The Origin of String Theory

The article on string theory in Columbia College Today was great. I was surprised, however, that you did not give credit to the origin of string theory: The Fates. As you recall, Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis determines its length, and Atropos cuts it off. I think this completes your theory, since now you know what was before string.

Greg Pauxtis '77, M.D.

Getting Together After All These Years

Recently I had an extremely pleasant reunion with a fellow Columbian whom I hadn't seen since he left the campus back in 1931, a year before my own Commencement. I think the circumstances of our meeting may be of interest.

It was suggested to me that I might wish to write to some of my Columbia contemporaries to tell them about the new Center for Jewish Student Life which is being built on 115th Street. Among those I solicited was Dan Lipsky '31. Dan was a sophomore when I entered the College back in 1928, and he rushed me to join his fraternity, Beta Sigma Rho. As time went on, he was elected to the position of Chancellor to lead the fraternity, and I in turn was chosen as his successor. So ours was an unusually close and warm relationship. But once we left the campus, we entered upon different careers and lived in different communities, and so lost track of each other.

How pleased I was, therefore, when Dan immediately responded to my appeal on behalf of the Center for Jewish Student Life with a very substantial donation which he generously inscribed in my honor.

And now we have renewed our relationship over a reminiscence-filled lunch on campus, along with Rabbi Charles Scheer, Columbia's Jewish chaplain of many years' standing, and Joanne Ben-Avi, director of development for the Kraft Center and the Jewish Student Life Fund. Together we proudly visited the site of the Center and looked forward to the day it would provide a splendidly appropriate milieu for generations of Jewish students at Columbia and Barnard to celebrate their centuries-old heritage, at least partly as a result of our efforts and those of many other alumni who have given their support to this important endeavor. And it also brought me together again with a dear old friend.

Lloyd Seidman '32

On Charles Van Doren

I was particularly taken with the letter you published from Michael Messer '59 in the September issue. Not just because it was well written, but also because I was the alumnus responsible for persuading Charles Van Doren to accept our class invitation. I too put some thoughts on the event on paper, and I am attaching a copy:

Sic Transit Gloria - Sometimes It's Morningside Heights. 40th Reunion of Columbia College Class of '59. After an absence of 40 years, Charles Van Doren - a teacher almost everyone in the audience had studied under during our undergraduate days - accepted our invitation to speak to our alumni group on this particular occasion. He opened his comments by explaining that he agreed to talk to us this morning because he felt in many ways it was his 40th reunion as well. He starting teaching at the College when we entered in 1955 and left in 1959. He also received his Ph.D from Columbia in 1959 and his revered father, Mark Van Doren, retired from Columbia in 1959.

He then proceeded to deliver a profound lecture that was dazzling in both style and content. It was as intellectually stimulating a 25 minutes as anyone in the audience had ever heard - whether in college or out. He picked up where he left off 40 years ago. Clarifying for us the genius of such philosophers as Aristotle and Socrates. Showing us how to apply their wisdom in order to improve our daily lives and effectively plan for our futures. When he finished his prepared remarks, the entire audience rose to their feet as if they were one person and gave him a thunderous ovation. The audience's response brought tears to Charles Van Doren's eyes. Both the audience and he quickly settled down and the session was opened to questions. For the next 45 minutes he answered question after question about some of the observations and suggestions he had made. Interestingly, there was not one question - not one - that might have been considered tastelessly personal. The tone he had established was too elegant, the lessons he was trying to teach us too captivating.

In trying to understand his tears, I began to realize the magnitude of the lost opportunities to so many that had been caused by Charles Van Doren's fame. His fame stemmed from being one of the first truly national television celebrities as well as one of the first of those celebrities who faked out most of America. He broke no laws, he just broke our innocence - and for this he was banished for life from academia. The losers were the thousands and thousands of students who were deprived of his wisdom and inspirational capabilities. As well as, of course, Charles Van Doren, who was moved to tears, I think, because he knew how great a teacher he could have been had it not been for his celebrity.

In this day and age of frenzied celebrity worship and wide acceptance of seeking fame for its own sake, the example of Charles Van Doren is more relevant than ever. The wrong kind of fame - no matter how benign - can be a curse that only its fleeting away can cure. In fact, perhaps the coiners of the phrase, "How fleeting is fame," were trying to say that the fleetingness of fame is the good news - not the bad news, as most contemporaries consider it to be.

