William S. Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception, 1959-1989

By Jennie Skerl; Robin Lydenberg | Go to book overview

2
The Book Burners and Sweet Sixteen

John Ciardi

T he Chicago Review is a literary quarterly published by the University of Chicago. Last fall, as the editors were preparing their winter issue, a columnist on one of the Chicago newspapers attacked the fall issue as "filthy." The charge called forth a prompt reaction from Chancellor Lawrence A. Kimpton. 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summoned then Editor-in-Chief Rosenthal and announced that the material submitted for the winter issue was definitely not to be published.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."

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.

The student editors of the Review, however, showed no sign of gratitude, and six out of seven of them promptly resigned over so trivial a matter as intellectual freedom. Some of the six thereupon managed to raise private funds, and founded a new magazine called Big Table, the first issue of which published intact the material suppressed by Chancellor Kimpton.

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 Department have entered the picture by seizing 400 copies of Big Table # 1. A hearing scheduled for early

____________________
John Ciardi, "The Book Burners and Sweet Sixteen," Saturday Review ( 27 June 1959): 22, 30. Copyright © 1959 by John Ciardi, and 1989 by Judith Ciardi. Reprinted by permission of Judith Ciardi.

-19-

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