Sunday, September 25, 2016

Read for Fun: Seinfeld and Philosophy

"Seinfeld and Philosophy" is a book I bought some time ago. I read a few of its essays but then it got lost in the shuffle. I finally finished it the other day. The show about nothing has profound things in it. Since this is a philosophy anthology I can't use my normal grading method so I'll just sample three of the essays.

 "The Costanza Maneuver: is it rational for George to 'Do the Opposite'"?

This is one of my favorites. Not only is it interesting but it cleaves to Seinfeld as much as to the philosophy. I'd say this is one of the better essays in that regard.  

The title of this episode refers to the season five episode "The Opposite" where George realizes that his every instinct has been wrong so Jerry (jokingly) advises him to do the opposite of what his instincts tell him.  In pursuit of determining if this is a truly rational thing to do, the author of the essay uses concepts such as the Three Kinds of Rationality (minimum, median and maximum) and employs a test; it is rational if it is both feasible and reliable. 

The author of the essay also speaks of the comical mechanics in this central joke of the episode. Neither George nor the audience expects the Costanza Maneuver to work and the contrast with its great success is both startling and baffling. It's also about George's neurosis; that's always funny. 

Seinfeld, Subjectivity and Sartre

This one is about the constructions of the Self (identity, personality etc.) and how it exists in relation to others. It is not only that the persona of the characters is revealed through their interactions with others but that it is influenced and built by them. Examples include Jerry encouraging some odd plan or another by George and Kramer's eccentrics coming from all the strange people he interacts with.
This particular essay had another point to prove; that Jean-Paul Sartre advocated the relationally constructed Self instead of being an essentialist. The author of this essay goes to great lengths to disprove what I assume is a widespread and long standing interpretation. Of course, Sartre's play, "No Exit" and that famous line "Hell is other people" is brought up. In both the play and the TV show there are three (or four) unpleasant people locked in a room for a prolonged period of time as their punishment. Yet the author of this essay notes that the Seinfeld four don't see it as torture because it is their natural environment.
Seinfeld and the Moral Life

The author of this essay attempts to prove that the four main cast members are kind and compassionate people who regularly try to do the morally correct thing; yes all four of them.  While I disagree I'm more put off by the faulty logic and reasoning in this essay.

Before starting the argument to prove this, the author of the essay first separates "integrity" from the idea of "being moral" because someone can be a horrible immoral person with great integrity. While this is sound enough it also means there is less land to defend. When the author of the essay begins their defense of their argument they point to the few actions that could be interpreted as good and kind and ignores the context. It's cherry picking.
Then the author of the essay responds to possible counter-arguments by stating that being a "comedy of manners" is more or less the same as being concerned with morality because manners are about avoiding hurting someone's feelings. This ignores the possibility of being petty, superficial or self-interested. There is also the phrase "obviously false on its face". This sounds like the start of the Costanza Maneuvers' first section. It referred to the tendency of some people to believe they've won an argument by saying "you're being irrational". Saying that something is false does not prove it to be so.


 There are others in this essay that I greatly enjoyed such as "J. Peterman the Ideological Mind: Paradoxes of Subjectivity" and the "Elaine Benes: Feminist Icon or Just One of The Boys". There are only one or two that I disliked and that's more about disagreement or whatever.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Seinfeld and Philosophy" an A

Click here for the next book review (a review request): Crik

Click here for my previous book review (a review request): Fae

Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).

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