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 22, 2012

Seinfeld Ethnography (41)—Dog Medicine

Click here for an introduction to the Round and Square series Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.

[a] Dogvision 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
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] Beach cure RF
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
That's a nasty cough Kramer's got there. He doesn't like doctors, though, and wouldn't see an M.D. if his bronchitis depended on it. So he coughs, hacks, pants, and (to make a two and a half minute story short), finds a new best friend. They seek treatment together. Take a look.

"We share the same affliction, so I'm going to have a vet check us out." 

"A vet?" 

"Oh, I'll take a vet over an M.D. any day. They gotta be able to cure a lizard, a chicken, a pig, a frog—all on the same day."

[c] Treat(ed) RF
You know how it goes from there. This is one of the strangest scenes by the strangest character in a rather odd show. The conflation of symptoms—drinking out of the toilet will do that—leads to a conflation of treatments (and medicines). Indeed, George looks positively professorial in this scene, complete with book, searching questions, and considered pauses. Smuckers also plays a practiced straight man('s best friend) in the unfolding narrative.

If you are a longtime reader of Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific, I suspect that your mind might be wandering ahead to the readings. How on earth are we going to find historical and cultural themes to contrast with big, foul, dog pills? Remember, it's all about the juxtaposition, so finding texts was a joy tempered only by the fact that I am not near my personal library filled with ethnographic texts detailing magic, healing, and various ritual cures. No matter. Even the trunkload of books I hauled with me to the nation's capital has more themes to juxtapose with dog medicine than you can wave a leash at.

[d] Zealous RF
Our first text tests our juxtaposition theme from the outset. As I state almost every week in this series of posts, the weekly analytical readings are not meant to "echo" the Seinfeld clip. Instead, they are meant to be read against the grain of it. It is juxtaposition, not reflection, that is our interpretive quarry. Well, our first reading this week is from an author and book I have admired for some time. Gregory Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind came to my attention my junior year in college, when my anthropology professor, Paul Riesman, exclaimed that it was a book worth pondering...and pondering. I keep a copy in my car (along with T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets and a copy of the U.S. Constitution—the latter mostly as an intellectual defense against zealotry—so I have something good to read if I am stranded without notebook or Kindle. In fact, I read a few pages of Steps to an Ecology of Mind while waiting for a fresh pot of coffee to brew in a Maryland service plaza the other night. That's why I have chosen a first reading on schizophrenia. Bateson thought about it a lot; Kramer thinks like a dog. I just couldn't resist.

[e] Return RF
Our second reading comes from Laura Bohannan's classic reflection on fieldwork, Return to Laughter. It is one of the best books ever written about doing fieldwork, and has influenced several generations of anthropologists. I will not repeat the long story about its origin (I have mentioned it several times on these "screens" in the past), but the short version is that anthropology as a discipline was so subjectivity-challenged in the 1950s that Bohannan published Return to Laughter under a pseudonym (and as "a novel") so that her personal reflections would not cause her professionalism to be questioned. The scene I relate here is as "real" as any in her ethnographic work (of which this is a part, in almost everyone's opinion today). Finally, the third reading presents us with a little glimpse of what can happen to an academic thinking only of scholarly matters of history and culture when he absentmindedly reaches for his bag at the airport. So consumed is he with his research (even in this autobiographical recounting of events years later) that a misplaced bag seems almost to be a minor nuisance, despite the threat of jail time.

Gregory Bateson
Schizophrenic Communication (1956)
[f] Ecology ADV
According to our hypothesis, the term "ego function" (as this term is used when a schizophrenic is described as having a "weak ego function") is precisely the process of discriminating communicational modes either within the self or between the self and others. The schizophrenic exhibits weakness in three areas of such function: (a) He has difficulty in assigning the correct communicational mode to the messages he receives from other persons. (b) He has difficulty in assigning the correct communicational mode to those messages which he utters or emits nonverbally. (c) He has difficulty in assigning the correct communicational mode to his own thoughts, sensations, and percepts.

At this point it is appropriate to compare what was said in the previous paragraph with von Domarus' approach to the systematic description of the schizophrenic utterance. He suggests that the messages (and thought) of the schizophrenic are deviant in syllogistic structure. In place of structures which derive from the syllogism, Barbara, the schizophrenic, according to this theory, uses structures which identify predicates. An example of such a distorted syllogism is:
                                                     Men die.
                                                     Grass dies.
                                                     Men are grass.
But as we see it, von Domarus' formulation is only a more precise—and therefore valuable—way of saying that schizophrenic utterance is rich in metaphor. With that generalization we agree. But metaphor is an indispensable tool of thought and expression—a characteristic of all human communication, even of that of the scientist. The conceptual models of cybernetics and the energy theories of psychoanalysis are, after all, only labeled metaphors. The peculiarity of the schizophrenic is not that he uses metaphors, but that he uses unlabeled metaphors. He has special difficulty in handling signals of that class whose members assign Logical Types to other signals.

