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New University Thought

Autumn, 1961

By Frederick H. Gardner

With this issue New University Thought jumps into its second year of publication. The Chicago quarterly has thus far proven that a literate intellectual forum can sell on the newsstands. But the Autumn edition of NUT also forewarns that financial survival will not insure a sustained growth of quality. For this time the political analyses are flat, the reviews are simple-minded, and the writing is erratic.

The opening editorial offers yet another re-statement of purpose. Complaining that "intellectual and radical thinking"--(please; they are not synonomous) has always failed to identify itself as part of the American scene, the editors express the same painful self-consciousness that has isolated the intellectuals they criticize.

Then, having promised a study of America "as Americans," the magazine feels obligated to turn an ordinary review of a foreign film into an article grandly entitled "The human condition and the film of Europe and America." Actually, Alan Casty's outline of General Della Rovere is an accurate synopsis of the plot and theme of Rossellini's movie. But Casty slights the director's real masterpieces, Paisan and Open City, adding: "it has only been with. . .General Della Rovere that he has produced a film of real stature, a film whose symbols of all our world are not overt and strained." In his unflagging admiration, the reviewer praises Rossellini's wastefulness in the first part of the film, implicitly credits him for De Sica's fine acting, and concludes with a non-sequitur referring to On The Waterfront (an American film, you see). Such tangential nationalism is not only confusing but self-satirical.

NUT regularly devotes space to "the student movement," but unlike the New Yorker's Talk of the Town, the gossip of the left losses its freshness. Beginning a symposium on the student community, Herbert Mills, a former vice-chairman of SLATE at the University of California, says little that Otto Feinstein didn't say better in the previous issue. Mills discusses the oft-made point that contemporary student protests are moral rather than political. He reasons that the student regards himself as a political "out," and is thus forced to couch his comment in a radical, demonstrative yet non-political way. Presumptuously though, Mills assumes that the liberal segments of society will probably be responsive when the students (through a freedom ride, a peace march, an anti-HUAC demonstration) make their grievances clear.

Mills avoids any discussion of right-wing student political activity on the (double) standard grounds that (1) it doesn't exist and (2) it is initiated from the adult conservative community. Another article, though, reports on "The Right at NSA." This well-written piece on how the little conservatives operated at Madison amusingly conveys a sense of the Big Mission and petty opportunism that YAF hopefuls revealed at the Congress. But again, the piece falls short of analytical clarity: the broader tactics are not explored, and finally it is unclear whether YAF is being accused of attempted sabotage or usurpation.

Phillip Altbach, national chairman of the Student Peace Union continues the symposium on the student movement with a piece that says nothing at all. Well, perhaps that is unfair to Mr. Altbach, who manages to use the word commit(ment) five times in three paragraphs, and urges student leaders to be sly because they are ultimately dependent on adults for respectability, money, co-operation and support.

The whole package of in-group chatter concludes with a provocative (that word, generally a euphemism, applies in this case) request that "we" (a pronoun Mr. Kofsky uses very offensively) ought to like Ray Charles more than Sonny Terry, because he's more authentic. His two points, that white intellectuals have created for themselves a dreamy and gratifying image of the nonviolent Negro, and have foolishly rejected the beat protest, are made arrogantly. His snottiness would indeed be unbearable if one couldn't detect an undercurrect of self-disgust in Kofsky himself.

Perhaps the editors decided that they could compensate for the informal tone of all the previous articles by Don Villarejo's heavily documented (17 tables) commentary on "Stock Ownership and the Control of Corporations." Part II of Villarejo's thesis (one more segment to go) is a well-assembled demolition of People's Capitalism. Making a point that the left-wing economist Victor Perlo made before him in an attack on Kuznets, Villarejo avoids the biases of Perlo's data and the pitfalls of his oratory. The only author in the present issue who is writing from a posture of academic accomplishment, Villarejo lets statistics make the point for him that widening stock ownership has not brought about diversified control of American corporations.

Finally, Albert Sciaki's review of The American Dream, like Altbach's condescending advice, is almost unworthy of publication. Of course there are plenty of intellectuals hungry for a theater that will offer up some good satire; but most would rather starve than gorge to death on the trivia of Edward Albee. Sciaki loves the play because "the supports of American middle class life are battered one by one." He fails to see that Albee isn't a really political playwright, and that his "attack" is limited to the images rather than the supports of middle-class life. Moreover, Albee's vaunted satirical dialogue is far less trenchant or amusing than the gab of I Love Lucy, let alone the biting one-acters of Ring Lardner, which Albee so weakly emulates.

It can still be said that New University Thought outdistances the recent swath of publications with which it is perenially compared, and that its academic and social potential has already been proven. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions and low standards.

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