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: http://magazine.beloit.edu/?story_id=240813&issue_id=240610

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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Endings (14)—The Death of Captain Cook (a)

[a] Cooked     RF
I just returned from Hawaii, and will report that things went well at the Tenth East-West Philosophers' Conference. The remonstrance paper was successful, and now I will set to work to solidify my argument over the coming weeks. You will see some of these things on Round and Square soon, especially in the July postings on Roles, Hierarchy, and Remonstrance (the heart of the business book entitled The Emperor's Teacher).

For now, though, let's take a look at an "ending" in Hawaii. My departure is but a tiny blip even in my own personal history.  Captain Cook's "departure"  on February 14, 1779 was anything but a blip, though, and it has resonated in historiographical and, indeed, anthropological arguments for many years. It has figured into the history and mythology of the islands, as well as the sometimes fanciful narratives of Western writers, who can't seem to resist its exotic lure.

One of the most able interpreters to wade into these waters is the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, and even he did not escape unscathed.  As I have said before, the Marshall Sahlins-Gananath Obyesekere debate is to be engaged at another time on this blog. It might be the most interesting (and nasty) fight in the history of anthropology, and (by chance) I had the strange fortune to be studying with Sahlins just as the crap began to hit the fan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As much "fun" as it would be to tackle that topic here, it will have to wait for a "Theory Corner" (or maybe even a "Practice Corner") set of posts at a later date.

For today, though, I want to look at a relatively useful account of The Death of Cook, and leave it to readers to sort through the somewhat literary "tellings" at work here. Let's start with a BBC "news" dramatization that is actually fairly nicely connected to historical sources (the term is veridical—in accordance with the source materials—and it is vital for historical studies). The narrators spend a good deal of their nine minutes quoting from diaries and ship logs, so it has its uses. In any case, we'll return (again and again) to the Death of Cook on Round and Square, precisely because it is an absolutely classic example of east meeting west, and neither side really ever forgetting (nor, for that matter, really knowing exactly what "east" and "west" mean in this particular context). It is fascinating stuff, and this "ending" is only the beginning for us.
[b] Fateful    RF
For now, just listen to the B(ritish) B(roadcasting) C(ompany). Even when you have finished, you will not have heard the last of Cook, Hawaii, and images of kin(g)ship the world over. This is just a nice, literary way to get started with a very peculiar ending.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Le Tour de la France (4)—The Attentions of Mère Etienne

Translated by Robert André LaFleur
Le Tour de la France par deux enfants (A Journey Around France Undertaken by Two Children) is a little 119-chapter book about French geography and culture. Written in 1877 by Augustine Fouillée (under the pseudonym G. Bruno), it was geared toward primary school students in their fourth and fifth years (cours moyen).  It has been read by generations of French students, and has played a small but important role in the development of a French national imagination. It was the little book that launched the Tour de France.

Chapters
1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10            11
Click here for the introduction to Round and Square's series on this 1877 classic. 
 
 IV
The Attentions of Mère Etienne—
André's Papers, A Secret Gift, 
and Charity for the Poor

What is the most beautiful thing in the world? It is charity for the poor.

Early the next morning, Madame Etienne [1] was up and about.

Truly the mother of the family, she examined the two packets of linen and clothing that the young travelers had carried on their shoulders. She repaired the tears in their shirts and trousers wherever it was needed. At the same time, she lit the stove—that appliance that is indispensable in the cold regions of the north—which serves to warm the home and prepare foodstuffs. She spread out the children's wet clothes, so that they would dry by the heat of the stove. After they had dried, she brushed them and repaired them as best she could.
LE POÈLE—The stove (le poèle) is necessary in the cold regions, such as those in the east and the north. It gives more warmth than a fireplace, but that warmth is somewhat less healthy—rendering the air too dry. In order to remedy this, it is best to place a container filled with water on the stove.
As she carefully folded André's jacket, a small, well-wrapped piece of paper fell from the pocket. 

          —Oh, said the excellent woman, this must be the entire little fortune of the two children. If, as I fear, their store is too small, we will try to add something to it.

And she unfolded their small packet...

          —Ten, twenty thirty, forty francs, she said to herself; this is precious little for those who would travel so far!...And to think of the rainy and snowy days that will follow!...for winter will soon be here...

Mère Etienne's eyes filled with tears.

          —And to think that with so few resources they do not hesitate to leave! O, cherished France! Although things are not well now, you must be proud to see that these youths—who will forever be your sons—show the courage of full-grown men...  Poor orphans, she sighed, may you meet compassionate hearts on this long road, and during the cold evenings of winter find a small place to rest in their homes.

While she thought about this in the depths of her heart, she went to her armoire and dug into her very small reserve of money—too little, alas, since Père and Mère Etienne suffered cruelly during the war. Nonetheless, she took out two five-franc pieces for André's collection.


