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] Downtown? RF|
Through the whole clip, which you will see below, runs a 1965 hit that the Seinfeld gang revives three decades later. Petula Clark's song is worth a listen (and look—this is a video you have to see, if only for its historical contrast) before we consider Jerry and George tracking the elusive prey they call downtown.
|[b] History RF|
Dad and I weren't the only ones listening, either. The song has become a minor chord in American (and Commonwealth) cultural life, and it forms the heart of a riddle that George Costanza just cannot crack.
So, you see, we are confronted here with problems of definition (what, or where, is "downtown," and how is it to be differentiated from other "towns," be they "Up..." or "Mid..."?), of interpretation (what does it mean?), and—by extension—the manner in which definitions have changed over the past thirty years. Just contrast Petula Clark in 1965 with George and Jerry's already dated discussion, and you will see that historical understanding is a little more complicated than just knowing "what happened."
Those are the "theoretical" issues we will examine today. Umberto Eco will guide us through a reflection on definitions. Next, R.G. Collingwood will discuss "historical imagination" in a snippet from one of the most creative works on historiography ever written. Finally, Claude Lévi-Strauss will describe historical and cultural contrasts in urban landscapes. As always, I will remind you that the "theoretical" readings are meant to touch upon the Seinfeld scene ever so gently—to juxtapose intellectual issues that can be seen in a new light when contrasted with the Seinfeld episode. I have begun adding original publication dates for writers whose work has been reprinted or translated (and for which the dates in the bibliography might be confusing).
Kant, Peirce, and the Platypus
Therefore the table of categories does not allow us to say how we perceive a stone as such. Concepts of the pure intellect are only logical functions, not concepts of objects. But, if I am unable to say not only that this A is the sun and this B is a stone but also that this B is at least a body, all the universal and necessary laws that the concepts of the pure intellect guarantee me are worth nothing, because they could refer to any datum of experience. Perhaps I could say that there is an A that heats everything, whatever empirical concept I may assign to B, but I wouldn't know what this heating entity is, because I would not have assigned any empirical concept to A. Concepts of the pure intellect have need not only of sensible intuition but also of objects to which they may be applied.
The Historical Imagination (1946)
This activity, with this double character, I shall call a priori imagination; and, though I shall have more to say of it hereafter, for the present I shall be content to remark that, however unconscious we may be of its operation, it is this activity which, bridging the gaps between what our authorities tell us, gives the historical narrative or description its continuity. That the historian must use his imagination is a commonplace...but this is to underestimate the part played by the historical imagination, which is properly not ornamental but structural. Without it the historian would have no narrative to adorn. The imagination, that 'blind but indispensable faculty' without which, as Kant as shown, we could never perceive the world around us, is indispensable in the same way to history: it is this which, operating not capriciously as fancy but in its a priori form, does the entire work of historical construction.
Tristes Tropiques (1955)
When new districts are being created, they are hardly integral elements of the urban scene; they are too gaudy, too new, too gay for that. They are more like stands in a fairground or the pavilions of some international exhibition, built to last only a few months. After that lapse of time, the fair closes and the huge gewgaws lapse into decay; the façades begin to peel, rain and soot leave their grimy trails, the style goes out of fashion, and the original layout disappears through the demolitions caused by some new building fever. The contrast is not between new towns and old towns, but between towns with a very short evolutionary cycle and towns with a slow evolutionary cycle. Certain European cities sink gently into a moribund torpor; those of the New World live feverishly in the grip of a chronic disease; they are perpetually young, yet never healthy.
 Umberto Eco, Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition (New York: Vintage, 2000), 73-74.
 R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History [Revised Edition] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 241.
 Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques (New York: Penguin Books, 1973), 95-96.
Collingwood, R.G. The Idea of History (Revised Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Eco, Umberto. Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition [Translated by Alastair McEwen]. New York: Vintage, 2000.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes Tropiques [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman]. New York: Penguin Books, 1973].
Wednesday, August 3rd
Kramer wedges his interpretive crowbar between George's tight-lipped secret code.