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, February 15, 2012

Seinfeld Ethnography (40)—Day of Reckoning

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
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.
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
Newman starts with charm (of a sort), continues with fawning and guilt, edges toward anger, and exits in rage. This odd little mishmash of eclectic emotions is a brand new man at the start of the scene and a picture of fiery resentment at the end. Watch a rush of humanity, all rolled into one plaid shirt and gray trousers. In this scene, Jerry is just a prop for Newman's fury.

Newman packs a lifetime of emotion into this little package. It got me thinking about the ways in which we express, nay perform, our social lives. There is clearly variability within a cultural setting (if Newman doesn't seem a little odd to you, you might want to spend more time watching people biting their tongues, so to speak, in most human encounters). Still, what strikes me here is the zero to sixty range of his emotions. Imagine such a panoply of emotions in any social setting (a staff meeting or history class, for example). Newman casts the net widely or, to put it a little differently, performs all of the roles on this tiny stage. It really is a master stroke of seedy humanity.
[b] Masked RF

The "day of reckoning" is near, warns Newman, and he enjoys a slice of anticipation (of exilic response) for Jerry's predicted demise. All the world's a stage...or padded cell.
***  ***
I have had fun picking the readings for today. Unburdened by the need to "echo" the Seinfeld themes (remember, the key on Round and Square is juxtaposition of themes), I looked to Chinese literature and ethnographies of emotion in the Philippines and Wales. We start with a snippet from one of the "Four Masterworks" (四大奇書) of Ming dynasty (1368-1644) fiction. To understand the scene, you just need to know that Wu the Second is really angry, Hsi-men Ch'ing is really scared, and Leaky Li is really caught in the middle. I cut the narrative before it gets really violent. You have the source information if you want to read more. The second entry deals with the management of social emotion in a group of former headhunters, the Ilongot. The last selection is from Carol Trosset's fine work on emotional life in Welsh Wales. All are intended to make us think even more deeply about the range of emotions that Newman exhibited in his ninety seconds of raw humanity this week.

The Plum in the Golden Vase
Wu Song's Fury (c. 1600)
[c] Fury ADV
To resume our story, Hsi-men Ch'ing was in the company of one of the black-robed lictors on the staff of the district yamen, who was known as Li Wai-ch'uan, or Leaky Li. This man played the role of influence peddler in both the district and the prefecture, intervening in public business on people's behalf, and keeping his ear to the ground as he ran back and forth, for a fee...That day, when he saw the district magistrate reject Wu Sung's suit, he had no sooner acquired the news than he came looking for Hsi-men Ch'ing to tell him that Wu the Second's suit had failed. Hsi-men Chi'ing had invited him to have a drink with him on teh second floor of the tavern, where he presented him with five taels of silver.

Just as they were settling down to enjoy their drinks, Hsi-men Ch'ing happened to look out the window and caught sight of the formidable-looking Wu Sung, racing up toward the tavern from below the bridge. Realizing that he could be up to no good, he excused himself on the pretext of going to the bathroom, leapt out a rear window, fled along the ridge of an adjacent roof, and jumped down into someone's rear courtyard. Wu the Second dashed up to the front of the tavern and asked on of the waiters, "Is Hsi-men Ch'ing here?" "The Honorable Hsi-men," the waiter replied, "is upstairs drinking wine with one of his acquaintances."

               Quickening his pace and hiking up his clothes,

Wu the Second flew upstairs, where the only thing he saw was a man, occupying the place of honor, with a pair of painted singing girls sitting to either side of him. He recognized that it was Li Wai-ch'uan, the lictor from the district yamen, and knew that he must have come to tell Hsi-men Ch'ing the news. Enraged, he went up to him and demanded, "Where has Hsi-men Ch'ing gone?" When Li Wai-ch'uan saw that it was Wu the Second he was too dumbstruck to get a word out for some time. With a single movement of his leg, Wu the Second kicked over the table, smashing the cups and saucers to smithereens. The singing girls were frozen with fright. Wu the Second struck Li Wai-ch'uan right in the face with his fist...[1]

Michelle Rosaldo
Negotiating Anger (1980)
[d] Negotiation ADV
My purpose in this chapter is to explore this 'knowledge' of older men as it relates to stability and continuity and also to changes in social relationships over time. What do adults 'know' and how does it relate to youthful 'anger'? What sort of beya constitutes the frame for everyday cooperation and how does it differ from the oratorical stances adult men may adopt when shared expectations cease to be viable? Ilongots do not conceive of a "social world" or see their situation as one in which individuals must conform to, and reproduce, a differentiated and enduring social order. Rather, their very notions of what gives order to their personal lives include the possibility of violence. Ideas of 'shame' and 'admiration' toward one's more accomplished peers and elders, of groups of men who 'follow' one another, and of communities wherein close kin will 'help' and 'pity' one another as they 'distribute' valued game suggest not only sociality and cooperation but also an inherent possibility of strain.

