Close and Personal
Artist Close, the Ethicist Randy Cohen, and Alien Life
by Kate Swearengen '04
McCosh 50 filled 30 minutes early for painter and printmaker Chuck
Close's October 9 talk. In attendance were some of Close's own relatives,
Joyce Carol Oates, and the Belknap family, which sponsors the series
of lectures of which Close's was a part. Also present were a large
number of art students, several of whom bore an uncanny resemblance
to Keith, the portrait of a young man with a studied expression
and Buddy Holly glasses featured on the posters advertising Close's
Close, paralyzed in 1988 by a spinal blood clot, took the stage
in a wheelchair. He showed slides of his work, punctuating his discussion
with light-hearted asides. With his enviable posture and shaved
head, Close looked nothing like his best-known work, a 1968 self-portrait
of the artist sporting a greasy halo of hair and smoking a cigarette.
The effect is that of a bohemian Jack Nicholson in full "here's
Close started out working with black paint on white canvas, but
switched media when he felt that he had grown too complacent. Routine
is an indulgence that Close prefers to avoid. His art is comprised
of impressive range of media and forms that include his own fingerprints
"I wanted to make art that couldn't be forged"
donut-shaped pixels in magenta, cyan, and yellow, and plastic
chips laid out like shingles.
Close treats the face like a landscape, a philosophy that is reflected
both in the uncompromising realism and scale of his work. "The
bigger they are, the more time they take to walk by, the more likely
they'll be seen." Close said of his paintings.
His subjects are family members, friends, and fellow artists,
including Philip Glass, Richard Serra, and Roy Lichtenstein.
At the conclusion of Close's talk the audience responded with
an explosion of applause that only seemed to crescendo. "I
love him." A senior in the art department said. "I always
gravitated toward his paintings when I was a kid because they were
the most accessible things in the modern art exhibit."
Randy Cohen, who writes the "The Ethicist" column for
the New York Times Magazine, spoke at Rockefeller College on October
9. His talk was the first installment of "Do the Right Thing,"
a forum on ethics that will be held in the residential colleges.
Cohen, who looks nothing like the sketch that accompanies his
column, addressed an audience of undergraduates who sat on the folding
chairs and couches of the Madison Hall common room. He began with
a disclaimer "I did not major in philosophy in college.
I barely got through college." and recounted how he
landed his current job. "When the editors first pitched the
idea to me, I thought it was for a column called 'The Anesthetist,'
and that my job would be to lull readers to sleep, much as William
Safire does." Cohen said. "I think the editors picked
me because I wasn't an academic type. Which is not to say that professors
can't write. I mean, thank God they can't."
Cohen answered ethical dilemmas that had been submitted on paper
prior to the meeting. The first question involved a scenario in
which a nutritionally-conscious college girl habitually abstains
from chocolate cake, but encourages her friends to partake of the
dessert. Unethical, given the fact that the girl's friends aren't
"I don't think that nutritional information is specialized
knowledge. I mean, the whole chocolate cake thing has gotten out."
Subsequent questions involved the ethics of the Recording Industry
of America's current crackdown, underage drinking, and the Honor
Code. After Cohen rendered his judgment, the students voted with
raised hands as to whether they agreed or disagreed. A roving microphone
made its way around the crowd for those eager to voice their opinions.
"You don't have an ethical duty to report someone else's
bad behavior. Social bonds put the person asked to report in an
intolerable position." Cohen said. He acknowledged that the
issue is complicated by the fact that Princeton students sign the
Honor Code as a condition of matriculation. "Voluntary agreements
are tricky because sometimes they're not so voluntary," Cohen
If Princeton were the Milky Way, the Fitz-Randolph Observatory,
outshone by the celestial brightness of nearby Palmer Stadium, would
be a dim body on the frontier. On the night that the Princeton football
team was busy losing to Columbia, Princeton Optical Search for Extraterrestrial
Intelligence (P-OSETI) held its orientation night.
The Fitz-Randolph Observatory, which gained fame in Orson Welles'
War of the Worlds broadcast"Good evening, ladies and
gentlemen. This is Carl Phillips, speaking to you from the observatory
at Princeton. I am standing in a large semi-circular room, pitch
black except for an oblong split in the ceiling. Through this opening
I can see a sprinkling of stars that cast a kind of frosty glow
over the intricate mechanism of the huge telescope."fell
out of use until a few years ago, when physicist David Wilkinson
reclaimed it and instituted P-OSETI.
Wilkinson has since died his passion for the project is
evident in the presence of his photograph on the observing deck
and in the fond recollections of those with whom he workedbut
P-OSETI lives on. Its mission is to monitor the universe for signs
of intelligent life that is, for pulses of visible light
so brief that they last only nanoseconds. False readings are common,
and therefore the project is carried out in tandem with Harvard.
If both telescopes observe the same phenomenon, the signal is probably
The P-OSETI team strives to make observations on every clear night.
There is a sunset-to-midnight shift and a midnight-to-sunrise shift.
The work is carried out entirely by volunteers, some of them students
and some of them local astronomers. Potential observers or those
who would just like a tour of the observatory should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.