Saturday, June 27, 2015

Chapter 64 - Hardly A Day Off: Part 8 - At the Castle

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.

At the end of the Denver Congress, the Mutual Broadcasting System gave Alfred a one-minute radio spot to explain his work. He barely had time to declaim the five-sentence description he had written for the Introduction to the Second Edition of Science and Sanity, which began: “General semantics is not any ‘philosophy’, ‘psychology’, or ‘logic’, in the ordinary sense.”(43) The August 1 edition of Time magazine had another feature story about him as well. Mira must have felt thrilled to hear and see these acknowledgements of his work in the national media—despite their brevity and, in the case of the Time article, inaccuracy as well. The Time Education feature entitled “Always Either-Or” depicted Korzybski at the Congress depressed at the state of the world. The accompanying photograph of him labeled “Semanticist Korzybski” had the subtitle: “A hopeless count.”(44) Charlotte sent a corrective letter to the editor, which Time didn’t publish. 

Mira undoubtedly also felt thrilled when a few days after the Congress ended, Alfred and Charlotte, on their way back to Lime Rock, stopped in Chicago to see her. They stayed for at least a week, with Charlotte probably taking the opportunity to visit her parents nearby in Milwaukee.

Back in Lime Rock by the second week of August, they scrambled to prepare for the annual summer seminar-workshop. They had to rent a truck to schlep Korzybski’s special chairs, typewriters, and the myriad other things they needed, to the seminar site 35 miles north of the Institute—“The Castle” in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Occupied during the academic year by Barrington School, a posh private institution for girls, the castle was built at the end of the 19th Century for the widow of a San Francisco railroad baron. David Levine, who came to attend as a student-staff member, described it as,
...complete with battle crenellations on the gray masonry, ivied walls, a classic Greek ‘temple’ out on the back lawn, and a nine-hole golf course,...It was a perfect, self-contained world with sleeping quarters for thirty or forty “students”, a grand piano, and a conservatory where the seminars were held. We dined out on the enormous side patio, near the kitchen. (45)
The seminar-workshop, advertised with the theme of “Time-binding and the Improvement of Human Evaluation, Communication, Social Relations and Scientific Advance”, ran from Sunday August 14 to September 6, with private interviews given by Korzybski after he finished his course of lecture sessions. 65 students registered, with 45 staying for the full workshop. “The group”, as the report published by the Institute later put it, “was typical of other courses in one respect, what a student called their ‘stimulating un-homogeneity.”(46) 

Korzybski’s 57th course since the founding of the Institute seemed like one of his best ever. Stoked by the recent Congress, he seemed in excellent humor. Before his first lecture, testing the microphone, he said “One, two, three, testing. Then after three comes four. Then five.” Kendig chimed in to suggest to him that they ring a bell for the latecomers not yet in the lecture hall. Korzybski replied, “How about a pistol?”(47) His 40 hours of lectures, replete with stories, diagrams, and demonstrations, took up about a third of the entire seminar-workshop. As he had done for a number of years, he made sure to have a showing of Jules Masserman’s film “Experimental Neuroses in Cats”, since he felt the movie had relevance for neurotic humans as well as experimenter-crazed cats. He also had David Levine set up the box of mousetraps and candies for the chain reaction demonstration. David remembered the ‘explosion’: “ was spectacular! One got the feel all right!”(48)

As part of the workshop, Kendig was beginning to integrate group dynamics (based on Lewin’s research) into the curriculum. In the month before the Congress, she had attended the National Training Laboratory in Bethel, Maine. Along with three of the seminar students who had also studied there, she led a workshop panel discussion on group dynamics and instituted small group discussion sessions (based on the Bethel “T-groups”) with a facilitator to encourage group members to examine their own processes of interaction. These self-reflexive sessions would become a regular and fascinating part of Institute seminar-workshops for years to come. Kenneth G. Johnson, a teacher at later Institute seminars, recalled some of the things he heard during sessions he ‘led’. Once, after a long, uncomfortable pause someone interjected, “I love the silence. I just enjoy sitting here whether anyone is talking or not. Don’t you?” Another observed, “Have you noticed—we’re more in the here-now today than we were yesterday.”(49)

