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Letters to the Editor

On defending 'intellectual curiosity'

Reading Adam Ollendorf's column titled "Reading deeper than the commercial world" in this morning's paper convinced me to believe not that intellectual curiosity is dead on this campus (because it isn't), but that intellectual snobbery thrives.


The message behind Mr. Ollendorf's piece pivots around his interpretation of a statement that Faulkner is "not all that bad." First, I would say that a student describing work as not that bad is actually a compliment. Anything that is an assignment takes on a negative feeling. It is the nature of compulsory work. Further, the woman Mr. Ollendorf refers to describes the material as a bunch of stories. Without asking her why she described them such, he just assumed that she meant they had little relevance in her life. Perhaps she meant that they were a pleasant diversion from her politics or philosophy thesis. Mr. Ollendorf's assumption is just one of those things we well-educated Princetonians are supposed to avoid.

Mr. Ollendorf continues that Princeton's emphasis on a pragmatic education – courses in economics and the natural sciences – detracts from an intellectual community. At first, I did not understand this assertion. But then I realized that Mr. Ollendorf does not consider curiosity outside the world of fine art and literature as intellectual. Astonishing.

Some of our greatest artists were also scientists. Leonardo is just one example of a great artist and scientist – his depiction of the Vitruvian Man is a tremendous achievement of scientific and artistic value. To suggest that lab science is less important than morality and ethics, as Mr. Ollendorf does, is to suggest that Galileo has had less of an impact on intellectual thought than Kierkegaard or Nietzche.

Furthermore, Mr. Ollendorf places careers in professions such as consulting outside the domain of intellectual. Perhaps I take particular offense to this notion because I am becoming a consultant next year. But, I would ask Mr. Ollendorf, who supports the arts in this nation? For the most part, they are private individuals and foundations who have made their fortunes in big business. The Rockefellers, Carnegies, Annenbergs and many others provide our museums and operas with the funds necessary to continue operation when admission fees don't cut it. Without such generosity from business the arts in the nation would become extinct.

Princeton University is a bastion of thought, knowledge and intellectual curiosity. Every day I walk across campus I wonder how can I be here among such amazing people. My friends are performing symphonic concerts, conducting AIDS and cancer research and striving toward success on Wall Street and Main Street. Someone who doesn't recognize this needs to remove his nose from a yellowed tome in Firestone and take a stroll through Cannon Green on a sunny afternoon. Jay Victor '98