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, June 22, 2011

Seinfeld Ethnography (13)—Just Dessert

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] Round  RF
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific 
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
The first thing to think about is just that—eating with our hands. Americans are by no means on the "utensils" side of that argument (candy bars, pizza, sandwiches, and so forth are all easy example of—usually unambiguous—finger foods). So what compels Elaine to exclaim (in her heartily compelling way) "what is wrong with you people?" They aren't drinking the soup out of their bowls or belching publicly (conduct that is also not universally criticized, I might add). What is it about social mores, taste, and chocolate that makes some dessert "hand food" and other dessert "utensil food?" Can you imagine eating your banana cream pie with your hands? Of course not. How about your doughnut? Of course. Carrot cake? Hmmm.

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.

Claude Lévi-Strauss
The Raw and the Cooked
[d] Utensils
The aim of this book is to show how empirical categories—such as the categories of the raw and the cooked, the fresh and the decayed, the moistened and the burned, etc., which can only be accurately defined by ethnographic observation and, in each instance, by adopting the standpoint of a particular culture—can nonetheless be used as conceptual tools with which to elaborate abstract ideas and combine them in the form of propositions.

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.[1]

Roy Rappaport
Pigs for the Ancestors
Composition of the Diet
The composition of the Tsembaga diet by percentage of constituent foods by weight is presented foods by weight is presented in Table 8, along with comparative information from other New Guinea groups.

                    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
Fruits and
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

[e] Diet
The data from Busama, Kaiapit, Patep, and Kavataria were collected during the New Guinea Food Survey of 1947. The broad nature of this survey did not permit long observation of consumption in any location, and it is probable that some items included in the diets of these communities were not recorded. It may be, therefore, that the impression of greater variety in the Tsembaga diet is to some extent misleading. It is worth noting, however, that the Tsembaga seem to rely less upon any single starchy staple than do other groups. Furthermore, a much larger proportion of the diet apparently consists of foods other than starchy staples. Slightly more than one-third of the Tsembaga diet by weight, 34.9%, is composed of leaves, stems, and fruits other than banana. Sugar cane (which will be included in later calculations of Tsembaga intake) has been excluded for comparison since it is not included in the reports from some of the communities in which it may be present. If it were included here, the proportion of items other than starchy staples in the Tsembaga diet would approach 50%. In the five other communities in which the Tsembaga are compared, the percentage of non-starchy items in the diet varies from 15.3% to 25.7%. In further contrast to the others, the Tsembaga diet includes an appreciable amount of marita pandanus, the edible portion of which contains 14.0% fat, according to Hipsley and Kirk (1965:38). The nutritional consequences of the greater variety found in the Tsembaga diet will be discussed later.[2]

Immanuel Kant
Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View
[f] Taste
67. TASTE, in the proper sense of the word, is as has already been stated above, the property of an organ (the tongue, the palate, and the gullet) to be specifically affected by certain dissolved matter in food and drink. According to its use it is to be understood either as a differentiating taste alone or, at the same time, as a pleasant taste (for example, whether something is sweet or bitter, or whether what is tasted [sweet or bitter] is pleasant). Distinguishing taste can provide universal agreement as to how certain things are to be labeled, but pleasant taste can never yield a universally valid judgment: namely that sometime (for example, something bitter) which is pleasant to me will also be pleasant to everybody. The reason for this is clear because neither pleasure not displeasure belong to the cognitive faculty concerning objects; they are rather determinations of the subject which, therefore, cannot be attributed to external objects...

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...[3]

[1] Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 1.
[2] Roy Rappaport, Pigs for the Ancestors (Long Grove IL: Waveland Press, Inc., 1984), 72-73.
[3] 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
Sleep Desk
George wants some shut-eye at work. We'll examine social regulations such as "working during the day" and other such concepts next week on Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.

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