The Yale Lit. has returned, but not in the form that some Chronicles readers may remember from the early 80’s, when Andrei Navrozov was editor. The undergraduate magazine (est. 1836) he turned into a national quarterly of arts, letters, and politics finished its run through the courts in 1986 and has now returned to the hands of Yale undergraduates.

For most of its 150-year history The Yale Literary Magazine was an independent, privately funded magazine edited by and for Yale undergrads. When in 1978 it seemed to be going under for a final time, due to lack of student interest and lack of funds, Yale senior Navrozov and some fellow students bought it for the token sum of one dollar. At that point they had the university’s blessing. But when the magazine they produced proved to have both metered poetry and funding from some conservative foundations, this was too much for the Yale English department. They were hearing heresy from what they felt to be their own pulpit.

John Hollander, John Hersey and the like, with the help of then Yale President A. Bartlett Giamatti, decided to put the magazine out of business. Their strategy was to vilify the magazine’s editors and to change the rules that defined Navrozov’s legal relationship to the university. Once the matter went to court Yale’s deep pockets were paired against the fundraising/PR machine of one Russion émigré and his American wife. The case went to the Connecticut Supreme Court, but he who has the more expensive lawyers will always win. Yale did its best to focus the debate on the deprived undergraduates, but the core issue was always censorship, as some early-on, unguarded comments by people like Professor Hollander show. At Yale “academic freedom” is a real oxymoron.

All that is ancient history, and it has been over six years since I spent part of my senior year testifying not only as one of the Lit.’s student editors but as the corporate publisher’s third officer. Most people insisted students didn’t exist at the Lit., or were only shills for Navrozov. But I learned the basics of editing and copyediting there, and about hot type and four-color printing, and the only time I had any luck getting a piece out of Annie Dillard was when I was 19 and at the Lit., though I’ve been trying ever since.

I remember thinking, my first week at Yale, that I could do anything I wanted, and that what I wanted to do was work on a magazine. But I also remember thinking that I’ll be hanged if I’m going to waste my time writing for some newsprint horror with purposefully ugly charcoal drawings and poetry that goes like this: “peepholes get bolted to the eyes / throttled with an archipelago of squats / drizzling hosiery about the floor / the trumpets trumpets of strumpets / finger the clotted lips / oh crank out an overture on that organ grinder / would you / will not faint I will not faint I will not . . . “

I ended up working with Andrei Navrozov and his wife, Kathleen Kilpatrick, because they were serious: they were putting out a magazine for adults, running poetry and essays by the likes of Philip Larkin and E.M. Cioran and Lewis Lapham, reproducing art by Ferdinand Botero and Tamara de Lempicka. What the Lit. is publishing now is that poem above. The back cover of the winter 1989 issue shows a young man in a hospital bed, with his half-shaved head banded by some steel contraption; evidently he is recovering from brain surgery. It is the exploitation of disease masquerading as art a la Diana Arbus; it is the great fin de siecle Yale undergraduate aesthetic, and it stinks.

Yale fought us bitterly to win back the Lit. “in trust for the students,” and the students now editing the Lit. are repaying this trust in full. Because Navrozov’s terrible crime was to “ignore” Yale undergrads, it is important to Andrew Cohen, Yale ’91 and the present publisher, to emphasize that his editorial board is independent of any adult. But his first issue featured an interview with French Professor Denis Hollier (“How did you become interested in Sartre?”) and future plans include a similarly amiable chat with Harold Bloom, Yale’s most influential critic. Andrew and his friends have learned the all-important number-one lesson of journalism: that flattery takes on a whole new dimension when it’s typeset, and that the publicity of the press is really, really helpful in winning friends and influencing people.

I want to go on record as taking back every snide comment I’ve ever made about student protesters in the 60’s: nothing is so terrifying as the modern Yalie’s love for quid pro quo.

Perhaps I should not blame Andrew Cohen and his friends so much, you say: their Lit. is no different from any other college magazine, and as for what they know about the old Lit., they are just parroting back what their elders have told them, and what more can you expect? But let me quote what Andrew said in full, when I asked him what he thought of Navrozov’s era at the magazine: “I don’t want to comment,” he began, but then continued: “I don’t want to make any political statement. I will say that I think the Lit. should reflect the interest and concerns and problems and discourse of the Yale undergraduate community, and under Navrozov it didn’t. I also think the Yale art community should be represented—and the Yale art community wasn’t represented in the pasty pastel landscapes that surrounded Navrozov’s editorial.”

I’ve been trying to think which issue he could have seen: the one with Botero? William Bailey? Elie Nadelman? Igor Galanin? For those of you who haven’t seen the new Lit., Andrew’s comment above, his nicely distilled hatred of anything beautiful, should give you the idea. You may believe that a magazine founded by Yale students should be under the thumb of the Dean’s office, which is what “back to the students” has meant in practical terms; or you may hate all Russians and all conservatives—I don’t care, we could still have a conversation. But what do you do with a person who cannot understand why de Lempicka is wonderful while Hannaline Rogenberg’s oil of a nude woman carrying a nude woman corpse on the back of the Spring 1989 newly-revived-and-purified all-undergraduate Yale Literary Magazine is not? I could deconstruct my English, I could take a stab at “discourse”; but even then the Lit.‘s new editors would not understand.