Saturday, May 23, 2015

Chapter 60 - SNAFU: Part 7 - A Model Seminar-Workshop

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.

Korzybski, who usually didn’t give titles to his seminar lectures, called his first one on August 12, “SNAFU,” Situation Normal — All Fouled Up (he considered this more ‘polite form’ “the more serious form, not the physiological one.”) The term seemed to him “a supreme generalization of thousands of years of misculture” summarizing “the whole trend of our so-called civilization.”* (43)  
*Ralph C. Hamilton, one of the seminar-workshop participants, noted what Korzybski said at the start, “When you look at this snafu, all you can do is laugh...To get all tragical and desperate about it is to get into dramatics and role-playing and conflicts. We can cope only by saying ‘What is going on? How can we fix it?’” [Ralph C. Hamilton in letter to Bruce Kodish, 11/17/2005.] 

Fortunately, the term did not sum up the seminar-workshop itself; it went far better than anyone could have reasonably expected. They had only known in mid-July—just one month before the start of the seminar—that it would not be held in Chicago, Denver, or New York but at the Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, Connecticut. Neither the extended workshop staff nor registered students had much time to adjust travel plans, yet this didn’t seem to affect seminar attendance. The setting at the school proved ideal; the intensified interaction of staff and students learning, eating, and living together for several weeks encouraged a GS-permeated atmosphere—a model for subsequent seminar-workshops for many years to come. 

1946 IGS Summer Seminar-Workshop group
at the Indian Mountain School, Lakeville, CT

The workshop lineup of lecturer/presenters seemed more than adequate in both quantity and quality: Douglas Kelley assisted Kendig with workshop administration and dazzled participants with his presentations on military ‘mental’ hygiene and rehabilitation, the Nuremburg Nazis, the nervous system, magic, and the Rorschach test; speech professor Wilbur Moore, once again demonstrating the psycho-galvanometer, presented his research showing how GS training decreased student’s measurable signal reactions to words; Lou LaBrant of N.Y.U. spoke about her ‘genetic approach to language’; Charles Glicksberg discussed his use of GS in high school and college English classes to teach creative writing; May Watrous Niles discussed her use of GS techniques to deal with the psycho-somatic side of physical therapy; Allen Walker Read presented the history of the word ‘semantic(s)’; Ray Bontrager detailed his extensional analysis of reading difficulties (‘Ninety-five percent of the teaching of reading’ he said, ‘concerns maps, minus territory.’); Captain Saunders lectured on his GS-derived system for evaluating national policy problems for the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs; plus a number of other presentations, panels, etc. Of course, Charlotte taught neuro-semantic relaxation in small groups; while Kendig did a workshop on writing, led group discussions, and administered the whole thing. Korzybski seemed in top form. Robert Redpath, having found the seminar location for the Institute, spent four days as a guest, attending three of Korzybski’s lectures; he later wrote to a friend, “...Korzybski’s teaching methods impressed me.”(44) 

Twenty-seven year-old Ralph C. Hamilton, who had taken a bus from his parent’s home in Wooster, Ohio to attend the seminar-workshop, later recalled his first impressions of Korzybski and colleagues:
Kendig knew how the program was supposed to proceed and was determined to see that it did. Charlotte, on the artistic side, [was] energetic [and] capable in administration...Korzybski surprised me. Not at all academic; vigorous; direct; pragmatic; focused on application; humorous; possessed of a vast background of experience and learning. His personality reminded me—and subsequent acquaintance strengthened the impression—of Winston Churchill. (45)
Korzybski with Douglas M. Kelley, M.D.
at the 1946 Summer Seminar-Workshop
Hamilton—born in Manila, the son of Presbyterian missionaries—had spent much of his early years overseas, coming back as a teenager to his hometown of Wooster, Ohio to attend the last two years of high school. Having already ‘fallen from grace’ by becoming agnostic at the age of 13, he majored in physics and mathematics at church-associated Wooster College. He graduated in 1941 just in time to enter the Army Signal Corps that October, serving in England and North Africa. In his last year of college, he had read The Tyranny of Words. “The notion that words and language shape our ‘thinking’ and don’t necessarily correspond to ‘facts’ was a light turning on.” The light stayed on during his time in the Army.
When I got home...I bought a copy of Science and Sanity and dug in. More revelations. ... Came up bemused; dived in again and went through the book a second time. The next step was obvious, get in touch with IGS and go there for a seminar...What I got from the seminar was [a] deeper grasp of GS, especially in application, and hope for my own development. This was strengthened by my interview with AK at the end of the seminar. He analyzed my personality, gave suggestions of measures to take—by way of coming down from the fascinating heights of theory and grubbing about in day-to-day experience. (46)  
Hamilton received no profound revelations about himself, but felt he had gotten something tremendously useful from Korzybski and company, and spent the next year in GS-related study, including writing an article on GS for John Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction (subsequently rejected). He would return for the 1947 seminar and then come to live at the Institute and work with Korzybski.

