this in print?”
Three faculty board members responded to Horwitz’s charges in the next Maroon, but their views betrayed a disturbing lack of unanimity. “Nobody is trying to censor the Review,” insisted Joshua Taylor, who flatly denied every statement Horwitz had attributed to him. The faculty board had advised different material for the winter issue, Taylor claimed, not demanded it. “The decision to not have winter issue [sic] was made by the new editorial board.”
Reuel Denney, who’d portrayed the beats as productive rebels, seemed to contradict most of the administration’s claims. The board never once took a vote on the Review’s winter issue, he told the paper. He believed most faculty board members–though not all–wanted to let Rosenthal print the issue as planned, regardless of any pressure from outside the school. Summing up his feelings bluntly, Denney declared, “I think the concern about the issues in question of the Review is disproportionate and a waste of time.” But Denney did not go further and condemn the university’s role in squelching the winter issue. (Indeed, Denney, one of the first professors Rosenthal turned to, had refused to give the Review any public support.)
Richard Stern disagreed vehemently with Denney’s assessment. No one on the board, Stern maintained, had supported Rosenthal. “For the past year the Board has cautioned him about such things as eliminating non-students from the editorial board, clearing financial arrangements with us, entering upon only such agreements as he would be willing and able to fulfill, treating contributors and correspondents with respect, and, more to the point here, a number of us constantly broached the question of the increasing narrowness of the magazine’s literary material and the decay of its intellectual quality. . . . [Rosenthal] centered the magazine about the work of a small, sensationalist group of writers whom he printed in issue after issue.”
The faculty board, Stern said, had reached a threefold decision. First, that every article, poem, and story Rosenthal had accepted would be printed in the Review. Second, that no manuscript would be screened by the board prior to publication. Finally, that “it was considered imperative to return the Review to the humane tradition of the “little magazine’ by forbidding the immediate reappearance of the writers who had been monopolizing it.”
It was a classical principle of censorship Stern was articulating: justify the suppression of one particular group here and now by appealing to an abstract, undefined “tradition.” In this case, it was a tradition that had surely never existed at any great literary magazine (if indeed at any literary magazine). None was ever a democratic institution, and no great editor ever saw his or her role as that of presenting little bits of everything. When these editors thought one writer or group of writers was better than the others, they published the better rather than the worse. This was the humane tradition Irving Rosenthal was heir to.
The board, Stern emphasized, had decided to do something about the Review even before Mabley’s “smokescreen of pornography.” Stern told the Maroon, “I know of no faculty member who regards as pornographic or obscene any piece that the Review has ever printed.” Even so, one of the very first complaints Kimpton received, of “rough, nasty, or indecent words or statements” in the autumn Review, had come from R.W. Harrison, dean of faculty at the University of Chicago!
The Review had to be “responsible” (that word again) to “someone or something,” Stern said in conclusion, and since the staff were students of the university, “which owns and subsidizes the Review, it seems proper that they should be, at least in some measure, responsible to the Faculty.”
Apparently Stern was anticipating a barrage of antiuniversity publicity that he’d decided to head off with irony: “Finally, I proffer a very personal view of what is happening now: the planks are being cut, planed, and mounted, the ketchup is being distributed, the nails of the cross are being fiercely gripped, the noble, tortured heads are being expertly tilted into the sunlight, and the classic moans of public appeal are being spread throughout the ___ and the last word will depend on the amplification equipment available to the holy martyrs.”
The Maroon asked Rosenthal for comment, and he decided to respond. He said the remarks by Stern and Taylor were “pure baloney.”
Had the faculty board supported the Review’s desire to print its winter issue? the Maroon wondered. Rosenthal replied, “I don’t know very much about what the faculty did. I have not had communication with Mr. Stern at all. . . . All I know is what I read in the paper. . . . I know that he fought very hard for the right to print at first and then reversed [himself].” The winter issue would see print eventually, Rosenthal told the Maroon. He and the other editors who had resigned were planning to publish the material themselves as soon as they raised the money.
When he left the Review Rosenthal took the banned manuscripts with him, and he began immediately to cast about for ways of publishing them. The least complicated–and cheapest–route would be to let an established magazine publish them, perhaps as a special number. But no one wanted the winter issue as a whole. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was very anxious to publish Kerouac’s “Old Angel Midnight” in the Journal for the Protection of All Beings. He became irritated when Rosenthal told him that the only way he could publish Kerouac was to publish all four pieces. Rosenthal was upset that Ferlinghetti would even ask to break them up. But Ferlinghetti simply did not want Burroughs or Dahlberg.
Rosenthal and Paul Carroll had to find a way of doing it on their own. That meant, above all else, finding money. But other questions had to be settled as well. Who would be responsible for the inevitable obscenity case? Would the new magazine be ongoing or a one-shot? If it continued, who would edit it? Rosenthal had made up his mind to give up editing for good once the winter issue was out. But it seemed a waste both to him and to Carroll to let their undertaking die after a single issue. Finally they agreed the magazine would come out quarterly and that Carroll would take over the editorship with the second issue. Carroll also agreed to assume the burden of the censorship battle the first issue was bound to unleash with the Post Office. Rosenthal moved to New York City to find a printer willing to take on the new magazine and to pursue his literary future.
And what to name it? At first it was called simply Review, a transparent attempt to capitalize on the suppression. But no one liked the name. It had such a generic ring, what with the Partisan, Antioch, Kenyon, Hudson, Paris, and myriad other Reviews littering the literary landscape. Out of the blue Rosenthal wrote from New York that he’d christened it 331, a name whose meaning, if ever there was one, was quickly lost in obscurity. It too was dropped. In desperation Rosenthal finally wrote to Jack Kerouac, the master titlist who had already coined On the Road, “Howl,” and Naked Lunch. Kerouac sent Rosenthal a postcard of suggestions. They settled on Big Table, a name that occurred to Kerouac when he found a note he’d written to himself: “Get a bigger table.”
