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.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Seinfeld Ethnography (3)—Elaine Exclaims

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

Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
[a] Good times
How do we convey emotion? How do we convey emotion in print? How do we convey emotion in print when we are merely "passing along the information" between two people who have close ties? This is the "theoretical" question I wish to examine today in Seinfeld Ethnography. Part of the problem for all human beings (whether in literate cultures or not) is how to "convey emotion." Imagine, first, that you heard jubilant, happy news from a close friend (face-to-face, over a cup of latté). Pardon the cliché, but there was hugging, jumping, and tears of joy flowed hither and tither. Your limbic system (neural center for emotional response) was fully engaged, and you were one with the moment in shared happiness with your friend. Good times.

[b] Limbic latté
Imagine, now, that you (remember, you were a participant in the emotional event) want to tell another friend about not only the happy news (the information), but also wish to give her a sense of the sublime joy of that wonderful moment. Of course, you have to use words (after the lived experience, all we have is words, alas). You do your best to say how it felt. Think about that. No, really think about it. What's different? Well, to begin, you're you felt.  Moreover, you are "re-experiencing" it only in a mnemonic (memory) sense. You are also surely using a different set of brain functions than in the original moment (this could be "proven," if necessary). So, when we move from "living" something to "relating" it, things change. You already know this, of course, but how deeply do you think about its implications? Most of us don't, and that is why Seinfeld is such a brilliant show. It teases out those little "theoretically important" tidbits in life and brings them to the fore (without boring you with theoretical discussions, as I insist upon doing).

[c] Fridgenotes
Before we move on, though, add one more element. Imagine that you have experienced the wonderful moment with your friend and that you want to tell another friend about it (exactly as you imagined it in the last paragraph). There is just one change. The friend isn't there. She is at work, or in Denver, or traveling in Bolivia. She ain't around, as we say back home. Now try to convey the same information, the same joy, the same "moment"...but in writing. What do you do? How do you show how exciting the news and the time was? How do you it felt?

[d] Exclamatory cupcake
Well, Elaine has a way of thinking about these matters. Her story is a little different from the one I have told, above, but it covers the same interpretive ground. Check it out, then we'll read some ethnography and theory. Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific is all about having just a little bit of fun, and then sucking the very life from that entertainment with loads of dry academic discourse. Like school!

For now, though, watch Seinfeld!!!!
Grammar and Style (an appetizer)
[e] Ex-claims
Several grammarians and research gurus have commented on the exclamation point in written discourse. Like Mr. Lippman (and Jake), they don't like them. Here is a very small sampling.

[After a long discussion of hyphens]. Now what about the exclamation mark? Seldom use it![1]

The exclamation point is like the horn on your car—use it only when you have to.[2]

Ethnography and Theory (the main course)
[f] Icon
A number of excellent anthropologists have discussed emotion...and writing (but less often the two together, which is fertile ground for some future work, young people). Let's take a look at a few examples from a fascinating period in anthropological history (the late 1960s and early-to-mid-1970s) when the topic of emotion was beginning to be engaged seriously by a number of thinkers. They are not meant to be representative, or speak directly to the Seinfeld episode. They are meant to make you think...about thinking and behavior. Michelle Rosaldo discusses the relationship between words and social practice; Paul Riesman explains the importance of greetings in among the Fulani people of West Africa; and Jack Goody examines the role of written communication in criticism. Elaine may have taken the notion of "criticism" to a new level in this episode.
[g] Ilongot emotion
My starting point is a set of Ilongot terms for what Westerners conventionally cast as emotional states and inner feelings—in short, with words that Ilongots use in explaining human action and construing the experiences of "the self"...In my own work, I assume that we can learn about the meaning of Ilongot headhunting raids and rites by focusing not simply on the organization of such events themselves, but instead on the emotional language Ilongots use in explaining how and why such violent deeds engage their interest...Thus, rather than probe the possible uses of Ilongot terms for illuminating facts of individual psychology, I concentrate on the meaning such words acquire through their association with enduring patterns of social relationship and activity in Ilongot daily life.[3]

[h] Liberté
For the Jelgobe, society has no existence other than in relations between people, and these relations cease to exist if people stop communicating. Here is a fundamental difference between this society and our own. With us human relations may be of great importance in a person's life, but we are not normally aware of a direct link between the upkeep of these relations and the upkeep of society as a whole. From the individual's point of view, society as a whole seems to keep itself going on its own, and demands from him, not spontaneous contribution, but obedience to its rules and a percentage of his income. Among the Jelgobe, on the contrary, the concept of society as a whole does not exist; there is only the fact of being together. But, as we have seen, being together is not taken for granted. It is difficult...there is the friction, the irritation, the misunderstandings which one finds in every community; these are expressed by the phrase gondal hoyaa (life together is not easy), which I heard several times during our stay with the Jelgobe...The greeting symbolizes, then, the readiness on the part of each person to continue the work of actualizing this conception of the world.[4]
[i] Etched minds
Culture, after all, is a series of communicative acts, and differences in the mode of communication are often as important as differences in the mode of production, for they involve developments in the storing, analysis, and creation of human knowledge, as well as the relationships between the individuals involved. The specific proposition is that writing, and more especially alphabetic literacy, made it possible to scrutinise discourse in a different kind of way by giving oral communication a semi-permanent form; this scrutiny favoured the increase in scope of critical activity, and hence of rationality, scepticism, and logic to resurrect memories of those questionable dichotomies...By making it possible to scan the communications of mankind over a much wider time span, literacy encouraged, at the very same time, criticism and commentary on the one hand and orthodoxy of the book on the other.[5]
***  ***
[j] "—graphy"
In many case it is "oral" and "literate" that need to be opposed rather than "traditional" and "modern...It is rather that the form in which the alternatives are presented makes one aware of the differences, forces one to consider contradiction, makes one conscious of the "rules" of argument, forces one to develop such "logic." And the form is determined by the literary or written mode. Why? Because when an utterance is put into writing it can be inspected in much greater detail, in its parts as well as in its whole, backwards as well as forwards, out of context as well as in its setting; in other words, it can be subjected to a quite different type of scrutiny and critique than is possible with purely verbal communication.[6]

[1] Jacques Barzun and Henry F. Graff, The Modern Researcher [Sixth Edition] (Belmont CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2004), 224.
[2]  Patricia T. O'Conner, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996), 142.
[3] Michelle Rosaldo, Knowledge and Passion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 26-27. Italics mine.
[4] Paul Riesman, Freedom in Fulani Social Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 175. Italics mine.
[5] Jack Goody, The Domestication of the Savage Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 37. Italics mine.
[6] Goody, Domestication, 43-44. Italics mine.
Wednesday, April 20th
The Puffy Shirt
Durkheim, Kroeber, Bourdieu...and shirts that make us look like pirates.

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