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.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique (3)—Social Rhythms

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series about Marcel Granet, "La Pensée Cyclique"
Round and Square one year ago—Seinfeld Ethnography Introduction 
[a] Flow RF
This series is dedicated to understanding one of the most fascinating intellects of the twentieth century, Marcel Granet (1884-1940). In an earlier era, he might have been considered (at least by bibliophiles digesting tomes ranging from De l'esprit des lois to 呂氏春秋 between the world wars) the most interesting man in the world. For me, he is every bit of that (as we say back home). Granet's range of interests in social theory and Chinese literature were profound, catholic, and engrossing. I hope that (whether you are interested in French, social theory, or Chinese) you will give Monsieur Granet a little bit of your attention. The material is not simple, by any means, but it is an ideal way to grasp how knowledge really works.

Social Rhythms 
Marcel Granet’s oeuvre has often been described as dense, and that reflects several important issues in his writings. From one perspective, it could be said that Granet reworked similar ground throughout his entire scholarly career, and, indeed, one can see prominent themes appearing in several books—and some ideas from earlier books being fleshed out in later ones. His was not the “slash and burn” scholarship described by Claude Lévi-Strauss—moving from one idea to another with little reference to earlier work.[1] Granet’s production hardly reached the other extreme, however, and he could never be called a scholar who tilled the same field throughout his scholarly life (I remember a historian who once told me that my job would be to "work the field" of a decade in history that most interested me; I was appalled). Granet's interests in two complex fields were far too diverse to allow for that. I think of Granet's approach as a way of taking one topic, working it, and then letting it lie fallow for several years before returning, reseeding, and retilling the intellectual soil.
[b] Tête-à-tête RF
Maurice Freedman has cogently described Granet’s total body of work as “a series of overlapping discussions of a group of central problems in Chinese social organization and thought.”[2] Indeed, from Granet’s first published book in 1919—Fêtes et chansons de la chine ancienne [Festivals and Songs in Ancient China], which he jointly dedicated to his sociological mentor Emile Durkheim and his sinological mentor Edouard Chavannes—through the publication of La pensée chinoise [Chinese Thought] in 1934, Marcel Granet worked to explicate the social and intellectual cycles at the heart of the Chinese social order. He was not interested in only “primitive” forms, as were some of his intellectual contemporaries. Nor was he interested solely in the elite social and intellectual order that dominated indigenous Chinese traditions for over two millennia. His interests ran the gamut of Chinese practice and belief, and represented a complex and diverse methodology that would allow him to bring out the sociological implications in his Chinese texts.

Several powerful ideas work their way through all of Granet’s published works, and found their place, as well, in his teaching. As the title of this series—La Pensée Cyclique [Cyclical Thought]— indicates, I find Granet’s engagement with social and intellectual cyclicality to be one such powerful theme, and one that is far more subtle, adaptable, and refined than a cursory treatment ever could explain.  

[c] Cyclical RF
Indeed, Granet’s published work itself reflects a kind of scholarly cyclicality that brought him back to similar themes and similar questions over the course of his scholarly life. He did not treat the questions the same way in later books, and that seems to be precisely because the angles and approaches that he employed called for subtle and precise interpretation. The field was more fertile after lying fallow for a while.

As a way of beginning, I have chosen a prominent theme in Granet’s work, and have taken a passage whose themes would be reworked, rethought, and reconfigured throughout Granet’s career—those of social gathering and celebration. Nothing is more important in Granet's thinking than the cycles—the undulating rhythms—of social life.

[d] Clustered RF
Gathering is one of the most powerful of all social and religious actions, and, in true Durkheimian fashion, the assembly created through individual footsteps and movements is much, much greater than its parts. This happens on Chinese mountains, on the way to synagogues and churches and mosques, and in quiet villages seeking to allocate irrigation resources for the coming year (these are linked, even though it will take some time to show precisely how).  