The Review was again under firm university control, the press was placated, and Rosenthal was gone. Lawrence Kimpton most likely cared not a whit about the stories and poems the ex-editor had taken with him. But when Rosenthal expressed his intentions so plainly in the Maroon, red lights went off in Richard Stern’s head. He had already tried to persuade Kimpton–successfully, he thought–that the Review had to publish everything Rosenthal had accepted as editor. Now the most critical of those manuscripts, the ones Rosenthal claimed had been banned, were gone. Stern started giving interviews to Chicago papers, claiming the manuscripts as the property of the University of Chicago and threatening anyone else who’d publish them with legal action.
Stern blamed Pak for letting them get away and he prodded the new editor relentlessly to get them back. Pak finally sent his assistant Willard Colston to Rosenthal to recover the manuscripts. Or some of them. Pak and Colston had decided they wanted only the two Dahlberg manuscripts. Only those pieces had been submitted expressly to the Review; the others, according to Colston, “were part of a larger amount of material held by Mr. Rosenthal more, it seems, in the capacity of agent, friend and disciple than as editor of the Review.”
Colston told Rosenthal either to return the Dahlberg pieces or have Dahlberg absolve the Review in writing of any responsibility for publishing them. Rosenthal refused both requests. He told Colston he was planning to publish Dahlberg with Burroughs and Kerouac and had permission to do so, and he produced letters from all three authors. Colston read them and asked if he could have Dahlberg’s, for the Review files. Rosenthal refused indignantly. Colston asked if he might at least take the letter long enough to make a photostatic copy. Rosenthal refused that as well and Colston returned to the Review empty-handed.
Seeing Dahlberg (and Kerouac and Burroughs) slip through his fingers seems not to have troubled Pak much. (Years later he admitted, “I was not in love with those manuscripts.”) Colston wrote: “After reviewing the situation, Review editor Pak and I agreed that little was to be gained by pursuing the matter further. We had no responsibility for the Kerouac and Burroughs manuscripts, and if Mr. Dahlberg saw fit to grant Mr. Rosenthal the power of agent, it was of little concern to us.” Stern could do nothing more than continue to make lawsuit noises in the Chicago papers. Someone, though, made sure to cover the Review’s backside. A month after he saw Rosenthal, Colston wrote up a detailed account of the meeting and deposited it in the Review’s files.
That was not the end of the matter. Privately, Stern was demanding letters from Burroughs, Dahlberg, and Kerouac formally withdrawing their pieces from the Review. Publicly he kept threatening a lawsuit. Rosenthal scoffed at the idea, but Al Podell, now business manager of both the Review and Big Table, urged Rosenthal to be cautious. He’d consulted some lawyers who told him that as the Review’s editor, Rosenthal had been acting as the agent of the university. Once Rosenthal accepted the manuscripts for the winter issue they had become the de jure property of the University of Chicago. The letters exchanged by editor and author, Podell explained, constituted a binding contract. Podell urged Rosenthal to have the three authors write letters of withdrawal along very specific lines.
Rosenthal hesitated to solicit such letters. Letters of withdrawal, he believed, could be used as evidence that no censorship had taken place. The university could claim that the authors themselves asked that their work not be printed. He wrote Podell confidently: “I have all the relevant documents, everything happened while I was still Editor of the Review, nothing that would help them is in the Review files, and on & on ad infinitum. (Just as an example I could say that I rejected the mss. when they were suppressed.) Another example: There is no official record of Burroughs & Kerouac either being accepted or rejected–they were ‘informal’ acceptances.”
Neither Pak nor Stern took seriously the promise to publish every manuscript Rosenthal had accepted. As early as January 1959 several writers whose work Rosenthal had accepted, including LeRoi Jones, got it back from the Review with a rejection slip.
After New Year’s 1959 the ex-editors began working feverishly on Big Table. Some were trying to sell ads in the magazine; others drummed up publicity. Paul Carroll and Al Podell were both writing accounts of the suppression for little magazines. Barbara Pitschel gave an interview to the Nation, and a friend of hers who worked for the Associated Press tried unsuccessfully to put a story on the wires.
The first great burst of attention came with Allen Ginsberg’s visit to Chicago in January. He’d been scheduled to read on campus in December, establishing an incongruity that did not go unnoticed by the Maroon. Its Culture Vulture columnist remarked pointedly: “This evening Allen Ginsberg will give a reading. . . . This program was scheduled by the dirty old CHICAGO REVIEW and, like it or not, is being sponsored by the clean and cheerful new CHICAGO REVIEW. This is probably putting any number of people in a difficult position . . . ”
But not wanting Ginsberg to raise money for the sanitized Review, Rosenthal canceled the reading without notice. The next week the Culture Vulture complained: “Despite a howling crowd of afficiandos [sic] attempting to beat down Mandel’s weathered doors last Friday, Allen Ginsberg did not appear to give his critique of modern poetry (i.e. HOWL). Why?”
The event was rescheduled in late January as a Big Table benefit. Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Peter Orlovsky (Jack Kerouac had declined to take part) left New York in a drive-away car, spun off the road in a Pennsylvania blizzard, and were welcomed to Chicago by bitter cold and a huge wave of publicity. The story was twofold: On one hand, the city was being invaded by real live beatniks, a phenomenon the media milked for all it was worth every day for nearly a week. You would have thought martians had landed. On the other, Paul Carroll never missed an opportunity to remind people what the University of Chicago had done to the Review. The Shaw Society, which was sponsoring the event, linked its support directly to the suppression. “George Bernard Shaw was such a bug on censorship,” one member told reporters, “that we felt that this was a fitting benefit.” WUCB, the student radio station, ran three ads nightly for the benefit, and each of them noted that Big Table was publishing manuscripts the university had suppressed. Al Podell wrote Rosenthal that Chancellor Kimpton was infuriated by the commercials but his hands were tied. The station was under contract to Big Table to broadcast the ads. It was small but satisfying revenge.
