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
Take a look at Elaine's flight. Anyone who has flown surely can recognize a great deal from the middle of the clip (except for this quaint idea of in-flight meals in coach...what are they?)...
We also are introduced to an intriguing idea: "I have flown first-class; you haven't—I can't go back." Hmmm. This opens up an array of possibilities for our readings, and it has been particularly difficult this week to choose only three. We begin with Karl Marx. This passage from Das Kapital quotes extensively (and with withering acidity) from two earlier authors. Next, we read a bit from Stendahl's The Red and the Black. Soak in the often critical depiction of the rich peasant Sorel when dealing with the mayor of the city. Finally, we shift gears dramatically to look at "spatial subversions" in a Chinese silk factory two decades ago. And what is an airplane but a series of highly charged spaces?
The Antagonism of Capitalist Production
Karl Marx (1867)
About ten years after Ortes, the High Church Protestant parson, Townsend, glorified misery as a necessary condition of wealth in a thoroughly brutal way. 'Legal constraint' (to labour) 'is attended by too much trouble, violence, and noise, ...whereas hunger is not only a peaceable, silent, unremitted pressure, but as the most natural motive to industry and labour, it calls forth the most powerful exertions.' Everything therefore depends on making hunger permanent among the working class, and this is provided for, according to Townsend, by the principle of population, which is especially applicable to the poor. 'It seems to be a law of Nature that the poor should be to a certain degree improvident (i.e. so improvident as to be born without silver spoons in their mouths) 'that there may always be some to fulfil the most servile, the most sordid, and the most ignoble offices in the community. The stock of human happiness is thereby much increased, whilst the more delicate are not only relieved from drudgery...but are left at liberty without interruption to pursue those callings which are suited to their various dispositions...it' (the Poor Law) 'tends to destroy the harmony and beauty, the symmetry and order of that system which God and Nature have established in the world.'
Mayor and Peasant
|[c] Red, black|
M. de Rênal was taken up with this speculation when he caught sight of a peasant in the distance, a man of nearly six foot, who, in the early morning light, seemed entirely absorbed in measuring pieces of wood disposed on the towpath along the Doubs. This peasant did not appear at all pleased to see the approach of M. le Maire; for the pieces of wood obstructed the way, and were placed there contrary to regulations.
Père Sorel—for it was he—was very surprised, and still more gratified, at the singular proposition put to him by M. de Rênal concerning his son Julien. He heard it, even so, with that air of melancholy discontent and indifference with which the peasants of these mountains are so adept at cloaking their cunning. Slaves in the period of Spanish rule, they still retain the facial expression of the Egyptian Fellahin.
Sorel's response at first was nothing more than a lengthy recital of the deferential formulae he had by rote. While he repeated the empty phrases, with an unnatural smile reinforcing the air of insincerity, almost of rascality, natural to his face, the busy mind of the old peasant sought to fathom what motive could have brought so considerable a man to take his worthless son into his own house. He was extremely dissatisfied with Julien—and it was for him that M. de Rênal offered the unlooked-for wage of 300 francs a year, plus food, and even clothing. This last daring demand, which Père Sorel had the genius to put forward suddenly, had as quickly been accepted by M. de Rênal.
The demand impressed the Mayor. Since Sorel is not delighted and bowled over by my proposition as naturally he ought to be, it is obvious, said he to himself, that he has received offers from another party; and where could they come from if not from Valenod? It was in vain that M. De Rênal urged Sorel to conclude the deal on the spot; the old peasant's cunning obstinately refused that; he wished, he said, to consult his son—as if, in the provinces, a rich father consults a penniless son other than as a matter of form.
Lisa Rofel (1997)
During the time I spent at Zhenfu Silk Weaving Factory, I was struck by three particular spatial sites in which distinct cohorts of workers marked out their identity. The most dramatic, it appeared to me, was the one entailing the reappropriation of public space. In the context of economic reform, resting rather than working formed part of a political assertion about the identity of a good worker. A group of six or seven women on the A shift of Zhenfu's Number Two Prep Shop had claimed a comfortable and visible place to take breaks, where it would be clear to all that they were not at their work positions: a small table just off the shop floor, in full view of the shift leader's desk and the front entrance to the shop. It was the only place to sit down. This was no simple matter of taking long breaks. These women flaunted their presence by sitting and loudly complaining about the new production pressures...
A second site in which an older generation marked out their identity appeared to me more marginal than the table, yet just as crucial. This was the dense and massive space of the spinning, twisting, and combining machines. For memories also resided in these machinese and their alignment, memories that, in Raymond Williams' terms, were no residual in their counterhegemonic form (1977). These machines loomed a head taller than workers, so that prep workers disappeared among the rows of spindles. No central vantage point—no panopticon—existed from which to gaze on them. To see what they were up to, management had to walk up and down each and every row, a disciplined disciplining in which they rarely engaged. Older groups of workers, women who had begun working in the silk factories in the 1950s, gathered periodically amid the thick forest of machinery to rest and chat with one another. Their activities recalled previous practices...
The final site of spatial subversions resided in the very sinews of the bodies of the youngest generation, in their gestures and movements around the shop floor. These women, in their late teens and early twenties, were newly arrived from the countryside and had just begun to enter the factories the previous year. Subject(ed) bodies, they nonetheless refused to remain spatially rooted in one place or move in the prescribed circuits. There was a steady stream of visiting back and forth. Their bodily movements did not mimic new standards of rationality. They did not work quickly enough. They made mistakes in the tension of the thread. They did not look carefully to the left or to the right; they did not check, link, or make clear markings. They did not use their hands, eyes, and ears to inspect for quality. For this group, quality was well below the standards of the other shifts in the prep shop. Their consciousness did not participate in production problems...But these "dull-witted and clumsy" peasant women displaced the gendered disciplinary regime of space by acknowledging their differences from city women, while continuing to move freely about the shop floor.
 Stendahl, The Red and the Black [Translated by Roger Gard] (New York: Penguin Classics, 2002), 23-24.
 Lisa Rofel, "Rethinking Modernity" in Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson, Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1997), 166-170.
Marx, Karl. Capital Volume I [Translated by Ben Fowkes]. New York: Penguin Classics, 1990.
Rofel, Lisa. "Rethinking Modernity" in Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson, Culture, Power, Place: Explorations in Critical Anthropology. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1997, 155-178.
Stendahl. The Red and the Black [Translated by Roger Gard]. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.