Pornography 101

Philosophical ruminations.
June 24 1999 3:00 AM

Pornography 101

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Too Much Porn     How better to understand pornography--than by making it yourself? So thought Wesleyan University Professor Hope Weissman, whose interdisciplinary course, COL 289-Pornography, required students to create their own pornographic works as their final projects. The Washington Times reports that although no student or parent has complained about the course, university President Douglas Bennet suspects it may be too liberal even for Wesleyan. The ultimate fate of COL 289 is undecided, but it will not be offered in the fall. Meanwhile, pornography may be at the root of the resignation of Harvard Divinity School dean Ronald Thiemann. A techie discovered thousands of pornographic images stored on the dean's Harvard-owned computer while adding memory to the system. Soon afterward, Thiemann stepped down from his post and went on a year's sabbatical. Many colleagues and students spoke up in his defense and look forward to his return. But others say they will feel uncomfortable studying with him.

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Leopold and Loeb Go to Rome

The trial of two young professors accused of committing murder on an intellectual dare concluded earlier this month in Rome, after 13 months in the courtroom and nearly 30 hours of jury deliberation. The philosophy lecturers, implicated in the murder of a law student at Rome's La Sapienza University, were suspected by police to have committed un delitto filosofico, a philosophical crime. Although police failed to find motives for the accused killer and his alleged accomplice at the time of arrest, they did turn up a philosophical manuscript in which the two men theorized about undetectable murder. The prosecution's key witnesses vacillated on the stand, amid allegations that the police strong-armed her. At the same time, a team of experts deemed the spare forensic evidence inconclusive. The London Independent reports, however, that the jury still found the suspect guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and his alleged accomplice of aiding and abetting. The young philosophers won't be locked up yet, though: They can still appeal to two higher courts.

Monica Lisa

A Penn State art professor has accused The New Yorker of intellectual property theft. Last fall, the Penn Stater magazine reports, Richard Alden gave his Architecture 101 class an assignment in the tradition of Marcel Duchamp: to reproduce the mysterious Mona Lisa ... with Monica Lewinsky's face. When sophomore Alysia DeAntonio did a remarkable job, her professor saw dollar signs. With DeAntonio's consent, Alden put the image on coffee mugs, boxer shorts, and T-shirts, and even hand-delivered a print of the painting to The New Yorker's art department. But in February, when The New Yorker ran a cover with the same theme by a different artist, Alden "felt mugged." The New Yorker denies the claims, calling Alden's accusations "slanderous" and "insulting": and intellectual property specialists, polled by the Penn Stater, are siding with the magazine 2-to-1.

Slumming It

A British professor of architecture has moved into a housing project to prove his theory that the building is, indeed, a masterpiece of modern design. The London Sunday Telegraph reports that Jeremy Till, the 42-year-old head of the University of Sheffield's school of architecture, has taken up residence in Sheffield's Park Hill, which has been nicknamed "San Quentin" by some of its 2,000 residents and called "a blot on the landscape" by outsiders. Till points out the benefits of living in the complex: "It's very convenient, fairly central, has magnificent views of the city and is very spacious." This may be true, but even Till admits a few drawbacks. When asked to comment on the communal waste-disposal system he remarked, "To be honest, it stinks." Plus, Till only calls Park Hill his home for four days of the week. The other three he spends in a caravan in Islington, London, on the site where he is building a new home and office with a 400,000 pound price tag.

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Brown Family Values

Brown University has always been a trailblazer. It is the only university to offer an undergraduate degree in semiotics; its modern culture and the media department had the jump on cultural studies; and hypertext guru Robert Coover made Brown the country's trendsetter in experimental fiction. Brown's latest innovation in open curriculum is the formal study of values. To be fair, the idea is more Martha Nussbaum than William Bennett. But Nancy Rosenblum, a political scientist who will direct the new program, told the Boston Globe: "With the decline of personal virtue we see among our leaders and all the collective horrors in our world, these reflections on values come up. There's a kind of exhaustion with cynicism." Freshman seminars on the values required for a "quality life" begin next winter, followed by sophomore seminars on justice and responsibility. As if that weren't shocking enough, Brown officials say that courses in values are likely to become a requirement in most majors. Requirement? There must be some mistake.

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