At this seminar, a number of new Institute staff members helped Kendig administer, including: Thomas Leonard, a student assistant who had just started working for the Institute a few months before (he would stay on for about a year); Elizabeth Kirkpatrick, Kendig’s new assistant, a graduate of Earl English’s GS-flavored School of Journalism at the University of Missiouri (she would leave early in the spring to get married); Hansell Baugh serving as seminar librarian, a professional librarian who had edited the Papers from the First American Congress on General Semantics (he would soon leave his job in Atlanta to work at the Institute where he stayed until mid-1948 taking care of the library, orders, registrations, general correspondence, mailing lists, etc.); and Guthrie E. Janssen, who flew in from Tokyo to attend the seminar.

In 1943 the Institute had begun getting cables from Egypt ordering dozens of copies of Science and Sanity. Letters soon followed from Janssen, a 1938 graduate of the University of Illinois, teaching English at the American University in Cairo. Janssen was teaching GS to third-year journalism and social science students with much enthusiastic response: one student, Anthony M. Economides, wrote a monograph entitled A Non-Aristotelian Study of Philosophy as his 1945 Bachelor of Arts project, eventually published in 1947 by the Institute. In 1944, Janssen began working for NBC (National Broadcasting Company) as a correspondent in Egypt, Greece, and the Far East (becoming one of the first foreign journalists to enter recently atom-bombed Hiroshima). He had corresponded with Kendig about plans to study with Korzybski.

During the seminar the plans gelled; he received the Straus Fellowship, which provided money for him to work for approximately a year at the Institute, starting September 2, although his fellowship soon nearly ended precipitously. On November 11, returning from a speaking engagement in Illinois, he was seriously injured in a plane crash near Cleveland, Ohio. Back at the Institute by March 1947, his main work involved preparing Selections from Science and Sanity, consulting closely with Korzybski who wrote in his Author’s Note, “I personally am most grateful to Guthrie Janssen for his considerable painstaking work,...” When Janssen completed his Fellowship at the end of September 1947, he worked on the staff of the Institute until April 1948 when he married another student of Korzybski, dermatologist Guila Beattie. As Korzybski often did with people he felt affection for, he gave them nicknames—‘Jan’ for Janssen and “the Beat” for her ‘because she can’t be beat’. The couple briefly lived in New York City, before moving back to Lime Rock and then Lakeville, where they remained in close touch with Korzybski and the people at the Institute (the couple named their son, born in November 1949, Alfred Guthrie Janssen).

A talented writer, Janssen wrote a number of significant GS-related pieces including: an important paper in 1949 on the political implications of time-binding (published in the General Semantics Bulletin in 1951); a moving memorial article after Korzybski’s 1950 death; and two interesting books published later in 1950, Basic Human Engineering Handbook and A Salesman’s Handbook Course in Human Engineering, both mainly based on Korzybski’s work. Then, within a few years, Janssen disappeared completely from the GS scene with the last trace I found of him in the IGS archives, an August 1954 edition of You: The Magazine for Everyone edited by him. Despite its brevity, Janssen had a brilliant, productive GS-related career. 

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. 
43. Korzybski, ‘SNAFU’ lecture transcript, 8/12/1946. IGS Archives. 

44. Robert Redpath, Jr. to Ross Runnels, 9/3/1947, in Redpath 2007c (Vol. III – Letters), p. 173. 

45. Ralph C. Hamilton to Bruce I. Kodish, 11/17/2005. 

46. Ibid. 

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