Search the Bulletin

Six Degrees of Jonathan Franzen

By Paul Wachter ’97

Six Degrees of Jonathan Franzen I HAPPENED TO BE WALKING BY AN AIRPORT BOOKSTORE the day in September that Jonathan Franzen’s fourth novel, Freedom, was released. It would have been impossible to miss the advance press—a photo of President Obama carrying a copy, the author on the cover of Time—but still I was surprised to see the book so prominently displayed. Twenty or so copies in a row, showing off the cover: “FREIHEIT.” I had just landed in Berlin. Nearly a decade earlier, his third novel, The Corrections, had received an equally warm reception from the critics and the public. And Franzen’s past decade as a famous literary writer makes it easy to overlook the fact that for most of his writing life he had toiled in relative obscurity.

Possiplex: Ted Nelson ’59 and the Literary Machine

By Mark Bernstein ’77

Possiplex: Ted Nelson ’59 and the Literary Machine In a Wharton Lounge a little more than 50 years ago, a Swarthmore student named Ted Nelson tried to compose a difficult seminar paper. He was overflowing with ideas and awash in distractions, and he was intensely frustrated that these ideas could not be easily organized on paper. He wondered if the recently invented computer might play a role in solving the problem and sketched out some ideas for how a literary machine might facilitate better term papers, better libraries, and indeed a better repository for the world's documents. The pursuit of that idea changed the world. The computer of 1958 was not a likely site for writing. Computers were scarce, expensive, and slow; even 20 years later, all of Swarthmore’s administrative and academic computing needs were satisfied by a single computer with three 1-megabyte disk drives—a machine less powerful than today’s smartphones.

A Balancing Act

By Alisa Giardinelli

A Balancing Act No matter their class year, major, or background, Swarthmore students are driven by their shared passion for fully developing and exploring their academic interests. They are also equally motivated to fitting—make that cramming—as many opportunities and extracurricular activities into their lives at Swarthmore as they possibly can. While some pursuits are purely for fun, others are, perhaps not surprisingly, intimately tied to their intellectual pursuits and achieving their future goals. ­ How do they do it? How do they keep their energy up in the face of Swarthmore’s daunting workload? How do they achieve—and maintain—balance while developing their intellectual and personal potential? How do they establish and build on their shared experiences in a community that is diverse in so many ways? And, in an environment that so highly prizes intellectual rigor, how are they getting the skills they need to prepare them for fulfilling lives and to take leadership roles in the world?

The Janitor and the Judge

By Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe

The Janitor and the Judge When, in spring 2003, Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action Barry Schwartz and William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Political Science Kenneth Sharpe announced that they would be teaching a new course titled Practical Wisdom, students clamored to enroll. The course’s goal was to help the students learn to navigate everyday problems and dilemmas by making “right” decisions based on the use of good judgment and values rather than sterile sets of rules and conventions that typically disregard the individual, the particular, or the discrete. The course, which, Schwartz and Sharpe say, took “three years to plan and a lifetime to arrive at,” was an immediate hit and still is.
Books + Arts

Alumni Works: Read. Listen. Play.

Alumni Works: Read. Listen. Play. Stanley Cowell and Sunny Cowell ’10 (The Stanley Cowell Quartet), Prayer for Peace, Steeplechase, 2010. Sunny Cowell and her father Stanley’s jazz album includes vocals, piano, bass, drums, and viola.
The album marks Stanley’s return to the recording studio after a decade-long break.
In My Life

28 Years Untouched

By Noah Efron ’82

28 Years Untouched After graduation in May 1982, I rented a U-Haul, filled it with my stuff, and unloaded the cartons in my parents’ basement. Weeks later, I flew to Jerusalem to play in a rock-and-roll band and study Arabic—and from there to Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Ethiopia on a Watson Fellowship. At the end of the Watson year, I returned to the States to hire a shipper to move my cartons and guitars to the kibbutz in Israel where I’d decided to live.
Q + A

Not Self

Not Self I began by asking him a favorite question. He replied, of course, by reframing my question and giving a surprisingly frank answer. Tell me about a long-held theory or belief that you no longer hold. I might ask, “Which fundamental ideas that you once held has your study of Buddhism radically transformed?” To go right to the heart of it, our conventional understanding of the Christian God as a Ground of Being who created the world—something fundamental to Biblical faith—has been fundamentally challenged and altered. Buddhism offers a very different way of understanding the nature of the world, of notions regarding ultimate reality and transcendence which, in my case, served to transform my understanding of Christian theology.