Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Chapter 64 - Hardly A Day Off: Part 3 - Yale

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.

By this time, Mira had gotten less steady on her feet; but otherwise, under the care of her doctors, she seemed to be managing fairly well with a visiting nurse coming twice a week (she would soon have a young woman helper staying with her as well). She had hoped Alfred and Charlotte would be coming to Chicago to visit her before the end-of-year Holiday Intensive. Alfred, continuing to worry about her wellbeing, had hoped so too. But as it turned out, coming to Chicago would have to wait. Recovering from the flu, he still felt weak and didn’t feel up to rushing to get to Chicago then. Instead he decided to make another trip to New York City with Charlotte in early December to deal with publishing issues and to work on a writing project of some importance to him—a review of the recently published Resolving Social Conflicts: Selected Papers on Group Dynamics by the late Kurt Lewin, whose physico-mathematical way of ‘thinking’ Korzybski felt very much in synch with.(3) 

AK with Charlotte Schuchardt in New York, December 1948
The book, edited by Lewin’s widow Gertrude, dealt with issues related to changing the cultures of groups and societies (e.g., Germany) in the direction of democratic values; conflict resolution; and psycho-social problems of minority groups using the example of Jews coping with antisemitism—all topics of great interest to Korzybski. (However seriously he took the review, he couldn’t get it into adequate shape before having to return to Lime Rock, and ultimately it never got published.) While still in New York, he thought he could go out to see Mira in January even though he would really have to rush, since he’d been invited to give a seminar at Yale University at the start of February. But it would turn out that January would have too much going on with too little time for a visit to Chicago.

While 1948 had been Korzybski’s least busy year in number of presentations, his 1949 schedule already included many seminars, lectures, and talks, some connected with the upcoming Third Congress on General Semantics in Denver. In addition to all else, he would have to continue working to finish the Introduction to the Second Edition of Manhood, and otherwise preparing the book for print, advising on other Institute publications of his works, other writing projects, etc. When was he going to see Mira?

On December 31, mid-Holiday Intensive seminar, heavy rains overflowed the creek between the Institute and the Lime Rock Lodge, inundating the Lodge and requiring them to evacuate it with everything and everyone to the Indian Mountain School in Lakeville, where they still managed to have a New Year’s Eve party that night and continue the seminar the next day. The Institute appeared unaffected by the rains. But early the next morning Kendig got a nasty surprise: the Institute basement had filled up overnight with four feet of water. A laborer had borrowed the Institute sump pump and, after returning it, failed to plug it in. They had a huge mess to clean up with water-logged books, files, pictures, trunks, etc. In his lecture that day, Korzybski—who normally devoted seminar time to talking about organizational and management issues—used the incident as an example of ‘the eternal need for supervision’ to make sure that ‘little things’ that might lead to heavy consequences got done, even while respecting vertical-horizontal structure in an organization and so working to avoid Graicunas-style overload.*
*[Ralph recalled that in this final part of what became known as the Flood Seminar, “AK seemed to have shed 20 years. He was vigorous; high-spirited; his face looked much as it does on the back cover of S&S, 4th edition. He spoke with verve, élan and wit – astonished us all.” (Ralph C. Hamilton to Bruce Kodish, 11/17/2005.)]

