|Socrates, sort of|
▸ Daniel Barwick (Assistant Professor at SUNY College of Technology – Alfred) may not misunderstand Aristotlean Virtue Ethics (more on this later), but he sure does like misrepresenting the context behind or the actual meaning of the lines he quotes from Seinfeld. He takes George Constanza's pronouncement – to lawyer Cheryl – that "I'm disturbed! I'm depressed! I'm inadequate! I got it all!" ("The Visa") to mean that George hates himself, and not that he feels he can work his less desirable qualities into something that can entice an attractive woman to sleep with him. There is a difference between hating oneself – which it can be argued that George does – and believing that one's shortcomings can be used as an unlikely advantage in procuring sex. Barwick likewise misunderstands George's desire to watch a movie at Jerry's:
He hates that his life is boring:
Because if I watch [a video] at my apartment
I feel like I'm not doing anything. If I watchit here, I'm out of the house, I'm doing
("The Junior Mints")
– George's Failed Quest for Happiness (p. 21)
This is so much bigger than George finding his life to be boring. Instead, George needs to have an audience or witnesses to what he is doing in order for him to feel that there is something being done. It is a statement, and one that fits much better with the accusation that George hates himself, that anything solely related to George is nothing worth noting; it may as well be nothing or simply not be done. In context that is much closer to my life, there is little reward to be found in watching a bad movie, but I can attempt to manufacture some meaning behind it if I express my opinions on it and those opinions find an audience. Simply having the opinions isn't much of an accomplishment.
On page 23, Barwick misunderstands George's line, "When you're hopeless you don't care. And when you don't care, the indifference makes you attractive." ("The Fix-Up") as a surrender to his problems. Instead, and I want to give the writers credit here, it is more of an astute observation that perhaps the least attractive quality one can have is a palpable aura or sense of desperation. George knows this. He is pondering why he cannot have a level of contentment in his current lot in life – just an acceptance of it – and that from this level of satisfaction and not desperately searching for redemption through the mercies of the fairer sex that he may not just find himself in a better place to enter into a relationship, but that he could properly appear as having attractive traits to quality women.
Barwick also makes the semi-common argument that Aristotle argued that one can become a virtuous person. I am not a scholar of Aristotle and will cede that there are many who read the Nichomachean Ethics in such a way that true virtues can be developed. However, it was my understanding of the text – and one reinforced by Dr. James King – that Aristotle more properly argues that one's character is essentially a trait one is born with, and the best that can be accomplished with those who will not know true virtue is to get them to ape the acts of the virtuous (a prerequisite in learning how to be properly virtuous anyway), usually by means of threat. Be good or else, which can be clearly seen in the Aristotlean influence in the early Roman Catholic Church. Barwick may have a much greater understanding of Aristotle than do I, and he may be right in that real virtues can be fostered in individuals, but not in ones as deeply flawed as George (a point that Barwick does make).
At any rate, Worth ends up making the mistake of siding with Carol Gilligan (and not Kohlberg or Kant), thinking that there is some kind of defense of gender needed when what is at issue is cultural norms and how gender roles affect the application of reason. Worth presents another feminist rebuttal to the application of reason when it comes to morality with Nel Nodding's ethic of care:
"I should act always in such as to
promote the well-being of both the
others to whom I am in relation and
the self which is relationally
– Nel Noddings, Caring: A FeminineApproach to Moral Education, 1984
Never mind that this approach is so narrow in scope as to allow one to take actions blatantly hostile towards others so long as those others can be constituted to be some kind of unknown, this is merely a repacking of a type of utilitarianism that puts the well-being of the self as one of the primary concerns of morality. Few start the position of the good with the idea of what's good for me?, but we get to see it here.
Worth goes on to reduce other NBC sitcom characters to being less worthy of feminist admiration than Elaine. She characterizes Phoebe and Rachel from Friends (1994-2004) as a street performer and not especially well educated, respectively. This is just factually wrong, where Phoebe is a masseuse and Rachel starts the show with a college degree (though not a post-graduate one) in some field related to fashion. Worth calls Carla from Cheers (1982-1993) as "unattractive" (where I would have called her "brash" and "crude"), somehow making Elaine's appearance a boon for her feminism. Still, Worth thinks that Elaine is too weak to be a feminist and is merely a product of feminism.
▸ Eric Bronson (Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Berkeley College in New York) writes a short essay about Seinfeld and Tao. I don't feel qualified to write on Tao, but I also don't feel that Bronson gave me enough of a sense that he does either.
▸ Mark T. Conrad (writer) does a decent job of explaining the Kantian notion of time and space – even though he is concentrating on the Platonic and Nietzschean concepts of time, understanding, and recurrence. He also makes a few arguments about how a joke must be structured – that the punchline must be said (and not simply made obvious) – that I cannot abide. He does have some idea of how to relate memory and the past to one's conception of the self, but much less than I could find in the typical cognitive psychology jounral article dealing with the same issue. I respect what he was trying to accomplish with his essay, but found it to be lacking in proper focus and ultimately not making the points, but rather arriving at them when they are declared to be correct.
▸Jennifer McMahon (Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Centre College) gives a long examination of Sarte – one in which she essentially calls the majority of Sarte scholars idiots who have missed the obvious in reading him. I HATE phenomenology; other than it allowing us to reformulate the Socratic/Platonic phrase "The unexamined life is not worth living" into the more meaningful (and helpful) the inauthentic life is not worth living, phenomenology primarily serves as an obstacle to using something other than observation to understand anything.
▸ My brief response to Kelly Dean Jolley's (Associate Professor of Philosophy at Auburn) essay on Wittgenstein was "Who the fuck cares?" It is just another reminder of the endless bullshit that exists in the fields of philosophical inquiry, and Jolley presents it in such a matter that I must wonder why – except for lack of competition – one would endeavor to even take Wittgenstein and the conception of the commonplace seriously.
There is more, but I guess I want to keep this from being seemingly endless. Only a couple of the contributing authors presented both the philosophical concepts and the relation to Seinfeld in a clear manner (which wholly discounts the need to be entertaining). Taken on the whole, the book is too simplistic to offer much in the way of insight about the concepts and too liberal with the interpreting the show to impress a fan. I think there is something to be had with an approach like this, but it needs tighter editorial control and a better central theme.