The poets seemed to be everywhere in Chicago. The night they arrived a reception was given in their honor at the Lake Shore Drive home of socialite Muriel Newman. It was a congregation of very strange bedfellows–the cream of society, the doyens of business, reporters, and the beatnik elite, all gathered under the paintings of Jackson Pollock. The occasion made Chicago’s front pages and was even ridiculed in Time. The next night the poets read before an audience of more than 800 people in the Sherman House. Ginsberg read “Howl” for the first time in a couple of years (the reading is considered by some to be the best he ever gave of the poem) and “Kaddish” for the first time anywhere. Corso was an unexpected hit, giving inspired performances of poems such as “Marriage” and “Hair.” Three days later another 300 people crowded into the Gate of Horn, a local jazz-folk club, for another reading.
This was probably the one time in history when poetry dominated the front pages of a major American city for nearly a week–even if every story was composed of the same cliches. The readings raised more than $600 for Big Table, and the high-society hobnobbing even more. The week marked Ginsberg’s entrance onto a national stage, and it was a tremendous embarrassment to the University of Chicago.
The most damning publicity, from the university’s point of view, came with the release of a white paper by the student government. Like many of the students it represented, the student government harbored no great love for Lawrence Kimpton, the man who had replaced Robert Hutchins, and some of its members, the president included, saw an investigation by a special committee as an opportunity to embarrass Kimpton publicly. But they realized that its findings had to be above reproach.
The committee’s seven members began interviewing the principals right away: Rosenthal and Pak, Stern and the faculty board, workers at the university press, deans Wilt and Streeter. Apparently the committee wanted to get a full picture before taking on the chancellor. Within a week the committee had collected enough information to piece together a rough chronology; by December 10 a draft report had been written. By then it was obvious that no grand rhetorical flourishes were going to be necessary; the bare truth, in the words of one committee member, was damning enough.
John Netherton, the new dean of students, contacted the student government on the chancellor’s behalf and requested a copy of the draft report. What Kimpton read was a document that drew no firm conclusions but whose sketch of the affair included a number of damaging elements: the faculty board’s contention that Kimpton had complained about outside pressures; Wilt’s ultimatums to Irving Rosenthal; and the mysterious disappearance of the winter manuscripts from the University of Chicago Press, together with Robert Kline’s admission that he had lied to Rosenthal on orders from the comptroller.
When the committee sent the report to the chancellor, it appended a list of questions still unanswered: Who were the “financial authorities” that, according to Rosenthal, Wilt had warned him were demanding an innocuous winter issue? Had the chancellor been in contact with the university press or the comptroller’s office when the manuscripts vanished? Exactly what “immediate action” had the chancellor intended to take if Rosenthal had not cooperated? “The committee hopes you will be able to spare a few minutes to discuss the questions and the report.” Until this time Kimpton had maintained his silence as steadfastly as Rosenthal and the committee was not confident of actually being granted an audience. But Kimpton accepted the invitation, and a meeting was arranged for December 17.
Kimpton, however, did not wait for his date with the student government to go public on the Review affair; he spoke to the Maroon first. His statement was carefully prepared, and the chancellor came across like a father patiently yet firmly explaining to his children why he must be obeyed. He offered familiar justifications: The Review was “in a rut”; the real problem was “literary quality and the lack of it”; there had been no outside pressure.
The chancellor stressed the Review’s strange and anomalous relationship to the university. The Maroon was a “student publication”: fully owned by the student body and receiving no funding from the school. At one time, the Review had also been a student publication. But it lost that status when the university paid off its $7,400 debt. It then became an “official publication of the University,” owned and funded by the university. As such, it was obliged to reflect the broad spectrum of intellectual activity at the university.
Suppose, the chancellor suggested, that the editor of the International Journal of Ethics, published in the university’s philosophy department, became interested in existentialism to the exclusion of all other schools of philosophical thought and refused to publish articles about anything else. Such an editorial policy would not reflect the scope of philosophical thought at Chicago, and the university would be obliged to replace the editor. The Review situation was analogous. (Could a more precise analogy be found? At the time, existentialism was the philosophical equivalent of beatnikism, conjuring up images of berets, iconoclasm, and the rejection of status quo values. Kimpton was trained as a philosopher and was undoubtedly aware of the similarities.)
“When an official publication of the University no longer respects any literary quality except that of Mr. Irving Rosenthal, the University has the right to withdraw its support from that publication. . . . Rosenthal was so infatuated,” Kimpton declared, “that even the business letters of these authors were sacred.” Rosenthal had printed two letters from Allen Ginsberg in the autumn issue, letters that discussed poets, poetry, and the scene, though not royalties and contracts, as Kimpton implied.
With a straight face the chancellor stated that the problem was certainly not one of pornography or Jack Mabley; obscenity had nothing to do with the action he had been forced to take. This despite the stack of letters, memos, and legal opinions he had received drawing his attention to the Review’s alleged obscenity. “When we publish, we are legally responsible for literary quality,” he said. “I think there is no question that in taking legal responsibility we had the authority to feel that the publication should have a higher literary quality than the past editor . . . attained.” To whom would this “legal responsibility” have mattered most? The United States Post Office and the Chicago Police Department, whose literary standard was simple: “Obscene or not?” Precisely the standard the university’s attorney had warned Ruth McCarn of in October.