Indeed, Granet's teacher, Emile Durkheim, devotes a good deal of space to the theme of tumultuous gathering in his own writings, and makes the key point that all religions (which he bluntly states are society) absolutely need the regeneration that is created by bringing disparate believers together for periods of communal excitement. Durkheim's point is as profound as it is straightforward, and Granet channeled it in his own writings, as we will see. 
          Sentiments created and developed in the group have a greater energy than 
          purely individual sentiments. A person who experiences such sentiments feels 
          that he is dominated by forces that he does not recognize as his own, and of 
          which he is not the master, but by which he is led…He feels himself in a world 
          quite distinct from that of his own private existence. This is a world not only 
          more intense in character, but also qualitatively different. Following the 
          collectivity, the individual forgets himself for the common end and his conduct 
          is directed by reference to a standard outside himself…

          It is, in fact, at such moments of collective ferment that are born the great ideals  
          upon which civilizations rest. These periods of creation or renewal occur when 
          people for various reasons are led into a closer relationship with each other, 
          when gatherings and assemblies are more frequent, relationships closer and 
          the exchange of ideas more active…Nevertheless these ideals could not survive
          if they were not periodically revived. This revival is the function of religious or 

          secular feasts and ceremonies, public addresses in churches or schools, plays 
          and exhibitions—in a word, whatever draws men together into an intellectual 
          and moral communion.[3]

[e] Harvest RF
Early on, Marcel Granet described peasant communal activity in a way that would become an intellectual magnet in his life's work. Peasants gathered at seasonal festivals to mark the beginning and end of agricultural work for the year. Much larger—and infinitely more complex—gatherings would mark the feudal nobility and later imperial court in China. Nonetheless, for Granet, the peasant gathering is the beginning of all later social and religious life, and he is hard-pressed to restrain his ethnographic and literary enthusiasm. In this passage, Marcel Granet does not fill his footnotes with sources and theoretical justifications. All he needs are the Classic of Poetry [Shijing] and Durkheim’s writings on religious gathering. It is rather as though his pen floats across the page, guided, as it were, by L’année sociologique and the Chinese classics. Don't skim. Read it carefully. Marcel Granet is in a kind of sociological-theoretical trance here, and understanding it is the key to his thought. Read it slowly (aloud), and carefully. Really.

          From day to day the individual belonged completely to his family, and the 
          awareness of this belonging entailed a habitual feeling of opposition towards
          neighbors. It was only on exceptional occasions that family egoism could feel 
          itself mastered by the vision, then sudden and dazzling, of higher interests 
          never clearly seen in ordinary circumstances. Their rhythmic life provided the 
          Chinese peasants with these occasions at two points in the year: when they 
          finished and when they began domestic work and labor in the fields, when 
          men and women, their activity alternating, changed their mode of life, at the 
          beginning of spring and at the end of autumn.

[f] Weaving RF
The weaving done or the grain harvest brought in, each family group was put in possession of an abundance of riches: these were moments of joy, moments when the harshness of practical concerns was relaxed, moments favorable to large gestures, propitious to generous exchanges, welcome periods of large-scale social intercourse.  And it was not at all an interchange that sought only direct and material advantage:  each family, proud of the fruits of its labor, wished to display its fortune; neighboring groups came together in a communal assembly, each inviting the others to make use of all its riches: it won recognition of its prestige by its generosity.

          In these solemn meetings of families usually withdrawn into themselves and 
          shut up within the circle of their daily cares, each of them, becoming aware of 
          its power at a time of plenty and feeling it to be increased by its public display, 
          lost its usual feelings of enmity towards the neighboring families at the moment 
          when its self-confidence was carried to its highest point. The interpenetration 
          of the different groups was more intense, more moving, more intimate, and 
          more absolute for their isolation and self-contained nature being in normal 
          times more complete.[4]

[g] Seeds RF
“Gathering” in the passage above is a powerful idea that is no less sociological for its having a Chinese name: 會. As Granet’s mentor Edouard Chavannes would point out, although the character hui has come to be extended a great deal in both Chinese and Japanese, its core meaning is “coming together,” or “gathering." For Durkheim, the key concept of communion and renewal gives spirit to his work on the elementary forms of religion. Granet links them.