In January 1949, after the ‘Flood Seminar’, the Institute had some important personnel changes. Werner von Kuegelgen, whose wife Fritzie had done secretarial work for the Institute, began working as IGS accountant and sales manager. A German who had spent the war years in Berlin as an economist on the Price Control Board, von Kuegelgen had come to the U.S. and Lime Rock in August 1948, where Fritzie, an American citizen, and their three children had arrived two years before. The Institute accounting, sales procedures, etc., greatly disrupted during the move from Chicago, still needed major overhauls. Von Kuegelgen, who had a doctorate in Economics as well as practical experience in accounting and financial management, would get the IGS books, etc., into very efficient shape over the next year. Meanwhile, Ralph Hamilton, who had already moved from the Institute in November, was phasing out of his job as Korzybski’s assistant; although over the next year he would still occasionally meet with Korzybski and do editing work for the Institute. Meanwhile, 19-year-old David Levine, who had been working at the Institute as a general assistant since the fall, picked up some of Hamilton’s duties. After getting his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in June 1948, Levine had gone to work at the ISGS office until getting laid off because of slumping Society finances. He had immediately called the Institute and asked Kendig if she had work for him. She offered him a working scholarship at that summer’s seminar-workshop at Millbrook and after the seminar offered him a complete “support package” in exchange for work at the Institute. He had worked in the office, and had started to type and do research for Korzybski. Now at the end of January, Kendig asked him to come to Yale as part of the IGS staff to help Korzybski with his seminar there.

The invitation to lecture at Yale that Korzybski had received from F. S. C. Northrop, Sterling Professor of Philosophy and Law, reflected a genuine interest in Korzybski’s work among both students and professors there. The Yale student organization provided a generous honorarium for Korzybski and expenses for him and his staff. A distinguished list of professors, including Northrop, had signed on as Honorary Sponsors. Robert Redpath obtained a grant from the Blue Hill Foundation for student scholarships and 65 people, mostly Yale students, registered to attend the seminar, which ran from Tuesday to Sunday, February 1 to 6. Redpath helped organize the event with Fred Sanborn, another Korzybski student and ‘Yalie’. Besides the seminar (totaling 27 hours of lecture by Korzybski), an evening Colloquium was held over three successive nights with an average attendance of 150. Various professors held forth on their interpretations and applications of Korzybski’s work with Korzybski responding afterwards.

On the preceding Saturday, Levine, Kendig, Charlotte, and von Kuegelgen (who would be attending his first seminar) drove down to New Haven from the Institute with Korzybski. Levine “...watched in fascination as Korzybski came down the stairs from his second floor office, to get into Kendig’s automobile for the trip.”:
He held onto the railing with a “death grip” and moved slowly, in obvious pain. But there was a determined expression on his face and an aura of confidence about him...I thought to myself, “Neither heaven nor hell would keep this fellow from his seminar at Yale.” We got him safely buckled into his seat in the front passenger’s [side]. Korzybski was wearing his usual khakis and a warm, lined trench overcoat that gave him a distinctly military air. His heavy cane was perched on the back seat, ready at hand. I traveled with Charlotte in her little coupe. (4 )

On Monday, January 31, the day before the start of the seminar, a luncheon organized by Robert Redpath was held in Korzybski’s honor at the Yale Faculty Club attended by about 15 professors, including faculty sponsors and colloquium speakers.(5)  F. S. C. Northrop, a former student of Whitehead’s, was among those who met Korzybski there and Korzybski greeted him with great enthusiasm. Northrop belonged to that select group of philosophers whom Korzybski would designate with a more honorable title—for him—an up-to-date ‘epistemologist’. Philosophical commentator Bryan Magee, who studied with Northrop in the 1950s, would note his genius for teaching and considered him as a polymath, “in the same class as Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper.”(6) But Northrop would not become nearly as well known as either of those two men. Northrop had immersed himself deeply in the sciences and in comparative socio-cultural history, and in particular had a deep concern for the epistemological and cultural implications of the relativity and quantum revolutions in mathematical physics. In a time when philosophy and other academic disciplines seemed to be moving towards more and more minute analysis and specialization, Northrop’s interest in and talent for synthesis led him to transcend disciplinary boundaries in a way that probably helped put his work increasingly in the shadows of academic fashion.