Student government president Joel Rosenthal (no relation to the Chicago Review editor) was present when the chancellor was interviewed by the committee on December 17. “We felt it was a minor coup when Kimpton was willing to see us, so we could at least go to the horse’s mouth, whatever we would get from it. You have to imagine the atmosphere as best you can,” Rosenthal would recall. “We hated Kimpton. We were political, we were critical. But we were students. And students interviewing the chancellor in his fancy fifth-floor office was very unusual. It was a much more hierarchical world than today. Even for Kimpton bashers, sitting down with Kimpton in his office for half an hour was a little daunting. It wasn’t that easy for us. I’ve been to press conferences and you’re supposed to be hostile. But we weren’t journalists, we were students.”
Kimpton made a relaxed and friendly impression on the students. But the committee’s notes portray a chancellor whose style would become much more familiar among politicians under investigation in the 70s and 80s: accept ultimate responsibility but deny all foreknowledge, and by extension any real involvement. “Most of what you talk about I don’t know anything about,” he said at the outset. Did the chancellor know anything about outside pressure? “I don’t recall this at all. . . . Who gave you this information?. . . I don’t remember it at all. . . . If I said this I don’t know what the devil I was saying.” Did the chancellor threaten the Review? “I didn’t do anything. I never told Wilt we’d cut off the money. This was his idea.” Why did Wilt threaten the magazine? “I don’t recall the exact conversation. I said I couldn’t allow such a situation to go on in the university. Don’t know what I’d have done if it hadn’t come under new editorship.” Yet “We were not under pressure from the Catholic Church.”
The critical question: Had obscenity been an issue? “I’m not very sensitive on this particular issue,” the chancellor answered. When a faculty member had brought the matter to his attention his first reaction was that the columnist should go to hell. But the column’s publication had caused the administration to look more closely at the Review. Kimpton compared it to a time when a dean suspected that the Communist Party was trying to take over the Maroon. Then too, steps had to be taken; such a situation couldn’t be ignored. (Another precise analogy: The unspoken implication was that a similar group had taken over the Chicago Review.)
The Review then and the Maroon earlier were two examples of the same problem. In such cases it did not matter whether a magazine was a student publication or an official publication of the university. “There are situations,” Kimpton explained, “where the legal status of the publication is irrelevant. . . . Not even a student publication is completely irresponsible. No publication can fall outside the orbit of the university in some real sense.”
Had Rosenthal been forbidden to publish Kerouac, Burroughs, and Dahlberg? the committee asked the chancellor. “I don’t recall telling Wilt of any such ultimatum,” Kimpton replied. Certainly though, it was “impossible and intolerable to run an indefinite number of issues devoted to one thing.” So quantity was an issue as well as quality? the committee countered. “That’s right. We are not sponsors of the SF group. The faculty said the SF people are all right, but they are not the only ones.” Dahlberg was not even a member of the San Francisco group. Why was he forbidden? “Rosenthal seemed to think obscenity was a virtue,” Kimpton said, coming finally to the point. “We thought he just liked the words. . . . Rosenthal was just in love with the dirty words.” What about the changes Rosenthal was ordered to make in the winter issue? “I don’t know who gave the instructions on the winter issue. ‘Legal situation is intolerable.’ Wilt may have interpreted this to mean almost anything. I don’t know what I meant by this myself.”
The chancellor had progressed through a series of increasingly self-contradictory explanations: First, the Review’s relation to the university was intolerable, but the Review’s relation to the university was also irrelevant. Second, the Review had published inferior literature, yet the faculty recognized the quality of the San Francisco group–there had simply been too much of it. Third, obscenity had barely figured in the administration’s action, yet one of Rosenthal’s major drawbacks was his love of obscenity.
When Kimpton saw the committee’s notes he realized just how frank he had been and tried to backpedal. He sent them a curt note: “I am sorry to inform you that your notes, taken on the interview of December 17th, do not record accurately or completely my opinions and judgment concerning the Chicago Review. . . . If you choose to pursue the matter further, I should be glad to write you a brief account of my attitude, opinions and judgment on the Review. On the other hand, if you care to hire a court reporter who would render a complete and accurate report of an interview, I shall be glad to see you again.”
“Kimpton demurred when he saw the notes and the way we were going to write up the interview. He felt that wasn’t fair,” Joel Rosenthal remembered. “I had taken most of the notes, I felt it was fair. Kimpton was a liar. He really said what we claimed he said. He said that there was pressure and that they just decided the Review wasn’t worth the trouble. He said to us–and mind you this was 35 years ago–‘When I’m with my friends I say ‘fuck” too.’ You know, nobody talked that way in public, so it was kind of interesting to hear the chancellor say that. The chancellor gave us a very frank interview, much franker than he wanted, I guess.” Gary Stoll, another committee member, recalled: “I think Kimpton felt he could pat us on the head and it would all go away. The interview confirmed the view that Kimpton was not well liked by the students, that he was remote from the students, and that he was really more concerned about good relations with the trustees than with running a good university.”
The committee did soften the tone of Kimpton’s remarks in its final report. For instance, in the report he calls his statement to Wilt about the intolerable Review situation “vague”; in the committee notes he is quoted saying, “I don’t know what I meant by that myself.” Yet if anything, the chancellor comes off as colder, more calculating, more dissimulating, and finally less sympathetic in the cautiously formulated report than in the raw notes Kimpton objected to.
By mid-January the report still languished in committee. The wait frustrated Irving Rosenthal. Big Table desperately needed the publicity, and he craved vindication. The student government seemed to think it was a congressional committee, so slowly did it go about its self-appointed task. By the end of the month it was common knowledge on campus that the report was going to come down squarely on the side of the deposed editors. Al Podell wrote Rosenthal that the chancellor was rumored to be doing everything he could to block, or at least delay, its release. But members of the student government committee would recall the administration didn’t interfere with their work at all. Any delay was due to the care they took, on top of the Christmas holidays and academic demands.
The report was finally released in mid-February. It contested almost everything Kimpton had ever said about his role in the affair. “It is the conclusion of this committee that there was action taken by the University Administration. . . . The committee further concludes that the principal reason the University imposed pressure on the editors was that the University itself was under pressure from persons financially interested in the University to prevent the appearance of another such issue.”