Clive Chajet '59

Charles Van Doren (CCT, September 1999) had indicated that "...myths are stories that are so true they can never happen." In other words, a myth is as good as a mile.

John C. DiJohn, M.D. '48, '53 P&S


As usual I enjoyed the CCT I just received. What thrilled me most was to read about my old prof, Dr. Van Doren. When the movie about him came out a few years ago, I was moved to write the enclosed letter to the editor of the Washington Post. As the letter to the paper [printed October 7, 1994] indicated, he was a great teacher, ranking in my book with Sommers (CC), Gross (propulsion), Friedman (aerodynamics), and Castelli (fluid mechanics). You should conduct a poll on great teachers and welcome reminiscences from your readers.

One of the Best Teachers Ever
Joe Queenan's "The Gauge of Innocence" made light of the downfall of Charles Van Doren (subject of the new movie Quiz Show) by pretending to search for the date when America lost its innocence (Outlook, Sept. 18).

I know when I lost my innocence: when Mr. Van Doren was disgraced. I went to Columbia College, where Mr. Van Doren taught. During the two or three years between his rise and fall, he was my professor for humanities, a required course in the Great Books. He was one of the best teachers I ever had. He conducted his class in Socratic style, teaching us by asking the right questions and guiding us to learn on our own. Gentle, incisive, witty, enormously well-read, he was a giant among giants.

One Van Doren incident I will never forget. He called each student Mr. So-and-so (Columbia was all-male then) and kept a formal, even stiff posture. Nevertheless, when he spoke at my high school in Philadelphia about a year after my undistinguished presence in his class, he noticed me in the audience and referred to me by my nickname, not my first name or my last name. Evidently, he had heard the other students call me that and remembered it. To make the moment magic, I was accompanied by high school friends who had gone to other colleges. They had not believed my claim that Mr. Van Doren was my teacher. How sweet it was.

I won't be seeing the movie.

Marshal Greenblatt '61, '62E

Editor's Note: Marshal Greenblatt offers an excellent suggestion regarding recollections of faculty members, so consider yourselves polled. Any alumnus/alumna with thoughts about a favorite professor and his/her influence over the years is encouraged to submit a brief reminiscence to: Columbia College Today, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 917, New York, NY 10115. We look forward to reading your responses, and while we may not be able to print all of them, we look forward to printing a representative sample in future issues.

Another Teacher Who Struck A Responsive Chord

Now and again over the years since my undergraduate days, I have idly wondered what some of the superb junior faculty who taught a number of my classes went on to do in later life. I was delighted to see, browsing Class Notes as I always do, a reference to Abe Loft '42.

Abram Loft was my Music Humanities teacher in the Spring of 1947, and though I already knew quite a bit about serious music and had begun to develop some degree of taste, it was his enthusiastic performance at the front of the room that gave me the beginnings of the breadth and depth of understanding that have made the love of music a most important element of my life. He was truly a performer, both as a teacher and a violist, as was clear from the start. With a little help from the texts - From Madrigal to Modern Music and Music in Western Civilization, both of which I still treasure - he spoke seemingly extemporaneously with enthusiasm and structure in such a way as to pass along his own love for the subject, and he often brought his viola and used it to illustrate one or more points far more effectively than any recording could do. He also introduced me to William Primrose's performance of Berlioz's intense and brooding Harold in Italy, with which I have pestered my wife lo these many years!

He was young then, but I had no idea at the time that he was so recent a graduate, not that much older than many of us in the class. It is indeed a pleasure to learn that he went on to quite a distinguished career at the Eastman School and with the Fine Arts Quartet, but I'm truly sorry that I have not, since that Humanities B section, heard him play again. I hope he continues to enjoy good health and good music in his well-earned retirement.

Joseph B. Russell '49

Some Notes of Thanks

Congratulations on the "new look." I like, also, your editorial efforts. Thank you.

John J. Keville '33

The tribute you wrote to my father (Clifton Fadiman '25: An Erudite Guide to the Wisdom of Others, September 1999) is one of the best things anyone has ever written about him. I will keep and treasure it. Thank you.

Anne Fadiman

Editor's note: The writer, Clifton Fadiman's daughter, is editor of The American Scholar.

