One year ago on Round and Square (18 April 2011). Management: Reviewing History
|[a] Papyrus 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 Bathroom Book
Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.
|[b] Out RF|
And that got me to thinking. What is really different about a book that has been on the shelf and one that has made the journey to the dens of human evacuation? This isn't (exactly) like kneading dough after a trip to the "persons" room, is it? It's a book, after all. How do you know that the library patron washed his hands before looking up DS710 G3 and thumbing through its pages? What's going on here? This sounds vaguely...sort of...cultural.
And individual. Do you think that everyone is equally bothered by a book that has been to the bathroom? I concede that the answer may well by "yes," and that could be instructive here. Still...how do you feel about a book that someone else (George, for example) has brought to the bathroom as opposed to one that, say, you did? Is there a difference? I thought so. Why?
|[c] Out-also RF|
And why does George feel compelled to read about French impressionists in the bathroom? What are French impressionists doing near a bathroom in the first place? George's peculiar psyche is one that cannot ever properly be plumbed, and not just because he is one of the most original fictional characters ever produced. His oddity is his biography.
The social dimensions are equally perplexing. It does not require a biochemist to tell us that the toilet microbes on the book are dead. The book is safe...yet we recoil ("instinctively"). What is that all about? How and why can Elaine lovingly embrace pages that contain the works for her favorite artists in one moment and shoo it all away in another? Is it the price George asked for the book?
No, it is pollution.
|[d] Reading room RF|
You know what I mean. Purity and authenticity are linked, and the fireworks begin from there. The implications of the way we talk about these things are enormous, and we would do well to think about the small ways we speak of "impurities" in our midst(s), as well as those that are the size of a bookstore men's room.
This week's readings are meant to trigger a little of that thinking. I begin where almost every anthropologist starts these discussions—with Mary Douglas's Purity and Danger. You need to read it from start to finish (and again, if you've read it already). This is just a snippet, but Hardy's "clane cup" and George's "unclane book" are linked. We then move to an anthropological contemporary, Theodore Bestor, and his study of "fish form" (kata) in and around the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. "Purity" starts to take on further dimensions here, and that is exactly where this post is meant to lead. Finally, we ratchet up the literary discussion here. T.S. Eliot's poem is a study in impurity. It is not lost on me that Eliot continued to be a problematic creator throughout his career. For all its challenges, though, this poem is an ode to impurities.
'A clane cup for the shepherd,' said the maltster
'No—not at all,' said Gabriel, in a reproving tone of considerateness. 'I never
fuss about dirt in its pure state and when I know what sort it is...I wouldn't think
of giving such trouble to neighbours in washing up when there's so much work
to be done in the world already.'
In a more exalted spirit, St. Catherine of Sienna, when she felt revulsion from the wounds sh was tending, is said to have bitterly reproached herself. Sound hygiene was incompatible with charity, so she deliberately drank of a bowl of pus. Whether they are rigorously observed or violated, there is nothing in our rules of cleanness to suggest any connection between dirt and sacredness. Therefore it is only mystifying to learn that primitives make little difference between sacredness and uncleanness.
For us sacred things and places are to be protected from defilement. Holiness and impurity are at opposite poles. We would as soon confound hunger with fullness or sleeping with waking. Yet it is supposed to be a mark of primitive religion to make no clear distinction between sanctity and uncleanness. If this is true it reveals a great gulf between ourselves and our forefathers, between us and contemporary primitives.
Even where concern over the integrity of the inner product is not directly at issue, the question of kata bedevils the international fish trade. An American lobster producer from California once told me that he had given up trying to ship lobsters to Japan; apparently his Japanese broker rejected sample shipment after sample shipment, complaining that the individual lobsters in each lot were too varied in size. "I gave up." I don't sort that carefully for anybody," the American producer told me disdainfully. Instead, he concentrates on the American restaurant market, where the normal lobster dinner is served individually and often priced according to the weight of the lobster. People dining together may indeed all order lobster, but they are unlikely to compare their individual lobsters closely; and if they do, the differences in price by size will usually account for any obvious disparities.
Across the Pacific, a Tsukiji [Fish Market] lobster trader tells another side to the story: "Hotel banquet halls buy almost all the lobsters at Tsukiji. The auspicious red-and-white clor of a lobster tail makes it very popular at wedding banquets. Everybody's plate has to look exactly like the one next to it. If a guest sees that his lobster tail is smaller than that of the person sitting next to him, everyone gets uncomfortable."
Almost every Tsukiji dealer in imported fish has his favorite horror story about the improper handling of fish by foreign producers and brokers; in retelling these tales traders return again and again to issues of Japanese preferences as they are through "Tsukiji specs," the demanding specifications with which the Tsukiji auction houses expect suppliers to comply.
|[g] Shroud ADV|
T.S. Eliot (1920)
 Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966), 8-9.
 Theodore Bestor, Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 146-147.
 T.S. Eliot, Collected Poems, 1909-1962 (London: Faber & Faber, 1963), 59-60.
California Press, 2004.
Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966.
Eliot, T.S. Collected Poems, 1909-1962. London: Faber & Faber, 1963.
These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty