The Philosophy of Gwenda-lin Grewal

From her upcoming book on beauty and truth, entitled, good looks. photo courtesy of gwenda-lin grewal.

From her upcoming book on beauty and truth, entitled, good looks. photo courtesy of gwenda-lin grewal.

Dr. Gwenda-lin Grewal’s desk, nestled in the corner of a large office at the top of Swinford, appears to be that of any other philosophy professor; it has stacks of paper, a copy of Sophocles’ Antigone, and a white bust of someone with an important and thoughtful looking face, reminiscent of busts of Plato and Socrates. However, as she and her friend Dr. Michael Davis like to say, everything is not as it seems. The bust is not of a philosopher but of an equally profound thinker — Beethoven. 

“I like going to the symphony, to museums,” she said. “New York is one of my favorite places on Earth, besides Rome, because of all of its grandeur. That, and the fact that you can come here, thirty minutes north, where it’s like a paradise of trees.”

Dr. Grewal has known this “paradise of trees” before. She came to Sarah Lawrence College from Anaheim, California, as an undergraduate, and immersed herself in Ancient Greek and Latin with her professors Sam Siegel and Michael Davis. Coming from a family of mathematicians, she studied math and physics from a philosophical perspective with Dan King. She graduated in 2006, pursed her Ph.D. in Classics and Philosophy at Tulane University, and studied at Yale on an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship. She taught for the first time here at Sarah Lawrence during her graduate school days. 

“I came back here for a year during grad school and taught with Michael Davis,” she said. “It was a course on Plato’s Euthydemus, a shorter dialogue that we translated together; we used the translation together in the class. It was the first time I had ever taught—totally terrifying,” 

An ardent admirer of the Classics, Dr. Grewal has translated dozens (if not hundreds) of texts from Ancient Greek and Latin, starting from when she was an undergraduate student. 

“I translated a handful of [Plato’s] dialogues when I was a student here,” Dr. Grewal said. “I would handwrite everything, so I have notebooks of handwritten translations that I did of these dialogues and some of Aristotle’s work.” 

Since she taught at the University of Dallas after her time at Yale, Dr. Grewal has spent almost every summer in Rome, teaching Latin alongside the monuments of Ancient Roman life and culture. 

Students may be familiar with Dr. Grewal from her class, Philosophy and Fashion, the title of which drew attention during interview week. She characterized her relationship with fashion as lighthearted and longstanding. 

“When I was in grad school, I started an ironic clothing business,” she said. “It was about taking things that didn’t look expensive and making them look expensive. I made gloves out of underwear and I wore them to expensive fashion shows. People would think they were made out of fine lace, when actually I just got them from Target.” 

Dr. Grewal is still involved in the world of fashion, collaborating on art installations and attending fashion shows from time to time. However, most of her involvement with fashion has been from a philosophical standpoint. Since her postdoctoral work at Yale, she has inquired into the connection between “having good looks and being good at looking,” which led to her Philosophy and Fashion class and to a forthcoming book on the subject. 

“I’m lucky, because what I get to do for my work is what I think about all the time,” she said.

Not much has changed about Sarah Lawrence since her undergraduate days here, including her relationships with her old professors. “It’s actually not weird,” she said, to work alongside her old teachers as their peer. Despite the decade or so that’s passed since she was a student here, Dr. Grewal’s feelings for the place remain unchanged. 

“I loved Sarah Lawrence; it was, academically, the best thing for me,” she said. “I only have love for this place.” 

Ricky Martorelli ‘19

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The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.