Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chapter 64 - Hardly A Day Off: Part 4 - Cooper Union

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.

The Introduction to the Second Edition of Manhood of Humanity now became the focus of Korzybski’s attention once again. If he could get it to the printer—along with the other manuscript changes—no later than the first week of June, they had a chance of having the book available for the Third Congress on General Semantics scheduled for July 22 to 24 in Denver. In the interim, he had to prepare for a presentation on “Time-Binding–The Foundation for General Semantics” on Monday evening, March 28 at the Cooper Union in New York City, to open a series of “Five Lectures on General Semantics” scheduled to run at Cooper Union through the end of April. On April 11, Lillian Lieber from the Department of Mathematics of Long Island University would speak on “Modern Logic”, followed by a talk on “Pictures and Meaning” two days later by her husband Hugh; Hayakawa, speaking on “Semantics, General Semantics”, was scheduled for Monday April 18; and the series would wrap up on April 25 with a presentation on “General Semantics and Abstract Art” by Martin James from the New York Society for General Semantics.

Korzybski had been generating a lot of material on time-binding for the Manhood Introduction that he could use for his lecture. He usually spoke extemporaneously even when he had a written speech; but perhaps because he had so much material for the lecture and didn’t feel confident about the organization, he asked Guthrie Janssen to summarize his presentation outline and typed notes into a more condensed and polished written text they could use as a press release. Janssen prepared a typed triple-spaced text within 24 hours, just in time for Alfred and Charlotte’s departure for New York City on the Saturday before the lecture. Korzybski may have used this as a template to further organize his talk.

Janssen’s summary, unfortunately, was not included in Korzybski’s Collected Writings. Janssen deleted a lot of material, but tried to stay as close as possible to Korzybski’s words and outline; and one can see Korzybski’s hand—indeed his handwriting—on earlier typed manuscript versions. An examination of these and Janssen’s final version shows Korzybski’s lecture as an account of his work from the viewpoint of time-binding, including a foray into his personal history, applying the time-binding notion to himself to show some of the important influences that led to his work. He emphasized that he built GS from his study of time-binding and its mechanisms, not from studying ‘thinking’ or ‘language’ or ‘semantics’ as such. He discussed the importance of exponential laws for time-binding, Graicunas’ work, dictatorships, and the relationships among these.(18) 

On the evening of the lecture, a nice turnout of perhaps 200 people was expected; 800 showed up. The publicity from the Time article may have increased Korzybski’s draw. Having gotten another head cold, he wondered later “how I lasted the lecture.”(19) Nonetheless, those attending seem to have found his presentation memorable. Eugene Garfield, who would become well known in library/information science as the developer of the Science Citation Index, wrote in 1953:
Many years ago, I attended a lecture by Alfred Korzybski, the founder of General Semantics. I am sure that the large audience in attendance at Cooper Union Hall in New York will never forget Korzybski’s dramatic technique in getting across the idea that association-of-ideas techniques can lead to poor semantic adjustments. Korzybski had placed a huge placard on the stage which was an enlargement of the familiar Aunt Jemima pancake flour box. Aunt Jemima remained on the stage all the time Korzybski spoke. (20) 
Link to Korzybski's Aunt Jemima story 
Garfield would note his interest in general semantics and time-binding as one of the influences that drew him into the field of scientific documentation and would put Manhood of Humanity as one of the 18 books on his “Basic List of Works In Documentation”.(21) 

Jan Sand, a writer for the online magazine Ovi, also attended Korzybski’s lecture but seemed to have a less satisfying experience, which he wrote about it in a 2007 column:
...I first encountered non-Aristotelian thought in a science-fiction story by A. E. Van Vogt titled “The World of Null A” wherein someone adept in non-Aristotelian concepts could instantly transport himself through space merely by thinking the proper thoughts. A tempting but, unfortunately, unattained so far capability.*      
* [But Van Vogt's character could transport himself through the universe solely because had had an extra brain designed for that purpose, not because he was adept in non-aristotelian 'thinking'.] 
Like most philosophical tracts Korzybski’s book covers a broad spectrum of human cognition and is frequently such a tangle of words and concepts that it presents a virtual jungle of linguistic density that could easily daunt the casual explorer. I once, long ago, attended a lecture by Korzybski at the Cooper Union auditorium in New York City in the hopes that he might lead me through easy paths into reasonable comprehension of his ideas. His lecture remains only a faint memory and the only outstanding characteristic of his presentation that still remains is that his Polish accent was so dominant that the words flew through my mind like a panicked flight of exotic birds leaving behind only the memory of disturbing squawks and violent passage. I left the lecture still puzzled and frustrated. Nevertheless, there is value in his viewpoint. (22)

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. 

18.Korzybski.“Cooper Union Address”,Unpublished. IGS Archives.

19. AK to Kendig, 2/3/1949. IGS Archives. 

20. Garfield 1953. “Librarian Versus Documentalist”. []. Accessed on 3/26/2010. 

21. Garfield. nd. “Basic List of Works In Documentation”. []. Accessed on 3/26/2010. 

22. Sand 2007. “IS”. [ Accessed 3/26/2010]. 

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