Amherst Magazine

Office Space: Alexander George

In a large French Second Empire building off College Street live the departments of Black Studies and Philosophy. Cooper House, a place actress Uma Thurman once called home, was renovated in 2002 to accommodate additional office and classroom space. One of those newly renovated offices belongs to Professor of Philosophy Alexander George. Here is a brief look into some of the odds and ends of his Amherst abode. 

Click and drag on the image below to move around. Hold down the Shift key to zoom in and the Control (Command key on a Mac) key to zoom out. The numbers in the image correspond to the text and photos at the bottom of this page.

 

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Item 1: Photograph of Kurt Gödel
The first item is a photograph of Kurt Gödel, “the greatest mathematical logician ever to have lived,” receiving an honorary degree from Amherst in 1967. "While the college honored Gödel by giving him this degree, Gödel was honoring Amherst as well by receiving the degree....By this point in Gödel’s life, he was very ill, and he didn’t do a lot of traveling,” George explained. “In fact, his visit to Amherst was one of the last public visits that he made.” Who are the other people in the photo? “Standing in the background between [President] Plimpton and Gödel was my predecessor, Professor Joseph Epstein—looking like a member of the junta in his dark glasses.”

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Item 2: Artifact from the Titanic
The next item George pointed to is “a piece of coal from the maiden and final voyage of the Titanic in 1912.” Coal was one of the most common items in the salvage, and this particular piece—including the inscription with his name on it—was a gift to George from his brother.
 
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Item 3: Art Spiegelman Lithograph
Art Spiegelman, a longtime New Yorker and famous author of the graphic novel Maus, decided to donate this limited edition print to support the Film Forum in New York. The lithograph portrays the faces of the audience at a movie theater. “I loved it,” George remarked, “partly because I loved the Film Forum and I loved Spiegelman’s work and also because I thought this is exactly what it looks like to be in front of the class, with all the different expressions: determination, surprise, contempt, discomfort, disdain, blank wonder. This is exactly what it was like to be teaching at Amherst.”
 
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Item 4: Max and Moritz
This brass casting is made in the image of Max and Moritz, the main characters of a 19th-century German illustrated tale by Wilhelm Busch. “This particular piece was found by my mother and brother in Zurich propping open the door of a store in the old city,” George explained. “Busch’s tale is very appropriate—I think—for Amherst and its students. The tale begins like this:

Ah, how oft we read or hear of
Boys we almost stand in fear of!
For example, take these stories
Of two youths, named Max and Moritz,
Who, instead of early turning
Their young minds to useful learning,
Often leered with horrid features
At their lessons and their teachers.

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Item 5: The Green Hornet
If you’re of a younger generation, you might think this is a holographic image of The Riddler. While he comes from the same era as Batman, the Green Hornet was the star of his own 1960s television series. “It featured a man who dressed in a dark coat and a fedora and that kind of mask. And he went around with his trusty Asian butler, Kato, who was also a kung fu expert,” George commented. The kung fu expert turned out to be none other than Bruce Lee—making his first television appearance.

The object itself is a product of Vari-Vue, a company that George’s father owned. In addition to these “winkie things” that change into different images when you move them, Vari-Vue also made 3-D images. Their products made great toys but also lent themselves quite nicely to political campaign buttons and advertisements. The most famous item that Variview made is the cover for the Rolling Stones’ album Their Satanic Majesties Request. It was their psychedelic album and, many say, a response to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “The Stones actually came to my father’s company in Mount Vernon, N.Y.,” George recalled, “and they themselves assembled the set and then posed for it. That’s now quite a collector’s item.” Unfortunately, it’s an item George doesn’t keep in his office (though he does have it on his wall at home). The object sits atop a Latvian chess clock.
 
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Item 6: (Left to right) Astro Boy, "Joe Amherst," Bruno Sammartino

Astro Boy was introduced into Japanese comics in the early 1950s but then, a decade later, made it into a morning cartoon show for children. That’s where George met him. “He always was a great inspiration for me,” he reminisced, “being a great defender of freedom and the underdog.”

“For lack of a better term,” George explained, he calls the next piece “Joe Amherst.” This old figurine from the 1930s or '40s was given to him by a colleague when he earned tenure.

Bruno Sammartino was one of the all-time champions of worldwide wrestling. “This was in the days,” George said, “when wrestlers divided into the good guys and the bad guys, and Bruno Sammartino was definitely amongst the good guys. That’s in spite of the fact that he seems to be throwing a chair at somebody.”

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Item 7: Lie Detector
“This item over here is somewhat infamous amongst students because it’s a lie detector, and I position it behind students so that they can’t see it. When they’re sitting and talking to me, and I’m asking them why their paper is late, they don’t dare ever speak anything but the truth. Nothing holds as much fear for them as this lie detector.”