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"Seinfeld" and Philosophy: A Book About Everything and Nothing (Popular Culture & Philosophy) Paperback – 20 Aug 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Open Court Publishing Co ,U.S. (20 Aug. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812694090
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812694093
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.9 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 579,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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About the Author

A New York journalist, who graduated from Stanford, Irwin was the brother of Wallace Irwin. He worked as World War I correspondent. His works include: Old Chinatown (1908), A Reporter in Armageddon --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
It is only appropriate to begin this book on philosophy and Seinfeld with a look at the character Jerry (1989-1998 A.C.E.) and the philosopher Socrates (470-399 B.C.E.). Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 1 Feb. 2000
Format: Paperback
A clever idea, which sometimes fails a little more than it succeeds. Still, if you a Seinfeld fan it's well worth checking out, just don't expect miracles. There's some clever ideas here, but not really enough depth and insight to really make it work... it all feels a little patched together, a book for the sake of it - not that there's anything wrong with that...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 45 reviews
47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
A fascinating book 27 Aug. 2003
By Adam Dukovich - Published on
Format: Paperback
Seinfeld and Philosophy is a book with an interesting premise: it examines various philosophical issues raised by the phenomenally popular sitcom Seinfeld. The conceit is to examine the show that examined the minutia, the trivia of everyday life and to analyze certain aspects of the show from a philosophical standpoint. Thus, those of us who like both subjects have William Irwin to thank for this book, which is essentially a collection of essays from contemporary philosophers about Seinfeld.
The book includes 14 essays, organized into four "acts", most of which are good. The first act centers mostly on the primary characters. There is one for each main character. Jerry is compared to Socrates and George to a "Virtueless man" of Aristotle. The weakest essay, perhaps, is the one examining if Elaine is a feminist. The strongest essay concerns Kramer and Soren Kierkegaard's Asthetic Stage of Life. Although I am not entirely familiar with the man's work, the essay lays out the central principles of Kierkegaard's theory and ties it all together perfectly. Act II contains specific analogies between Seinfeld and the work of Nietzsche, Sartre, Lao Tzu, and Wittgenstein. Act III has a fascinating essay on George's choice to do "the opposite", another on Peterman and reality in the media, and a weak essay on the "significance of the insignificant" which purports to know the secret of Seinfeld's humor but never tells it. The final act tackles the moral and ethical backgrounds of the four and also examines whether the law used to convict the four (the Good Samaritan Law) deserved to be on the books.
Any Seinfeld fan will appreciate this wonderful book, even if they have no philosophical background. The book allows fans to look at their show at a different angle. Similarly, fans of philosophy will not be disappointed. Most of the major philosophical figures of history are covered here, including Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Lao Tzu and a smattering of Eastern philosophy, Nietzsche, Sartre, Wittgenstein, Kant and others. This is basically an appetizer plate for those who like Seinfeld have an interest in philosophy and but don't know where to start. This is worth buying for the more bookish variety of Seinfeld fans.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Fun Introduction to Philosophy 21 Dec. 2001
By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book attests to the profundity of Seinfeld, how it is an appropriate vehicle for teaching a philosphical analysis explaining why the Seinfeld characters never grow up, find meaning, and discover wisdom, all the while holding a mirror to our own society and being loveable and endearing at the same time. You learn about Aristotle's Ethics and Virture and why George, lacking these things, can never achieve happiness. This essay about George's incurable unhappiness is the best of the bunch and worth the price of the whole book. In this anthology, I came across about six solid essays that highlighted Seinfeld's best attributes through the use of philosophy.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
What A Great Idea! 10 April 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
It was my curiosity about the concept of such a book that initially led me to purchase this book. Being such a big fan of the show, I immediately saw a connection. Seinfeld is an excellent case study for philosophy. You could do a whole book on George alone. Like most case studies though, it is tough to find a 100% match to the underlying theories and models, but book does a great job in using the TV show to understand the wide range of philosophical topics discussed, and its a relatively easy read. My knowledge of philosophy is limitted to a couple of courses required in college many moons ago. Overall, I was delighted with the opprtunity the book provided me to refresh and re-discover philosophy.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
"It's the chopsticks, isn't it?" 7 July 2005
By Found Highways - Published on
Format: Paperback
Unlike George's tax-preparer girlfriend, Seinfeld and Philosophy is not pretentious. It's entertaining and enlightening (most enlightening when it concentrates on being entertaining). It contains fourteen essays by professional philosophers "about everything and nothing," at least as everything and nothing is experienced by Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer.