Rosenthal was exonerated in full. The committee acknowledged that as owner of the magazine the school was completely within its legal rights in doing what it had done. Technically, no infringement of freedom of the press had taken place. However, since a financial authority, rather than the Review’s faculty board, appeared to have made the decision not to publish the winter issue (the committee had established that the faculty board originally favored publication), and since the grounds for that decision seemed to have been purely financial, it seemed clear that an infringement of academic freedom had taken place.
The committee laid the greatest stress on the intellectual atmosphere of the university. “We believe that the Administration and Faculty have an obligation, as our teachers, not only to permit publication of student work, but to insist vehemently on the independence of student judgments from outside intimidation and threats. In working to encourage the intellectual growth of its students the University must provide the atmosphere for new ideas to be tried, new views to be expounded. It is this intellectual atmosphere which we feel is most seriously challenged by the Chancellor’s capitulation to the whim of the local columnist.” The emphasis was the committee’s.
What effect did the release of the report have on campus? “The student government,” Joel Rosenthal remembered, “was hoping to blow the place up with the report. We thought we’d have lots of trouble. We didn’t. I was disappointed.” They sent hundreds of copies of the report to Chicago faculty, including the faculty senate. The response was deafening silence. Kimpton had planned well in obtaining the senate’s tacit approval for his action. It was effectively coopted. Not a single individual professor protested either. Joel Rosenthal’s impression was that most professors at Chicago were simply relieved that the affair did not have anything to do with them directly.
Irving Rosenthal was hoping for a vigorous reaction from the student body, and Podell wrote him encouragingly students were so interested in the matter that they had snatched up a thousand copies of the report in a week’s time. Actually, the report went out of print after the student government had distributed practically every copy to professors. Joel Rosenthal believes student interest in the Review’s suppression was slightly higher than interest in intramural volleyball scores.
Irving Rosenthal was impressed with the report and the systematic way the committee had investigated and exposed the suppression. When he heard that it had quickly gone out of print he urged Paul Carroll to talk to the student government president about a second printing, even if Big Table, which was in deep water financially, had to share the expenses. No arrangement was ever worked out.
Big Table 1–“The Complete Contents of the Suppressed Winter 1959 Chicago Review”–was published on March 17, 1959, with a red, white, and blue cover. Between December and March Rosenthal had expanded Big Table’s contents slightly. “As of last night, I have another secret which I won’t tell just yet,” he wrote Al Podell in February. “Hmm, I better. . . . BUT ON YOUR SOLEMN SACRED OATH NOT TO TELL PAUL UNTIL I HAVE A CHANCE TO, so keep quiet until you hear it from Paul or other: I am adding 3 poems of Gregory’s as a sort of supplement, and so on the cover as a sort of supplementary title, will go: AND POWER, ARMY, AND POLICE BY GREGORY CORSO. I know Paul will think I’ve gone off the deep end, but I have (last night) become absolutely convinced that he is a great lyric poet, & Allen would have committed suicide (He threatened it & I believed him) if I didn’t print these poems, so How could I refuse?”
Perhaps Rosenthal was worried that Carroll, himself a poet, would nix the Corso out of jealousy. In fact, Carroll had been quite impressed by Corso at the Sherman House and had already asked him to contribute work to Big Table 2. Number one was ultimately Rosenthal’s issue: he was its editor and his was the only name on the masthead. Nervous about possible repercussions their association with Big Table could have at their respective universities, Carroll at Loyola University and Doris Nieder at Chicago had both asked not to be identified as editors of the first issue. Nevertheless, Carroll’s name was linked to the magazine whenever it was mentioned in the Chicago press (particularly while Ginsberg was in town), and even before Big Table 1 was published Loyola had decided not to renew his teaching contract.
Rosenthal may have hesitated to publish Corso because he’d be compromising the purity of issue one by including work that hadn’t been banned from the Review. When Corso got wind of Rosenthal’s hesitation he sent him a letter:
“Dear Irving, what? Suppression? Chicago? Are you weeping? I hear from Ginsberg that you are tiny, wet-eyed, low-voiced, a rose in a terrible giant’s land; do you wet the bed? shiver because of human ice? Yes, that’s what suppression is, human ice. But why? I always thought Chicago University was a great happy free soulful institute of sparkle and joy; something like Reed, but only on a grander scale. Is it because of Burroughs? Poor Bill, the Elysium of Al Capone tommy-guns his scatheless soul; I mean the Chi Review was his only intelligent outlet; what happens to you now? Do you flee? Abandon all? I have a funny feeling here in Paris, I feel America is suddenly going to open up, that a great rose will be born, that if you flee, it will die; so stay; nurse it with your vision, it’s as good as sunlight. Death to Van Gogh’s ear! Long live Fried Shoes! gregory”
Corso didn’t even know Rosenthal.
The note appeared over Rosenthal’s editorial in Big Table 1. The editorial was his first formal statement on the suppression and proved a difficult piece for Rosenthal to write. He had gone through a series of phases in his relationship to the university. At first, he said very little about the matter publicly and seemed anxious to put it behind him. But when he moved to New York his indignation returned. He entertained fantasies of taking the entire university administration to court, beginning with Kimpton and Richard Stern, to expose their actions for the world to see.
By the time he sat down to write the editorial his head was a bit cooler. At first he attempted to deal with the ugly situation in all its complex details. He wrote the piece once, rewrote it, then rewrote it again and again until he realized in frustration that if he was ever to finish he would have to rise above the countless small lies and petty aspersions and address only one or two of the most important issues.
