So what's up with that? There are biological, social, and cultural implications here, just to name a few. There are a few historical ones, too. Just think about it. How realistic was it to stay up all night...before the light bulb? Yes, the torchlight (or fireflies in a bag) could provide a little bit of scholarly or artistic extension, but the big ol' bulb in the sky was the best indicator of work time—whether that meant chasing down an antelope, digging tubers, or fighting for control of the Holy Roman Empire. Sunlight pretty much set the course for most of the...course of human history. The light bulb changed all of that, and it has been a dizzying century-plus of change. Now, George-types can stay up all night watching movies, and factories can work on twenty-four hour, three-shift schedules.
I am not going to waste your time with all of the material out there in popular publications on biorhythms, sleep cycles, and "normal" patterns. No, I plan to bore you with the ethnographic and theoretical implications of thinking about life and work and sleep through the eyes of a few thinkers over the course of history. I have often referred to these weekly readings as "theoretical," and that was distinctly the tone in the first dozen Seinfeld Ethnography posts. There will continue to be plenty of "theory" in the weeks and months ahead, but you will be seeing more references to historical, ethnographic, and literary materials. Today's readings provide a good example.
|[b] Desk, bed RF|
Let's think about George and the life patterns that lead us to sleep at night and work during the day. Or not.
Works and Days
|[c] Work, day|
The role of the child and the work performed by each is well illustrated in a family of six children, five boys and one girl. Five are old enough to perform certain tasks. Their ages are 22, 17, 15 (girl), 12, 8, and 3. The two oldest boys, ages 22 and 17, and the father carry on the farming operations and field work. The 15-year-old boy, who is still in puberty, and though capable of doing a full day's work, performs the lighter tasks about the barn. The girl, aged 12, and a boy 8 attend public school, and the youngest, a three-year-old, is in the age of curiosity...
The solidarity of the family and its ability to act as a unit in an emergency is illustrated by the co-operation at occasions when the livestock breaks out. Charles P. Loomis, who worked at an Amish place as a farm hand, describes such an incident. As they were seated at the supper table: "Mattie got up to get some milk and saw that the cows were getting through the gate. She screamed and the whole family dashed to the door. Mother hurriedly put the baby into the carriage. We ran after the 22 cows. The big family encircled them, one girl having run over a mile on plowed ground. We got them back in. They had not been out this spring and were wild. Mother said she has read about stampedes in the west. Chris and I put them back in their stanchions after supper. He fed them grain first, but still we had a job. He said, 'They're out of practice. When they get to going to the meadow each day they will do better.'"
The Culture of Time & Space, 1880-1918
The first commercially practical incandescent lamp was invented by Thomas Alva Edison in 1879, and three years later he opened the first public electricity supply system at the Pearl Street district of New York that made possible the wide-spread use of the electric light. The eminent historian of architecture Rayner Bahnam has called electrification "the greatest environmental revolution in human history since the domestication of fire." One of the many consequences of this versatile, cheap, and reliable form of illuminations was a blurring of the division between day and night. Of course candles and gas lamps could light the darkness, but they had not been able to achieve the enormous power of the incandescent light bulb and suggest that the routine alternation of day and night was subject to modification. One of the many such observations occurs in a novel of 1898, where a Broadway street scene at dusk is illuminated by a flood of "radiant electricity" which gave the effect of an "immortal transformation" of night into day."
 Hesiod, Works and Days [Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White 1914]. http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/works.htm
 John A. Hostetler, Amish Society, Revised Edition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968), 155-156.
 Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time & Space, 1880-1918 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), 29.
Hesiod, Works and Days [Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White 1914]. http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/hesiod/works.htm
Hostetler, John A. Amish Society, Revised Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968.
Kern, Stephen. The Culture of Time & Space, 1880-1918. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983.
Wednesday, July 6th
Too Late for Coffee
George gets an invitation, but declines because it's "too late for coffee." It's all society, culture, and gendered confusion on Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.