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
|[a] Codes RF|
"No numbers for you...you're a word man." Kramer's shark begins to circle, and then spots vulnerability: "You're a portly fellow...a bit long in the waistband..." From there, George begins to crack, especially once the "sweet snacks" angle hits home.
Are some people better at code-cracking than others? Undeniably, and Kramer is an example of a personality type that sees through façades, right down to the naked number or word image used on secure websites and ATM machines. Are some people particularly bad at making and keeping codes? Yup, undeniably. George seems to be somewhere in the middle (he wouldn't use a birthday, for example), but he cannot stray too far from the needs that drive him. Sweet, chocolatey needs.
|[c] Pentagonal RF|
For now, let's move on to the readings (since I have already begun to dull the excitement of the episode with ideas about psychology and "essentializing" rhetoric(s). Today, we'll examine three diverse thinkers, each of whom deals with a different angle of today's episode. On the face of it, the selections may not seem to address the "code-cracking" theme. Remember, that the whole point of these readings on Seinfeld Ethnography is to juxtapose the ideas in the Seinfeld clip with other themes that hover in its general universe. In today's case, we have Aristotle on the nature of deliberation (to what extent does Kramer v.s. Costanza fit the theme of "deliberation"?), Paul Ricoeur on individuality and individuation (what could be more "individualized" than a secret code?), and, finally, a very fine reflection by Charles Taylor on ways we come to understandings in different contexts. One might wonder what Aristotle, Ricoeur, and Taylor would think of Kramer and George this week.
The Art of Deliberation
The accurate enumeration and assignment to species of the customary subjects of debate and, as far as this is possible, their precise definition we need not at the moment pursue. They do not, indeed, come within the ambit of rhetorical skill, belonging rather to a more intellectual and veridical competence. In fact, we have even now assigned to rhetoric many more than its proper subjects of interest. For what we had occasion to remark above is true—that rhetoric is a compound of the science of dialectic and the deliberative study of morality and is akin both to dialectic and sophistry. And in so far as it might be attempted to establish either of the latter not as capacities but as sciences, this would be a surreptitious obfuscation of their true nature by a slide to the foundation of the sciences of the given subjects, not merely of arguments.
"Person" and Identifying Reference
As a process, individualization may be broadly characterized as the inverse of classification, which eliminates the singular under the name of the concept. But if we simply stress the adjective "inverse," we then underscore two purely negative features of the individual, namely that it is a type that is neither repeatable nor divisible without alteration. These negation do indeed carry us to the side of the ineffable. But just because this is an inverse movement does not mean that language is without resources, as though it were limited to classification and predication. The individualizing intention begins where classification and predication leave off but draws support from these operations and, as we shall see, gives them new impetus. We individualize only if we have conceptualized. And we individualize with a view to describing more. It is because we think and speak in concepts that language has to repair, as it were, the loss caused by conceptualization...
Understanding the Other
First, I want to contrast two kinds of operation: knowing an object and coming to an understanding with an interlocuter. The first is unilateral, the second bilateral. I know the rock, the solar system; I don't have to deal with its view of me or of my knowing activity. But beyond this, the goal is different. I conceive the goal of knowledge as attaining some finally adequate explanatory language, which can make sense of the object and will exclude all future surprises. However much this may elude us in practice, it is what we often seek in science: we look for the ultimate theory in microphysics, where we will finally have charted all the particles and forces, and we do not have to face future revisions.
Second, coming to an understanding can never have this finality. For one thing, we come to understandings with certain definite interlocutors. These will not necessarily serve when we come to deal with others. Understandings are party-dependent. And then, frequently more worrying, even our present partners may not remain the same. Their life situations or goals may change and the understanding may be put in question. True, we try to control for this by binding agreements and contracts, but this is precisely because we see that what constitutes perfect and unconstrained mutual understanding at one time may no longer hold good later.
Third, the unilateral nature of knowledge emerges in the fact that my goal is to attain a full intellectual control over the object, such that it can no longer "talk back" and surprise me. Now this may require that I make some quite considerable changes in my outlook. My whole conceptual scheme may be inadequate when I begin my inquiry. I may have to undergo the destruction and remaking of my framework of understanding to attain the knowledge that I seek. But all this serves the aim of full intellectual control. What does not alter the process is my goal. I define my aims throughout in the same way.
By contrast, coming to an understanding may require that I give some ground on my objectives. The end of the operation is not control, or else I am engaging in a sham designed to manipulate my partner while pretending to negotiate. The end is being able in some way to function together with the partner, and this means listening as well as talking, and hence may require that I redefine what I am aiming at.
 Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric [Translated by Hugh Lawson-Tancred] (New York: Penguin Classics, 2004), 83-84.
 Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another [Translated by Kathleen Blamey] (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 27-28.
 Charles Taylor, Dilemmas and Connections: Selected Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 24-26.
Aristotle. The Art of Rhetoric [Translated by Hugh Lawson-Tancred]. New York: Penguin Classics, 2004.
Ricoeur, Paul. Oneself as Another [Translated by Kathleen Blamey]. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Taylor, Charles. Dilemmas and Connections: Selected Essays. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011.
Wednesday, August 10th