If our formal summary of the symptomatology is correct and if the schizophrenia of our hypothesis is essentially a result of family interaction, it should be possible to arrive a priori at a formal description of these sequences of experience which would induce such a symptomatology. What is known of learning theory combines with the evident fact that human beings use context as a guide for mode discrimination. Therefore, we must look not for some specific traumatic experience in the infantile etiology but rather for characteristic sequential patterns. The specificity for which we search is to be at an abstract or formal level. The sequences must have this characteristic: that from them the patient will acquire the mental habits which are exemplified in schizophrenic communication. That is to say, he must live in a universe where the sequences of events are such that his unconventional communicational habits will be in some sense appropriate. The hypothesis which we offer is that sequences of this kind in the external experience of the patient are responsible for the inner conflicts of Logical Typing. For such unresolvable sequences of experiences, we use the term "double bind."[1]

[g] Dispensation ADV
Laura Bohannan
Anthropological Medicine (1954)
The children playing under the central tree looked up and started to shriek, "Redwoman's coming! Redwoman's coming!" At their cries, Poorgbilin himself squeezed out of his reception hut and came toward me. I was shocked by the distress on his plump face. "My wife is ill. I sent my son to Kako's, but you were not there." I asked which wife and what illness, but Poorgbilin was too concerned with hurrying me into his reception hut to answer. I forgot Ticha.

A woman was sitting with her back against one of the posts of the drying platform, arms raised above her head and crooked back to embrace the post. Her legs jerked as though she were trying to run. Her whole body shook with a harsh sobbing. "Can she swallow?" I interrupted Poorgbilin's babble. Only some alleviation of her pain mattered just then. At his nod, I ordered hot water and a drinking calabash into which I crushed to aspirin. He got it down her throat somehow. We sat anxiously until her body began to relax and then, as much from exhaustion as from the medicine, she slumped down and fell asleep.

Poorgbilin himself relaxed and dropped his weigh into a chair. He began to tell me more coherently of her illness. While he spoke, I stared at the woman's now quiet face and recognized Poorgbilin's second wife, whom he had named "Where I rest my head" as a sign of the peace he had always found with her. When he finished, I shook my head: "This is beyond my skill. I am not a doctor. The medicine I can give her can make her sleep sometimes, but if she drinks much of it, she will get used to it and it will no longer help her. It cannot cure what is hurting her. The dispensary cannot help either. You must take her to the hospital."

"She cannot travel." Poorgbilin looked obstinate. "She must."[2]

Jan Vansina
Scholarly Gravitas (1994)
Meanwhile, other side issues demanded larger investments of my time. The art history project was one of these, oral traditions another. It was as if I had once grasped a tiger by the tail and it would not let me go! The debates about oral traditions raged for years, and I reluctantly realized that I would have to write a new book to replace my original work about the topic. I did this in Frankfurt, when the opportunity arose for me to spend a semester in residence at the Forbenius Institut there. Claudine's and my arrival there lacked somewhat in panache. At the airport in Frankfurt we were asked to identify our suitcases and then were almost arrested as smugglers when I mistook a case identical to mine for my suitcase. But rather than fifty pounds of books and papers, it contained fifty pounds of pure heroin! If it were not for the tags which showed which suitcase came from Madison and which one from Karachi, we would have landed in jail rather than at the institute. After this little incident, however, Claudine and I spent a marvelous time there. She was happily discovering and drawing old and striking art objects of Zaire, mainly from photographs of objects collected by Frobenius and others, while I worked hard at the new book and discussed moot points with the two first-rate historians in residence, Adam Jones and Beatrix Heintze. We also found the time for excursions to various German cities and their museums of African art.[3]

[1] Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), 205-206.
[2] Elenore Smith Bowen, Return to Laughter: An Anthropological Novel (New York: Anchor Books, 1964),138-139.
[3] Jan Vansina, Living With Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994), xxx.

Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.
Bowen, Elenore Smith. Return to Laughter: An Anthropological Novel. New York: Anchor Books, 1964.
Vansina, Jan. Living With Africa. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994.
[i] Medicated RF
Wednesday, March 7th
Shower Problems 
We'll take a week off so that we can feature Leap Day next Wednesday in a "Just Do It Over" post. Two weeks from today, though we'll see some funny looking hair. The shower heads in Jerry's (and Kramer's and Newman's) apartment building emit barely a trickle, and the boys are concerned about coiffure. We'll examine shower heads and pasty hair in two weeks on Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.

No comments:

Post a Comment