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] Round RF|
I've been through the dessert on a horse with no name.
This collage of Seinfeld clips shows something truly meaty (so to speak) regarding social life. It is a kind of social analysis worth thinking the ol' teeth into. Yes (to quibble just slightly) it starts out the way that all of our derivative, everyday discussions of these matters start (individual traits then spread to other individuals). Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss would scoff with a truly sociological disdain at the opening concept.
But, oh, how it takes off in a wave of "social learning" from there (Durkheim, Mauss, et moi will now relent, conceding the social force...and fact...of the idea). It all starts with a bit of a sweet tooth and a little bit of taste (whatever that means). It takes off in a crescendo of Seinfeldian musing, as Elaine, Jerry, and George discuss this strange concept of eating a Snickers bar with utensils. Just watch.
As always, the social-analytical possibilities are everywhere. Most Americans would agree that eating candy bars with knife and fork is hardly common. I have been around the world enough to know that touching food with fingers (something Americans seem to spend little time thinking about) is not common everywhere. I have watched club sandwiches consumed with fork and precarious spoon in Taiwan, and watched the horror on various faces on a recent domestic flight in China when a young Western woman calmly peeled off strips of her sandwich and ate them with her hands. On the other hand, we don't have to open up an encyclopedia of world cultures to know that many societies have a strong preference toward what we might call "tactile consumption."
|[b] Utensils needed RF|
Let's just think about taste, choice, fashion, and utensils. We are building toward deeper things—slowly, week-by-week—in Seinfeld Ethnography.
|[c] Utensils down R|
Today's anthropological readings are a real mish-mash, and that is (as readers of this thread know very well by now) intentional. We start with Claude Lévi-Strauss and the first two paragraphs of his four volume (2,200-page) study of mythology. I will not even try to hide the fact that I am quoting the passage because the title is memorable...but also because it is the barest opening for a set of ideas we will pursue on Round and Square in the future. Mythology—and Lévi-Strauss's strangely magisterial study of it—will figure prominently in future posts.
Our "middle" reading today is even stranger still. It is from Roy Rappaport's classic study of ecology and ritual among the Tsembaga of New Guinea. It does not aspire to be anything but dryness. The most fascinating thing, if you stick with it, is that it is really quite interesting (that's a lotta yams in the ol' diet). Enjoy it; read the chart—think about where a glazed doughnut or chocolate bar might fit into the Tsembaga diet. Anthropology is fun.
We conclude with Immanuel Kant. I have been thinking about Kant for years now, and am determined to get to the heart of what might be called a kind of Enlightenment Anthropology (Kant, Rousseau, and others are a part of this very strange mixture). It starts with the idea of "taste" in a narrow sense, but it doesn't take large leaps of imagination to see how "taste" might well figure into the use of, say, silverware for dessert consumption. Kant (not to mention George Costanza) is not too far from Pierre Bourdieu here.
The Raw and the Cooked
The initial hypothesis demands therefore that from the outset we place ourselves at the most concrete level—that is, in the heart of a community or of a group of communities sufficiently alike in regard to their habitat, history, and culture. However, while this undoubtedly an essential methodological precaution, it cannot mask or restrict my intention. Using a small number of myths taken from native communities which will serve as a laboratory, I intend to carry out an experiment which, should it prove successful, will be of universal significance, since I expect it to prove that there is a kind of logic of tangible qualities, and to demonstrate the operation of that logic and its laws.
Pigs for the Ancestors
Busama Kaiapit Patep Kavataria Chimbu Tsembaga
Taro 65.0 7.3 45.9 8.6 — 25.8
Yam 1.4 9.5 .2 55.2 5.0 9.3
Manioc — 2.0 .2 1.4 — 1.2
Potato — 25.7 37.6 14.0 77.0 21.0
Sago 6.8 .28 — — — —
Banana 1.1 31.6 .4 5.5 — 7.8
Stems 6.1 — 2.6 2.3 13.0 17.3
Leaves 14.0 9.2 8.0 — 2.5 9.9
pandanus — — ? — ? 4.2
Grain .36 — 3.0 — 1.5 —
Misc. veg. — 3.4 1.8 1.4 — 2.5
Animal 2.9 1.7 .2 9.7 1.0 1.0
Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View
Taste is, therefore, a faculty of the social judgement of external objects within the imagination. Here the mind feels its freedom in the play of images (therefore of sensibility), since sociability with other people presupposes freedom; and this feeling is pleasure. But the universal validity of this pleasure for everyone, whereby discrimination (of the beautiful) with taste is distinguished from discrimination through mere sense perception (of what is subjectively pleasing), that is, of what is agreeable, contains the concept of a law within itself, because only in accordance with this law can the validity of satisfaction be universal for the person who makes the judgement...
 Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 1.
 Roy Rappaport, Pigs for the Ancestors (Long Grove IL: Waveland Press, Inc., 1984), 72-73.
 Immanuel Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (Carbondale IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978), 141-143.
Kant, Immanuel. Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View [translated by Victor Lyle Dowdell]. Carbondale IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. The Raw and the Cooked [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman]. New York: Harper and Row, 1969.
Rappaport, Roy A. Pigs for the Ancestors: Ritual in the Ecology of a New Guinea People. Long Grove IL: Waveland Press, Inc., 1984.
Wednesday, June 29th