          —Etienne will be pleased, she said to herself: he hoped that I would do everything I could for the children of his old friend.


And she had slipped the money into the purse.

          —This is not all, she thought, looking at the document that was wrapped around the purse. Let us see if our orphans have the papers they need to attest that they are honest children and not mere vagabonds without house or home...  Ah! Here is the certification from André's patron:

I attest that young André Volden worked with me eighteen months, during which I had not to make a single reproach. He is an honest youth, hardworking and intelligent: I recommend him for all assignments that you might have. Here is my address; you may write me without fear.
                                                     Pierre Hetman
                                                     Master Ironsmith, 
                                                     Established for thirty years in Phalsbourg

          —Oh, goodness! said Madame Etienne when she had read the certificate. And what is this? Ah! It is their birth certificates...excellent. And now, a letter from Master Hetman to his cousin, ironsmith in Epinal, so that André can work for a month. André will carry his letter to the mayor of Epinal for his signature. Better and better. These cherished children will not be neglected. They understand that every worker must have valid certification.  From here on, I hope, all will be well.


When Julien and André arose, they found their packets in order and ready for the journey. And they appreciated these careful attentions, especially since these poor children—having lost their mother many years before—were not accustomed to this kind of maternal care.

Julien, after he had dressed, combed his hair, and washed his hands, ran to embrace Madame Etienne, and thanked her from the depths of his heart.

          —This is all well and good, she responded happily, but we must have breakfast. Come, children, take up bread and cheese...and eat!

[1] Here, the 1877 text has "Mme Etienne."

NEXT
Preparations by Etienne the Shoemaker—
The Parting; Children of the Same Country
Père Etienne sets to work to aid the children in their journey.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hurtin', Leavin' and Longin' (5)—How Far?

[a] How far?   RF
Spatial-temporal thinking meets love and longing this week on Round and Square, as Aaron Tippen and Buddy Brock introduce us to the intersection of memory and momentum.

 How far...is it over you? 

This is a question that everyone with a broken heart and car keys has considered at some point in his or her life. Hell, it's something everyone with a bike or boots or a bus ticket has considered. Why does hurtin' follow us, no matter how fast we try to run from it?  I call it the physics of longing, and (perhaps a few weeks from now) we will consider a few equations.  Before that, though, we need to hear a few songs about walkin' or drivin' (someone) out of our memories.

Let's take a listen. As always, YouTube is most convenient for our purposes, but look away from the picture (or just move down the page). All that matters is the lyrics.  Pay close attention to these lines:

                     This road that's goin' nowhere
                     Just leads me on and on
                     As I ask myself with every step
                     Will I ever be alone?

The neurobiological issues behind this meeting of the frontal cortex and the limbic system (a major theme on Round and Square, as you may have noticed) are formidable. No matter how much we might will them away, the emotions seem to follow. I will have much more to say about these matters in our Sunday Hurtin' posts in the coming weeks.


Now read through the lyrics, and notice the rhetorical blending of distance and memory.


I Wonder How Far It Is Over You
—Aaron Tippin
(Aaron Tippin, Buddy Brock)

I parked my car beside the highway
And I didn't lock the doors
Left a note there with the keys
If it cranks, well friend she's yours

Then I struck out across Texas
Gonna walk it line to line
Now I'm halfway 'cross New Mexico
But you're still on my mind

This road that's goin' nowhere
Just leads me on and on
As I ask myself with every step
Will I ever be alone?

Chorus:
I wonder just how far
It is over you
Is there no place I go
That you don't come to?

'Cause when I left Tennessee
I thought we were through
Now I wonder how far
It is over you

[b] End of the road   RF
I was deep in California
When I finally made a friend
It was me and that old hobo
Till you showed up again

But he ran out of liquor
And I've run out of time
I'm standing by the ocean
But you're still on my mind

I'm staring at the water
So blue and deep and wide
Bet a man could lose a memory
Over on the other side

Chorus
I parked my car beside the highway
And I didn't lock the doors
Left a note there with the keys
If it cranks, well friend she's yours
 ***  ***
As we transition to Chinese poetry, let us give Aaron Tippen and Buddy Brock (the songwriters) enormous credit for helping us along the path. Note the lines above, and remember that our narrator has journeyed from Tennessee down to Texas, through New Mexico, and on to California. I hope I don't have to tell you which ocean he is contemplating from that vantage point.
[c] A specific ocean   RF
Well, what is on the "other side" of the Pacific Ocean (when viewed from California)?

My point exactly.

China, Japan, and Korea are over there, on the other side. "Bet a man could lose a memory over on the other side" (in China, for example).

Now do you see where these blog entries are going? The only problem is that over in China (and Japan and Korea) people were not losing their painful memories, either, as we have seen in several Hurtin' posts this month.