What separates Granet from his two mentors is his unwillingness to leave the matter where each of them did. Chavannes studied the Classic of Poetry and the Book of Rites at length; Durkheim theorized about religious communions and social solidarity.  For Granet, the question seems to be: “What can we make of ‘gathering,’ and how does it figure in the Chinese textual tradition, as well as the sociological one?”  

Such “gathering” is at the heart of all of Marcel Granet’s arguments about not only “peasant society,” but elite writings and even the classification and movement of the calendar itself, which rules and orders the heavens and coordinates all life in the universe, according to traditional Chinese cosmology. It would appear in all of his writing and his teaching, throughout his career. We'll examine some of those materials in the next few posts.

[1] Something that Professor Lévi-Strauss asserted more than he practiced, in any case. Claude Lévi-Stauss, Tristes Tropiques [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman] (New York: Penguin Classics, 2012), 58.
[2] Marcel, Granet, The Religion of the Chines People [Translated, with an introduction by Maurice Freedman} (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 4.
[3] Emile Durkheim, Selected Writings [Edited by Anthony Giddens] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 228-229.
[4] Granet, Religion: 40.

Granet, Marcel.The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated, with an introduction, by Maurice Freedman]. 
     New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
Durkheim, Emile. Selected Writings [Edited by Anthony Giddens]. Cambridge: Cambridge University 
     Press, 1972.
[h] Gathering RF

Friday, March 30, 2012

Just Do It Over (7)—Lean Finely Textured Beef

[a] Textured RF
A quick head's up for vegetarians. This topic is in the news, and it is not particularly pretty. Our job at Round and Square is to (try to) understand this vast, strange, culture of ours, so it won 't always be particularly palatable (literally or figuratively). Fair warning. Broccoli never looked this bad.

Let's get started, though. We'll pretend, for narrative purposes, that this all happens at the shop of your local butcher, just down the street—positioned between the bakery and the candlestick maker's shop. The dry goods store is across the street. This 1950s feel isn't meant to cover up the mega-meat business of it all (we'll get to that soon enough). It is just a way of thinking about a very peculiar cultural process.
[b] Monsieur Le Bouef RF
So, as the sun begins to peer over the horizon at the start of another day, the butcher stands—cleaver in hand—and considers the work to be done. I will spare most of the details of a cow or three being on the table. First, s/he cuts up all of the portions that get the big bucks. S/he has been doing this for some time now, and the process goes quickly and smoothly. There are ribs, flanks, sirloins, briskets, tenderloins, tops, rounds, and chuck. Lots of chuck. Those go onto the premium pile...or piles (1A, 1B, 1C). Don't worry. Mr/Ms Beef knows what to do.

If it's a small shop, s/he wraps them up in white paper and marks the price with a thick grease pen. It is heading to the butcher's window or your grocer's freezer. Morning traffic is just beginning to grow, and retail beef sales are ready to rumble. Done—a messy but necessary job in a society of carnivores, right?

Not so fast. The quality muscle and bone is gone, but there's still quite a pile on the stainless steel table in the back room. A key separation occurs at this point—a sort of parting of the leftover waters and a meaty do-over not often considered by consumers. The first parting is not particularly difficult. Off go the entrails and genuine muck. Lips...and stuff. That was easy. But they do not go into the garbage. No, no, no.

[c] Middles RF
That stuff will become hot dogs. We'll deal with that little sack of middles on another day. We have bigger slime to fry today.

The entrails are gone. Now what is lying there on the table is really pretty lean stuff. There is a fair amount of red in the heap, and you might not be particularly averse to throwing it into a stir fry...if you're really hungry...and eat meat. This is when it gets interesting, though, and when that little mound of lean-ish beef works its way into the headlines of American newspapers and the school lunch program decisions of districts from New Jersey to Oklahoma, and Michigan to Nevada. 

That kilogram of flesh has begun to resonate in our culture, and cultural resonance is our reason for being on Round and Square. Thinking about beef—it's what's for deliberation.