One of my favorite essays is William Irwin's on how Kramer illustrates one of Kierkegaard's three stages of human existence - - the pleasure-seeking or aesthetic stage (in no other way could Kramer be considered "aesthetic," kavorka or no kavorka). Irwin really does teach a lot about Kierkegaard's philosophy, but he does it by continually going back to examples from the show, so it's funny as well as informative.

Another really good chapter is Jorge J. E. Gracia's take on the difference between comedy and tragedy. I've never heard it put so simply - - comedy shows us the significance of the insignificant and tragedy the insignificance of the significant.

Gracia's essay made me think about the comedians I've liked the most, for instance the Three Stooges. ("I will show you the Stooges," Jerry tells the Romanian woman he expects to transport him to heights of gymnastic ecstasy by making him "the apparatus.") And like the Borscht Belt comics who often showed up on Seinfeld ("IN-tah-VEN-shun? Who's intervening?") they were old-fashioned tragedians at heart. And mostly Jewish, which explains their style of humor. Survival humor.

In The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, Lawrence Epstein makes the point that the best Three Stooges stories were about immigrants trying to get into the American middle class - - Moe's always trying to get the boys to work at a regular job and fit in (act less Jewish?), but Larry and Curly always screw it up.

In their films Moe, Larry, and Curly never quite made it, but Jerry did. He's confident enough to make jokes about the Nazis ("It's the Heil Five") and Israel ("I don't get upset if someone asks me the way to Israel"). Jerry's dad put in thirty years selling overcoats in the garment district so his son could achieve more than the Howard boys (as Morty tells Peterman: "Cheap material and bad lighting is what sells clothes").

It would have been interesting to see an essay comparing Jewish philosophers (secular and religious) to Jewish comedians. ("You, Jerry Seinfeld, are no comedian," the Romanian gymnast finally tells Jerry, who nods, in a scene where I think he's acknowledging his debt to those old comics.)

The real Jerry Seinfeld must have wanted to remind people how funny these older comedians (not all Jewish) were because he kept using them on his show. Around the table at the condo meetings every time Morty Seinfeld would get fired as condo president was a group of comedians like Bill Macy (from Maude) and Jesse White ("It's his material"). It's like Carl Reiner said in an interview on the DVD where he starred in an unsuccessful pilot for what became The Dick Van Dyke Show: the rule was "write Jewish, cast Gentile."

Who really thinks that the Costanza family is Italian (how did Frank learn to cook kishkas for Jewish Singles Night?), or that Elaine, like all of her girlfriends who keep going back to see The English Patient and vacation in the Hamptons, isn't Jewish? ("Elaine, ya gotta see the bayyy-bee.") And who does Elaine turn to for advice when she's sick over George and Susan's marriage and can't talk to her usual friends? - - the rabbi in her building. And why did she REALLY steal Puddy's Jesus fish?

Being shallow, I did skim a couple of essays that didn't talk about the show very much. I think the writers might have used Seinfeld (nothing) as a hook to discuss important philosophy (something), but those didn't really come out of the Seinfeld characters.

Eric Bronson's essay relating Seinfeld to Taoist philosophy was interesting (talk about being about Nothing), and I liked Jennifer McMahon's look at Sartre and Seinfeld (a lot of people saw the similarity of the last scene of the four in the Latham, Massachusetts, jail to Sartre's play No Exit). And having Jerry's last question (about the location of George's shirt button) be the same line that opened the first episode of the first show leads to Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence.

Mark T. Conrad brings up a funny point about eternal recurrence - - to really have what Nietzsche talked about you wouldn't have one day happening to you repeatedly (like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day), you'd have every day of your life repeated one after the other, endlessly.

In some undiscovered manuscript, Socrates' answer to the question "What is life after death?" is:

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A Great Balance of Fun and Philosophy 9 May 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Most academic treatments of popular culture either take their subject matter way too seriously or dumb down anything of substance they have to say. So I was skeptical about Seinfeld and Philosphy. Having read it, however, I was very pleasantly surprised. Not only do the contributors to this book really know their Seinfeld, but they manage not to take the show or themselves too seriously. In addition they manage to raise and discuss some interesting and important philosophical issues. They make an intriguing, though not totally convincing case that the show deals with ethical issues. The book's concluding essay sheds light on and brings new interest to the disappointing final episode by examinng the moral and legal issues involved in good samaritan laws. Other important philosophical issues discussed are the nature of feminism, (is Elaine a feminist?)the author doesn't think so, but I beg to differ. The nature of comedy in general and the secret of Seinfeld's humor, in particular and marxism vs. capitalism (taking its cue from J. Peterman). My favorite essay was Jason Holt's "The Costanza Maneuver: Is it Rational for George to do the Opposite?" Holt takes some of the fun out of George's new approach to life, but his arguments are tough to deny.
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