Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chapter 27 - Measure Of Man: Part 4 - 'A Poke In The Ribs'

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.

Through the end of summer, Mira remained out on Long Island painting portraits. For most of that time Alfred was alone—working—in New York City. Occasionally, either Mira would come into the city for a day or two or Alfred would go out to visit her. When together, their conversation might turn to future plans and Poland. Perhaps they could leave for Europe in a few more months, perhaps early in 1924. But not yet. 

First of all, Mira wanted to take whatever opportunities she could to make some money for them. And the opportunities seemed to be multiplying. President Harding had died suddenly in early August after only a little more than two years in office, amidst rumblings of scandal and corruption in his administration. Despite the rumblings, Vice-President “silent” Cal Coolidge had inherited a booming economy as President. The “rotten rich” had begun to again feel comfortable about splurging for portraits at a few thousand dollars apiece. Mira was there to oblige them.

As for Alfred, he wanted to establish his work on a firm basis in the U.S. before leaving. This included marketing Anthropometers to educators and others. To do that, he would need to manufacture more of them. More importantly, to go with it, he would also need to get into print a description of the Anthropometer and an explanation of the theory behind it. This required him to lay aside his plan to write a new introduction to Manhood. He would shift the material he had already written into his next book. But what that book seemed to require at this stage looked rather daunting. Before writing about the Anthropometer, he felt he first had to write something sizable on the fundamentals of methodology and epistemology.(33) 

Meanwhile he continued sending out “Fate and Freedom” reprints to people who had either expressed an interest in his work or whom he thought would have an interest. He was getting a lot of positive responses from people who had already read it. He had been corresponding for two years with Lockwood de Forest II, a well-known designer and landscape painter living in Santa Barbara, California, who had originally sent Alfred a ‘fan letter’ after reading Manhood of Humanity. De Forest wrote to Alfred on August 16 thanking him for the new reprint, requesting two more to give out, and making the following observation:
It is very curious how everything you say coincides with conclusions I have come to. I seem to have got at them from an entirely different viewpoint [as a painter and designer]. It is quite impossible to put ideas into words as in trying to do it they lose their force. Until we can discover some way in which they can be made into bullets, preferably dum dum bullets which explode inside, and shot from the best rapid fire guns, or better still lightning they will not have their full effect which should be instantaneous.…No idea or machine or tool or anything else is of any real benefit to human beings until they appropriate it and use it and make it part of themselves.…nothing can ever be quite clear until you can visualize it. That I think is why your work is so important. Man has to be studied as a whole, a living, vital, moving being. Is not the reason why he has never got any understanding as you state it because he has only been studying himself in parts[?] (34)
This certainly struck a bell with Korzybski who wrote back on August 22:
Dear Mr. De Forest, Your kind letter at hand many thanks for the friendly attitude toward “Fate and Freedom”…Once more you are right as to the words, your expression “Until we can discover some way in which they can be made into bullets, preferably dum dum bullets which explode inside etc etc” may prove to be prophetic. I have just succeeded in making such a machine gun, it is made of mahogany, ebony, brass and parchment [the Anthropometer]…(35) 
At de Forest’s request, Alfred sent a copy of “Fate and Freedom” to one of de Forest’s son’s, Alfred V. de Forest, an engineer who would soon become famous in engineering circles as one of the pioneers of non-destructive materials testing. A. V. de Forest, then working for the American Chain Company, wrote back to Korzybski with delight. He was one of many people who were finding encouragement in Alfred’s work for their own innovative thinking: “I am very glad indeed to have your interesting paper….I have long thought that your questioning of premises might be very profitably applied to our engineering use of materials of construction.” De Forest pointed out the confusion of dimensions then prevalent in this area:
It is even customary to specify steel in terms of chemical analysis when the mechanical behavior is the only subject of interest. We are quite as confused as though we hired stenographers by their height and paid them according to their weight...As you point out, our definition of steel as dead leads to testing it as though it were dead, and that destroys all possibility of measuring its dynamic reactions and hidden possibilities. (36)
Such responses to his work encouraged Alfred. They fueled his desire to get on with his book. If he required additional fuel, he got it with the latest news from Walter. Early in August, Robert S. Gill, an editor with the Baltimore publishing house of Williams and Wilkins, had contacted Polakov after reading one of his “Science and Labor” articles in The American Labor Monthly. Gill had also just read Manhood of Humanity with “keen interest”. He wanted to know if the Time-Binding Club, which he had seen mentioned in the book, was still meeting. (It wasn’t.) He also wanted to know if Polakov had any manuscripts on Human Engineering available for Williams and Wilkins to consider. Walter mentioned Alfred’s new work and went into more detail about his own two book projects on the “new line of thought”. One more popularly-oriented book had the preliminary title “Observing the Observer”. Another more technical book called “Engineering as a Whole” would be oriented towards engineers and businessmen. Polakov invited Gill to New York for a meeting.

A few days later, Gill came to meet Walter and Alfred. The meeting lasted several hours and led to positive results for the two friends. Alfred didn’t push his new book much (just mentioning it in passing) but showed the Anthropometer to Gill, who seemed enthusiastic. When Gill got back to Baltimore he wrote to Korzybski asking if he would consider submitting his upcoming manuscript to Williams and Wilkins.(37) Since Dutton had an option on Korzybski’s next book, Alfred politely deferred an acceptance. The result for Polakov was more definite. Gill would take up Walter’s project “Observing the Observer”, which became Man and his Affairs: From the Engineering Point of View, published by Williams and Wilkins in January 1925. (“Observing the Observer” became the title of the book’s first chapter.) Walter got to work on it at once and by the end of the month had material for Alfred to edit, which Alfred did quite carefully. He and Keyser would both continue to work with Polakov on the manuscript into the following year.

Man and his Affairs, the first book presenting Korzybski’s post-Manhood work, was published more than eight years before Korzybski’s Science and Sanity. When the book came out, Walter sent Alfred and Mira a copy inscribed:
To my very dear Alfred and Myra—this ‘second generation’ of Manhood of Humanity is an inadequate token of my love and devotion
  Walter...New York...Jan. 1925
Alfred wrote back to Walter his heartfelt opinion: “…the book is really fine.” He really meant it. Alfred knew how much devotion Walter had for him and his work. Despite Polakov’s moods, Alfred loved him like a brother. There was no question Walter had imbibed a lot of inspiration from Korzybski. But Walter knew it and gave Alfred credit—although he had also incorporated much of Alfred’s formulating as his own. Alfred did not begrudge him that. As time went on, Korzybski would observe that he had such an inspirational effect on others who might not have much or any consciousness of it. In the late summer/early fall of 1923, the fact that Polakov was charging ahead with this new book, and the likelihood he would get it published before Alfred’s, must at the least have given Alfred a ‘poke in the ribs’ to keep working. When Polakov’s book finally appeared it probably gave Alfred another ‘poke’. As he had already told Walter, he did not want to be considered a plagiarist because others expressed his own original ideas in print before he did.

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. 
33. AK to R.D. Carmichael, 1/23/1924. AKDA 14.450. 

34. Lockwood de Forest to AK, 8/16/1923. AKDA 10.47–45. 

35. AK to Lockwood de Forest II, 8/22/1923. AKDA 13.271. 

36. A. V. de Forest to AK, 8/28/1923. AKDA 10.67. 

37. Robert S. Gill to AK, 8/10/1923. AKDA 10.29. 

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