Saturday, November 29, 2014

Chapter 31 - "The Tragedy Of My Work": Part 1 - Introduction

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.

With Anthropometers ready and copies of the second Time-Binding paper in print, those willing to experiment had what they needed to give Alfred’s work a trial run. At the end of October 1926, he sent out some Anthropometers, with the paper, to a few friends. Other people just got copies of the second paper. Over the next few months he began to get initial responses. Some people didn’t seem to understand what he was attempting to do. Others felt they did and said, in effect—“So what?” There was much polite interest. He felt relief that at least close friends like E. T. Bell, Carmichael, Keyser, and White, considered him on the right track. Bell, for example, who had just moved from the University of Washington to the Mathematics Department of the California Institute of Technology, wrote on November 21, 1926:
Dear Korzybski:

Till now I have not had time to thank you for the generous and interesting gifts of the A [Anthropometer] and the G.T [General Theory]. I have been trying to teach the kid [Bell’s young son] to use the A, and he has succeeded quite well…As he is of an essentially blasphemous and irreverent nature he has tried to teach his cat — without success.

Would it not be well to include with the A a full printed set of directions, with examples? Otherwise it is a matter of individual instruction in each case.

I am looking forward to the book on the G.T. Make it as clear as the M. of H [Manhood of Humanity]…(1) 
Bell’s friendly letter provided just one example of the respectful attention Korzybski was getting from portions of the scientific and the broader intellectual communities, mainly in America. That kind of response must have given him some sense of satisfaction and a reason for continuing the task of writing the book.

He needed encouragement because he knew the path toward favorable reception of his work had many obstacles. In his letter, Bell had inadvertently pointed to one of them: “I see that G. N. Lewis [a world-renowned professor of chemistry at the University of California—Berkeley] has used some of your ideas in his new ‘Anatomy of Science’—Yale U. Press [1926]—particularly levels of abstraction.”(2) Reading Lewis’s repeated references to the process of abstraction in the first chapter of The Anatomy of Science makes Bell’s conclusion seem likely. However, Lewis’s book makes no mention of Korzybski or his work. (Lewis, whom Alfred didn’t appear to know, could well have read and unconsciously assimilated one or more of Alfred’s post-Manhood, pre-1926 papers since Korzybski knew people at Berkeley who would have had the papers.)

Alfred had certainly wondered about the unconscious, and therefore unacknowledged, influence he may have had on others. It seemed easy for some people to unconsciously absorb ideas from his work; perhaps because it clarified what they already knew. This seemed to have happened with H. S. Jennings and others. There is no evidence Alfred felt any animus toward these individuals or considered them plagiarists. Still, the failure to mention him as a source didn’t help the spreading of his ideas. As he wrote to Jesse Bennett the following summer, he considered it one of his obstacles—“part of the tragedy of my work”.(3)   

Whatever intrinsic value he gave to his own work and to whatever extent he wanted to benefit science and humanity by means of it, his work was also a means for him—a matter of “the bottom line”. To be forgotten would not do if he was going to have at least a fighting chance to eventually earn a decent income for himself and Mira from his writing, speaking, and teaching. Alas, in order to get adequate recognition, he was going to have to overcome the ‘unacknowleged influence’ factor by working extra hard to promote his efforts. As he wrote to Carmichael, “The developments seem to be far beyond my original expectations, yet the lack of understanding I meet everywhere and lack of appreciation is so appalling that I am sorry some times that I started the whole d....d business. But, it is too late now to go back.”(4)

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. 
1. E.T. Bell to AK, 11/21/1926. AKDA 18.110. 

2. Ibid. 

3. AK to J.L. Bennett, 8/7/1927. AKDA 20.582–580.

4. AK to R.D. Carmichael, AKDA 18.466. 

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