Korzybski had been aware of Northrop’s work for a long time, including Northrop’s first book, the 1931 Science and First Principles listed in the bibliography of Science and Sanity. In his 1947 book, The Logic of the Sciences and Humanities, Northrop had attempted to establish a common epistemological framework for all forms of knowledge that included aesthetic experience and theoretical science and that had a place for values and value judgments. As Northrop recounted, Korzybski gave him a “warm and enthusiastic report on the merits of this same book. He told me that the only trouble with the book was that I packed so much into each sentence that only an informed reader paying attention to the meanings of words appreciates what is being said.”(7)

As with many of those contemporaries whose works he admired, Korzybski seems to have known Northrop’s work much better than Northrop knew his. (Northrop continued to refer to Korzybski’s work as a kind of ‘semantics’.) But Northrop was interested and open to learning more. Korzybski had known about the luncheon in advance and worked for some time on the short speech that he gave there describing his own work (recorded and later published in the May 1949 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry). He began with a tribute to the late Yale mathematical physicist, Willard Gibbs, whom he considered “one of the greatest scientists this country has ever produced.”(8) This impressed Northrop, who also admired Gibbs:
This made it immediately clear to me that [Korzybski] was not one of those nominalistic semanticists who think the meanings of all concepts reduce to inductively given particulars [e.g., Hayakawa’s Bessie the Cow1, Cow2, Cow3, etc.] One cannot know and understand Gibbs’ work without recognizing the important role of what I term concepts by postulation as well as nominalistic particulars in scientific knowledge.” (9) 

Dave Levine, who took care of the microphone, speaker, and recording equipment for Korzybski’s lectures and took notes for Korzybski, described his performance in the sessions at Yale as a “tour de force...His personal remarks were kept to a minimum (much to our relief) but he sprinkled his talk with touches of humor and little ‘stories’ that captured his audience, made them laugh, and made them listen...I was amazed at Korzybski’s stamina.”(10) 

Seminar attendee Thomas A. Gleeson, a graduate student in meteorology would agree with Levine’s assessment. Gleeson had already read Science and Sanity twice, had been working to make applications to himself and his work, and felt that, as he later wrote to Korzybski, “this seminar seemed tailor made for me. I had, I believe, a grounding in GS from S&S, etc. that seemed to be a definite prerequisite to the course.”
The course served to enhance a non-verbal ‘feeling,’ a perspective for the subject; and this was due to the stresses, intonations, gestures, etc. imposed on the verbal subject material. Thus my curiosities were satisfied, I filled a notebook completely, —and now the ‘photograph’ of the blackboard diagrams is framed on an easel on my desk in lieu of a model of the structural differential, as a constant reminder of the methodology. (11) 

Yet Korzybski had his problems. After the first full day of lectures Charlotte wrote to Mira about how things were going: “Edgy dear...The Count is doing very well. I haven’t seen him so full of pep for a couple of years. The program is quite a killing one, but he seems to be enjoying it.”(12) With the large class and short amount of time, Korzybski couldn’t personally meet all of the students, as he preferred to do. In addition, as Charlotte wrote: “Many of them don’t know S&S which makes it difficult. But the Count is giving good lectures.”(13) Many of the Yale students—as well as faculty—seemed primed with non-useful preconceptions about Korzybski’s ‘semantics’. Gleeson noted a “bull session” he had late into the second night with five or six of the students who “were rather unfamiliar with GS, not to mention S&S”:
They were, to put it mildly, quite unreceptive to the subject matter of the lectures. They appeared not too well equipped to attack GS more generally, but rather picked at details in the lectures, (a practice you warned against, I believe, as a deterrent to the learning process). My arguments on the pro side were somewhat limited, for I had learned from previous experience how inadequate arguments can be in like circumstances. So I just listened. (14) 