Let's finish this week's post with a somewhat lighter poem from the oeuvre of the Tang dynasty master Bo Juyi (Bai Juyi). Let me remind you once more that the poems are meant to be juxtaposed—actually read against each other. They are not meant to strike exactly the same notes as the song lyrics (wouldn't that be dull indeed?)...


On a Winter's Evening—
A Late Return On "Level Spring" Road
Bo [Bai] Juyi (Tang Dynasty, 772-846)


The mountain road is formidable; the sun's rays slant down upon it
In a cold, smoky village, a raven perches on a frosty tree
My return will be long after nightfall, but such is not my concern
After drinking three warm cups of wine, I'll already be "home."

冬日平泉路晚歸
白居易  (唐 772-846)


山路難行日易斜
煙村霜樹欲栖鴉
夜歸不到應閑事
熱飲三杯即是家 [1]

[1] 白居易(唐)《冬日平泉路晚归》选自全唐诗: 卷455.43.  Bo Juyi (Tang) "On a Winter's Evening—Returning Late on "Level Spring" Road"  Selected from The Complete Tang Poems, 455.43.  Translated (freely) by Robert André LaFleur



NEXT
Sunday, June 5th 
The Heart That You Own
"There's lots of space...in my heart...the heart that you own." Yes, there is more misery next Sunday, when Adam Smith and Karl Marx meet Dwight Yoakam to discuss the ownership of organs (so to speak).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Le Tour de la France (3)—The Last Words of Michel Volden

Translated by Robert André LaFleur
Le Tour de la France par deux enfants (A Journey Around France Undertaken by Two Children) is a little 119-chapter book about French geography and culture. Written in 1877 by Augustine Fouillée (under the pseudonym G. Bruno), it was geared toward primary school students in their fourth and fifth years (cours moyen).  It has been read by generations of French students, and has played a small but important role in the development of a French national imagination. It was the little book that launched the Tour de France.

Chapters
1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10            11
Click here for the introduction to Round and Square's series on this 1877 classic. 
 
 III
The Last Words of Michel Volden—
Brotherly Love and Love of Country [1]

Oh, my brother, walk always hand-in-hand, united by
a selfsame love of our parents, our country, and our duty.

While Julien slept, André sat across from Père Etienne.[2] He continued to relate the events that had obligated them—he and his brother—to leave Phalsbourg, where they had been born. Let us return with him in his narrative to a time several months before.

We find him back then in 1871, not long after the last war with Prussia. Following that war, Alsace and a part of Lorraine, comprising the city of Phalsbourg, became possessions of Germany; the inhabitants who wished to remain French were obliged to quit their cities of birth in order to establish themselves in old France.

André and Julien's father, a kind carpenter and young widower, had raised his sons with a love for their country, and dreamed, along with many others from Alsace and Lorraine, of emigrating to France. He therefore put together funds for the journey's expenses, and he set himself to working even more resolutely than ever before. André, for his part, worked gamely as an apprentice at the home of an ironsmith.

Everything was ready for the journey. The time for their departure was set, when one day the carpenter fell from the scaffolding. They returned his dying body to their home.

While the neighbors rushed to get help, the two brothers remained alone next to the bed, where their father lay immobile, like a cadaver.

Little Julien had taken his father's hand in his, and he softly kissed it repeatedly as tears streamed down his face. In an even more tender voice, he intoned "Père!...Père!...[2]

As though this precious little voice had awakened what remained of his life, Michel Volden started. He tried to speak, but it was in vain. He remained lying there while not a single word came from his mouth. Then a deep anxiety showed itself on his face. He seemed to reflect, as though searching with anguish for the means to relate to his two children his last wishes. Then, after several moments, he made a supreme effort and, raising Julien's tender little hand, he put it into the hands of his oldest son. Weakened by this effort, he looked for a long time at his two sons in an expressive fashion. His penetrating gaze and his sad eyes seemed to want to speak to them—Love each other, my poor children, who will now be left alone. Live united always, as you stand before me now, hand in hand.

André understood his father's look and leaned toward the dying man:

          —Père, he responded, I will raise Julien and will instruct him, as you did, in love of duty. We both will strive to become good and virtuous.

Their father gave a weak sigh, but his eyes—still sad—seemed to wait for something else from André.

André perceived this anxiously, and sought to divine what his father might mean. He leaned more closely to the dying man, the better to search his gaze. A barely audible word met André's ears: France!

          —Oh!, cried the eldest son with vigor, rest assured, cherished father, I promise you that we shall be children of France. We will leave Phalsbourg to go there. We will remain French, and will endure even difficult circumstances for it.

A sigh of relief escaped from the paternal lips. The icy hand of the man nearing death pressed weakly those of his two children; then his eyes turned toward the open window, where could be seen a small corner of great, blue sky. He seemed to search beyond the horizon for the remote frontier of his beloved country, which he would never see again, but where his two sons—albeit with little support—had promised to go.