It gets packed off, too, but not like the hot dog fixings. It is sent to a meat processing plant, mixed with other "lean" scraps, and is then treated with ammonium hydroxide gas. Mmm, mmm. You might sense where this is going. It's all beginning to look a lot more like that hot dog than you thought when we first confronted this little legislative fantasy.
[d] Chuck RF
So out comes the ammonium hydroxide gas and thwaaaaaap, the trimmings are biochemically "clean." From there, it is a straightforward process of flash freezing it into pink bricks and transporting the poundage to supermarkets (or satellite producers), where it will be merged, in one way or another, with ground beef.

That's the process, and the USDA says it's safe. In the meantime, through a combination of whistleblowing, errant e-mail messages, and public outcry, the term "pink slime" has caught on. It has had notable effect on shared culture, and breaking bread together may never be the same again.

Retailers are racing for the exits, hoping to escape the quickslime that this has become for anyone who wants to sell any fine textures of beef. School lunch programs (and the bureaucracies that run them) don't know what to do with the many thousands of pounds of ammonium hydroxide treated beef in their freezers. The New York Times has given us a glimpse into the world of school lunch culture. Take a look.
New York Times/Pink Slime 
[e] Lean RF
There may or may not be solid evidence that lean finely textured beef is much of a health problem (beyond eating beef itself). The last thing I am is an apologist for the USDA or the beef industry. On the other hand, I don't have an axe to grind (so to speak) the other way.

What fascinates me about this whole topic is the way that words influence culture. We could push this as far as saying "words are culture," but I'll pull it back from that brink for now. Let's not kid ourselves, though. A big part of the "PR" problem for the beef industry is, well, the wording. While "pink" has a number of nice connotations in our cultural milieu (roses, cherry blossoms, and even light rosé), slime doesn't have much of an upside. In fact, there is only one side, and it is not particularly appetizing.
[f] Emotion RF
Isn't it funny that the conventional wisdom always has the bottom line focusing on things other than words? Serious changes—the kind that can cause people to lose jobs and international corporations to alter strategy (and revenue) in mid-course—don't seem to come from mere they?

Well, yes. That is my whole point. Cultural and economic change (because the economy is cultural—a point that economists would do well to consider more carefully than they often do) happens. Stuff happens. That's culture...and change. The role of words in all of this is fascinating for me. Language and culture are mixing their ammonium hydroxide gas-magic, and it is changing bottom lines everywhere. Let's think about that, and the impact that a phrase (and its accompanying imagery—never forget that) has had on the beef industry's bottom line. Crying fowl won't work in the Burger Court of American consumption. We would do best to analyze, reflect, and deliberate. 

We'll let Jon Stewart have the last word, but I have plenty of theoretical questions for a future post. Stay (at)tuned.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Displays of Authenticity (15)—In the Wheelhouse

[a] Steerage RF
I have encountered a "new" word in English recently. To use a double-negative, it is not as though the phrase has never failed to enter my consciousness (something like kzcxhgenery, for example). It has occupied a place way back in the recesses of my imagination, probably because I have heard of "wheel" and "house" before. Call me sheltered (or landlocked), but I have rarely, until the last few weeks, thought of them as being linked. Wheelhouse. What the heck? Clearly, the concept doesn't seem to be in my wheelhouse.
[b] Housings RF
As is often the case, it was Mitt Romney who first got my attention. The American presidential candidate claims that the economy is in his wheelhouse. When I first heard him say this, I was puzzled.  

His where? Is that why he's wearing jeans all of the time?

I thought I had it figured out, but then wasn't so sure, so I decided to sleep on it. Hours later, I awoke in mid-slumber to shout "Mitt...get the economy out of your wheelhouse; that's the problem! It's been stuck in your wheelhouse!" To my mind, Monsieur Romney had tucked the American economy into dry dock, and the little wheelhouse was looking out over a patch of New Jersey. That explained a lot, I thought.

I soon learned that my interpretation of the phrase (a big place for storage of wheels and other stuff, or so I thought) was just a bit—way— too literal. In the last few weeks I have become attuned to "wheelhouse" as meaning something akin to 專門, as in the following snippet from a formal introduction Governor Romney might make in Tokyo while (formally) addressing a fine geopolitical partner

                       specialty is the American economy...
                                ...the (American) economy is in my wheelhouse...