Regarding the colloquium, Korzybski had his difficulties too—especially so on the second night when social psychologist Leonard Doob gave a talk focusing on Korzybski’s work as an approach to language and ‘semantics’. Korzybski found Doob’s questions to so misconstrue his work, that he struggled to answer without contradicting and embarrassing Doob. He wanted to be polite but apparently felt irritated enough to ask Doob if he had read Science and Sanity. Doob, as he later wrote to Korzybski, felt miffed. The next day in class, Korzybski mentioned in passing his discouragement with the session, though not mentioning Doob by name. His critical comments got back to Doob. The two men corresponded after the seminar and existing letters show that they not only honestly discussed what happened—including ‘hurt feelings’, etc.—but also expressed genuine admiration for each others’ work. Much later, Doob’s 1952 textbook Social Psychology devoted several pages to Korzybski and GS as a school of “semantics” of “interest to social psychology along with Ogden and Richards.”(15)  If his understanding of Korzybski’s work remained superficial, at least he gave what he did understand of the extensional devices, etc., some honorable mention, and made some applications, however tentative, in subsequent parts of the book.

In his letter to Korzybski, Thomas Gleeson observed how easy it seemed for Doob and others to have “missed the point” about Korzybski’s work:
Which only reminded me of difficulties I’d had in the past in trying to answer acquaintances who’d asked me what GS is. I never did succeed in answering them well ‘in just a few words,’ partly because of my poor presentation perhaps, but also, (and this is more to the point,) because a new orientation cannot be imparted ‘in just a few words.’ Finally, I just tell them, “Read the book.” Others have balked at this task, saying they haven’t the ‘time.’ The latter have often been content to read, Language in Action, or a similarly less adequate presentation. After reading such a popularization they have made such remarks as, “I knew this stuff all the time! Why all the fuss about calling it ‘General Semantics?’,” or, “Would you say General Semantics is a branch of pragmatism or empiricism?”, or , “I guess you could sum it all up by saying, ‘Don’t make generalizations,’ couldn’t you?,” (quite a generalization in itself,) etc. (16) 

Since driving wasn’t allowed on the Yale campus, colleagues had to use a wheelchair to take Alfred around in a timely fashion from the campus residence where he was staying to the lecture hall. After their return to Lime Rock, Time Magazine, one of a number of periodicals that had sent reporters and photographers to cover Alfred’s visit to Yale, ran a story on him, “Always The Etc.” in the “Education” section of its February 14 edition. Somewhat flippant in tone, it had a number of factual errors; for example, according to the article Korzybski had spent most of his time at Yale in the wheelchair and in addition used the wheelchair to ‘whisk’ around the halls of the Institute. Still, as Charlotte wrote to Mira, the article could have been a lot worse. Mira for one, felt delighted to see it. The coverage of Alfred’s work in the national weekly—a much deserved sign of recognition—seemed to her like a wonderful valentine.(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. 
3. Charlotte Schuchardt to Kendig, 12/17/1948, IGS Archives. 

4. David Linwood [Levine] 2005, “Institute of General Semantics – 1945 to 1950: A Personal History”. Unpublished. 

5. Charlotte Schuchardt to Kendig, 2/5/1949. AK Archives, Box 22, Folder 1. 

6. Magee 1997, p. 130. 

7. Northrop, Letter to Editor, General Semantics Bulletin 8 & 9 (Winter Spring 1952), p. 95. 

8. Korzybski, “On General Semantics and Physico-Mathematical Method”, Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 667. 

9. Northrop, Letter to Editor, General Semantics Bulletin 8 & 9 (Winter Spring 1952), p. 95. 

10. David Linwood [Levine] 2005, “Institute of General Semantics – 1945 to 1950: A Personal History”. Unpublished. 

11. Thomas A. Gleeson to AK, 2/21/1949. IGS Archives. Gleeson went on to a distinguished career in meteorological research and education becoming an elected Fellow of the American Meteorological Society. 

12. Charlotte Schuchardt to MEK, 2/3/1949. AK Archives, Box 22, Folder 1. 

13. Ibid. 

14. Thomas A. Gleeson to AK, 2/21/1949. IGS Archives. 

15. Doob 1952, pp. 115-119. 

16. Thomas A. Gleeson to AK, 2/21/1949. IGS Archives. 

17. MEK to AK, 2/13/1949. AK Archives, Box22, Folder 1.

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