Take Five with Will Heinrich ’99

Will Heinrich_cropped
Will Heinrich ’99 writes about art for The New York Times. He has also written for The New Yorker, Hyperallergic and GalleristNY. Heinrich’s novel The Pearls was published in December; his novel The King’s Evil won a 2004 PEN/Bingham Fellowship.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I was very, very innocent.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I remember the television room on John Jay 4, where people used to watch Seinfeld reruns at 11:00. I hadn’t been in the habit of watching TV before bed, but I couldn’t help stopping in to join the crowd. I started watching Friends, too, because it came on at 11:30, and I often still embarrass myself by remarking, after someone has shared a real-life anecdote: “Something like that happened on Friends.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

It’s not strictly the Core, but I often say that Oriental Humanities, the year-long great books seminar that was an East and South Asian analogue to both CC and Lit Hum, was the best class I ever took. I had Professor Wm. Theodore de Bary ’41, GSAS’53, who had also been my mother’s professor when she was at Barnard; it was his class that inspired her to get a Ph.D. in Modern Japanese Poetry, which led to my spending part of my childhood in Tokyo. For whatever reason — maybe in part because of this early exposure to Japanese culture, or maybe from years of judo practice — I found that I related much more deeply to the ideas I encountered in this course than I did to the highlights of Western philosophy. Apart from the ways that, say, the Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu influenced my basic approach to the world, a thorough grounding in the ways of thinking of a different hemisphere give me a much broader perspective on the mostly Western ideas I deal with now as an art critic.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I love Alma Mater’s position — she’s like a Chinese emperor gazing down on creation. I’ve also always loved the Maison Française, though I’m not sure I ever entered it. If I remember right, it’s a leftover from the Bloomingdale Asylum, which Columbia agreed not to tear down, and I think it’s the incongruous detail that makes the grand but slightly overbearing design of lower campus really sing.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

Oh, man, many things — but all of them my fault.