He settled on describing Dean Wilt’s constantly escalating demands. In passing he criticized the faculty’s silent acquiescence, singling out two men: “The faculty spokesmen so quick to protect the administration were Richard G. Stern and Joshua Taylor. Both these men earn their bread by teaching literature and the arts.” Rosenthal’s harshest words were directed at the chancellor: “His act was rigidly consistent with his program to placate the trustees by ‘normalizing’ the University–to increase the endowment at the expense of everything that a university in a free society is supposed to support (and seldom does). Mr. Kimpton does not want free expression at the University of Chicago; he wants money.”
The editorial finished, he sent a copy off to Paul Carroll. Carroll had had plenty of firsthand experience with Rosenthal’s temper, and he was more than a little apprehensive about what Rosenthal was planning to say. Reading the finished product, though, he realized that Rosenthal had submerged his bitterness and anger almost completely in a document all the more damning for its cool detachment. Carroll wrote back with undisguised relief: “Yr note on the suppression had dignity punch & carried itself very well. . . . Gregory’s letter is tender and bouncy and adds the touch of fireworks which, tho needed, I am glad you weren’t called on to ignite in yr note.”
But before Big Table went to press the student government issued its report. To his horror, Rosenthal found Richard Stern portrayed as a stalwart defender of free speech. He wrote to Paul Carroll, rekindling his anxiety: “I added a paragraph to my editorial on the basis of the SG report, you’ll see it, a real putting down of Stern: it might have been cooler to ignore him, but his emergence from the SG Report as a hero is too much.” Stern as a champion of literary expression? Rosenthal wrote: “Nothing could be further from the truth. After the suppression had been accomplished he was zealous in his support of it, and his justification in the Maroon of December 12, 1958 is composed of lies.” By Rosenthal’s standards, this was restraint. Al Podell, Big Table’s business manager, wrote him bluntly, “Everybody at the [publication] party liked your editorial–they felt it was sensible and mature–not the irate blast they had expected.”
Shortly after Big Table appeared, the Maroon published a scathing review by Robert Lucid, a member of Chicago’s English department. The piece, titled “The Big Table Was Empty,” tried to discredit the magazine as literature. Of Naked Lunch Lucid wrote: “It has a peculiar power; but it is a power that is utterly, even hopelessly uncontrolled . . . a lack of real communication.” On Kerouac: He is “writing as a sort of beat gossip columnist. I got the distressing picture of a lot of people in North Beach bars going through their Big Table to see if they ‘got in.'” On Corso: “Rambling and repetitious . . . doesn’t produce effective imagery.” On Dahlberg: “Amid all this shrillness his voice, quiet, controlled and just a little dull reminds me of an aging lecturer droning on amid the din of an undergraduate dispute. . . . All in all the effect of Big Table is unimpressive.”
Lucid also took Rosenthal to task on extraliterary grounds. He objected to the “real putting down” of Stern, calling Rosenthal’s remark’s “particularly vicious and unjustified. . . . But Irving Rosenthal raises a big question,” Lucid continued. “In my opinion the University–by giving the world the impression that it had knuckled down to the demands of a scandal-happy newspaper gossip–has done more to damage the cause of American letters than could ever have been done by the publication of some writing which is of negligible value.”
The review was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After he read it, Rosenthal sat down and wrote Lucid a long, passionate letter. On its face, it was addressing Lucid’s misapprehensions and misinterpretations of Big Table. But on a deeper level it was addressing Lawrence Kimpton, Richard Stern, and all the lies that had been circulating about him and his work for half a year or more.
“Dear Mr. Lucid: I just got a copy of your review of Big Table yesterday. I thought it was on the whole an honest and thoughtful criticism, and I would like to speak to some of the literary questions you raised. First of all, the only thing the “beat’ writers have in common is their friendship with each other. Their themes are all different, and their literary styles have nothing in common. . . . The main criticism I have of your review is this: it is not enough to look for a way of dismissing these writers, as I felt you did, in spite of the conscientiousness of your review. You must look at their work, and look at it again, until you see what each one is doing, in the uniqueness of his world and style. Then judge them. These writers have set themselves the hardest of all tasks, to set new styles–you didn’t even touch on this in your review, but you judged Burroughs, Kerouac, and Corso by the old standards . . . and for this not to be recognized seems to me akin to discussing works of cubism or impressionism in the framework of realistic, representational painting.”
Rosenthal defended Burroughs at length, episode by episode, practically sentence by sentence. A reader, he told Lucid, has to show patience with the banal in Burroughs. “Of what importance is the wildness of Burroughs, his lack of control, &c. when these are qualities as foreign to his artistic palette as modelling is to Mondrian’s. . . . Don’t you see that Burroughs is no longer interested in maintaining this kind of control–it’s not, I think, that he’s interested in fighting it . . . but that he dispenses with it; he’s interested in other artistic problems.”
Rosenthal wondered, “Where do you think, Mr. Lucid, the power comes from, that sustained me & my staff through the ugliness of the suppression, and the formation of Big Table? I can assure you not from the wish to defy the Chancellor, or for the thrill of having a literary magazine all of our own, or from the knowledge that our freedom was being violated. It came from the power of Burroughs’ prose, and from our determination to print it. And all I can tell you, who thinks it of negligible value, is to read it and re-read it and re-read it, until you finally see what Burroughs is doing.”
The letter written, Rosenthal’s caution, or perhaps fatalism, took over. He decided not to mail it to Lucid. Instead he sent it to Al Podell. He did not want Lucid to have his address, Rosenthal explained, and anyway the letter wouldn’t make the slightest dent. “He is an academic, and what this means is that Joyce is safe now, but that he would have attacked Joyce 25 years ago. Another thing it means (alas) is that I had 15 yr. old kids on my staff with far more sensitivity to literature than Lucid has. He can intellectually say what a piece of writing is saying, he can even characterize it; but he cannot appreciate it, and basically, and the real reason reviews like his are corrupt, he cannot evaluate it. Yes, the third reason I didn’t send it is because that’s what I really wanted to tell him, and my modesty was phoney.”