A few moments later, Michel Volden breathed his last. This whole scene lasted only a few minutes, but it was imprinted indelibly on the heart of André and on that of little Julien, as well.

***  ***
Some time after their father's death, the two children determined to go to France, as they had promised. All that remained of their family was an uncle living in Marseille, but he had not responded to any of their letters. There was no one who could serve as their guardian. In these circumstances, the Germans refused the young orphans permission to leave, and considered them perforce as subjects of Germany.

André and Julien had no other recourse than to remain faithful to their country and the dying wishes of their father. They would attempt to cross the border without the knowledge of the Germans, and would then proceed to Marseille, where they would try to find their uncle. Once they had found him, they would ask for his help in regularizing their situation in Alsace. For there remained an entire year granted by law for people of Alsace and Lorraine to chose their country and declare that they either wished to remain French or become German.

Such were the reasons that the two children had begun their journey and asked hospitality of Père Etienne in his mountain cabin.

***  ***
When André had finished giving his account of the events we have just read, Etienne took his two hands with emotion:

          —You and your brother, he said to André... You are two brave children, worthy of your father, worthy of the ancient land of Alsace-Lorraine, and worthy of the French homeland! There are many French souls in Alsace-Lorraine. We will help you. And, as you start out, André, you have a protector in I, an old comrade of your father.

[1] Chapter three in Le Tour de la France par deux enfants has no illustration. It is one of only a handful of chapters without one, and I will keep strictly to the original's form in this translation. 

[2] Père (father) is used widely in French for both real and fictive kinship. Please note that "père" requires a bit of juggling from a translator at this point in the narrative. When we first meet père Etienne, I translate it as "old Etienne," to convey the mountain man's years and place in the little social group coming into being (the boys and the old couple). He is harsh and distant at first, but quickly warms into a paternal figure. As the story continues, I have begun to use "père" to convey the growing sense of "fictive kinship" in the story, and the emotional bonds between the characters.

NEXT
The Care of Mère Etienne—
André's Papers, A Secret Gift, and Charity for the Poor
Kind and hardworking, Mère Etienne helps the boys prepare for their journey.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Le Tour de la France (2)—Supper with Etienne the Shoemaker

Translated by Robert André LaFleur
Le Tour de la France par deux enfants (A Journey Around France Undertaken by Two Children) is a little 119-chapter book about French geography and culture. Written in 1877 by Augustine Fouillée (under the pseudonym G. Bruno), it was geared toward primary school students in their fourth and fifth years (cours moyen).  It has been read by generations of French students, and has played a small but important role in the development of a French national imagination. It was the little book that launched the Tour de France.

Chapters
1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10            11
Click here for the introduction to Round and Square's series on this 1877 classic. 
   
II
Supper with Etienne the Shoemaker
The name of an honest elder is a 
fortune, indeed, for the children.

          —Who is there? A deep voice came from within.

At that instant, a formidable bark could be heard from inside a kennel not far from the door.

André enunciated his name—André Volden, he said in a tone so little assured that the sound of the barking drowned his words.
THE MOUNTAIN DOG—This dog is ordinarily of impressive height. It has a large head and a jaw armed with enormous fangs. The fur of its coat is long and silky. On the mountain, it guards the troops and, when need be, defends them against wolves and bears. The most beautiful mountain dogs are those of Mt. Saint-Bernard, in the Alps, those of the Pyrenees, and those of Auvergne.

At the same time, the mountain dog came out of his kennel, dragging his chain and seemingly ready to lunge at the children.

          —But who would be knocking at this hour? restated the harsh voice.

          —André Volden, repeated the young man, and Julien joined his voice to his brother's in order to be heard more clearly.

Then the door opened fully, and the light of the lamp fell on the little travelers standing in the doorway, their mourning clothes soaked and their young faces dumbfounded and fatigued.

The man who opened the door, old Etienne, contemplated them with a stupefied air.


          —Hélas![1] How did you come here, my poor children?, he said as he softened his voice. Where are you going? Where is your father?

And even before the orphans had time to respond, he had lifted up little Julien and held him paternally in his arms.

The young lad, with the lively sentiment natural to his age, embraced old Etienne with all of his heart, letting out a great sigh.

          —Our father is dead, he said

          —How!, cried Etienne with emotion; our good Michel is dead?

          —Yes, replied the youth. Since the war, his leg—which was wounded during the siege of Phalsbourg—had not fully healed. He fell from the scaffolding while working at his craft of carpentry, and was killed.

          —Hélas!, poor Michel! said Etienne, whose eyes filled with tears; and you, children, what will become of you?

André was about to resume the narrative of misfortune behind their arrival, but kind Etienne stopped him.