I'm thrilled with your beautiful page about my watercolors (The small, quiet worlds of Donald Holden '51, September 1999)! The reproductions are surprisingly good, far better than any magazine that's published my work in the past. The text is an excellent condensation of the essentials - right on target. And the layout of the page is elegant. You've done a superb job!

My thanks and my best regards.

Donald Holden '51

Remembering Boris Todrin

Boris Todrin '37, summed up in your Spring '99 obituary column as "retired advertising executive," was much more than that. He published six books of poetry and four novels in his lifetime.

Boris Todrin's first book of poems appeared when he was 17, and he won a poetry scholarship to Columbia, where he edited The Columbia Review. After earning his BA and MA here, with high honors, Boris became a reporter and feature writer for PM and Middle East war correspondent for its successor, the New York Star. His second novel, Paradise Walk, was recommended for the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger by Andre Gide, and he was sponsored for a Guggenheim by such other minor writers as Somerset Maugham, John Dos Passos, and Thornton Wilder. He was also a four-time fellow at the Macdowell Colony.

When his fourth novel, Aphrodite and the Old Dude (the title sounds like an obit for our surviving classmates), and his sixth book of poetry, Light on the Porch, were published simultaneously in England in 1994, Anthony Burgess remarked that he knew of no other instance when "a truly major novel and book of poetry by the same author appeared at the same moment."

Boris Tudrin, who is survived by his wife Vivien, his daughter Edwina Jenckes and two grandchildren, is remembered by his classmates as a fine poet and writer, not just a "retired advertising executive."

Wally Schaap

Editor's Note: The writer served for many years as Class of '37 correspondent for CCT.

The Oxford Oath

Am I the only one who remembers the Oxford Oath (refusal to go to war under any circumstances)? When questioned, nobody my age seems to remember it.

A little research shows that on April 12, 1935, 60,000 students took part in a nationwide strike for peace. At Columbia, 3,000 students took the Oxford Oath that day at a rally featuring Roger Baldwin, Reinhold Niebuhr and James Wechsler '35 as speakers.

My time at Columbia began Sept. 1935, but I seem to remember a rally with the Osford Oath in my freshman year. Is there a record of that?

Of course, almost all renounced the pledge as soon as World War II began.

Saul Ricklin '39

Editor's note: Alumni who can shed light on this are invited to write to CCT.

A Columbia Connection To the "Colonial Boys?"

Early in the American Revolutionary War things were going badly. Gen. Washington was unable to get the individual colonies to send enough men or money to sustain the fight. At this critical juncture the French King Louis XVI agreed to assist the Colonials. He sent his best fighting units, the Walsh and Dillon companies of the "Irish Brigade." Can anyone disprove that these famed "Colonial Boys" who turned the tide in the American Revolution were the relatives of Edward "Bud" Dillon and John "Bub" Walsh of the fine Class of '43? And, not surprisingly, both showed their fighting prowess on the Baker Field baseball diamond.... "You could look it up."

Joe Kelly '43

Some Verse for A Poet

Can you use the attached lines for Bob Lax? He relished, or did, such stories about Mark Van Doren as this glimpse of the referential fault lines between even happily wed poets:

For Lax
How great to have your news of Lax! He'll savor this, and you may, too:

One summer day, back from the war,
a buck instructor,
I dropped in on Mark Van Doren's
house in Cornwall,
and his son Charles
pointed out where
his father was at work.
"Will he mind this?" I asked.
"You'd know that," he said,
"better than I."
I went there, greeting Mark
through an open window,
and was let in -
his eye rolling
to the wordhoard
I'd pulled him from.
Quite soon he found an action
that would take him back.
"You've met my wife?
No? Oh, you must."
And led the way
to the main house.
On the stoop he scooped up
and lodged beside his head a cat
and took me to his wife.
"This," he said, "is Mr . Grant Keener
of Columbia University."
With a half-smile
she worried this, studying him
with not a glance at me.
He stared at her, nonplussed.
The tableau froze.
We could've been there yet,
had I not seen
my tee shirt and chinos
were like her son's,
who was my build and coloring.
What was this cat by poet's head
she saw she should recall,
her son in on the joke?
I rescued her:
"I'm Grant Keener," I said,
startling her by who I wasn't.
And all made clear, I came away.

Grant Keener '41
Editor, Jester '41

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