Images from Connecticut College – The Seventies
A virtual photography
exhibit of the works by Professor
Lester J. Reiss (1933-1999)
Personal writings by his surviving son David Reiss.
is still here – amongst us, within each of us.
New London Connecticut is a sleepy southern New England town on the mouth of the Thames River. Atop the highest plateau overlooking the city is a small private liberal arts college, named Connecticut (Conn) College. It is here that I grew up as a faculty brat. My father accepted a teaching position in the philosophy department here in 1961, and taught at this same spot right up to his sudden death in 1999.
"If you can't say it clearly, you probably can't think it clearly.
If you can't think it clearly, you're probably wrong."
About conflicting truths in Cultures and religions,
“They can all be wrong,
I received many emails and personal stories
from former students, but none comes closer to capturing the essence
of my dad than a letter sent to me by a John Symons - posted below unedited.
For Lester Reiss by former student John Symons,
One thing about Reiss that struck many of his students was his attitude towards writing. From the first day of my first class, Intro to Ancient Philosophy I remember his instructions: “don’t worry about what I write on the board, it’s for me, in fact, don’t take notes, just listen.”
Sometimes we thought that Reiss was looking for a new way of writing. Perhaps movies, music or something else might capture what he wanted to convey. We were missing the point. It has always been easier for me to know what he appreciated than what he would have committed to paper. This philosophical sensibility continues to serve as a standard for his students. He helped us to develop an appreciation for deep and beautiful ideas, for the simplicity of metaphysics, for the clarity of logic, for the richness of the history of ideas, for the tragic core of moral philosophy. Reiss showed us how to appreciate the right things. He loved his work and would deny that we owe him anything.
He taught with a giddy passion for philosophy that infected many of us. For Reiss, the blackboard was an extension of the mind, like a Seiji Ozawa of metaphysics, one arm drawing a furious scrawl in the blackness: “Parmenidean Being Thinking Nous Identity Non-Being Conditions Categories Logos Language Ratio Logic Rationality Ancient Modern One Many Object Subject”
Words and lines connecting words stood on the board, striking for a moment in their clarity then erased, blurred into a gray swirl. A swish of the eraser sweeping the gray swirl to be marked again, less distinctly this time, layered with the complication that arises when we test even the simplest metaphysical concept. All the while his manic blackboard performance was framed by the calm and steady timbre of that voice.
In the last week of his life I mentioned in an email that I’d be riding my bike to the American Philosophical Association meeting in Boston. His simple reply: “Don’t fall off.” This was classic Reiss and it was the last email I received from firstname.lastname@example.org. His words are still crisp, sharp and steady. - John Symons