Thursday, April 9, 2015

Chapter 55 - Poland Fights: Part 3 - A Serious Curmudgeon

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.

Reading Korzybski’s personal correspondence with Mira throughout 1943 makes it hard not to put him in the category of ‘serious curmudgeon’. He wrote to her, talked to her by phone, went out with her occasionally, and saw her at the seminars she was continuing to attend. She mainly spent her time reading, reading, reading; taking time from her studies to send him clippings, letters with suggestions for his work and the Institute, outlines from books she read and lectures she attended, and love notes. He made use of many of her suggestions—eventually—and appreciated a great deal of what she sent him, including book and lecture notes, when he had time to read them thoroughly. But 1943 was still characterized by phone blowups by him, as well as letters scolding her for what he considered irresponsible verbalizing or for her ‘Sarah Bernhardt ways’ in public or for interfering with his students and staff at the Institute. How much actual justification he had for his complaints seems hard to say. I have the distinct impression that much of it actually had little to do with her behavior and more to do with his unhappiness with the state of the world, and the pressures he felt from his unending work and financial worries. 

As the person who, for all their troubles, remained the closest to him, Mira served as the target of choice for Alfred blowing off steam. It still bothered her but she seemed to have a better ability now to not let it bother her too much. She seemed to realize that he had no one else to complain to. Then too, at times he seemed to be softening. He sometimes would write to her without vituperation—simply confessing his tiredness with the endless work, the constant interruptions from former students dropping in or writing letters for advice, the seemingly endless exhausting personal interviews which accompanied the seminars and which he also provided—for a fee—for former students on request, problems with trustees and with staff, and his vicarious suffering from the war and the conditions in Poland, etc., etc., etc. She loved him. She felt grateful for the fact that he was supporting her in a way that finally was allowing her to get some of the education she had missed most of her life. And she seemed more cognizant than before that his almost complete dedication to work and consequent lack of ‘everydayishness’ with her did not reflect any lack of love or concern for her. He reiterated that he was doing it all for her. And she believed him. Even considering this, at times it was not easy to be married to Alfred.

In spite of this, it would be a mistake to think that Korzybski was perpetually boiling over in a bad mood. He may have had, as he frankly admitted at times, a rather pessimistic outlook on life, but he did not seem much inclined to let himself succumb to depression. He had always had the ability to bury himself in whatever task he had taken for his work. And he seemed to find it congenial to take a stoic attitude towards the whips and scorns of life. Indeed, he scorned the scorns. He could somehow often laugh at himself or at least make a wry joke out of his pains and troubles. And there was always one damned thing after another to provide such ‘comic’ material. Here, in a February 1944 letter to Douglas and Marian Campbell, he described his general condition and gave an account of one of those ‘damned things’ that happened toward the end of 1943:
I know that Kendig is keeping you informed of our official doings because I read the copies of her letters. Here I may tell you a few of my private news. I am overworked and imposed upon by a great many students. In connection with endless administrative duties, editorial work, writing, lecturing, and personal interviews. Sometimes I doubt if a Missouri army mule, even in sunny Calif...I am sorry, I mean Italy, would stand all of that. But somehow I stand it. My old war injuries, and particularly hernia, bother me quite a lot. Dear old McNealy looked me over physically thoroughly and found me in good shape, but he believes that an operation on my hernia would be too late for me now. You know my sweet disposition about monkeying around with doctors. Well, I can tell you a funny story of what I would call a ‘modern medical treatment’. As you may know, I have rubber soles on my shoes and my stick has also a rubber end, the three of them being slippery like hell on wet surfaces. Well, just the day before the intensive seminar, which means more than 6 hours a day for 2 or 3 weeks, last August I slipped in my office, fell down and cracked a rib. Pearl telephoned to McNealy describing how I feel, being an Adam when something interferes with my rib. The telephone diagnosis was ‘cracked rib’, and McNealy suggested we call a doctor who supposedly was pretty good, to come and bandage me. We called him, he came, and did really a lousy job (5 bucks please). I did not feel that I could lecture all day under those conditions of pain I had. The Old Faithfuls, Charlotte and Pearl, decided to take care of me. I had to sit on the bed without a shirt, but the rest of me intact; they got a mile of adhesive tape, sat on each side of me and put their feet in the remaining ribs, and started to make a mummy out of me, bandaging me as far as they could. They certainly made a good job, and I went through the seminar and interviews with flying colors. Being a vital fellow, I am a ‘hairy ape’. You can imagine what fun I had when the damn tape was taken off. When it was taken off Dr. [Samuel] Rosen of New York was here with his wife and I had an interview with them the same night. Dear old Mrs. Rosen laid on the sofa and went to sleep; dear old Rosen (M..D. and an old student) felt it his professional duty to take the bandages off the hairy ape. But after hours of pulling hair by hair I had enough of professional help, and under the alibi that his wife needs to go to bed for good, I begged the professional to leave me alone, which ultimately they did. Then Charlotte and Pearl began to soak me in benzine and instead of pulling hair by hair, they pulled them out in bunches, which was much easier for them and me. Ultimately it was a happy performance. You probably know my biblical inclinations, and so you realize my appreciation of the monkey-business the almighty did to poor Adam. By this time, in spite of the work on the seminars and interviews, I was recovered.

The old staff, Kendig, Charlotte, Pearl, Anne and Mrs. Williams [Kendig’s secretary], stick with us at the Institute. It is really a joy and help to deal only with old students. There is so much in it, no matter with how many of their god damn ‘mamas’ I have to struggle, so far successfully. (11)

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. 
11.AK to Douglas and Marian Campbell, 2/1/1944. IGS Archives.

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