Friends and lovers of Seinfeld might recall an early episode about being friends and lovers called “The Deal.” Jerry and Elaine decide to make a foray into the bedroom, but not before coming up with a list of rules intended to preserve their friendship from the encroachments of romantic passion.
Jerry: Of course, I guess, maybe, some little problems could arise…. I mean, if anything happened, and we couldn’t be friends the way we are now, that would be really bad.
Jerry: Because this is very good. [Points back and forth between them to indicate friendship.]
Elaine: And that would be good. [Points to bedroom.]
Jerry: That would be good too. The idea is combine the this and the that. But this cannot be disturbed.
Elaine: Yeah, we just wanna take this and add that.
This week I’m using this clip as a way to introduce Plato’s dialogue the Phaedrus in my Foundations of Human Communication course—in hopes that Jerry and Elaine’s familiarity might ease the sometimes unfamiliarity of philosophical dialogue.
(Dr. Reppmann is also coming to class to bring to bear the insights of his research and reflection on this text, which is great good fun in a very different sort of way than watching Seinfeld.)
The Phaedrus dialogue opens with a sophistical speech about the practicality of being “friends with benefits.” (Except that in this dialogue—to put the matter delicately—the sexual action isn’t exactly heterosexual.) So, Socrates responds to this opening speech with a speech of his own—and then cuts off half way through, apparently out of shame. He follows with a take-it-back speech, a most amazing and dizzying oration on the proper role of passion in human life and the universe. And suddenly, in a dialogue that is full of abrupt changes, Socrates and his over-eager friend Phaedrus set aside the discussion of the erotic and somehow find themselves talking about rhetoric and soul, speech and thought, reminding and remembering. It sometimes seems to commentators that the dialogue has a spinal fracture, as if it were better named Brokeback Phaedrus.
Speaking of dialogues with spinal factures–those of you who know Seinfeld might recall that halfway through this particular philosophical dialogue, the Deal falls through. This and that prove incompatible. Jerry and Elaine ultimately decided that they’re better off just friends. Like all good sitcoms, the story provides a good conversation-starter about how we reconcile dialectical conflicts. Why couldn’t Jerry and Elaine manage both this and that? Why did they decide to privilege friendship over the erotic? What would it take to unite these two dimensions of human experience?
So, this week I’m thinking about how we struggle to keep this and that together in our everyday experience. Not sex and friendship merely, but work and play, solitude and community, reading and writing, Kingdom Come and Kingdom Coming.
Here’s my proposal for tomorrow’s Honors Tea: bring with you a pair of things that you find hard to unite in your life. If you can mention how you’ve found a way to keep them together, you will win that paragon of dialectical resolution: an extra, double-crème, non-fat Oreo.
(For the complete script of “The Deal,” see http://www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheDeal.htm.)