          —No, no, he said. I don't want to hear more now, my children; you must be famished and parched—you need to eat.

Etienne straight away put his words into action. He placed the boys in front of the stove and rekindled the fire. A wafting scent of fried onions filled the room, and soon the soup was steaming in the tureen.

Eat, my children, urged Etienne while cracking the eggs for a hearty omelet fried in lard.

While the boys savored an excellent soup, which had been reheated from dinner, the old shoemaker Etienne made the omelet. In the meantime, his wife, raising a mattress from their bed, prepared a nice place to sleep for the little travelers.

The stove purred cheerfully. André, while eating, answered questions from his father's old friend and apprised him of their current situation.

As for little Julien, he had walked so much that his little legs demanded rest; he was more sleepy than hungry. He tried bravely at first not to close his eyes. The struggle could not continue for long, though, and he fell asleep right after the meal.

He slept so soundly that Mère [1] Etienne undressed him and put him into bed without waking him.
[1] Alas! is a near equivalent. Hélas! is similar enough to be unproblematical for most readers, and preserves (in this preliminary version of the translation) a little bit of the "feel" of the original text.

[2] Mère is a versatile word that I have chosen in most cases not to translate directly. Pronounced "mare" (this is more or less accurate if you don't speak French), it means something like "mother" or "mama." It is used here as a term of maternal affection in a relationship anthropologists call "fictive kinship." I have hesitated to call her "Mama Etienne" or "Mrs. Etienne," for obvious cultural reasons.  There will be very few of these French phrases in the translation, but I urge you to get used to mère (mama) and père (papa), at least in this preliminary translation. Check the pronunciation guide for accurate pronunciations. In places where the text specifically states "Madame," I will, of course, maintain the author's usage.




NEXT
The Last Words of Michel Volden—
Brotherly Love and Love of Country
André tells Père Etienne about the events that forced them to leave Phalsbourg.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Le Tour de la France (1)—The Departure of André and Julien

Translated by Robert André LaFleur
Le Tour de la France par deux enfants (A Journey Around France Undertaken by Two Children) is a little 119-chapter book about French geography and culture. Written in 1877 by Augustine Fouillée (under the pseudonym G. Bruno), it was geared toward primary school students in their fourth and fifth years (cours moyen).  It has been read by generations of French students, and has played a small but important role in the development of a French national imagination. It was the little book that launched the Tour de France.

Chapters
1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10            11
Click here for the introduction to Round and Square's series on this 1877 classic. 
 
I
The Departure of André and Julien
Nothing better sustains our courage than 
the thought of a duty to fulfill

In a thick September fog, two youths—two brothers—started out of the city of Phalsbourg en Lorraine. They aimed to clear the great fortified entrance called Porte de France.
FORTIFIED GATE—The gates of fortified cities are served by raised bridges that extend along the moats that surround their walls; when one raises the bridge and closes the gates, no enemy can enter the city.  —Phalsbourg was fortified by Vauban and dismantled by the Germans. Traversing the route from Paris to Strassbourg, there are only two gates: the Gate of France to the west and the Gate of Germany, to the southwest, which are both models of military architecture.
Each of them carried a small travel packet, carefully tied and secured on their shoulders by a pole. Both boys walked rapidly, noiselessly, yet they had an anxious manner. Despite the darkness, they sought still further obscurity, and walked along the ditches.

The oldest of the two brothers, André, was fourteen years old. He was a robust young man, so big and strong for his age that he appeared to be at least two years older. He held by the hand his brother Julien, an amiable child, seven years old, fragile and delicate, like a little girl—but in spite of that courageous and intelligent far beyond his years. Wearing their mourning clothes—an air of sadness enveloping their countenances—one could readily see that they were orphans.

When they had gone a little distance from the city, the older brother spoke to the younger and, in a low and guarded voice—as though he feared that the trees themselves along the road were listening—said:

          —Do not be afraid, my little Julien, he said; no one saw us leave.
          —Oh, I am not afraid, André, said Julien; we are doing our duty.
          —I find you courageous, my Julien, but, before we have arrived, we will walk many nights; when you are too tired, I must say: I will carry you.
          —No!, no, replied the child; I have good legs and am too big to be carried.

The two continued to walk resolutely beneath a cold rain that had begun to fall. Twilight passed into nightfall, and it became darker and darker. Not a star showed itself in the sky to smile upon them; the wind cracked the great trees with a dark hissing and sent gusts of rain into the boys' faces. No matter. They proceeded without hesitation, hand in hand.

At a fork in the road, they heard footsteps. Suddenly, soundlessly, the boys slid into the ditch and hid themselves under some bushes. Making no movement, they let the travelers pass by. Slowly, the sounds vanished into the distance along the great road. André and Julien got up and returned again to their journey with a strengthened ardor.