[c] Authenticity RF
I have spent enough time in Japan (and China, which has the same characters for pretty much the same idea) to know that a specialty is nothing about which one quibbles. If your wheelhouse is a 専門 senmon of yours, you must know a lot about it. Well played, ミテ (Mitt). The American economy is in your wheelhouse, as you attest.

I think I am beginning to catch on. It is a kind of display of authenticity, a statement of expertise in some realm or other. If something is in your wheelhouse, you can hit it like a hanging curveball...out of the park. I was becoming accustomed to the extensions of meaning, but I had never heard anyone "unpack" the term before.

It all comes down to a single phrase in a stump speech, repeated throughout Mississippi, Alabama, and Illinois...with varying results. I swear that I had never thought of the wheelhouses before Mitt Romney started parking the economy in his a few weeks ago. Wheelhouse? Isn't that where we put the 1958 Bentley and the old yacht...or a couple of Cadillacs? Isn't it at least a garage...of sorts? Wheelhouse? A house for...wheels?

Go ahead and check the online dictionaries. They skip right from wheels and housing and jump immediately to the everyday cultural usage. It goes like this: 

                    I know this aspect of our shared cultural existence, 
                    and am authentically good at it.

[d] Wheelhouse...literally RF
From there, it can (if we follow the dictionaries) be translated as "I can be trusted to perform evaluative duties in this sphere without problem."

Ummmm. Not so fast, Governor. Wheelhouse? Where on the appropriate-height tree-lined earth did your speech writers come up with that one? And don't tell me that it's just a phrase. Wheelhouse? I have lived five decades, and I don't believe that I had ever spoken the word until Mitt said it. 

Now I say it all the time, and am convinced that French sinology is in my wheelhouse. 

RomneyClaim has broadened my horizons, to be sure, but I would still be confused if I had not started thinking about Herman Melville and Patrick O'Brian. A wheelhouse, you see, is somewhere (where) you steer things. I guess that steering is related to authenticity, and a wheel house is the little hut on board the ship that houses...the wheel. 

Wheelhouse. Steerage. Authenticity.

Keep your eye on this phrase. Unless you wear a patch, notice nautical twilight, and have saltwater in your ears, you will probably hear the word more in the next six months than you have in your whole life. Culture (and language) is like that. In just the last week, I have heard strange uses of "wheelhouse" that make me think that I am not the only person who has been confused. An ESPN writer on Sunday exclaimed that Tiger Woods has four major tournaments "in his wheelhouse" this year, with the Masters beginning next week. What does that mean? He's good at (major) golf tournaments, to be sure, but what does that have to do with his wheelhouse? How are those tournaments "in his wheelhouse?" He has won almost a quarter of the majors he has entered. Maybe the author was right about Tiger having those tournaments in his wheelhouse. Maybe.

That "maybe" is what I'm talking about. Wheelhouses are going to be discussed for a while now, and not all usages will cohere. When Mitt speaks, we listen. Keep your ears attuned for this particular little rhetoric of authenticity, and see where it goes from here (hear). Culture and history are ever-changing, and no matter how talented we might be as interpreters, we can never have those in our wheelhouses

Nope. It's too complicated for that. Like life. And language. And life...and language...and life...
[e] In the wheelhouse RF

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Seinfeld Ethnography (45)—Kramer Gets a Job

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

[a] Workin' 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] Manual RF
Kramer's working. It all started in the bathroom before Kramer stumbled into the board room. It takes a while, but Kramer's relationships and career end up back in the toilet, so to speak. Take a look at Kramer's career. It is breathless, to be sure.

The "relationship" angle is almost too well-played. The Seinfeld writers have been a little too cute with this sort of theme, I think. Still, the flurry of Kramer's work career (even if we expand our thoughts to assume a thirty-minute show—twenty two minutes after commercials) speaks to many of the hopes and worries harbored by all of us in the workplace. Most of us have several decades of planning and analyzing, though. Kramer is different. He hasn't had a workplace...and the one he gained in this episode didn't last very long.

