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, March 7, 2012

Seinfeld Ethnography (42)—Shower Heads

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

[a] Trickle 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.
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
[b] Hygiene RF
Jerry, Kramer, and Newman can't get the shampoo out of their hair. They (or at least some of them) seem to favor conservation in theory, but they want more practical water flowing onto their heads, sweeping away the pH residue from their Suave, Prell, Head and Shoulders, or L'Oreal Vive Pro for Men. They have dome hair, and are not themselves. Take a watch. 

"Low flow...I don't like the sound of that."
"I just took a bath Jerry...a bath."
"If I don't have a good shower, I'm not myself. I feel weak and ineffectual. I'm not Kramer."

So you won't be particularly surprised that today I wish to reflect upon matters of conservation, hygiene, and, well, self. What is it to be "a self?"

"I'm not myself when..." 

[b] Mashed RF
How many times do we say things like that? What is it to be "one's self" (oneself)? What is it not to be (or feel) oneself? It is not as though we are the first students of the human condition to consider these questions. In fact, the knotty little relationship between individual and "society" has figured in almost every major philosophical treatise in the history of the world. Plato and Aristotle? Check✓. St. Augustine? Check✓. Confucius, Mencius, and Zhuangzi? Check✓. Ibn Khaldun? Check✓. Immanuel Kant? Check✓.

There is a peculiar relationship between self, personal hygiene, and social interaction. While pasty hair may be problematic even if one is alone on a desert island (I cannot help but think of Tom Hanks here), there is no doubt that it is compounded by the frenzy of social interaction. There's nothing like a startled "What happened to your head?" question to awaken threads and vines of amour-propre. The mirror does not just show us to ourselves. It speaks to us in a voice we have internalized from "society." There is nothing quite as motivating—for our low-flow apartment troika—as seeing others as others see us...especially if our heads look like the top of a single scoop ice cream cone. 
***  ***
Our readings this week are a stretch, and that should not surprise anyone who reads Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific. I am interested in self, society....and hygiene. To begin, I have chosen two of the best musings on self and society written in the Western tradition. It will be apparent to anyone who reads through Rousseau's Emile and George Herbert Mead's Mind, Self, and Society that they take us a long, long way beyond shower heads and even poppy seeds. Yes. That is how this stuff works on Round and Square. These readings are meant to be juxtaposed with the Seinfeld clip above—read against the grain of the material that came before. 

Glance over them and think about the relationship between individual and society...and shampoo...and social interaction...and black market commerce....and vanity. I have concluded with a reading that most definitely speaks to tepid water and weak flow. After musing upon human nature in the phrasings of Rousseau and Mead, enjoy Claude Lévi-Strauss's account of sea travel, human needs, and time.

[d] Child self ADV
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Emile, or On Education (1762)
A child's first sentiment is to love himself; and the second, which derives from the first, is to love those who come near him, for in the state of weakness that he is in, he does not recognize anyone except by the assistance and care he receives...A child is therefore naturally inclined to benevolence, because he sees that everything approaching him is inclined to assist him; and from this observation he gets the habit of a sentiment favorable to his species. But as he extends his relations, his needs, and his active or passive dependencies, the sentiment of his connections with others is awakened and produces the sentiment of duties and preferences. Then the child becomes imperious, jealous, deceitful, and vindictive. If he is bent to obedience, he does not see the utility of what he is ordered, and he attributes it to caprice, to the intention of tormenting him; and he revolts. If he is obeyed, as soon as something resists him he sees in it a rebellion, an intention to resist him. He beats the chair or the table for having disobeyed him. Self-love, which regards only ourselves , is contented when our true needs are satisfied. But amour-propre, which makes comparisons, is never content and never could be, because this sentiment, preferring ourselves to others, also demands other to prefer us themselves, which is impossible.

