Friday, December 5, 2014

Chapter 32 - Trial-By-Headline: Part 2 - Breakdown

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.

Graven had been seeing another St. Elizabeths psychiatrist as a patient in his private practice and had consulted with Korzybski about him. Unbeknownst to Graven and Korzybski, Dr. Knute Houck, whom Korzybski described as “a brilliant young fellow”(8), was not simply neurotic. He had a history of severe ‘mental’ illness—probably some form of what is now known as manic-depressive or bi-polar disorder. While at a previous job at the Mayo Clinic, he had ‘broken down’, and, among other things—although he was a new psychiatrist—had decided to tell the Mayo brothers, in quite grandiose fashion, how to run their clinic. After a period of hospitalization, he appeared to recover and with his quite impressive academic, medical, and psychiatric credentials had gotten a new job at St. Elizabeths. At a meeting of the Psychopathological Society on November 27, which they both attended, Houck introduced himself to Korzybski, who recognized him as the psychiatrist patient Graven had described. Houck had heard about the Anthropometer from Graven and expressed his interest in it, ostensibly so he could use it with his patients. They made an appointment for Houck to come over to Korzybski’s place to buy one (the Time-Binding papers came with it) the following day. He did so. Korzybski offered to help him in training himself with the device. Houck also expressed interest in Korzybski’s apartment and came to look at it again a few days later with his wife Gladys. Although they both seemed tense, the couple otherwise appeared normal and wanted to rent. The Korzybskis happily informed their landlady that they had found some “young nice people” as new tenants.(9) 

Houck also came to the December 4 meeting of the Psychoanalytical Society of Washington where Korzybski spoke. Korzybski didn’t see him again until December 10 at the hospital, where the two men happened to bump into each other. Houck seemed overly excited about Alfred’s work and Alfred found his “flight of ideas” somewhat disturbing, especially coming from a psychiatrist. He tried to calm him down, referring to the Anthropometer to do so—with seeming success. They had a similar meeting the next day, with similar results.(10) 

Dr. and Mrs. Houck then attended the talk Alfred gave to the progressive school’s parents’ association on December 12. Alfred observed, “They both were a little too animated.”(11) Houck gave Alfred a paper he had written in which he had taken off from Korzybski’s discussion of space-time and introduced love as the fifth dimension! But something disturbed Alfred even more than this nonsense, which in itself he might have dismissed as idle parlor philosophy. As he recounted, it was the way the envelope containing the paper had been addressed by Houck:
...“to Korzybski: care of Graven.” Then at a different time and in a different handwriting...[Houck] added “Count Korzybski, Dr. Graven”, then he added with pencil, you [could] see the different pencils, “Count Alfred, Dr. Philip Graven.” [To Alfred “this monkeying with names”, suggested serious disturbance.] (12) 
Korzybski ran into Houck in the hospital the following day:
[Houck] seemed to be very excited, absent minded, flights of ideas, etc. [Alfred] in conversation returned [Houck’s] notes telling [him] his frank opinion about them. [Houck] destroyed them immediately. [Korzybski] stressed again this part of the General Theory and the Anthropometer, which is preventive against excitement and flights of ideas. Seemingly successfully.”(13) 

On December 14th, Graven asked Korzybski to see Houck who wanted to talk with him. Graven sent Houck to Korzybski’s room in the hospital. At first Houck seemed excited and Alfred had to work to settle him down. Then Houck almost immediately switched into depression. He seemed to be oscillating ‘up’ and ‘down’ like a poorly regulated machine. Alfred did what he could to cheer him up and sent him back to Graven’s office. A little later, Graven called for Alfred to come. Houck was lying on Graven’s sofa. Korzybski described what happened next:
… I was very, very careful saying very little, just standard stuff. [Houck] crawled down on the floor from the sofa and put his face on my feet and sobbed. That’s that. Of course, I helped him up back to the sofa, and I knew one thing, that he was breaking down completely. …so I told [Graven] he had better give him some sleeping stuff and put him to bed. So that’s what the doctor did. He took him to an empty room [in St. Elizabeths], gave him some hypo or something and put him to sleep. And [afterwards, Houck] was told he had to go home and have a good rest. (14) 

Later that day, Houck did go home. Meanwhile, after consulting with Graven, Alfred went to talk with White. Graven didn’t want to officially report Houck as incapacitated just yet. However, they both thought White would want to know what was happening. Houck had been having some family troubles and was obviously going through some kind of crisis. They hoped they had seen the worst of his problems.

