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 14, 2012

Seinfeld Ethnography (43)—George Looks Busy

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

[a] Annoyed 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
George has his game face on, and he knows how to look like he's busy. This workplace skill is all about appearing to be annoyed, he says. He seems to understand that a look of frustration keeps co-workers at bay, leaving him alone to do (more or less) as he pleases. Take a look at looking busy, George-style.

[b] Busy RF
George is on to something here. The beauty of Seinfeld is that it explores those little pockets of personality and culture, and does a formidable job of getting to the heart of the matter. Why does it seem so right that "looking annoyed" makes a person "look busy?" Have you ever thought about it before? I hadn't. What a gift this is to those of us overcome by procrastination, ennui, and sloth. Just change your mien, and you're on your way.

There are large social, cultural, and economic implications here. Mastery of annoyance could mean the difference between staying put and promotion. Once promoted (as George has shown), it can mean the difference between working and hardly working. I would anticipate a fine line in these matters, but our fictional George seems to have staked out fairly rich terrain here.
***  ***
So what shall we juxtapose with this Seinfeld clip? We have explored the concept of focus in this series of posts, especially with regard to Joe Dimaggio. Annoyance requires a peculiar kind of focus, and George Costanza has mastered it. The funny thing about George is that he will work very hard if the anticipated result is a form of leisure (at least to his mind). We will explore a few extensions of these ideas here. As always, they are not meant to "echo" the Seinfeld clip.

They are meant to make you think in new ways, new directions. Those new directions, you may not be surprised to see (if you are a frequent reader of Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific), are going to focus on the opposite of looking busy and doing little. I have several choice nuggets from Japan, China (by way of Japan), and Chicago (by way of France and Germany).

[c] Really busy RF
The first is one of my favorite passages in Japanese historical literature. It is about a figure in medieval Japanese history, called a tato, who functioned as a kind of part-owner, part-foreman of large rice-field estates called shōen. In his industriousness, he is the very opposite of George Costanza. Next, we have a passage from Ichisada Miyazaki's memorable study of China's Examination Hell. Those little boys worked hard to memorize mountains of manuscript. Finally, we will skip many centuries ahead and look at a University of Chicago professor (channeling Goethe) who wrote about time he felt was wasted—sort of.

All I can say of all these examples is that George is unlikely to have a clue; they really are busy.

Management of Estates by Tato
[d] Tato sources ADV
The husband of the third daughter is a man by the name of Tanaka Hōeki. He is diligent in his farming occupation and entertains no other ambition. He owns several chō of land, and is called the daimyō-tato. He provides his own spades and hoes to cultivate rich and poor fields, and prepares ahead for the dry seasons. He repairs his own domestic-style and Chinese-style plows. He is skillful in handling his workers. He provides recompense for work done by farmers in fixing dikes and embankments, digging ditches, or preparing foot-paths between the rice fields. He also rewords the work of those men and women who come to help in busy planting seasons. Whatever he plants, such as the late crops, rice, and glutinous rice, he harvests far more than other people. The amount he realizes from pounding the crop at the millstone also increases year after year. This is, however, only part of the story. WHen he plants barley, wheat, soy bean, cowpea, millet, buckwheat and sesame, they grow in number and become ripe for harvest. In spring he wastes not a single grain of seed, but in the fall, he receives ten thousandfold in return. From the time he begins planting in the spring to the time he completes his harvest in the fall, he commits not a single faulty step...[1]

China's Examination Hell
Ichisada Miyazaki (1976)
[e] Strict ADV
Formal education began at about seven years of age (or eight, counting in Chinese style). Boys from families that could afford the expense were sent to a temple, village, communal, or private school staffed by former officials who had lost their positions, or by old scholars who had repeatedly failed the examinations as the years slipped by. Sons of rich men and powerful officials often were taught at home by a family tutor in an elegant small room located in a detached building, which stood in a courtyard planted with trees and shrubs, in order to create an atmosphere conducive to study. A class usually consisted of eight or nine students. Instruction centered on the Four Books, beginning with the Analects, and the process of learning was almost entirely a matter of sheer memorization. With their books open before them, the students would parrot the teacher, phrase by phrase, as he read out the text. Inattentive students, or those who amused themselves, would be scolded by the teacher or hit on the palms and thighs with his fan-shaped "warning ruler." The high regard for discipline was reflected in the saying, "If education is not strict, it shows that the teacher is lazy."

Students who had learned how to read a passage would return to their seats and review what they had just been taught. After reciting it a hundred times, fifty times while looking at the book and fifty with the book face down, even the least gifted would have memorized it. At first the boys were given twenty to thirty characters a day, but as they became more experienced they memorized one, two, or several hundred each day. In order not to force a student beyond his capacity, a boy who could memorize four hundred characters would be assigned no more than two hundred. Otherwise he might become so distressed as to end by detesting his studies....It was usual for a boy to enter school at the age of eight and to complete the general classical education at fifteen. The heart of the curriculum was the classics. If we count the number of characters in the classics that the boys were required to learn by heart, we get the following figures:
               Book of Changes.........................................24,107
               Book of Documents.....................................25,700
               Book of Poetry.............................................39,234
               Book of Rites...............................................99,010
               Tso Chuan.................................................196,845
The total number of characters a student had to learn, then, was 431,286.[2]

Journal Entry
Mircea Eliade (1959)
4 November
[f] Work ADV
On 27 January 1824, Goethe said to Eckermann: "Basically it has been nothing but toil and work, and I may well say that I have not had four weeks of real enjoyment in all of my seventy-five years....There were too many demands on my activities from outside as well as from within me. My real good fortune has lain in my poetic reflections and creations. Only how greatly these have been disturbed, limited, and hindered by my external situation! If I had been able to hold myself back from public and business endeavors and activities and been able to live more in solitude, I would have been happier and would have accomplished far more as a poet."

As always, I see Goethe's destiny as my own. But obviously on a different level. I'm thinking of these three years of teaching at Chicago. How much wasted time! How much I could have accomplished if I hadn't had to teach six hours of class a week, and for six months. (Let alone the time for preparing them, or for trips). The most fertile years of my life are the years of poverty I spent on the rue Vaneau. I woke up every morning without a schedule. Now, during the academic year, I have only two days a week to call my own: Friday and Saturday. The other days, I prepare for my classes, I write tedious articles, I receive students preparing a doctorate on some subject in the history of religions. Certainly, this work fascinates me. Guiding a young person, helping him to see things as I see them now., after thirty years of research, is equivalent to a cultural creation. Sometimes, after a successful class, when I think I've been understood, I have the feeling of having written a book. I suppose my best books will be written by someone else.[3]

[1] David J. Lu, Japan: A Documentary History (Armonk NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1997), 100.
[2] Ichisada Miyazaki, China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China [Translated by Conrad Schirokauer] (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976), 15-16.
[3] Mircea Eliade, Journal II: 1957-1969 [Translated by Fred H. Johnson, Jr.] (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 71-72.

Eliade, Mircea. Journal II: 1957-1969 [Translated by Fred H. Johnson, Jr.] (Chicago: University 
          of Chicago Press, 1977.
Lu, David J. Japan: A Documentary History. Armonk NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1997.
Miyazaki Ichisada. China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China 
          [Translated by Conrad Schirokauer] (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976.

Wednesday, March 21st
George's Tip Jar
George gets caught with his hand in the cookie tip jar. It is all about social mores and historical contingencies. We'll investigate next week.

No comments:

Post a Comment