Sunday, June 29, 2014

Chapter 5 - Sick of Everything: Part 1 - Introduction

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.

Alfred had arrived home by sometime in early 1904. Russian Poland, with the rest of the Tsarist Empire, was entering a turbulent period and Alfred, a Polish patriot, got pulled into the maelstrom along with everyone else.

The Russo-Japanese War had just begun in February 1904 with a Japanese attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, Manchuria, which the Russian government had leased from China. The Japanese army and navy overwhelmed the smaller Russian forces there and the war, which continued until Russian defeat in the autumn of 1905, strained the Russian economy and showed up the weaknesses of the Tsarist military administration, top-heavy with incompetent careerists and crippled by outdated, 19th-Century notions of warfare.

Meanwhile in Russian Poland, various political factions including but not limited to all sorts of Polish nationalists (reactionary, classical liberal, and socialist); non-Polish, minority nationalist groups; and internationalist socialists and communists, found in the war a demonstration of government frailty and an opportunity to become more organized. These groups sought in various ways (some violently) to push the Tsarist government to make concessions towards their various goals. The government with its secret police department, the Ochrana, either banned or had many of these organizations (violent or not) under investigation. As a result, a significant 'underground' network, developed in Russian Poland (mirrored by similar groups in other parts of Russia).

Alfred never involved himself in political violence. But he did participate in the amorphous underground. Not long after his return, he very nearly got sent to prison. Alfred’s 'crime' seemed to flow naturally out of the self-education movement, which he had taken part in for so long. As Norman Davies pointed out, “If terrorism and political activism were for a few, cultural activism was for the many...[T]he typical patriot at the turn of the century was a young lady of good family with a textbook under her shawl. This generation of the niepokorni, ‘the unsubdued’, went forth as missionaries into their own land.”(1) As a cultural ‘missionary’, Alfred need go no further than the estate at Rudnik:

When he returned from Rome he was shocked with the realization that his former playmate, the gardener’s son, as well as all the other peasants, could neither read nor write, yet their labor had for generations earned the money for landowners. He found release for his reactions against this injustice by building a small schoolhouse for the peasants on the country estate. It was against the [Tsarist] law, however, to educate the peasants, who were deliberately kept illiterate. He was sentenced to Siberia, but his father had the sentence suspended.(2)

This turned out to be one of the last things Wladyslaw Korzybski did for his son before dying in October 1904. His father’s death left Alfred not only with the management of his family’s properties but with the management of his mother as well. Alfred had already experienced Helena’s style of playing at helplessness while trying to control results. He had expressed views about how to modernize methods at Rudnik which she ‘shot down’. Alfred feared he would become tied to her and become subject to her “backseat driving” in a way he could barely tolerate even imagining. He was only too happy to foist off this role on a cousin who—under Helena’s thumb—administered their properties. When this cousin died a few years later, Alfred again relinquished his expected role as main estate administrator to an unrelated man hired for the job.(3) Nonetheless, he still had an economic interest in family business and could not entirely break free from his mother or her influence. As a compromise, he restricted himself to those areas of management that didn’t take much time,"administrative drudgery, fixing things here and there...nothing fundamental... ."(4)

One of these tasks involved managing a large apartment house his mother had bought in Warsaw several years before—probably the 66 Wilcza address that served for many years as his and his mother’s residence in Warsaw. With some 25 to 30 apartments, the building had both civilian and Russian military renters. Managing the building required only about two to three hours of his attention per day but at times provided challenges. While still at the Polytechnic, he had dealt with problems resulting from some of the building’s military tenants—educated peasants working as secretaries for the Russian Army in Warsaw. These men drank and partied loudly and violently during their time off. Civilian tenants, disturbed by this ruckus, threatened to leave. Alfred had to assuage the civilians, quiet the unruly soldiers, and prevent anyone from moving out in disgust—a daunting task in which he apparently succeeded.(5) After his return to Poland and with his father’s death, Alfred continued with this property management and other administrative tasks for the family business.

66 Wilcza

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. 
1. Davies 2001, pp. 234–235. 

2. Schuchardt 1950a, p. 34. 

3. Korzybski 1947, p. 476. 

4. Ibid., pp. 54–55.

5. Ibid., pp. 71–72. 

Part 2 >

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