'Distribution,' we have seen, may be related to 'contagion'; 'respect' and 'dizziness' are homonyms; and the idea of 'following' one another becomes problematic when certain people never take the lead. Activity in their social world is understood by Ilongots as a sort of actualization of emotional states, an enactment of the heart's directives. Yet Ilongots are quick to recognize the difficulties that beset attempts at mutual coordination and say that 'people's hearts are not the same.' Do they, then, worry about social anarchy and chaos? Or, more to the point, when and why do Ilongots identify problems in informal cooperation and what is revealed about the nature of social experience as Ilongots understand it when adult men acknowledge strains, discuss them, and so set forth the terms on which their subsequent relations may proceed.[2]

[e] Burdened ADV
Welshness as a Burden 
Carol Trosset (1993)
"I think most of us find being Welsh to be rather a burden." This was said to me by a culturally prominent Welsh speaker who, while speaking about Welsh-Americans, expressed surprise that they, "with all the other problems Americans have," should wish to take on a Welsh identity as well. While I felt this remark to be extraordinarily revealing and to reflect a fairly pervasive attitude, I cannot say that I feel sure exactly what it means. In part it clearly relates to the negative self-image discussed above.

          The energy of [Welsh] talk is indeed not in doubt, but we have to listen more
          carefully to what it is really saying. It is often a lively exuberance. It is just as 
          often an unmitigated flow to prevent other things being said. And what those 
          things are we hear more often among ourselves, an extraordinary sadness,
          which indeed is not surprising, adn at the edges, lately, an implacable 
          bitterness, even a soured cynicism, which can jerk into life—this is what makes
          it hard to hear—as a fantastic comic edge, or a wild self-deprecation, as a form 
          of pride: a wall of words, anyway, so that we do not have to look, steadily and
          soberly, at all that has happened to us...To the extent that we are a people, we
          have been defeated, colonized, penetrated, incorporated...There is a drawing 
          back to some of our own resources. There is a very skilful kind of accommodation,
          finding a few ways to be recognized as different, which we then actively cultivate,
          while not noticing, beyond them, the profound resignation. These are some of the
          signs of a post-colonial culture, conscious all the time of its own real strengths
          and potentials, longing only to be itself, to become its own world but with so much, 
          too much, on its back to be able, consistently, to face its real future. (R. Williams
         1989: 103 emphasis added).

The idea of Welshness as a burden also seems to encapsulate much of the Welsh theory of the person discussed in this chapter.  "Acting for the group" has two sorts of meanings,: to put on an act for those around one, and to take action on behalf of the community. Both demand that the individual assume fairly heavy responsibility for, and accountability to, others. This view of the person requires Welsh people to live with the expectation that one's behavior will be predictable, the awareness of being under public scrutiny and subject to social controls (which are considered difficult to resist), a sense of individual and collective powerlessness, and a belief that one's own needs and goals should be subordinated to those of others. These apparent burdens would be enhanced by the serious morality of nonconformism, and for some individuals, by a sense of responsibility for the maintenance of the threatened Welsh language and traditional culture. Some Welsh people despise expatriates who claim a Welsh identity without being able to live in Wales and share its language and culture and the difficulties its people face. This attitude seems to reflect both an awareness of Welsh-Wales' need for committed members, and a feeling that a willingness to shoulder such burdens would itself be more Welsh than a romanticized affinity that benefits only the expatriate.[3]

[1] David Tod Roy, translator, The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Chin P'ing Mei, Volume 1: The Gathering (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 184-185.
[2] Michelle Rosaldo,  Knowledge and Passion: Ilongot Notions of Self and Social Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980),  177-178.
[3] Carol Trosset, Welshness Performed: Welsh Concepts of Person and Society (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1993), 127-128. 
Rosaldo, Michelle.  Knowledge and Passion: Ilongot Notions of Self and Social Life. Cambridge: 
          Cambridge University Press, 1980.
Roy, David Tod, translator. The Plum in the Golden Vase, or Chin P'ing Mei, Volume 1: The Gathering
          Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.  
Trosset, Carol. Welshness Performed: Welsh Concepts of Person and Society. Tucson: University of 
          Arizona Press, 1993.
[f] Day of Reckoning RF
Wednesday, February 22nd
Kramer Takes Dog Medicine
The cultural and natural wonders in this clip abound from the very first scene. Kramer's canine world is something to be seen...and analyzed. Be there next week on Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.

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