Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Korzybski Biography — Progress Notes (Feb. 2009)
A few down and dirty blogpost notes on a writer-researcher's progress.
Writing-researching the first full-length biography of Alfred Korzybski has been challenging...no, tortuous. Yes, tortuous! But sometimes it's necessary to suffer.
It's an interesting question- why, until now, don't we have a full-length biography of Korzybski? I'm not going to deal with that question right now. But a biography needed to be done. My friend and mentor, Robert P. Pula, the world's preeminent Korzybski and GS scholar before he died had been working on a biography for some time, years in fact, but died unexpectedly early in 2004 before he could finish it.
I decided that I was in a better position than anyone else to pick up the torch from Bob, having studied and worked with him and others at the Institute of General Semantics for years and having absorbed the tradition (some of it oral) that Korzybski started there. Although for a number of reasons I wasn't able to get access to Bob's research materials, I did get some extremely valuable hints from him about some things I would need to study in order to proceed. Now, more than four and a half years after I started, I'm entering the 'home stretch'. Wow!
Or should I say "OY!" I'm now working on the last part of the book. I just finished writing a chapter on the first two years of the Institute of General Semantics (1938-1939), but there's little time to rest. I'm am now starting on the final, very busy—even tumultuous—decade of Korzybski's life: the 1940s. It was the decade when America fought in World War Two, entered the Atomic and Cybernetic Age, and the post-WW2 Cold War. It was the decade that Korzybski tested his theory with large numbers of people to see to what extent it worked. He personally taught and counseled several thousand people, helping them to apply it in their lives. Through his students, many more thousands studied his work in his lifetime. It had a short vogue in the intellectual life of America (and perhaps to a lesser extent elsewhere) before descending into relative obscurity. Still the Institute of General Semantics has managed to survive as an organization into the 21st Century. There is still a world-wide smattering of significant, if all-too-few individuals interested in Korzybski, the man, and in his work which is known by the confusing-to-some label 'general semantics'.
The fact that I've now gotten to the 1940s and am closing in on finishing amazes me. (Korzybski was born in 1879 and died in 1950). He lived the first half of his life in Poland and Europe and the second half in the United States. I've had to read a lot of history, science, mathematics, philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, etc. I've worked from primary source material, letters and original documents, most of which has had very little or no processing or cataloguing by anyone before. I've had to look inside myself too and do some serious, painful 'thinking'. It's been a hell of a lot of work. You have no idea. But I'm nigh sure that a lot of people who are interested in Korzybski and his work—and even some who aren't especially interested now—will want to see what I've uncovered. So I'm looking forward to getting done. Be patient, oh my soul! And, oh my readers!