After several hours of fatigue and anxiety, they came at last, having traversed the forest, to a distant light—faint and shaky—like a star in a stormy sky. Taking the road ahead of them, they walked toward the lighted cottage.

Arriving at the door, they were silent, not daring to knock. They still retained a natural timidity and well-meaning hesitation. It was easy to see that they were not in the habit of going to doors and asking for things. Trembling, with heavy hearts, they hesitated.

André regained his courage.

          —Julien, he said, this is the home of Etienne the shoemaker, an old friend of our father's; we should not be afraid to ask him for help.

And the two children knocked timidly at the door.


NEXT
Chapter Two
Supper at the Home of Etienne the Shoemaker—
And His Hospitality
The young travelers are given shelter and sustenance as their journey is about to begin in earnest.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Seinfeld Ethnography (9)—George Does the Opposite

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.
[a] Apposite   RF
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
Did you ever wonder what life might be like (or might have been like) if you had just done the opposite (so to speak)? We often speak of these matters in terms of "tweaking." If only, we think to ourselves, I would have done x, y, or z just a little bit differently, things might have worked out. But what about the opposite? What if, instead of going to the University of North Dakota...we went to the University of South Dakota? O.k., that is not exactly opposite, is it? It's still a university, and it is in the same general area. Could we ever even begin to control the variables that truly would allow us to do the opposite? Would it matter?

Before we get too far down the interpretive road, here, let's take a look at the clip from this week's Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific post. 



It is difficult to beat "I'm George; I'm unemployed and I live with my parents" for cultural markers denoting "loser" status, for better or worse. The brilliance of George's character on Seinfeld is not that he is a loveable loser—a character in American fiction that has grown almost into cliché. It is precisely because George is a truly annoying and generally unlikeable loser that he is interesting—compelling, even.

In American culture (and this has become fairly common in other cultural traditions—in the West and beyond), we tend to see these things in terms of individual personality. This is flawed, I maintain, and we will examine a number of theorists who are quite nimble in their characterizations of the individual in the complex net of social relationships.

[b] Nose-to-tail   RF
Seinfeld "gets" this in ways that are fascinating for those of us interested in social theory. There is no "essential" George, no inner psychology that displays ultimate "Georgeness." No, George became George in the rich, intricate familial, collegial, and fraternal connections that make up his (fictional) life. As Paul Ricoeur states, even "the selfhood of oneself implies otherness." [1] We all are George (or Jerry or Elaine or Charles or Emma) in the context of others. George lives with his parents and they (as anyone who has watched Seinfeld can attest) are part of his very being.

So...opposites. What do they mean in terms of the way we think about the "what if" question? Part of our very humanity is that we don't know what happens next. This reality lies at the very heart of how we talk about what went right and what did not. Doing the opposite implies dramatic action—a reversal of ordinary thinking. There are implications for this in the religious and philosophical traditions around the world, and this week we will examine three diverse readings that play on this concept.

Blaise Pascal
[c] Pensive
Pensée(s)
13  Two faces are alike; neither is funny by itself, but side by side their likeness makes us laugh.

21  If we are too young our judgement is impaired, just as if we are too old. 

      Thinking too little about things or thinking too much both make us obstinate and fanatical.

      If we look at our work immediately after completing it, we are still too involved; if too long afterwards, we cannot pick up the thread again. 

     It is like looking at pictures that are too near or too far away. There is just one indivisible point which is the right place. Others are too near, too far, too high, or too low. In painting the rules of perspective decide it, but how will it be decided when it comes to truth and morality?

24  Man's condition. Inconstancy, boredom, anxiety.

Søren Kierkegaard
The Sickness unto Death
Despair is a sickness of the spirit, of the self, and so can have three forms: 
being unconscious in despair of having a self (inauthentic despair), not wanting in despair 
to be oneself, and wanting in despair to be oneself.

The human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which is its relating to itself. The self in not the relation but the relation which is relating to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity. In short, a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two terms. Looked at in this way a human being is not yet a self.

[d] Guarded
In a relation between two things the relation is the third term in the form of a negative unity, and the two relate to the relation, and in the relation to that relation; this is what it is from the point of view of soul for soul and body to be in relation. If, on the other hand, the relation relates to itself, then this relation is the positive third, and this is the self.

Such a relation, which relates to itself, a self, must either have established itself for been established by something else...Such a derived, established relation is the human self, a relation which relates to itself, and in relating to itself relates to something else. That is why there can be two forms of authentic despair. If the human self were self-established, there would only be a question of one form: not wanting to be itself, wanting to be rid of itself...[2]


Hannah Arendt
The Life of the Mind
In the hope of finding out where the thinking ego is located in time and whether its relentless activity can be temporally determined, I shall turn to one of Kafka's parables, which, in my opinion, deals precisely with the matter. The parable is part of a collection of aphorisms entitled "HE."



