|[a] Social RF|
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
George's Friend Jerry's Haircut Face Paint Mustachioed Smoking East River
Pool Man Dunkin' Joe Life Lessons Reckoning Dog Medicine Shower Heads
Looking Busy George Tips Kramer's Job Empty Tank
Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.
|[b] Exactly RF|
All of this got me thinking. When such events—even in the best of situations—are awkward, difficult, or worse...why do we have them? I understand weddings (big, sizable, ethnic, or otherwise). There, the necessity of social gathering dominates and we pretty much have to adjust, usually sitting in our comfortable tribal configurations as we assert our unity with bride or groom. But why is the "personal touch" something that many, if not most, couples and their parents endure? There is certainly enough understanding of this in the larger culture (I am thinking of American culture at the moment) to make almost everyone understand its stressfulness. The social-analytical opportunities here are legion. We have gender, sexual preference, life experience, class (in at least two meanings of the term), generation, and more.
|[c] More RF|
Why do we do it?
What kinds of social forces lead us down the path to having dinner with the Costanzas, even when we know better? Think about it. If you have been around the block a time or two, you have probably had similar, or parallel, experiences (here I am thinking about meeting the significant other's close friends). If you are old enough, you might have been through this situation in different roles. It is amusing to think, for example, of a similar dinner forty years years earlier, with Frank and Estelle's parents. Think about it. That might not even be fit for radio.
So where can we go from here? I have chosen an array of texts for this week's "juxtaposition," and they may not be quite what you were thinking. That's the whole point of Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific, after all. We begin with the early "anthropological" classic (the word has quotation marks only because anthropologists are slow to accept their own history), The Golden Bough, first published in 1890. In this passage, Sir James George Frazer discusses elements of social interaction with visiting strangers. Next, we will look at a mythical "stranger meeting" from the third volume of Claude Lévi-Strauss's four-part classic, Mythologiques. Finally, we will examine a passage from a more recent ethnographic work dealing with Chinese banquets and seating orders.
|[d] When it breaks...RF|
Taboos on Intercourse With Strangers (1890)
In Afghanistan and in some parts of Persia the traveler, before he enters a village, is frequently received with a sacrifice of animal life or food, or of fire and incense. The Afghan Boundary Mission, in passing by villages in Afghanistan, was often met with fire and incense. Sometimes a tray of lighted embers is thrown under the hoofs of a traveller's horse, with the words, "You are welcome." On entering a village in Central Africa Emin Pasha was received with the sacrifice of two goats; their blood was sprinkled on the path and the chief stepped over the blood to great Emin. Sometimes the dread of strangers and their magic is too great to allow of their reception on any terms. Thus when Speke arrived at a certain village, the natives shut their doors against him, "because they had never before seen a white man nor the tin boxes that the men were carrying: 'Who knows,' they said, 'but that these very boxes are the plundering Watuta transformed and come to kill us? You cannot be admitted.' No persuasion could avail with them, and the party had to proceed to the next village.
|[e] Mannered RF|
The first ancestors of the Mandan emerged from under the ground at a certain high point on the ocean shore. There were four of them, and they brought corn up with them. Their chief was called 'Good-Furred-Robe'. He had two brothers, the elder of whom was called 'Cornhusk Earrings', and the younger 'Uses-His-Head-For-A-Rattle'. The three men had a sister called 'Waving-Corn-Stalk'. The chief was Corn medicine man and he taught the people how to raise corn and to celebrate the corn rites. He possessed a coat which only had to be sprinkled with water for rain to fall. Good-Furred-Robe taught the inhabitants of the earth to clothe themselves, build villages and cultivate the fields. He laid out the lodges in rows like rows of corn, and assigned the plots to each family. Then he distributed corn, beans, gourd and sunflower seeds to each family.
In those days the sister would be out in the fields all day overseeing the work. One day a stranger came and wanted to talk to her but she would not see him. He came four times to see her but each time she refused. That man was the sun. When he left for the last time, he said that the young girl would never harvest what she planted. The next day when the sun came up the air was so hot that the corn wilted. After the sun had set, the young girl ran through the fields with her robe, singing the holy songs. The corn plants revived. Four times running Sun scorched the fields, but each time the young girl revived them with her robe and her songs.
|[f] Hosted RF|
All banquets present the problem of determining who sits where. The local term for banquet, yanxi (used widely throughout China), itself illuminates this importance. The second character of this word, xi, means "seat" or "place" at a formal gathering like a banquet or in a political organ like the People's Congress. The convergence of banquets and politics here reflects the importance of banquet seating to negotiating hierarchy, social relations, and power...Whenever I saw two guest families seated at the same table, serious negotiation took place. The guests milled about the table, discussed who should sit where, and tried to understand each other's intentions. Arguments about distance from host, age, and positions within family were all offered. Host reps sat in the seventh and eighth chairs and tried to mediate. On one such occasion one family had two representatives older that the eldest of the family. The negotiations became particularly tricky. Should the eldest two men at the table occupy the first two chairs or should each family's representative occupy the first two chairs? The families argued for more than five minutes and I had to leave before the issue was resolved. Because the expressions of respect embodied in seating order could be interpreted in terms of age hierarchies, distance hierarchies, and guanxi between families, the issue was complex and ambiguous.
 Sir James George Frazer, The Golden Bough [Abridged 1922 edition] (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 227-228.
 Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Origin of Table Manners [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman] (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1978), 309-310.
 Andrew Kipnis, Producing Guanxi: Sentiment, Self, and Subculture in a North China Village (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1997), 47-49.
Kipnis, Andrew. Producing Guanxi: Sentiment, Self, and Subculture in a North China Village. Durham NC:
Duke University Press, 1997.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. The Origin of Table Manners [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman]. New York:
Harper Colophon Books, 1978.
George's New Friend
George is very taken with Elaine's boyfriend, and shows glimpses of a sensitive, caring, progressive...and, well, possessive side. We'll explore the social and cultural dimensions of friendship..next week on Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific