Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Chapter 22 - "Just Work, Work, Work": Part 3 - Down and Out

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

Alfred and Mira’s situation in California seemed a little better [than Polakov's]. At least they were able to pay their bills and they had some money coming in from royalties, although the income from these was offset by their book purchases from Dutton charged to their royalty account. More or less stranded in California, they were living from hand to mouth. Their plan to return East and sail for Europe sometime in November began to seem unfeasible.

Soon after her San Francisco gallery exhibit in May, Mira went down to Santa Barbara to visit friends and hunt for portrait commissions. But while money continued to pour out for her hotel and living expenses, she was not having much luck finding lucrative commissions. Alfred referred to her as “living among the sharks”.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Alfred contemplated their prospects with some dismay. Despite book sales going reasonably well, it was becoming clear his initial hopes of selling large numbers of books (enough to accrue a significant income) wouldn’t happen anytime soon. By January of 1922, Dutton would sell 2,275 books. More than 1000 copies were sold in the following year. Then sales tailed off to a few hundred per year until the last few years of the decade when sales dropped again to less than 100 per year.(5) 

In 1921, paid speaking engagements were not forthcoming. Alfred had contacted a number of lecture agencies and universities with no interest in him. Although he had had a few invitations to speak around San Francisco, his first paying engagement only came in September. A San Francisco bookstore, the Paul Elder Gallery, invited him to give two lectures that, though successful, provided very little money. In a letter to a friend in New York, Alfred described their gloomy outlook, “We are always working more than we should. I am writing my next book and my wife painting. We did not have any chance to enjoy California, just work, work, work.”(6)
Flier for Korzybski Lectures,
Paul Elder Gallery - San Francisco, Sept. 1921

In July, Alfred had moved to Berkeley. For one thing, he didn’t need all the space of the San Francisco apartment he and Mira had rented; and besides, the move made it easier for him to use the University of California library for his research. Luella Twining (who may have been an old friend of Mira’s) had a house near the campus and offered him a room for rent. Twining, a socialist and former labor organizer (7), had gotten a copy of Manhood as soon as it came out and become a devotee of time-binding. Alfred got permission to keep some trunks and suitcases in the old apartment and moved into Luella’s house. Alfred, who needed only a bed, and a desk upon which to spread his papers and books, felt as happy as he could be, which was in fact slightly depressed. Money was still tight. And he was missing Mira. But they were both plugging away, following what Alfred referred to as their ‘religion’—to keep on working.
Political Flyer featuring Luella Twining  (circa 1907),
from Alfred Korzybski's Personal Files

The thought of Alfred rooming in the home of a female friend while Mira was away may bring up the question to some readers: Did Alfred (or Mira) ever ‘get involved’ with anyone else? Mainly as a function of Mira’s need to travel for her work, this was not the first nor the last time the two of them would be living apart. But I have found no reliable indication in Korzybski’s well-documented life, or in interviews and discussions with those who knew either one of them, that either of them were unfaithful in their marriage. As in any marriage, they had conflicts. Indeed, years later, their differences led them to live apart. But sexual peccadillos do not appear to have been the basis of the split. After 1938, Alfred lived at the Institute of General Semantics building in Chicago and Mira in a nearby apartment. After 1946, when the Institute and Alfred moved to Connecticut, they had, as Robert Pula put it, a “Tallulah Bankhead style marriage”:
Tallulah Bankhead, daughter of an American Congressman and Speaker of the House, actress, and owner of one of the world’s best female whiskey-and-cigarette baritone voices, replied when asked in an interview if she and her then husband had separate bedrooms: ‘Dahling, separate bedrooms?! Separate cities!!” (8) 

If Alfred ever did succumb to temptations—if—he did so discreetly. His relationships with female students and with close female associates, like Kendig and Charlotte Schuchardt, though generally warm and friendly, appear to have remained completely professional.

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
5. The 5000th copy of Manhood of Humanity was finally sold sometime between May 1934 and April 1935. But Alfred and Mira got very little benefit from the subsequent 15% royalty increase. After the publication of Alfred’s second book, Science and Sanity in 1933, interest in Manhood—which had virtually no sales in 1932 and 1933—began to increase. But with only 10 to 30 orders per year, Dutton had little incentive to continue with another printing. With several hundred sheeted copies of the book still sitting in a warehouse, Dutton only bound the books when an occasional order came in. By 1944, these were gone. Manhood of Humanity was out of print. Meanwhile, the Institute of General Semantics had been promoting and selling the book. Korzybski bought the printer’s plates and obtained the copyright from Dutton but the IGS was unable to get it back into print until the fall of 1950. “Copyright Folder and Business Correspondence with Dutton about Manhood of Humanity”. AKDA 31. 

6. AK to Beatrice Irwin, 7/18/1921. AKDA 11.164. 

7. “Strike Leaders Facing Defeat”. New York Times, 3/8/1910.

8. Pula 2003c, p. 64. Alfred’s and Mira’s separation after 1946 had to do with exigencies of finance and health, beyond the control of either of them. By this time, they had resolved their marital conflicts. Up until Alfred’s death, they remained in frequent contact, and hoped to find some way to live closer and see each other more often. 

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