Arthur Szathmary, professor emeritus of philosophy, passed away on July 1, 2013
I never realized this, but I must have been in one of his last classes, because I graduated in '86. His Philosophy of Art class was one of my favorites at Princeton. If memory serves me correctly, my father Ruben, '56, also took Philosophy with him and remembered him fondly. He was an extremely interesting person and a thought provoking Professor. RIP.
Professor Szathmary was indeed a thought provoking professor. He strove to teach Philosophy through clear and well reasoned discourse. Although he was a very learned person and a challenging teacher, he was always humane and compassionate. His door was always open. In the winter of 1989, I came back to visit the 1879 Hall with my wife and young son. I was going to ask the Department for Professor Szathmary's address. when in walked a man with a French beret and a wry smile that I could not miss. Professor Szathmary warmly greeted us and we went to his favorite Japanese restaurant for lunch. While we were busy getting reacquainted, Professor Szathmary did not lose an opportunity to play with my son. He loved people and ideas. He sometimes could be the toughest of critics. He has always been the kindest of friend and mentor.
I had the great fortune ( through an administrative error of the Dean) to have Arthur assigned as my academic advisor. I will never forget my first impression meeting with him in his office in 1879 Hall: a noble man with deep, rich, and intelligent eyes. I felt that I was in the presence, not of a professor of philosophy, but a philosopher. Arthur was a wonderful and inspiring teacher who required effort and self discovery by the student. He was a skilled mid-wife who opened my mind and imagination through posing difficult questions or suggesting a relevant reading or work of art to consider, always related to my own concerns and interests. Arthur was very generous with his time and was always available during my low moments taking walks around campus or along Carneige Lake. We became friends over the next thirty years. I miss him terribly and his memory is a blessing.
Arthur had a warmth that is rare in an adult, let alone an academic. Spending time with people, enjoying them, sharing ideas and music and spaghetti with them, was more important to him than money, renown, or any other such reward. I never saw him happier than when he was having tea, Japanese-style, with two little girls, the daughters of a friend. And they were entranced by his reverence for the beauty of the ceramic teacups and the rituals of friendship.
Arthur could not be impersonal. If there is a syndrome that’s the reverse of autism, Arthur had it. He was unnaturally attuned to the feelings of everybody he met. Which meant he often was so engrossed in talking to someone after class, he would leave a pound of chopped meat on the desk in his office and take a new textbook home for dinner. If he was absentminded about his belongings, it was because his mind was always a hundred-percent present to whomever he was talking to.
He loved art but he hated cant. I remember going with him to a lecture given by one of the most lionized continental deconstructionists of the day. The lecturer spent a great deal of his time at the podium reading something he had written which “read” a chandelier as a “text.” In the Q and A, Arthur asked him something like this: “How does describing – at great length – a chandelier as a text help someone enjoy a chandelier and appreciate the craft of the chandelier-maker? Isn’t it just kind of spinning plates?”
I’m a few years too young to have been present at Plato’s symposiums but Arthur’s classes were the next best thing. As Plato shared his ideas with individuals, with friends, instilling affection in the collaborative process of questioning and debating, so Arthur brought warmth and, well, love, to his classes, his bumping into people, his dinners, his friendships. Arthur especially loved his children and his siblings. And in the last decades of his life, he was lucky to have found a woman who loved art and people as much as he did, Lily Hayeem. Thanks to her and them for sharing him with us.
Arthur was one of my favorite professors, and a dear friend. When I took his class in 1979 (?), he addressed us all as "Miss" or "Mister." I remember how honored I was when he and I graduated to first names. He was generous with his time, his humor, and his sarcasm - which was intensified by his permanently crooked smile. He beat death a few times before succumbing at 97, and I'll take some credit, having performed the Heimlich maneuver on him once.
My deepest condolences to Lily and Arthur's family. I will miss him greatly.
After swimming this morning, I read a wonderful selection ( "On Judging Works of Visual Art") from a book Arthur sent me as a gift. As I read, I thought how Arthur's mind was attuned to a different realm and that he placed very little value on the practical.
The author of this piece, Conrad Fiedler, talks about the realm of the visual world as an infinitely fertile field of investigation. But, only a rare individual "who has advanced to the free and independent use of his perceptive faculties" is aware of the infinite possibilities for the visual comprehension of the world. Arthur had this perceptual comprehension in abundance.
And Fiedler explains why such a person ( free in his use of his perceptive faculties) disavows the practical:
" As long as perception serves some purpose, it is limited, it is unfree. Whatever this purpose may be, perception remains a tool, and it becomes superfluous once the purpose is attained."
And later on writes: " To the artist, perceptual experience is from the begnning an impartial, free activity, which serves no purpose beyond itself and which ends in that purpose. "
So in the eyes of the world or the many, so called eccentric or impractical individuals are viewed with humor. Rather, I see it as a strength of character which values the "music of the cosmos or earth" above the struggle for success or making money.
I wanted to share how Arthur is in my thoughts this morning.
The "In Memoriam" comments above are themselves a deep tribute to the education received by being in this remarkable man's presence (and thoughts). All of the above are mesmerizing - blindingly true and redolent of the love and respect and continuing valuation of his impact(s).
Arthur was very respectful and humble, but worldly, which informed his pedagogy, permitted the use of re-enforcing anecdotes to open the cortex to receive experience constructively, to internalize and add to one's mind the essence of his point. He was capable of linear and non-linear thinking, and I believe intuitively knew and often deployed same effortlessly & simultaneously.
At the time,and ever after, I considered him the best at PU, a singular pillar upon which the university's purpose and performance could rest. We are all graced to have known him.
R.I.P. Dear Arthur.