On the Shelf
No one can deny a man's constitutional right, under the First Amendment, to put out a magazine if he feels like it. Such is apparently the inspiration of The Editor, a joint effort of Brown and Harvard undergraduates, and one wonders, leafing through its 28-page first issue, whether an amateur's whim is enough to make a magazine go.
The Editor will, a lead editorial declares, give space to "thoughtful young writers many of whom are previously unpublished" because "there exists no medium sufficiently interested in publishing the work of dawning writers." The Christianity of such a mission deserves admiration, as do all who take a creative pen in hand. But again, is that enough to make a magazine go?
Not a few people of high ideals and good fortune have announced similar purpose, and with almost tedious results they have failed. However much the birth of a new publication may warm the collective heart of the International Typographers Union, a magazine needs to stand for something more concrete than benefaction to ill-used literati. The New Yorker seems to seek out urbanity and reminscence of childhood; The Atlantic at once flirts with the ghost of William Dean Howells and holds hands, perhaps behind her back, with a stable of socially-aware Harvard professors; and Time, we all know, recognizes its peculiar calling with a zest all its own. That The Editor dedicates itself to "dawning" writers may indeed be a disservice in disguise, for, more often than not, a writer is better advised to keep his clothes on until the sun is up. Consequently the void which The Editor claims it will fill perhaps is a blessing in disguise, however cruel a blessing that may seem to our hollow-cheeked and garret-ridden young writers. SurelyThe Advocate is enough--I mean opportunity enough--for ambitious Harvard writers, and too, enough for their sensitive audiences!
Having tackled the problem of themselves, the editors of The Editor tackle the problem of life, and while there is doubtless more room for debate on this issue because it is doubtless a larger problem than themselves, they seem to meet with little succes. First the editors say they recognize that our generation (Are we a generation until we've done something?) is, in this order, silent, apathetic, decadent and delinquent. Then: "Withdrawal is not, for us, a retrogression into apathy; rather it rises from a realization that the secular Utopia is a mirage and that in the complexity of the outer world lies little meaning for the individual."
The big and nasty world of General Motors and General Eisenhower has, in short, proved so confusing and so dumb, so pre-occupied with false values and false gods, that the sensitive soul can only recoil in to himself, where, in a snug world--"the inner world of the human psyche," The Editor calls it--a fellow can find himself and discover the "most meaningful truth." But even in this hallowed precinct, citizen-youth finds no peace, for in withdrawal, today's young people "are endangering society's future" because they are failing to cope with the issues of the cold war. Eventually, in the view of The Editor, history will force crisis upon "our generation" and "that will drive a spark in us to react to the problem."
The only quarrel one can have with this analysis is that they have misrepresented, as did eleven Princeton seniors in The Unsilent Generation (And isn't this silence bit getting confusing now?), the aspirations of their contemporaties. The Editor people say we're silent and inward-directed; the Princeton people, whom they cite with pride, are unsilent and inward-directed. Every-body else is, presumably at least, inward-directed, and all of us are different from our fathers, they say.
Yet I think that the desire to set young America aside as a tragic product of history and economics is nothing so much as it is "our generation's" vanity. There is some sentiment around today that young people, post World War II, parallel in their reaction to their problems the young people of post World War I. Instead of setting up shop at Gertrude Stein's or Pamplona, we are setting up shop inside ourselves, and watch out, brother, we are going to come up with some great literature. This is, I think, an academic approach. All the talk we hear from sources such as The Editor neglects the existence of those of us who don't expect to spend our lives within the confines of a library stall. In short it is a glorification of the academic mind, and however nice it is to see every man have his day, there are those--probably a majority--of "our generation" who can muster at least some strength to deal with the issues of living in a community. There is a lot to be said for the assertion that the self holds less interest for others than do issues which affect everyone. If some of "our generation," silent or unsilent, choose to investigate themselves, that is their choice; but they should not inflict on the world the impression that all young people have found ghastly the prospects of every day life. Perhaps we have sung one too many hosannas over the grave of Dr. Freud.
The quality of stories and poems in The Editor is not at all high, though there are some welcome pieces from the extremely able pen of Arthur Freeman, who in two poems shows his customary grace and imagination with words. Ruth Whitman, too, has contributed an excellent short poem entitled "Aubade." And Robert Johnson, another gifted poet, appears with "A Poem Baltazar Zevakin," which is both funny and visionary.
Two stories comprise what is worth reading in the rest of The Editor. One, in West Indian dialect and called The Prophet, is by Keith Lowe. The story doesn't really overcome the contrived manner of the dialect, which in any tongue has of course been successful only seldom. But it is unusual in its subject, the coming and going, if that's the right word, of a prophet to the Islands. Elaine Ford's The Foil lacks any development of a third character, Berthe, in a love story which is rather nicely handled in her clean style. Yet one has the feeling that none of the stuff in the first issue of The Editor was absolutely crying for publication.