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, August 31, 2011

Seinfeld Ethnography (23)—I Can't Be With Someone If I Don't Respect What They Do

Click here for an introduction to the Round and Square series Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.
[a] Dumped  RF
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. 
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific 
This week, Jerry gets dumped. Everything changed on Tuesday, says the woman beside him. "I just can't be with someone if I don't respect what they do." 

"But you're a cashier!" No matter, "so much fluff" just doesn't get the job done, and the relationship is over. We don't have to worry about Jerry, who will soon have other people to meet. I am more interested this week in "respecting what someone does." What exactly does that mean? Throughout world history, it has played a much more prominent role in partner choice than supposedly egalitarian Americans admit. 

This week’s readings take the Seinfeld clip you just saw and overlay it with a number of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century images. We begin with Alexis de Tocqueville’s thoughts about the nature of the marriage contract in the fledgling United States, then proceed to Tocqueville’s home country for a skillful rendering of gendered marital frustration. We complete our circuit this week with Marcel Granet’s fanciful (but theoretically rich) account of marriage in ancient China. All of the references are snippets from larger narratives, of course, and it would not be Seinfeld Ethnography if I failed to remind readers that these passages every week are meant to be juxtaposed—even read “against the grain—of the Seinfeld clip. This should not be difficult in works ranging from a political-social treatise to an iconic novel and on to ancient Chinese history. 

Alexis de Tocqueville 
Democratic Marriage (1840)  
[b] Democratic
Amongst aristocratic nations, birth and wealth often make a man and a woman such different creatures that they could never succeed in uniting with each other. Passions draw them together but social conditions and notions suggested by them prevent their forging a permanent and open union. That leads unavoidably to a great number of transient and clandestine liaisons. Nature secretly gets her own back for the restraint imposed by laws.

This does not occur in the same way when equality of social conditions has swept away all the real or imagined barriers between men and women. No girl then feels that she cannot become the wife of the man who likes her best, which makes the disruption of moral behavior before marriage very uncommon. For, however believable a passion may be, in no way will a woman be persuaded that she is loved when her lover is perfectly free to marry her and does not do so. The same cause acts upon marriage in a more indirect manner. Nothing better serves to justify an illicit passion in the eyes of those experiencing it or of the watching crowd than forced marriages or ones embarked upon by chance. 
In a country where women are always free to make their own choice and where education has taught them to choose well, public opinion is unforgiving when they make a mistake. The austerity of Americans stems in part from that cause. They regard marriage as a contract which, though onerous, must nevertheless be strictly honored in all its clauses because these have all been known beforehand and people have enjoyed the complete freedom not to bind themselves to anything at all.[1]

Gustave Flaubert
Madame Bovary (1856) 
[c] Frustration
Finally, to keep up with the times, [Charles] subscribed to “La Ruche Médicale,” a new journal whose prospectus had been sent to him. He read it a little after dinner, but in about five minutes, the warmth of the room added to the effect of his dinner sent him to sleep; and he sat there, his chin on his two hands and his hair spreading like a mane to the foot of the lamp. Emma looked at him and shrugged her shoulders. Why at least, was not her husband one of those silently determined men who work at their books all night, and at last, when at sixty the age of rhumatisim was upon them, wear a string of medals on their ill-fitting black coat? She would have wished this name of Bovary, which was hers, to be illustrious, to see it displayed at the booksellers’, repeated in the newspapers, known to all of France. But Charles had no ambition. An Yvetot doctor whom he had lately met in consultation had somewhat humiliated him at the very bedside of the patient, before the assembled relatives. When, in the evening, Charles told this incident Emma inveighed loudly against his colleague. Charles was much touched. He kissed her forehead with a tear in his eyes. But she was angered with shame; she felt a wild desire to strike him; she went to open the window in the passage and breathed fresh air to calm herself. 

“What a man! what a man,” she said in a low voice, biting her lips. 

She was becoming more irritated with him. As he grew older his manner grew coarser; at dessert he cut the corks of the empty bottles; after eating he cleaned his teeth with his tongue; in eating his soup he made a gurgling noise with every spoonful; and, as he was getting fatter, the puffed-out cheeks seemed to push the yes, always small, up to the temples.[2]

Marcel Granet
[e] Relationships
Home Life in Ancient China (1929)
The marriage of a noble girl is a quasi-diplomatic affair. It serves to maintain an old alliance or to procure a new one, for, in the instability of the feudal world, it happens more and more frequently that families, rejecting “the old relationships” seek fortune (li) by attaching themselves to another system of alliances. To enter into commerce, one must have recourse to the good offices of a go-between. The go-between, who was formerly charged with the oversight of the pre-nuptial lustrations, becomes a sort of ambassador. This obliging intermediary will become in the end a veritable match-maker whose duty it is to provide the partners and assort the households. In feudal times, his intervention seems to have been necessary, because the old rule (which was still respected, in theory if not in fact) that a marriage is only fortunate between families traditionally united by the obligation of intermarriages, survived in another form, namely, the idea that marriage is not a free contract: a girl who is asked in marriage cannot be refused without her people exposing themselves to a vendetta. This misfortune must be avoided if the two families come to an agreement through the go-between, before the formal demand. The official rites do not come into play until the agreement is concluded. The go-between then resigns his place to a qualified ambassador whom the head of the family of the would-be bridegroom sends to the family of the girl. He proceeds with the rites of betrothal, at which neither the bridegroom nor his father may be present. At each of these rites he exchanges a certain number of sacramental formulas with the head of the girl’s family…[3] 

[1] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Penguin Classics, 2003), 690-691.
[2] Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary [Translated by Paul de Man] (New York: W.W. Norton 
     & Company, 1965), 44.
[3] Marcel Granet, Chinese Civilization [Translated by Kathleen Innes and Mabel Brailsford] 
     (New York: Meridian Books, 1958), 347.

Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary [Translated by Paul de Man]. New York: W.W. 
     Norton & Company, 1965.
Granet, Marcel. Chinese Civilization [Translated by Kathlen Innes and Mabel Brailsford]. 
     New York: Meridian Books, 1958.
Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America [Translated by Gerald Bevan]. New York: 
     Penguin Classics, 2003. 

Wednesday, September 7th
The Exploding Wallet 
George's big wallet is central to his identity, or so he maintains. Next week we'll explore gender, money, storage, and contingency on Seinfeld Ethnography.

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