Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chapter 14 - Mira: Part 3 - Newlyweds

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.

As soon as they got married, Alfred moved from the hotel where he had been staying to Mira’s studio at the landmark Stoneleigh Court apartments at Connecticut and K Streets. The technical details and problems of Mira’s painting methods had interested him when she first described them. With the opportunity to observe her at work, he came up with a couple of inventions to help her.

One problem she had struggled with involved the drying of the large ivories which she used as her canvases. Watercolor paint on ivory was unforgiving and did not allow for much starting and stopping or correction of mistakes after it dried. Telltale spotting and lines and streaks could appear. Thus she had little leeway for error. To get around this, Mira had devised a method of “painting backwards”—doing the entire background of the portrait quickly without a place for her subject. Then while the paint was still wet she would daub off the intended areas for the face and body with a small moistened cotton swab, leaving an unpainted outlined surface for the actual portrait which she could then spend more time with or do later. With this two-step method, the final portrait would appear seamless. Unfortunately, her ivories still had a tendency to crack as they dried.
She was painting [a] $2,000 portrait. One nice morning after [a] night [drying] we come to the portrait—a big crack, the whole thing. Then I made immediately, invented a box with sponges with water on the bottom and some screen on the top so that when for the night she put them in the damp air…it did not crack.(18) 

Another problem involved the large and expensive pieces of ivory themselves. They had to be cut or trimmed, which Mira did with a large scissors. Unfortunately, the pieces often got cracked and ruined with this process:
I immediately bought a little electric motor, put some saws on it, and made a little table, metal, so she could saw [the ivories more precisely]. It saved an enormous amount of waste because cutting with scissors, they cracked like the dickens, so I eliminated the cracks, and this remained with her for life. The rest of her life she used those things.(19) 

The newlyweds continued the marathon conversations they had had when they first met. They had a lot to talk about. The Paris Peace Conference had begun the day after their wedding. A Polish delegation was preparing to make its case before the so-called “Council of Ten” of Allies at the Conference. Alfred still hoped the Council would strongly support Polish aspirations. He also hoped that a properly constituted League of Nations proposed by President Wilson might provide some kind of stable foundation for peace among nations. Meanwhile the Russian Bolshevik regime loomed with an ominous presence. With growing labor unrest, not only in the United States but throughout Europe, the spread of Bolshevism seemed like a real threat, even to people like Alfred and Mira who both strongly supported the organized labor movement. Schemes for social reform were in the air—prohibition, woman’s rights, etc. Years later, Mira recalled one early conversation she had with Alfred on how to ‘fix’ the world. It mirrors Alfred’s account of their differences:
In those days we drank five to ten cups of tea a day. One day at tea time I held forth how civilization should be run, repeating the conclusions that were given every night when a group of us used to talk in the Latin quarter of Paris. I had a very clear verbal pattern of an ideal civilization, and I burst into speech, repeating an artist’s notion of running the world. Then he asked me to repeat what I said—in other words, “Do you know what you are saying?”, and I did. Then with a very firm voice he said, “Dearest, that’s only a private opinion. I’m very glad you have it, but until human beings become aware of the natural laws of our environment as Newton and Leibnitz did in physics, there can only be a clash of private opinions.” Then he analyzed my statements and I was losing out, as very shortly he had me with no logical legs to stand on. I would try to beguile him into making love to me, but he would push me away and say this has nothing to do with making love. He said, “You stay on your side of the room and I’ll stay on my side, and we’ll thrash this out.”(20)

Their discussions did not necessarily denote serious discord. Alfred noted, “we were on the same side…except that she had no technique of expression in a harder language.”(21) Mira sensed that Alfred was beginning a struggle to express something significant about the world situation and encouraged him to make a serious effort as a writer and speaker.

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 1947, p. 204. 

19. Ibid. 

20. C. S. Read 1955, p. 55. 

21. Korzybski 1947, p. 210. 

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