Fifty-five years ago, The New York Review published its first issue. To celebrate the magazine’s emerald anniversary, in 2018 we will be going through the archives year by year, featuring some of the notable, important, and sometimes forgotten pieces that appeared in its pages. You can follow us on social media (Facebook and Twitter) for links to archival highlights along with the newest articles, and you can sign up for our twice-weekly email newsletter for periodic updates.
In September 1966, the twenty-five-year-old civil rights activist and head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee published this essay defining the goals of the black power movement.
For too many years, black Americans marched and had their heads broken and got shot. They were saying to the country, “Look, you guys are supposed to be nice guys and we are only going to do what we are supposed to do—why do you beat us up, why don’t you give us what we ask, why don’t you straighten yourselves out?” After years of this, we are at almost the same point—because we demonstrated from a position of weakness. We cannot be expected any longer to march and have our heads broken in order to say to whites: come on, you’re nice guys. For you are not nice guys. We have found you out. »
In the Review’s February 23, 1966 issue, Noam Chomsky published a 12,000-word essay on “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” “We can hardly avoid asking ourselves,” Chomsky wrote, “to what extent the American people bear responsibility for the savage American assault on a largely helpless rural population in Vietnam… As for those of us who stood by in silence and apathy as this catastrophe slowly took shape over the past dozen years—on what page of history do we find our proper place?” In this exchange later that spring, George Steiner pressed Chomsky on the question of what political or personal actions ought to be taken to end the war.
GS: I write to express my admiration for your lucid and compelling essay. But I write also to ask what your next paragraph would be? The mendacities which surround us need exposure. But what then? You rightly say that we are all responsible; you rightly hint that our future status may be no better than that of the acquiescent intellectual under Nazism. But what action do you urge or even suggest?
NC: I do feel that the crucial question, unanswered in the article, is what the next paragraph should say. I’ve thought a good deal about this, without having reached any satisfying conclusions. I’ve tried various things—harassing congressmen, “lobbying” in Washington, lecturing at town forums, working with student groups in preparation of public protests, demonstrations, teach-ins, etc., in all of the ways that many others have adopted as well. The only respect in which I have personally gone any further is in refusal to pay half of my income tax last year, and again, this year. My own feeling is that one should refuse to participate in any activity that implements American aggression—thus tax refusal, draft refusal, avoidance of work that can be used by the agencies of militarism and repression, all seem to me essential. »
“I and my colleagues have been happily torn from a long nap by the energy of rock,” composer Ned Rorem wrote in January 1968, “principally as embodied in the Beatles. Naturally I’ve grown curious about their energy. What are its origins? What need does it fill?”
I never go to classical concerts any more and I don’t know anyone who does. It’s hard still to care whether some virtuoso tonight will perform the Moonlight Sonata a bit better or a bit worse than another virtuoso performed it last night. But I do often attend what used to be called avant-garde recitals, though seldom with delight, and inevitably I look around and wonder: what am I doing here? Where are the poets and painters and even the composers themselves who used to flock to these things? Well, perhaps what I am doing here is a duty, keeping an ear on my profession so as to justify the joys of resentment, to steal an idea or two, or just to show charity toward some friend on the program. But I learn less and less. Meanwhile the absent artists are at home playing records; they are reacting again, finally, to something they no longer find at concerts. Reacting to what? Why, to the Beatles, of course, whose arrival I believe is one of the most healthy events in music since 1950. »