Simon Porzak

tutor, pianist, crossword champion, expert laundry-folder, hot-air-balloon pilot

Simon received his Ph.D in rhetoric from the University of California, Berkeley in 2014, after graduating summa cum laude from Cornell University with dual degrees in French literature and literary theory. He spends his days working for Columbia University’s Undergraduate Writing Program, where he designed a curriculum to introduce students to advanced critical writing in the humanities by reading fundamental texts in the history of data science and computer programming. He also teaches in Bard College’s Writing and Thinking program, an experimental workshop for incoming students that fosters creative engagement in the liberal arts. He studies the intersections between literature and the history of science and engineering; he’s published essays about barnacle evolution, boring operas, archaeological video games, getting songs stuck in your head, and Jurassic Park.

…a text I love to teach

Anything by Jorge Luis Borges (like “The Garden of Forking Paths”) or Henry James (like “The Figure in the Carpet”). They write stories that come off as stodgy and old-fashioned at first, until you look closer and realize that something very strange and eerie is going on in the margins. I love mystery novels–I’ve read every Agatha Christie book at least twice–and I love texts that turn you into a detective, making you pore over every line for hidden clues.

…a favorite place I’ve visited

Hiking the high mountain gorges of Corsica: you’re all alone on craggy cliffs with an empty blue sky, stopping by tiny farms to buy goat cheese, boar sausage, and red wine, feeling like you’re on some magical quest.

…eight people living or dead I’d invite to my ideal dinner party

Alan Turing (he won World War II and then pioneered artificial intelligence research, so he’d have a lot to talk about)

Queen Elizabeth I (with her skill in politics, she’d make sure no guest was left out of the conversation)

Edgar Allan Poe (because I want to find out how he died)

Catherine Deneuve (makes the party instantly glamorous)

Nicola Tesla (inventor of artificial current, arch-enemy of Thomas Edison, and one of the hottest celebrities of the 1880s)

Louise Bourgeois (Poe would be very interested in discussing her creepy sculptures and visual art)

Benjamin Franklin (famous for his off-color wit and excellent taste)

Zora Neale Hurston (to jazz things up a bit and argue with Ben Franklin)

…something I can’t stop thinking about

How did people ever figure out that you could make meringue from egg whites if you whipped them for long enough?