The Program

E.E. Cummings, Calculus, and Valentine’s Day

By A.J. Peters

One of the most rewarding things about St. John’s is the opportunity to develop the creativity and breadth of understanding necessary to synthesize ideas. I have a friend who, after having a couple of drinks, has a tendency to emotionally recount her coming to grips with Newton and Calculus through the poetry of E.E. Cummings. Forgive me if I’m getting too celebratory here, but where else could that type of thinking regularly occur? At St. John’s, not only are we allowed to do such wonderfully crazy things as speak of advanced mathematics and poetry in the same sentence, but our studies are holistic enough to support our imaginations. If we were forced to study only calculus or only literature, we would not be able to mold these seemingly different domains into a single composition. (I also wonder where else someone would speak emotionally about Calculus in the first place, let alone at a college party).

But a sort of converse is true also. Whereas synthesis takes many texts or ideas and unites them under one notion, the St. John’s program also allows for the opposite: a thought process in which one is able to consider the diverse ways different people reflect on a single idea.

So, for Valentine’s day, here’s a short article from the Washington Post along those lines—an analysis of how our conception of love has changed over time. Program references abound!

There is no holiday celebrating friendship, but only since the mid-19th century has romance been elevated above other types of love. For most ancient Greeks, for example, friendship was every bit as passionate and valuable as romantic-sexual love. Aristotle regarded friendship as a lifetime commitment to mutual welfare, in which two people become “second selves” to each other.


Now I’m curious, though, do you agree with Mr. May’s suggestions that our idea of love has changed for the worse? Or would you say that it has developed and improved?

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