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 29, 2011

Seinfeld Ethnography (14)—Sleep Desk

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

Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific 
George's arrangement is a good deal more covert than the one you can see in the photograph, above. No, George wants to get some serious work. The ethnographic and theoretical implications of this are enormous (much of Seinfeld works this way), so let's get right to the episode before we consider further aspects of what it means to sleep at work.

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
(ll. 286-292) To you, foolish Perses, I will speak good sense. Badness can be got easily and in shoals: the road to her is smooth, and she lives very near us. But between us and Goodness the gods have placed the sweat of our brows: long and steep is the path that leads to her, and it is rough at the first; but when a man has reached the top, then is she easy to reach, though before that she was hard.

(ll. 293-319) That man is altogether best who considers all things himself and marks what will be better afterwards and at the end; and he, again, is good who listens to a good adviser; but whoever neither thinks for himself nor keeps in mind what another tells him, he is an unprofitable man. But do you at any rate, always remembering my charge, work, high-born Perses, that Hunger may hate you, and venerable Demeter richly crowned may love you and fill your barn with food; for Hunger is altogether a meet comrade for the sluggard. Both gods and men are angry with a man who lives idle, for in nature he is like the stingless drones who waste the labour of the bees, eating without working; but let it be your care to order your work properly, that in the right season your barns may be full of victual. Through work men grow rich in flocks and substance, and working they are much better loved by the immortals (8). Work is no disgrace: it is idleness which is a disgrace. But if you work, the idle will soon envy you as you grow rich, for fame and renown attend on wealth. And whatever be your lot, work is best for you, if you turn your misguided mind away from other men's property to your work and attend to your livelihood as I bid you. An evil shame is the needy man's companion, shame which both greatly harms and prospers men: shame is with poverty, but confidence with wealth.[1]

John Hostetler
Amish Society
[d] Work
Teaching the child to work and to accept responsibility is considered of utmost importance. The child begins to assist his parents at the age of four and is given limited responsibility at the age of six. The boy learns to feed the chickens, gather eggs, feed the calf, and drive the horses. The girl is trained to perform small jobs for her mother and to learn early the art of cooking and housekeeping. Some parents give a pig, sheep, or calf the child with the stipulation that he tend the animal and take care of it. In this way the child is motivated to take an interest in the farm.

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.'"[2]

Stephen Kern
The Culture of Time & Space, 1880-1918
[e] Light
The structure of history, the uninterrupted forward movement of clocks, the procession of days, seasons, and years, and simple common sense all tell us that time is irreversible and moves forward at a steady rate. Yet these features of traditional time were also challenged as artists and intellectuals envisioned times that reversed themselves, moved at irregular rhythms, and even came to a dead stop. In the fin de siècle, time's arrow did not always fly straight and true...

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."[3]

[1] Hesiod, Works and Days [Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White 1914].
[2] John A. Hostetler, Amish Society, Revised Edition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968), 155-156.
[3] 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].
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.

No comments:

Post a Comment