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Courtesy of Steven Stuart

Karl-Ludwig Selig (left) and Jim Weinstein, CC '84, take part in the christening of an eight-oar scull named for Selig. It was used by the varsity lightweight team.

Cervantes scholar Karl-Ludwig Selig, who spent decades teaching Spanish literature at Columbia, died early Saturday morning at Kateri Residence, a local nursing home. He was 86. Selig was awarded Columbia's Mark van Doren Award for Teaching in 1974. A celebrated enthusiast of Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote"—which he emphatically pronounced as "kwixot"—Selig's former students remembered him for his love of literature and teaching, his Colloquium on Comparative Literature, and his course "The Picaresque Novel." "In my four years at Columbia, I took classes with Edward Said, Lionel Trilling, Howard Davis, and Joseph Rothschild," Christopher Allegaert, CC '78, said. "But professor Selig touched more students than any teacher I've ever known." Balding, with long, uneven hair and Coke bottle glasses, Selig was a striking figure, Allegaert said, affectionately describing how the professor would hold books up to his eyes and read aloud to students. "He epitomized the 'passionate scholar' to me and revealed to all who knew him the delights and rewards of a life in scholarship," J. R. Toggweiler, CC '75 and GSAS '83, said in an email. Selig was born in 1926 to a Jewish family in Wiesbaden, Germany, and he and his parents fled to the United Kingdom before the onset of World War II. Selig arrived in Erie, Pa. without a word of English, but he excelled in high school and received a B.A. from Ohio State University. Selig became a U.S. citizen in 1948, and in 1966, he joined Columbia's faculty. According to a biography provided by his executor, Theodore Allegaert, CC '87—Christopher Allegaert's brother—Selig would, in his later years, hand out dictionaries to immigrants in appreciation of their hardship and encouragement of their education. Selig's former students said that he treated texts as "fabrics" woven out of many threads. Several said that Selig was ahead of his time in dissecting the ramifications of certain stories. "You couldn't read 'Don Quixote' without learning about prostitution, slavery, and all the facets of life, good and bad," Christopher Allegaert said. "You could never get the book, or the professor, out of your mind. Fifty years later, people can still recite his lectures." In his keynote address at Columbia College Class Day in May, Harper's Magazine publisher John MacArthur, CC '78 and a member of Spectator's board of trustees, recalled Selig's teaching. "He wanted you to embrace the text, to read it with rigor, but also with pleasure," MacArthur said. "However, like all of my best professors, Selig insisted that reading text was a fundamentally serious endeavor, that text must be respected." Selig swam for Ohio State and developed an appreciation for the rowing team while teaching at Columbia. His students named two sculls after him, and Selig was a special guest at reunions for the classes of 1979 and 1982. "What you gained from the Professor more than anything was his genuine passion for the books themselves," Mark Gibson, CC '86, said in an email. "They spoke to him directly; they were the fuel of his life." Selig's office was located on the second floor of Hamilton Hall, right next to the dean's office. "The line to see the professor was often longer than the line to see the dean or any of his assistants," Jim Weinstein, CC '84, recalled. "‘Office hours' were a bit of a misnomer," Christopher Allegaert added. "He was always available—if the light was on in his office, he'd have been happy to talk to you for hours." Selig has written or co-authored 45 books, which have been translated into several languages. He left Columbia in 1989, but he remained prolific well into the 2000s, publishing several highly regarded works in 2002 and 2003. "He didn't want to let go, even if at his advanced age he was almost deaf and blind," Allegaert said. "We loved his love of life and we loved him." Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Selig and his family fled Germany to the United Kingdom. Spectator regrets the error.

Spanish obituary Mark Van Doren John MacArthur
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