[e] Ardent
He has two antagonists; the first presses him from behind, from his origin. The second blocks the road in front of him. He gives battle to both. Actually, the first supports him in his fight with the second, for he wants to push him forward, and in the same way the second supports him in his fight with the first, since he drives him back. But it is only theoretically so. For it is not only the two antagonists who are there, but he himself as well, and who really knows his intentions? His dream, though, is that some time in an unguarded moment—and this, it must be admitted, would require a night darker than any night has ever been yet—he will jump out of the fighting line and be prompted, on account of his experience in fighting, to the position of umpire over his antagonists in their fight with each other.
For me, this parable describes the time sensation of the thinking ego. It analyzes poetically our "inner state" in regard to time, of which we are aware when we have withdrawn from the appearances and find our mental activities recoiling characteristically upon themselves—cogito me cogitare, volo me velle, and so on. The inner time sensation arises when we are not entirely absorbed by the absent non-visibles we are thinking about but begin to direct our attention onto the activity itself. In this situation, past and future are equally present precisely because they are equally absent from our sense; thus the no-longer of the past is transformed by virtue of the spatial metaphor into something lying behind us and the not-yet of the future into something that approaches us from ahead (the German Zukunft, like the French avenir, means, literally What comes toward. In Kafka, this scene is a battleground where the forces of the past and future clash with each other...[3]

[1] Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 3.
[2] Blaise Pascal, Pensées [Transl A.J. Krailsheimer] (New York: Penguin Books, 1995),
[3] Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death [Transl Alastair Hannay] (New York: Penguin Books, 1989), 43.
[4] Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (New York: Harcourt, 1977), 202-203.




Bibliography
Arendt, Hannah. The Life of the Mind. New York: Harcourt, 1977.
Kierkegaard, Søren. The Sickness Unto Death [Transl Alastair Hannay]. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.
Pascal, Blaise. Pensees [Transl A.J. Krailsheimer]. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. Revised edition.
Ricoeur, Paul. Oneself as Another. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

NEXT
Wednesday, June 1st
Newman's Mail
It just keeps on coming—relentless pressure, never ending. Next week we will examine the little pressures of life and work as they build and build (and build). It takes a special kind of person (a brand New...man, as it were) to handle it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Remonstrance (3)—East Asian Definitions

Click here for the introduction to Round and Square's series on remonstrance.
[a] Remonstrance (35724)  RL
Let's look at some definitions in a great dictionary of the Chinese language, Tetsuji Morohashi's Daikanwa jiten 大漢和辞典. I will devote an entire "Beginnings" post to this formidable and delightful work, but we will mine it today as we examine entry number 35724—, "remonstrance." If you knew the full story behind the dictionary, you would bow down, weeping with gratitude for the skillful author, even if you don't read Chinese and Japanese. It is that impressive as a work of scholarly virtuosity.

When it comes to remonstrance, I think that the East Asian dictionaries provide the most useful avenues to understanding behavior including in the West. They tend to have more subtle senses of social life and its subtle hierarchies than almost any Western dictionary contains. The normal way to approach this matter would be to say that the situation is significantly different in East Asia. While this is surely true on several levels, I think that it misses the point. All we need to do is examine Kent's remonstrance with Lear to realize that almost all of the following definitions "fit" the situation—and many work better for understanding Lear than do the English language definitions. Think about that for a while, and then we'll begin. 

It should come as no surprise that what follows is not merely "quoted" from the 大漢和辞典. Clearly, that is not an option, so I have chosen instead to provide what might look a bit like a brief essay that examines the various entries under character number 35724. 
*** ***
The Chinese character is 諫, a combination of various parts, most significantly the "speech" radical set against a two-part phonetic (to use a term chose by Jesuit linguists) that together gives the sense of  "choose in a bundle previously opened," or "to pick, cull." The early Chinese etymological dictionary Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 has the following instructive formulation:
諫從束從八會意分別也 
Remonstrance—from "bundle" (and) from "eight."
(And various etymological matters).

I will go further in a moment, but what we have here is a "picking and choosing," indeed, a culling of words (揀). For those who do not read Chinese, just look at the element on the left of the character:
It is called the "hand" radical, or character element. You will see the connections to the character remonstrance very clearly, which has the "words" radical" on the left.
It is not hard to see the similarity of the two characters. The first is "hand + bundle," to simplify things just a bit; the second is "words + bundle." The right-hand elements are the same (these are the things that the Jesuits called "phonetics"). The one is a kind of picking and the other is a kind of criticizing. I liken them to a kind of verbal curling (I am thinking of the winter sport)—a collecting and polishing of choice words meant to make a key point from junior to senior, with images of smoothly polished ice (swept relentlessly) as the words flow right to their target, landing (if perfectly executed) slowly and calmly right at the center, with nary a clunk or overshot.  