Let's think about the nature of work and what it means in "our" society (you should know by now that Round and Square has readers in a hundred of "our" societies, and that comparison is our whole point).

[c] Respite RF
So how do we resolve "work" and "Kramer?" Never the twain shall meet, right? You can't have a round square (Kant, St. Anselm); east and west (Kipling)... Kramer in a suit, tie, and preparing reports (even if only for seventy-two hours)? This is something that Kramer watchers will find befuddling, at the least, since we associate him with Swimming in the East River, hitting golf balls into the ocean, and power-showering.

Let's take a look at a range of readings that go just a little bit beyond our usual anthropological frame. This has a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I am at home in our nation's capital these days, but my home-library is back in Beloit, Wisconsin. This is not a bad thing. It forces me to find things in books that might not otherwise have been my first choices. Any practicing cultural anthropologist could come up with a list linked to "Kramer" and "work," and probably fifty-percent of them would overlap. Not so much with this week's readings. That is part of the fun. I am engaging in a kind of editorial bricolage by looking at the thirty or so books sitting on my shelves in northern Virginia.
[d] Workrest RF

The first reading is from Jim Collins's management book Built to Last. The second is from Peter Drucker's Management Cases, a book related to his classic management text. Our final example comes from a compilation of Song dynasty (CE 960-1279) anecdotes that is one of the most interesting sources I have ever encountered, and has influenced a great deal of my own research over the years.

Built to Last
Jim Collins (1994)

[e] Last ADV
Contrary to business school doctrine, we do not find "maximizing shareholder wealth" or "profit maximization" as the dominant driving force or primary objective through the history of most of the visionary companies. They have tended to purse a cluster of objectives, of which making money is only one—and not necessarily the primary one. Indeed, for many of the visionary companies, business has historically been more than an economic activity, more than just a way to make money. Through the history of money. Through the history of most of the visionary companies we saw a core ideology that transcended purely economic considerations. And—this is the key point—they have had core ideology to a greater degree than the comparison companies in our study...

Of course, we're not saying that the visionary companies have been uninterested in profitability or long-term shareholder wealth (notice that we say that they are "more than" economic entities, not "other than"). Yes, they pursue profits. And, yes, they pursue broader, more meaningful ideals. Profit maximization does not rule, but the visionary companies pursue their aims profitably. They do both.[1]

[f] Managing ADV
Management Cases
Peter Drucker (2009)

Rarely has a chief executive of an American corporation been as respected and as revered as Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., was at General Motors during his long tenure at the top—for 1920 until 1955. Many GM managers, especially those who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, felt a deep personal gratitude to him for his quiet but decisive acts of kindness, of help, of advice, or just of warm sympathy when they were in trouble. At the same time, however, Sloan kept aloof from the entire managerial group in GM. That he never called anyone by his or first name and was "Mr. Sloan" even to top executives may have been a a reflection of his heritage and upbringing—he had been born, after all, in the 1870s and was a senior executive, running his own business, before 1900...

Above all, Sloan had no friends within the GM group. He was a warm and had been a gregarious man until deafness cut him off from easy human contact. Although he had had close friends, he outlived them all—he lived well into his nineties. All these friends had been outside General Motors. Indeed, the one friend who had been in GM, Walter P. Chrysler, did not become a personal friend until after he had left GM and had, upon Sloan's advice and with strong support from Sloan, started his own competing automobile company...

"It is the duty or the chief executive officer to be objective and impartial," Sloan said, explaining his management style. "He must be absolutely tolerant and pay no attention to how a man does his work, let alone whether he likes a man or not. The only criteria must be performance and character. And that is incompatible with friendship and social relations. A chief executive officer, who has 'friendships' within the company, has 'social relations' with colleagues or discusses anything with them except the job, cannot remain impartial—or at least, which is equally damaging, he will not appear as such. Loneliness, distance, and formality may be contrary to his temperament—they have always been contrary to mine—but they are his duty."[2]
[g] Anecdotes ADV
A Compilation of Sung Personalities
Chu Djang (1989)

When Ouyang Xiu was in the government, he heard about the name of Shao Yong, but never had a chance to meet him. His son Ouyang Fei (1047-1113), who was about to leave for his official post, would pass through Luoyang. Ouyang told his son to visit Shao Yong on his way to convey his admiration and added that if Shao should invite the latter to stay for a few days, he should accept the invitation and report back the conversation.