The most important critical evaluation of Big Table came the day of its publication. Al Podell took 400 copies to Chicago’s main post office, which promptly seized all of them on the suspicion that they were obscene. Paul Carroll’s worst fears were coming true: a drawn-out legal battle that would have to be fought with money he and the magazine did not have. But the ACLU agreed to take the case, and Carroll and Irving Rosenthal went to work lining up expert testimony. One of those Carroll contacted was John Ciardi.
Ciardi was poetry editor at the Saturday Review, then that rarest of beasts, a successful mass-circulation magazine of the arts. “I called John Ciardi on the telephone, told him our problem,” Carroll says. “I said, ‘We’re in big trouble, I’m going to lose my job at Loyola, Irving could go to jail, I could go to jail.’ He wanted to know the whole story. So I gave him all the information. He wrote a terrific editorial and, oh my God, the shit hit the fan!”
Ciardi described Mabley’s attack briefly, then discussed the reaction at the University of Chicago. “In a memorable blow for academic freedom, Chancellor Kimpton summoned then Editor-in-Chief Rosenthal and announced that the material submitted for the winter issue was definitely not to be published. The issue, as Rosenthal reports the Chancellor’s instructions, was to be completely ‘innocuous and noncontroversial’ and it must contain ‘nothing which [sic] would offend a sixteen-year-old girl.'” Then he unleashed the full brunt of his sarcasm on Kimpton. “When has the true role of the American university been more profoundly enunciated? Its intellectual content is to be harmless and innocuous; its final test of moral values is to reside in the sensibilities of a sixteen-year-old girl. The petty-minded may insist that there is still some question as to exactly which sixteen-year-old girl Chancellor Kimpton may have had in mind, but in general, all men of learning and good will must certainly be grateful to Chancellor Kimpton for the depth and courage of his intellectual leadership. . . . Now, as if to confirm Chancellor Kimpton’s standing in the company of men of taste and learning, the scholar-inspectors of the Post Office have entered the picture.”
Even the piece’s title took Kimpton as its target: “The Book Burners and Sweet Sixteen.”
Big Table or San Francisco Review could attack the university; those magazines were read only by beatniks, after all. But this was the Saturday Review, and it was attacking the chancellor personally. And the attack had stopped but a hair shy of accusing the chancellor of interfering with academic freedom. That set the wheels in motion.
Richard Stern dashed off a letter to the editor. Ciardi, Stern wrote, “seems to have relied solely on the editorial preface to the magazine BIG TABLE which is somewhat comparable to making a study of National Socialism on the basis of reading ‘Mein Kampf.'” Stern made the usual points: Obscenity was not a factor, but “a solid year of beat writings constituted a perverse monopoly. . . . Nothing was censored, nothing ever will be censored. But the faculty board will pass on the intellectual responsibility of student editors; those who print the work of cousins, those who print comic strips, and those who rob the till will be asked to either resign or reform.”
Incongruously, Stern then expressed solidarity with the new magazine’s editors. “Recently a number of us saw a Postal Inspector about the proposed banning of BIG TABLE. All of us objected to the proposed banning, and all of us would be willing to testify to the serious intent of the contents.” Paul Carroll wrote to Rosenthal after reading the letter: “Poor beleaguered asshole Stern. When will he learn that to shut yer trap is the only strategy. He has given us $1000 publicity.”
John Ciardi contacted Irving Rosenthal after he received Stern’s letter. He had not received Rosenthal’s reply when he responded to Stern in the July 11 issue of Saturday Review. “Unless Mr. Stern can find a clearer English statement within his English Department, I can only pause dismayed and pass on, especially since the magazine was banned, despite all Mr. Stern’s assertions that there is not and never will be censorship. Is mere suppression somehow less than censorship? It strikes me as curious, moreover, that Mr. Stern should pass on the responsibility of student editors by suppressing their magazine, and then be willing to testify before postal inspectors as to the serious intent of the same material.”
Unfortunately, up to that time Ciardi had only the broadest of outlines of the episode, essentially Rosenthal’s Big Table editorial and what Paul Carroll had told him on the telephone. As a consequence, he had misunderstood the precise nature of Kimpton’s involvement in it. The chancellor took great care during the execution of the suppression to keep his distance from it, and Ciardi had attributed remarks to the chancellor that could not be linked to him decisively. When the editorial appeared, the university reacted immediately. A libel attorney active in New York City publishing circles was consulted about the strength of a possible suit against Saturday Review, and individuals highly placed at the university promised the public relations department that they’d contact friends on Saturday Review’s board of directors. Perhaps John Ciardi could be silenced as Irving Rosenthal had been silenced.
Rosenthal finally sent Ciardi everything that had been written on the affair–everything from the Maroon, an article by Al Podell that had run in the San Francisco Review, the student government report–together with a long letter. “Chancellor Kimpton never spoke to or saw Rosenthal,” Stern had written, and Rosenthal informed Ciardi that this happened to be correct. “The phrases ‘innocuous and noncontroversial’ and ‘nothing which would offend a sixteen-year-old girl’ were used to me by Dean Napier Wilt, who effected the suppression for Chancellor Kimpton. I never spoke with the Chancellor and do not know whether the phrases were invented by him . . . or not. Certainly Dean Wilt intended them to relay the sense of Mr. Kimpton’s wishes.”
Ciardi was suddenly in a difficult position. He had attacked Kimpton–with enormous gusto–on the basis of something the chancellor did not necessarily say. More than a month after “The Book Burners and Sweet Sixteen” appeared, Saturday Review published an apology. At least a semiapology. “Since my editorial . . . it has become clear that some of the material from which I quoted was in error. Chancellor Kimpton, I now believe, did not make the remarks attributed to him and I offer him this statement as a sincere apology for having passed on a misquotation.”