This curling (culling) image may not be as much of a "reach" as it first appears. The Daikanwa jiten gives a number of key ideas that contribute to the smooth flowing and functioning of remonstrance, at least in its more idealized forms. For example, the entry (#35724) begins with the following phrases: 

直言    禮儀を以て人の過を正す 
Straight words—ritual and decorum used to correct a person's mistakes.
 
These definitions clearly give the sense of direct words and correction, but there is more. One remonstrates with ceremony and decorum; correction of mistakes is beautifully attuned to the rituals that hold society together. One follows the paths of correct behavior in criticizing a superior. It is rarely a mere matter of rebuke; one smooths the way—polishes the ice—with ritual and decorum.

A few more straightforward definitions should set the tone nicely: 

諫者以禮儀正之    
The remonstrator uses ritual and decorum to correct (a person)
內之則諫其君之過也 
The "insider" critiques his superior's mistakes.
諫止也 
Remonstrance—(it is a kind of) stopping
  
So, what we see wrapped in these definitions is a combination of correction of errors, on the one hand, and proper ceremony and deference, on the other. We can also tease a few more contexts out of this. Note the "insider" (內) status of the one who corrects his superior. It is also interesting that the last definition emphasizes "stopping" (止) rather than the related character "correction" (正). This is telling.

All of these definitions lead me to think of remonstrance in an East Asian context as much more rigorously connected to social structure and power issues than one sees in most English definitions. The East Asian definitions give much more context for criticism than their English dictionary counterparts, which tend to stress mere "reproach."
Another quotation deserves its own paragraph. The following excerpt, also taken from the lead definitions in the Daikanwa jiten is instructive:

諫,諫諍,直言以悟人也 
Remonstrance, remonstrance-admonishment—straight words with which to awaken a person.

The last sense of "to awaken"(悟) is much more than veneer, I think. It is a character used frequently in Buddhist writings throughout East Asian history, as might be guessed. The key in remonstrance is to reawaken a sense of right conduct that the father or ruler already knows. This is not the teaching of new knowledge, but rather the reminding (gently or otherwise) of a well-informed ruler of the principles at the heart of his government (or the father with his family).  

Taken together, these definitions give us a rich array of interpretive possibilities. They are much more than mere "protest" or "criticism." They are richly engaged with social status, hierarchy, and social action. They are part of a deep pattern of ritual ties that bind senior (先輩) and junior (後輩) in the social hierarchy. Above all, they tap into a shared tradition of knowledge that goes far beyond the individualized interpretation of a single minister of government or rebuking son. They are part of a shared body of knowledge that, at least in principle, all participants understand.
***  ***
Let us go just a bit further with our discussion of remonstrance in a dictionary sense. The key meaning of "criticizing from below" can be sin in the compound (言+束+八), or can at least be read into it ("a bundle of words"—trust me). It is in the practice of daily life and government that the concept comes into full bloom, however. Let us examine some key compounds to see if we can find patterns that help us understand remonstrance "in action," mostly within the context of government.  
諫止 
(remonstrance + stop):
to dissuade
諫死 
(remonstrance + death):
to risk one’s life in remonstrance
For the institutionalization of remonstrance, we have another useful set of terms. It is important to note that this concept is not merely about individual actions. It is about the manner in which groups and institutions "think," as well. All three of the terms below refer to remonstrance officials in government, but each has subtle differences.
諫官 
(remonstrance + government official):
remonstrance official
諫臣 
(remonstrance + government minister): 
remonstrance official
諫議大夫 
(remonstrance + aristocratic status):
remonstrance official
Finally, there are the terms that date well back to ancient times—ancient ideals that persisted in the political imagination for millennia and formed an important part of the rhetoric of historiography and political discourse in imperial China.
諫板  
(remonstrance + plank): 
remonstrance board; “criticism tablet”
諫鼓   
(remonstrance + drum)
 remonstrance drums
We'll explore many of these ideas in the coming weeks. When we see all of this put into practice—into the drama of political critique, as it were—we will see images from early China of even the common people pounding the remonstrance drum and criticizing the ruler, protected by the ideal that everyone from the highest officials down to the lowliest of the common people should be heard. Does that sound sort of familiar? Does it surprise you to think of it in China?

Well, get ready for surprises. The remonstrance ideal is alive today in China, just as it was three thousand years ago. Does that mean that people beat remonstrance drums in their cities and counties when injustice is done? Well, yes...and not exactly. Remonstrance has always been an ideal, and has always been underplayed and overplayed by various protestors in a complicated hierarchical political system (be that a family or the state itself). It is a concept that will require a great deal of philosophical, historical, and, indeed, anthropological work.

It will be fun. Stay tuned.