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.

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
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.

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.

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, as it were) to handle it.

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