When Ouyang Fei arrived in Luoyang, Shao Yong welcomed him with great enthusiasm. He talked to his guest for a whole day about the people he had met, the studies he had pursued, and the activities he had accomplished throughout his whole life in great detail. Upon finishing, he asked again and again: "Can you remember it all?"

Although Ouyang Fei listened with great attention, he did not know why he was told such things. He wrote back to report everything to his father. His father did not understand either.

During the Yuanfeng period (1078-1085), Shao Yong died. The local authorities reported the life history of Shao to the court, requesting the grant of a posthumous title. Ouyang Fei who was serving as the Erudite of the Chamberlain for Ceremonials at that time was given the responsibility for drafting the patent of the posthumous title. Only then did he realize why Shao had recounted his life history to him.[3]

[1] James Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (New York: Harper 
      Business, 1994), 55.
[2] Peter Drucker, Management Cases [Revised and Updated by Joseph Maciariello] (New York: Collins Business, 
      2009), 125-127.
[3] Chu Djang,  A Compilation of Sung Personalities (New York: St. John's University Press, 1989), 407-408.

Chu Djang.  A Compilation of Sung Personalities. New York: St. John's University Press, 1989. 
Collins, James and Jerry Porras. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
     New York: Harper Business, 1994.
Drucker, Peter. Management Cases [Revised and Updated by Joseph Maciariello]. New York: 
    Collins Business, 2009.

Wednesday, April 4th
Needle's on Empty
Kramer drives the dealership car down to the bottom of the tank...and discovers new dimensions of culture, personality, and willpower.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

La Pensée Cyclique (2)—Sociology and Sinology

[a] Social cycles RF
This series is dedicated to understanding one of the most fascinating intellects of the twentieth century, Marcel Granet (1884-1940). In an earlier era, he might have been considered (at least by bibliophiles considering tomes ranging from De l'esprit des lois to 呂氏春秋 between the world wars) the most interesting man in the world. For me, he is every bit of that (as we say back home). Granet's range of interests in social theory and Chinese literature were profound, catholic, and engrossing. I hope that (whether you are interested in French, social theory, or Chinese) you will give Monsieur Granet a little bit of your attention. The material is not simple, by any means, but it is an ideal way to grasp how knowledge really works.

Sociology and Sinology  
The complete body of Granet’s work reflects a desire to resolve tensions between “real” and “ideal” in his texts, and to show the relationship between cultural ideals and social practice.  Granet was troubled by the inability of all but a few of his students to comprehend the connection between mythique and juridique—the realm of ideas, on the one hand, and the functioning of kinship connections, on the other.  Many were captivated by the study of seemingly esoteric texts, but absolutely overwhelmed by the sociological details and the challenge of interpreting kinship charts.  At the heart of this “tension” lies the demand Granet put upon himself and his students—to interpret the Chinese texts themselves with grace and clarity, all the while bringing to them a theoretical and methodological sophistication that was the result of a half-century of work in (at that time) the rich and growing field of sociology.

Even in his time, few were committed to mastering the sources of two complex scholarly traditions.
[b] Complex RF
An example of this commitment can be seen in a letter Marcel Granet wrote to friends in 1912, in which he describes having to leave his residence in Beijing during the confusion following the end of the Qing dynasty.  In his great rush, he wrote that he could carry only his copies of the twenty-four standard histories of China—a burdensome proposition, indeed, since each of those histories was bound in several volumes.  One imagines the young scholar, who was soon to write of the symbolism of left and right in Chinese culture, burdened with the weight of two traditions in his arms, and each helping to define him in a world that might not understand. We pack up: the twenty-four histories, in their frail cases, decorated with green characters, make a shaky structure.[1]

