WHAT magazine has published the work of John Dos Passos, SinW clair Lewis and Rudyard Kipling, currently lists Eugene Ionesco, George Gilder and Irving Kristol on its advisory board, costs $8 an issue, pays up to $1,500 an article, and tells prospective contributors it is looking for translations, memoirs and "no Barth, Doctorow, Styron, Kosinski, Talese, Roth, Capote, Updike, Mailer, Gardner, Oates--and certainly not those who sound like them"?

The answer to this riddle--and the improbable cause of a lively fracas pitting one of the nation's oldest universities against a young Russian e'migre' with backing from the New Right--is the Yale Literary Magazine, otherwise known as the Lit.

Reduced to its dramatic essence, the story has a familiar ring: an aristocratic Yankee father, a much-loved daughter, an unsuitable suitor, and a bitter battle. Yale, the paternal figure in the case, has been trying to effect a quick and quiet divorce between the "old lady in brown," as the Lit used to be called, and 26-year-old Andrei Navrozov, who has been running the magazine for four years and insists the relationship is for keeps.

University officials say the Lit is a student publication and Navrozov is a nonstudent, and that's that. But Navrozov, who graduated from Yale in 1978, says his real sin is the ideological one of challenging "the liberal Democratic monopoly on culture" led by such institutions as the New York Review of Books and the New York Times, not to mention Yale itself.

Navrozov bought the Lit for $1 from an organization called Yale Banner Inc., whose major enterprise, then as now, was the Yale yearbook. "No one else wanted to touch this ghost with many liabilities and no assets," he says. "It took a Russian idiot to buy it." An expatriate whose family fled the Soviet Union a decade ago, Navrozov took over "America's oldest review" at a sorry moment when it had only 25 subscribers and had been appearing with growing infrequency.

Since then, with well over $500,000 in contributions from the Scaife Family Charitable Trusts, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Dow Chemical Co., the Hunt Foundation and such individual backers as philanthropist Paul Mellon and Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige, Navrozov has built the Lit into an elegantly produced, four-color quarterly, and, what's more, one of a small but apparently growing cluster of "alternative" college publications that have drawn support from a pool of conservative donors.

Last spring, reacting to a raft of articles about the transformed Lit, the university issued a new set of rules for student organizations. The rules impose strict limits on outside fund-raising, and specify, for the first time, that "only registered students in good standing at Yale College" may hold office or make policy decisions. In response, the Lit has refused to register with the university for the current year, and it has gone to court in quest of an injunction that would bar Yale from any attempt to enforce the Lit's compliance. And it has kept on publishing.

As Navrozov tells it, university officials never objected to his original purchase, dealt with him in a routine manner for three years and "knew exactly what we were doing" until the anti-Soviet, culturally iconoclastic thrust of the Lit began offending the wrong people, who began complaining. The issue of his non-student status is a subterfuge, he says, for "cultural bigotry" and a desire "that we should all be Greenwich Village, or Greenwich, Connecticut, proletarians." When the Yale Daily News called on the university to "give the students back their Lit," it was following the pattern of Communist regimes which, in Navrozov's words, "take away someone else's property in order to return it to The Only True Owner, the People."

In more temperate tones, former treasury secretary William E. Simon speaks of "deceptive practices" on Yale's part. "The facts seem to be that the Yale Literary Magazine was purchased in good faith," he says, "and only when it became apparent that the magazine was an organ of conservative thought did the university stoop to changing the rules . . . But these actions are not surprising. We went through the same thing with the Dartmouth Review."

Simon is president of the Olin Foundation and a cofounder of the 3-year-old Institute for Educational Affairs, which has given seed money to 16 college-affiliated journals, including the Yale Lit, the Yale Free Press, the Yale Political Monthly, the Harvard Salient, the St. John's Review, the Dartmouth Review, Princeton's Madison Report and George Washington University's Sequent.

The institute was created by Simon and social critic Irving Kristol to help "bring business and academia together into a new relationship," according to program officer Ken Jensen. "Quite frankly, this is on the thesis that corporations have for a very long time been putting their money into things that are fundamentally anti-business in character," Jensen explains. "We propose to offer an alternative to that."

The Yale administration, from president A. Bartlett Giamatti on down, has taken a vow of silence since Navrozov filed his lawsuit, but Yale general counsel Lindsey Kiang insists that any ideological reading of the Lit question is "absolute nonsense."

"The issues are fairly simple," he says. "For 150 years the Yale Literary Magazine has been a student organization . . . An undergraduate organization can have the involvement and the advice of outsiders or alumni or whoever they want, but it is supposed to be controlled by undergraduates. That's always been the interpretation. The regulations that are currently in effect just spell it out much more clearly.

"The university is not in the business--and does not intend to be in the business--of selling off student organizations," Kiang says.

Others, even among those who would like Yale to "recapture" the Lit from its present management, take a less charitable view of the university's conduct to date. "I really think Yale was asleep at the switch when they allowed this young man to purchase it like that," says New Yorker magazine writer Brendan Gill (Yale '36), who oversaw a 100th anniversary issue of the Lit with contributions from Sinclair Lewis (class of '08), Thornton Wilder ('20), Archibald MacLeish ('15), and playwright Philip Barry ('19). "We thought we were Christ risen," says Gill with a touch of whimsy, "and looking back on it, maybe we were."

Under Navrozov, the Lit has run advertisements invoking many of the luminous names from its past. But Gill complains that "all those people, of course, would have an absolute fit in heaven" if they could see today's Lit.

Whether or not Navrozov's ideology has motivated his opponents, it has certainly annoyed some of them. The Lit has become "a vehicle for the expression of nostalgia about the old days in Russia, mostly uttered by the members of one family, and I would like to see it back in the hands of Yale students," says writer John Hersey, a classmate of Gill's and an adjunct professor of English at Yale. Alumni who have donated money to the Lit lately may have done so, Hersey suggests, under the mistaken impression that they were supporting the undergraduate publication of old. "I don't know the exact details of the legal situation," he adds, "but whatever they are, it seems to me that Yale has a moral right to recover what purports to be a magazine coming from Yale."

The critics frequently home in on the writings of Navrozov's father, Lev Navrozov, who, before his emigration, was "the only Russian by birth allowed by the government to translate into English," according to his son. In one recent issue, the elder Navrozov took up the question of American naivete' about the Soviet Union, describing the New York Times, in this context, as "but a ship of fools tossing upon a sea of witlessness." The article was said to be an excerpt from a forthcoming book called "What the New York Times Knows About the World."

While the Lit has published several articles by undergraduates in the Navrozov years, it has generally favored the work of anti-modernist writers, critics, and social commentators without current Yale connections. Besides Lev Navrozov, recent authors have included Lewis H. Lapham, George Gilder, Annie Dillard, Bryan Griffin and Sir Ernst Gombrich.

The Lit "is concerned with high culture in all its manifestations," says Navrozov. "It opposes philistinism, musty ideas and partisanship in its most widespread and lowest form. The things it opposes are the things the fabric of modern American culture is woven of, I'm afraid . . . Of course we are anti-Soviet, but who isn't?"

"It's very peculiar," he adds, "that I, who came to this country because I couldn't voice these views in my own country, should find myself criticized once again for voicing these views here."