The next day, December 15, at 8:00 in the morning, Korzybski got a phone call at his apartment. In a “childlike voice” Dr. Houck asked Alfred, “Do you know anything?” This was not a good sign. Alfred replied, “No.” Then Houck asked, “Is Gladys with you?” Alfred said, “Why should she be? Naturally, she isn’t here.” Houck said, “Oh, she isn’t home. I don’t know what happened to her.” Alfred told him “Don’t worry, she will come back” (although he didn’t necessarily believe that). He asked Houck to meet him at Graven’s office at St. Elizabeths at 10:00 a.m. and said goodbye. Two hours later, Houck, who was supposed to be on duty at the hospital, hadn’t shown up. Graven searched the wards for him but couldn’t find him. They called Houck’s house. He answered and asked them to come over. When they got to the house they found Houck seemingly normal except for the fact that, as Alfred later described,
…[He was] sitting half-dressed in an easy chair, with one eye closed, broken eyeglasses on the table and his little son on his lap…I asked him,…“Did you break those glasses and get glass in your eye?  
—“Why do you close your eye?”  
—“Oh, I’m afraid that I will see too much.”  
I told him roughly, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t close your eyes. Don’t be afraid. You will never see too much.” The eye perked up and stayed up. (15) 

Besides this, Houck seemed to Korzybski a little ‘flat’ in his expression. He told the two men about his concern that his wife had poisoned herself. Korzybski and Graven looked around the place but found nothing they thought she could have done that with. Alfred told Houck he might do well to quit psychiatry for a year, have a good rest, and take up some physical labor, say in a lumber camp or shoveling coal on a merchant ship. Graven told Houck he would definitely have to leave his job for now and go back to his family to recover. They would have someone take care of the child (a two-year old boy) until Houck’s wife returned. Then Korzybski and Graven both left to go to the hospital. Though Graven may have felt embarrassed that his patient Houck had had a breakdown, the time had come to make an official report to White. White immediately made arrangements for someone to take Doctor Houck by train to his family. Korzybski and Graven headed back to Houck’s place. They had only been away for a half an hour or so. But when they got there, they realized what damn fools they had been for leaving Doctor Houck and his son alone. Alfred should have stayed there and let Graven go to the hospital on his own. Years later, recounting what they found when they arrived, Alfred said, “I still feel like spitting in my face.”(16) Dr. Houck had gone. He had left his two-year old son there by himself. They had to call the police. Then, all hell broke loose.(17)

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. 
8. Korzybski 1947, p. 248. 

9. AK to Mrs. Guerdrum, 11/9/1926. AKDA 18.725. 

10. Writing in third-person, Korzybski provided a brief account with dates of his interactions with Houck in a memorandum to Dr. White. AKDA 19.189–193. 

11. Korzybski Memorandum to William Alanson White. AKDA 19.189–193. 

12. Korzybski 1947, p. 249. 

13. Korzybski Memorandum to William Alanson White. AKDA 19.189–193. Korzybski referred in the memorandum

14. Korzybski 1947, p. 249–250. 

15. Ibid., pp. 250–251. 

16. Korzybski 1947, p. 252. 

17. I put together this account of Houck’s breakdown from Korzybski’s 1947 autobiographical memoir, Korzybski’s memo to Dr. White, and a letter he wrote to Roy Haywood on 12/28/1926 [AKDA 19.587].

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