[c] Social 1906 RF
Needless to say, it would not be possible to carry the twenty-four histories, and it is somewhat odd as an example, since Granet’s published work was much more influenced by classical works of the fifth- to second- centuries BCE.  Nonetheless, if that were his only reading, he would appear to be the quintessential sinologist, immersed in the textual foundations of the Chinese tradition, and perhaps explicating them on their own terms for a Western audience only dimly acquainted, beyond the fashions of chinoiserie, with an East Asian civilization.  He might have been a figure not unlike Arthur Waley.  Translating form Chinese texts in an almost Dickensian manner, he might have opened interpretive worlds for his readers that did not veer too far from their experiences with Western literature.  On the other hand, imagining the opposite end of the spectrum, he might have been more like one of his own mentors, Édouard Chavannes, whose obsession with his Chinese sources was often an end in itself, with publication a sometimes distant goal.

But Marcel Granet, at least as he told it in his letter, did not only bring his treasured Chinese histories with him as he fled the turmoil in Beijing.  He also carried the first run of L’année sociologique, the journal founded by his other mentor, Emile Durkheim, which contained the best writing of a large group of scholars who surrounded the French master.  His letter continues by filling up the other hand, as it were, in his two-sided life: 

               L’année sociologique is in my handbag.  I stuff my suitcases.[2]

[d] Forbidden RF
From that perspective (we might say, on the other hand), the classically trained Granet could well have been a sociologist devoted to studying (and comparing) the early ethnographic writings of scholars as far afield as Australia, North America, Siberia, and China—all without doing fieldwork himself or learning the relevant languages.  He might have been much like Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, working with great erudition but little direct engagement with the societies depicted in ethnographic or textual materials compiled by others.  More favorably, he might have been like his very close friend—and nephew of his “sociological mentor” Emile Durkheim—Marcel Mauss, who wrote with unparalleled synthesizing brilliance from the scattered accounts that were available from early researchers throughout the world.

Marcel Granet was all—and none—of these things. He studied classical Chinese civilization with painstaking care, even as he avidly read and reread the sociological work being published in L’année sociologique and beyond.  Granet’s work represents, more than any writer before or since, a lifelong effort to resolve major issues at the heart of social theory with the Chinese world.  He did not engage in this enterprise as a fieldworker, although he lived in China for a time.  He engaged social theory through his Chinese texts.  Although he lived in China from 1911 to 1913, it was his sinological and sociological texts that drove his work, not the extremely significant events unfolding all around him at the time.  

[e] Towering RF
Granet studied the Classic of Poetry and its commentaries even as a two-millennium imperial order came to an end in the very city in which he lived.  He sought to understand events that would encompass others, and a passing moment in Chinese politics (however important it might appear in retrospect), held none of the fascination or explanatory power for Granet that could be found in the festivals and songs, the dances and legends, of early China.  Rival brotherhoods and sage-king ironsmiths held far more interest for Professor Granet than a fledgling Republican government. Some of the most significant events in China’s modern history were unfolding all around him, and he could not be bothered. Life in China twenty-five centuries earlier—that fascinated him.

It is as simple, and complex, as that.  Obsessively studying China’s past with little regard for its present, and seeking the very heart of Chinese social life in early texts, Granet’s is a sociology driven by early Chinese civilization, and a sinology deeply informed by sociological theory.  The resulting oeuvre is a strange blend of insights that often leave both sociologists and sinologists bewildered, and too easily dismissed for an interpretation here or there that is dated.  

It is not easy to “peg” Granet, although many have tried.  As even a cursory reading of his works will show, Granet’s interests are catholic and his methods both intense and precise.  They also reflect his deep interest in a long tradition of French social thought, dating back at least to Montesquieu, which found its place in the work of scholars surrounding Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss.  The range of questions engaged by late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century French sociologists were indeed vast—from personhood to gift exchange and magic to suicide and the very categories of the human mind—and we need to return to their roots if we are to understand Granet the sociologist and scholar of China.

[1] Marcel Granet, The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated, with an introduction by Maurice Freedman] (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 12.
[2] Granet, 12.

Granet, Marcel. The Religion of the Chinese People [Translated with an introduction by Maurice Freedman]. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
[f] Oeuvre RF