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Lectures Look at Greed Through the Ages


Farewell--thou art too dear for my possessing,

And like enough thou know'st thy estimate. --William Shakespeare, Sonnet 87

This was no ordinary lecture on the Bard of Avon. Sure, it took place at Pomona College in Claremont. And yes, some students did take notes. But the whimsical nature of the talk was evident from the first, when English professor Martha Andresen strode up to the podium and said:

"We hear in Shakespeare's Sonnet 87 his mastery of the 'drop-dead-you-creep' poetic style."

She launched into an often funny and always pointed analysis of how the themes of usury, money and love intertwined in the writings of William Shakespeare.

It was part of a weekly lecture series called "Filthy Lucre," in which professors from various disciplines look at humanity's lust for money through the ages.

Last week's talk, on the eve of Valentine's Day, just happened to focus on the juxtaposition of money and love.

What makes the topic so salient today?

"Greed . . . and the 'filthy lucre' approach to life is in the air," says Anne Bages, the Pomona College professor who chairs the Tuesday luncheon series that started in 1975.

The idea is to encourage faculty members as well as students to view an individual topic through many different lenses. In the 1990 series, that topic happens to be the filthy lucre, or riches, first described in the New Testament by Paul in letters to Timothy.

A Feb. 27 discussion by Alma Zook, an associate professor of physics, will discuss filthy lucre in terms of the cold fusion controversy and recent purported attempts by scientists to falsify data in the pursuit of fame and fortune.

On March 20, Paul Hurley, an assistant professor of philosophy, will tackle junk bonds when he discusses "The CEO as Strongman: The Fiction of Managerial Accountability."

Bages says timely resonance was added to the series by last week's announcement that the parent firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert, the once mighty ruler of the junk bond market, had sought protection under U.S. bankruptcy laws.

Hard-core devotees, who include students and faculty members from some of the adjoining Claremont colleges, say the series allows them to delve into issues for which they might not have a forum in the classroom.

For instance, Andresen says she might spend two weeks going over Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," but that she probably wouldn't devote a whole lecture to usury.

"This is a way to move from an academic discipline to address a larger moral and social problem," Andresen says. "We don't want to be isolated in an ivory tower, and these public lectures are an opportunity to reach out and apply what we know."

And it is not always achieved in an orthodox fashion. Most people would look at usury through an economic, historical or maybe even a moral context, Bages says.

"Putting it in a poetic framework makes it more appealing," she admits.

Today, Scott Warren, associate dean of students and assistant professor of government, will discuss "Marx, Money, Marriage." The series continues at noon each Tuesday through March 27, when the final topic will be "The Institutionalization of Greed: East vs. West" by David Arase, assistant professor of government.

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