From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Seinfeld Ethnography (1)—George Eats Trash

Click here for an introduction to the Round and Square series Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.
Click below for all "Seinfeld Ethnography" posts: 
Marine Biologist         The Doorman          Opposite George   Newman's Mail   The Bootleg         Marriage
Just Dessert               Sleep Desk             Late Coffee            High Stakes        Motor Oil              Downtown 
Code Cracking           Nonfat Yogurt          Bad Boy                 It's Not You         I Can't Be...          Exploding Wallet
Elaine Flies Coach    The Close Talker     The Alliance           Broccoli               Coated Culture    Dinner Party

Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.

Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
Seinfeld might be the most perfect embodiment in literature of Pierre Bourdieu's theory of "habitus." The simple (simplified) version is that we don't really know how to articulate our actions until we actually do them—and then sometimes explain them. We can't express what "culture" is until we do it or talk about it.  
[a] Caught in mid-bite, George hurls the eclair.

The following episode is an excellent way to begin to understand Bourdieu's approach to practice and habitus. Claude Lévi-Strauss (nature and culture) and Mary Douglas (purity and danger) are not far behind in interpretive wattage.

First, watch the clip. If you get a chance, watch the entire episode.
[b] George eats food (not garbage)
Next, let's read some Lévi-Strauss, Douglas, and Bourdieu. Note in particular that George is "crossing the line" between purity and danger ("man and bum") and that George and Jerry are "working out" the meanings of culture (practice and habitus).

Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind
Neolithic, or early historical man was therefore the heir of a long scientific tradition. However, had he, as well as all his predecessors, been inspired by exactly the same spirit as that or our own time, it would be impossible to understand how he could come to a halt and how several thousand years of stagnation have intervened between the neolithic revolution and modern science like a level plain between ascents. There is only one solution to the paradox, namely that there are two distinct modes of scientific thought. These are certainly not a function of different stages of development of the human mind but rather two strategic levels at which nature is accessible to scientific inquiry: one roughly adapted to that of perception and the imagination: the other at a remove from it.[1]

[Note George's "neolithic imagination," as opposed to Jerry's approach to complex issues of foodstuffs].

[c] George and more food (not garbage)
 Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger
Our idea of dirt is compounded of two things, care for hygiene and respect for conventions... [2]
Lévy-Bruhl did not generalize that danger lies in marginal states, but Van Gennep had more sociological insight. He saw society as a house with rooms and corridors in which passage from one to another is dangerous. Danger lies in transitional states, simply because transition is neither one state nor the next, it is undefinable.[3]

[Note that George is in a "liminal" position while trying to "transition" to a new mate].

Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice
All the actions performed in space constructed in this way are immediately qualified symbolically and function as so many structural exercises through which is build up practical mastery of the fundamental schemes, which organize magical practices and representations: going in and coming out, filling and emptying, opening and shutting, going leftwards and going rightwards, going westwards and going eastwards, etc...The construction of the world of objects is clearly not the sovereign operation of consciousness which the neo-Kantian tradition conceives of; the mental structures which construct the world of objects are constructed in the practice of a world of objects constructed according to the same structures. The mind born of the world of objects does not rise as a subjectivity confronting an objectivity: the objective universe is made up of objects which are the product of objectifying operations structured according to the very structures which the mind applies to it. The mind is a metaphor of the world of objects which is itself but an endless circle of reflecting metaphors.[4]


[d] George and still more food (not garbage)
Through habitus, the structure which has produced it governs practice, not by the processes of a mechanical determinism, but through the mediation of the orientations and limits it assigns to the habitus's operations of invention. As an acquired system of generative schemes objectively adjusted to the particular conditions in which it is constituted, the habitus engenders all the thoughts, all the perceptions, and all the actions consistent with those conditions, and no others. This paradoxical product is difficult to conceive, even inconceivable, only so long as one remains locked in the dilemma of determinism and freedom, conditioning and creativity (like Chomsky, for example, who thought the only escape from Bloomfeldian behaviorism lay in seeking "freedom" and "creativity" in the "structure"—i.e. the "nature" of the human mind). Because the habitus is an endless capacity to engender products—thoughts, perceptions, expressions, actions—whose limits are set by historically and socially situated conditions of its production, the conditioned and unconditional freedom it secures is as remote from a creation of unpredictable novelty as it is from a simple mechanical reproduction of the initial conditionings.[5]
[e] George discusses social practice.

[Think about this last line as you "see" again George placing the eclair near his lips].

[1] Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 15.
[2] Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966), 9.
[3] Douglas, Purity and Danger, 119.
[4] Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (London: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 91.
[5] Bourdieu, Practice, 95.

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