Campus Notebook

A comic tale of failure, change, and math

Published in the May 16, 2012, issue


Josh Kornbluth ’80
FROM: “MATHEMATICS OF CHANGE” BY JOSH KORNBLUTH ’80
Josh Kornbluth ’80

Thirty-five years after being “traumatized” by introductory calculus, the Dillon Pool swimming test, and other ordeals, Josh Kornbluth ’80 returned to campus April 5 for a public lecture titled “The Mathematics of Change: A Comic Monologue About Failure at Princeton.”

Kornbluth’s tale followed the arc of his life from the age of 9 — when his math-teacher father convinced him he was destined to become the greatest mathematician who ever lived — through his freshman year at Princeton, when Math 101 spelled the end of that dream.

During his 75-minute talk, Kornbluth, a professional monologuist, filled the blackboards at the front of McCosh 50 with mathematical formulas. But he addressed broader themes of his college years as well, describing them later to The Daily Princetonian as “How do we deal with failure? How do we deal with things that are impossible to get through, and how do we get through them?”

Kornbluth majored in political science, but did not graduate after failing to complete his thesis. He hopes to receive his degree based on “Citizen Josh,” another of his performance pieces.

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