This is how the gentle and affectionate passions are born of self-love, and how the hateful and irascible passions are born of amour-propre. Thus what makes man essentially good is to have few needs and to compare himself little to others; what makes him essentially wicked is to have many needs and to depend very much on opinion. On the basis of this principle it is easy to see how all the passions of children and men can be directed to good and bad. It is true that since they are not able always to live alone, it will be difficult for them always to be good. This same difficulty will necessarily increase with their relations; and this, above all, is why the dangers of society make art and care all the more indispensable for us to forestall in the human heart the depravity born of their new needs.[1]

[e] Self and society ADV
George Herbert Mead
The Self (1934)
The self, as that which can be an object to itself, is essentially a social structure, and it arises in social experience. After a self has arisen, it in a certain sense provides for itself its social experiences, and so we can conceive of an absolutely solitary self. But it is impossible to conceive of a self arising outside of social experience. When it has arisen we can think of a person in solitary confinement for the rest of his life, but who still has himself as a companion, and is able to think and to converse with himself as he had communicated with others. That process to which I have just referred, of responding to one's self as another responds to it, taking part in one's own conversation with others, being aware of what one is saying to determine what one is going to say thereafter—that is a process with which we are all familiar. We are continually following up our own address to other persons by an understanding of what we are saying, and using that understanding in the direction of our continued speech. We are finding out what we are going to say, what we are going to do, by saying and doing, and in the process we are continually controlling the process itself. In the conversation of gestures what we say calls out a certain response in another and that in turn changes our own action, so that we shift from what we started to do because of the reply the other makes. The conversation of gestures is the beginning of communication.

The individual comes to carry on a conversation of gestures with himself. He says something, and that calls out a certain reply in himself which makes him change what he was going to say. One starts to say something, we will presume an unpleasant something, but when he starts to say it he realizes that it is cruel. The effect on himself of what he is saying checks him; there is here a conversation of gestures between the individual between the individual and himself. We mean by significant speech that the action is one that affects the individual himself, and that the effect upon the individual himself is part of the intelligent carrying out of the conversation with others. Now we, so to speak, amputate that social phase and dispense with it for the time being, so that one is talking to one's self as soon as one would talk to another person.[2]
[f] Tepid ADV

Claude Lévi-Strauss
On Board Ship (1955)
In addition to its human load, the boat was carrying some kind of clandestine cargo. Both in the Mediterranean and along the west coast of Africa, we spent a fantastic amount of time dodging into various ports, apparently to escape inspection by the English navy...Because of the heat, which became more intense as we approached the tropics, it was impossible to remain below and the deck was gradually turning into dining-room, bedroom, day-nursery, wash-house and solarium. 

But the most disagreeable feature was what is referred to in the army as the sanitary arrangements. Against the rail on either side—port for the men, starboard side for the women—the crew had erected two pairs of wooden huts, with neither windows nor ventilation; one contained a few shower sprinklers which only worked in the morning; the other was provided with a long wooden trough crudely lined with zinc and leading directly into the sea, for the obvious reason. Those of us who were averse to crowds and shrank from collective squatting, which was in any case rendered unsteady by the lurching of the ship, had no choice but to get up very early; and throughout the entire trip a kind of race developed between the fastidious passengers, so that towards the end it was only at about three o'clock in the morning that one could hope for relative privacy. 

Finally, it was no longer possible to go to bed at all. Except for the time difference of two hours, the same was true for the shower-baths, where the idea uppermost in every mind was, if not to protect one's modesty, at least to succeed in finding a place in the crowd under the insufficient supply of water, which seemed to turn to steam through contact with so many clammy bodies, and hardly touched the skin. In either case, there was a general urge to complete the operation quickly and get out, for the unventilated huts were made of planks of unseasoned, resinous pine which, after being impregnated with dirty water, urine, and sea air, began to ferment in the sun and give off a warmish, sweet and nauseous odour; this, added to other smells, very soon became intolerable, especially when there was a swell.[3] 

[1] Jean Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education [Translated by Allan Bloom] (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 213-214.
[2] George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self, and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934), 140-141.
[3] Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman] (New York: Penguin Books, 1973), 25-26. 

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes Tropiques [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman]. New York: Penguin 
          Books, 1973.
Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Emile or On Education [Translated by Allan Bloom]. New York: Basic Books, 
Mead, George Herbert. Mind, Self, and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934. 

Wednesday, March 14th
George Looks Busy
George looks busy. George is a master of the art.

No comments:

Post a Comment