But Ciardi did not let the university completely off the hook. He had read the material Rosenthal had sent him. “I must add in fact,” he concluded, “that the further I look into the history of this suppression, the more confused the case seems to be. The one central fact seems to be that the University did suppress the magazine, but all the unofficial and semi-official statements made to date seem either implausible or self-contradictory.”
A university publicist complained to the chancellor: “Ciardi also hedges on his apology. He does not say Kimpton did not make the statement but that ‘I now believe’ he did not. ‘Misquoted’ suggests that Kimpton did say something that was misunderstood. A man who says nothing is not misquoted; he is a flat victim of misrepresentation.”
But the university pursued the matter no further. Kimpton’s only comment on the Saturday Review appeared in the Maroon. By now, Kimpton had learned the lesson Paul Carroll had suggested for Stern: “Rather than engage in inconsequential controversy, the University of Chicago is content to let its record and reputation speak for it, in the conviction that these are persuasive with all intelligent audiences. As always, the primary concern of the University will be to maintain and defend its intellectual quality and integrity.”
After the Chicago Review passed out of the pages of the Saturday Review the story quickly faded from the public eye. Although the first issue was bogged down in federal court, Big Table was off and running. Rosenthal was busy writing his novel in New York, but he continued to send advice and encouragement to Carroll in Chicago. Carroll’s first issue appeared late in the summer of 1959, and included Ginsberg’s “Kaddish,” selections from Burroughs’s Yage Letters, essays on Burroughs, and works by Antonin Artaud, Brother Antoninus, and others. Rosenthal sent Carroll a note of congratulations and Carroll wrote back, “You say BT2 is far better than Chi Rev Win 58. True. But remember that I had yr other 3 issues to learn from. Believe me: BT2 wouldn’t have been one tenth as good & lively/nor would I have had the editorial courage to print some of the stuff I did/without yr great example before me. I mean it. You were the best Lit. ed. in the States. Compared to yr issues of Chi Rev, [Donald] Allen and [Barney] Rossett [of Evergreen Review] looked slick and a bit vulgar.”
When Big Table was getting started, Paul Carroll told the papers that he would print a sonnet by Richard Nixon if it was good. In a way he made good on that promise. He published a story by Richard Stern. (Stern also gave a reading for the chronically broke magazine.) It was a decision that Carroll’s friends could only shake their heads at in incomprehension. In autumn 1959 Rosenthal wrote Carroll to suggest a “queer issue” of Big Table, with authors like Burroughs, Ginsberg, Hubert Selby Jr., John Rechy, and Ray Bremser. Carroll rejected the idea angrily, unconditionally. This occasioned a falling out between the two old collaborators that lasted nearly a year. In the meantime, most of the other old Review people were leaving Chicago. Suddenly Carroll felt very alone here. And he felt persona non grata at the alma mater he had loved so much, the University of Chicago. At a cocktail party trustee Fairfax Cone snapped, “How dare you disgrace the university!” Carroll wrote Rosenthal about meeting Napier Wilt at another party. “‘Wall [sic] Carroll, it’s been a long time,’ says he. ‘Yes, Dean, we’ve all been very busy,’ says I. Silence. An angel wept.”
In the end, Rosenthal’s “Burroughs strategy” worked out almost exactly as planned. Seeing Naked Lunch so well edited and presented in Big Table 1 persuaded Maurice Girodias and Barney Rosset that their earlier rejections had been ill-considered. Working with Burroughs, Girodias brought out an Olympia Press edition immediately. Rosset hired Rosenthal to edit the full manuscript (a job he found thankless) and Grove Press released Naked Lunch in the United States in 1963. By the end of the decade it was recognized as a masterpiece of American literature. Two of the three authors who would have been published in the ill-fated winter 1959 issue of the Chicago Review, Burroughs and Dahlberg, were later elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. So was Allen Ginsberg.
Lawrence Kimpton took great pride in his handling of the Chicago Review affair. In April 1959 he wrote a friend: “I was just as shocked and annoyed by the Chicago Review as your family was. Perhaps I should tell you that we got rid of the whole board of Editors and have re-established the magazine under firm faculty direction. Every university is bound to have these incidents periodically, but I find it particularly annoying that it should occur here.” He set himself up as an example for university administrators during the student protests of the late 1960s.
And what about Hyung Woong Pak’s Review? Curiously enough, after all of Kimpton’s fire and brimstone about revamping the Review’s relationship with the University of Chicago, no changes were ever made. Pak was never asked to submit a manuscript for prescreening; he was not subjected to the annual review Rosenthal was threatened with. Like Rosenthal, he says he received very little advice or assistance from the faculty board, including its chairman, Richard Stern. “I am free to print whatever I damn please,” he was fond of telling reporters at the time.
For a few months after the suppression the Review was held in suspicion by many authors. The student editors had to write countless letters insisting that the magazine was still completely autonomous, no matter what newspaper and magazine articles were saying. But slowly those authors started coming back. By the mid-60s even Burroughs was willing to publish in the Review, a fact that dismayed Irving Rosenthal.
In August 1960, Paul Carroll received a letter from Irving Rosenthal. After Carroll’s angry dismissal of the “queer issue,” Rosenthal had made up his mind not to write Carroll for a year. But federal judge Julius Hoffman had just ruled that Big Table 1 was not obscene. “Congratulations on your court victory,” Rosenthal wrote, “you did a magnificent, even historical job. For this means that NAKED LUNCH, when it is published, will probably win too, and that will be the complete end of censorship in America. So much for our little amateur attempt to put out an honest magazine that summer when Eila introduced us in that little Italian restaurant on the south side.”
In October 1959, exactly a year after Jack Mabley had started it all, the Maroon published a story about the Review. It did not mention the suppression at all. That was a dead issue on the University of Chicago campus.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Carl Turk, Thomas Lyman, Arthur Siegel, Merrill Palmer.