The Asia Institute Seminar with Professor Marc Shell

The Asia Institute Seminar with Professor Marc Shell

Professor Shell explains the history of currency.

Emanuel introduces Professor Marc Shell, his adviser from the Ph.D. Program at Harvard.

Professor Marc Shell’s talk on Friday, April 27 on “The Past, Present and Future of Money drew a fascinating group of thoughtful individuals to GCS International for the Asia Institute Seminar. The talk itself was a rather involved consideration of the history of language and currency, and their interplay over the last three millennia. The talk was based in part on Professor Shell’s article “From Electrum to Electricity.” So as to avoid looking like an idiot for trying to provide a summary for matters I do not fully understand, let me suggest instead that you read the article itself at

“From Electrum to Electricity”

Professor Kim Kihwan of Korea Development Institute provided a very lively response as an expert who has significant background in economic policy and serves as president of the Seoul Finance Forum. It is rare, if not unprecedented, to have an expert in the cultural and linguistic aspects of money and currency engage in a serious discussion on the topic with an economist well versed in monetary policy. That aspect of the seminar was most remarkable.

Professor Marc Shell speaks on the history of money.

Asia Institute Seminar

“The Past, Present and Future of Money”
April 27, 2012

Introductory remarks
Emanuel Pastreich
The Asia Institute

Dr. Marc Shell, Irving Babbit Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University, is one of the towering figures in comparative literature, standing as a colossus, one foot on each side of an awesome metaphor, an overwhelming metaphor, between nation and language, money and art, circulation and expression. He guards the ancient Greek island of Rhodes, and he is known as the “island’s best friend.” His work in comparative literature, art, thought and finance, stretches across Europe, the Americas (with a focus on Canada), Islam and central Asia and more recently he has put his foot down in Korea, extending his reach, or his stride, further than we thought possible.

I would not be being honest if I did not draw attention to the remarkable stir that Dr. Shell has created here in Korea. As he states with such laconic irony, “I am not an expert in common sense.” Dr. Shell draws such attention because he questions so much of accepted opinion in Korea.
There are two distinct ways of looking at the world two ways that form two overarching epistemologies, there is no other.

The one is a technology wherein an infinite number of facts are amassed to prove without any doubt that things are exactly what they seem. On the other hand, there is a more puzzling, more enigmatic, and ultimately far more powerful—in the way that atomic engineering is more powerful than chemical engineering—approach. That other one is a technology wherein one perfect example, one exquisite fact (chosen ever so carefully out of millions), is used to prove that things not at all what they seem to be.

The later, I would boldly assert, is Professor Shell’s forte, and he does it with a bravado I have not witnessed previously.

In Korea, where rapid growth has forced many people to just assume things are what they are as part of the effort to merely keep up with change, Professor Shell’s approach is radical, invigorating and just what the doctor ordered. That would help explain the remarkable reception he has received here—and it has been remarkable.

Professor Shell will talk about our favorite subject today: money. Well we all know what that means, or do we?

Let us remember the line in David Mamet’s “Heist”

“Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.”

That is the heart of the matter!

Dr. Shell has approached the question of money, its nature, its use its essence, from the perspective of a professor with a profound grounding in literature, in aesthetics, in philosophy and in history and geography. And as such, he shows us how money is what we imagine it to be, “money” and yet as we will see, something quite different.

One response to “The Asia Institute Seminar with Professor Marc Shell

  1. stephanemot May 4, 2012 at 11:21 am

    A very refreshing moment indeed, and a delicously crafted lecture from Professor Shell.

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