Korzybski had invited George Kingsley Zipf to give a lecture about his work; Zipf’s presentation at Great Barrington became a high point for Korzybski. Zipf, University Lecturer at Harvard (which meant he could teach whatever he wanted), had started out in the fields of English and Philology. After getting his doctorate in Comparative Philology and Linguistics, he had written two books, The Psychobiology of Language and National Unity and Disunity: The Nation as a Bio-Social Organism, along with numerous articles before his latest book, Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort: An Introduction to Human Ecology (HBPLE), published at the start of 1949. In HBPLE, Zipf indicated his aim to develop “an objective science of society that may be used as a frame of reference for an empiric system of ethics,” and recognized Korzybski as one of a group of figures whom he considered to be working with him along that line. He appreciated Korzybski’s brilliant analysis of the way that “intangible and trite verbalistic behavior” led to “enormous intellectual confusion.”(50) (Korzybski, in turn thought highly of HBPLE and by July had it added to the list of books recommended by him available for sale by the Institute.) Dave Bourland had become a student of Zipf at Harvard and probably helped get his teacher even more interested in Korzybski’s work. Zipf’s paper for the July Congress, “General Semantics and the Principle of Least Effort: Toward a Synthesis,” appeared as a genuine effort of integration. Indeed Zipf wrote that “if the synthesis is to succeed, it will be General Semantics either in its present structure or altered with the evolution of time and further experience that will absorb the Principle of Least Effort, not the reverse.”(51)

Zipf wrote to Korzybski after his seminar-workshop presentation expressing regret that he couldn’t stay longer at Great Barrington. But the two men remained in contact. Korzybski soon invited Zipf to become an Honorary Trustee of the Institute and Zipf accepted, getting voted in at the meeting of the Institute Trustees on December 9. In his paper and lecture, Zipf had sought to express “an intimation of what I feel profoundly is the next great step that
General Semantics may be about to take.” Unfortunately, he didn’t have the opportunity to integrate his work with that of Korzybski. After receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship in January 1950, he became ill during the summer and died at the age of 48 in September 1950. (52)

In her report on the 1949 seminar-workshop, published in the first General Semantics Bulletin, Kendig wrote this summary: “With this course- [at Great Barrington] we felt we had now evolved the most fruitful sort of pattern.”
Looking backward, we found we had come a long way from the early Seminars in the old Chicago Institute building when people came to two or three lectures a week for many weeks, or every day for one week of intensive lectures. Students’ obvious needs for review, practice, and conferences on applications germinated the workshop program. It began in 1943 with a few days of review and drill, a few talks on applications by old students after the Seminar and little opportunity for the informal group learning which living together affords. We have come a long ways, too, from the summer of 1946, when we moved the Seminar-Workshop and ourselves from Chicago to Lakeville on two weeks’ notice and improvised our first 24-hour living and learning program at the Indian Mountain School. (53) 

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. The full descriptive quote from Science and Sanity that Korzybski chose for his one-minute radio broadcast, goes as follows:
...General semantics is not any ‘philosophy’, or ‘psychology’, or ‘logic’, in the ordinary sense. It is a new extensional discipline which explains and trains us how to use our nervous systems most efficiently. It is not a medical science, but like bacteriology, it is indispensable for medicine in general, and for psychiatry, mental hygiene, and education in particular. In brief, it is the formulation of a new non-aristotelian system of orientation which affects every branch of science and life. The separate issues involved are not entirely new; their methodological formulation as a system which is workable, teachable and so elementary that it can be applied by children, is entirely new. [Korzybski 1994 (1933), pp. xxxviii-xxxix]

44. “Always Either-Or”. Time, 8/1/1949. AKDA Scrapbook 41.494. 

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

46. “1949 Seminar-Workshop: A Report”. General Semantics Bulletin 1 & 2, p. 38. 

47. Korzybski, “Rough Draft of First Lecture, 8/14/1949. IGS Archives. 

48. David Linwood [Levine] to Bruce Kodish, 8/12/2008 email. 

49. Kenneth G. Johnson. “Group Process Notes”. IGS Archives. 

50. Zipf 1949, pp. 481-482. 

51. Zipf 1952, p. 7. 

52. Zipf’s name remains widely mentioned in reference to a kind of pattern he observed in the relation between rank and frequency of occurrence among a wide variety of phenomena, including word usage in texts, populations within and among cities, distribution of economic power and social status, etc. This relation became known as “Zipf’s Law”—not a designation that Zipf himself used. Zipf’s books, long out of print, remain mainly unread. His “principle of least effort” remains an often-downplayed-if-not-dismissed curiosity and his vision of integrating it with Korzybski’s work remains largely unexplored. Besides Zipf’s Congress paper eventually published in the General Semantics Bulletin, a few preliminary efforts to relate the principle of least effort to general semantics include the articles of Bourland 1950, Saunders 1958, and Payne 1967, all published in the General Semantics Bulletin

53. “1949 Seminar-Workshop: A Report”. General Semantics Bulletin 1 & 2, p. 40.

< Part 7      Part 9 >

No comments: