Thursday, October 30, 2014

Chapter 26 - "Fate And Freedom": Part 3 - More Delays

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 the start of December, Alfred and Mira had set their departure time for the end of January. While they continued to pack and Alfred worked on his upcoming lecture, it seemed like a good time for him to have some serious dental work done. He had neglected his teeth during the war, especially during his time on the Eastern Front. His irregular and inadequate diet then (like the loaf of bread he once retrieved from a muddy road) hardly promoted good dental hygiene. The result, as Alfred described it in a letter was “a terrible mess with my bones, jaws, teeth, etc.” On December 1, he had “a hard and ugly operation where they kept me one hour and half under gas.” He stayed overnight at the hospital and felt “knocked out” and unable to work for a week.(21) The exact nature of the surgery is not clear, but after Alfred had more dental work done in the following months, Henry Lane referred in a letter to Alfred’s “last surviving tooth” with an unknown quantity of irony.(22) Alfred probably had at least some of his teeth extracted during this period, due to a combination of decay and gum disease. If so, he would have had to get some kind of dental bridgework done, so he could eat properly. (A 1947 letter to him from his student, dentist Louis Barrett, referred Alfred to a prosthetic dentist for emergency work. By this time Alfred had partial, if not complete, dentures.) (23)  Having recovered sufficiently from the surgery, Alfred returned to work by mid-December. Alfred’s lectures in the Midwest and his and Mira’s return to Poland were looming as they approached the new year. 

On January 9, 1923 Alfred left New York City on “The Wolverine”, a fast overnight train to Detroit. He had a sleeper berth and got into Detroit on the morning of the next day (though not “on time”, so he got a refund from the railroad, which reimbursed passengers for late-arriving trains). There he met his host Henry Lane.(24) He spoke on January 11 to a joint meeting of the Detroit Mathematics and History Clubs (25), then left for Urbana where on January 12 he spoke at the University of Illinois Graduate Mathematics Club.(26) 

The following day, he left for Ann Arbor, Michigan where he had arranged with one of the professors to speak at the University of Michigan Mathematics department on January 15.(27) By January 20, he had returned to New York City from his ‘whirlwind’ tour of the Midwest, which he considered a success.

He had renewed his friendships with Professors Shaw and Carmichael at Urbana. He had also made some new friends—Henry Lane whom he finally met in person, and Louis C. Karpinski, a mathematician and specialist in the history of mathematics and cartography at the University of Michigan, with whom he would maintain a long-term correspondence. Korzybski found the reception in Ann Arbor especially gratifying. “I had a very pleasant surprise [there]. Apparently they are very interested…I had a large and very warm and able audience, after the lecture I stayed a whole day in a few conferences with some of the more interested men.”(28)  

Alfred was eager to get the written manuscript of the lecture published. Soon after he returned to New York, he sent it off to James McKeen Cattell, Editor of Science. He also had friends like Bridges and McCormack make inquiries at various publications. Lane had suggested publication in the local Detroit Journal of Education or in the national journal, The Mathematics Teacher, published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, both of which had shown interest in Korzybski’s lecture. (
The Mathematics Teacher, later accepted “Fate and Freedom” for publication in its May 1923 issue.) Making these inquiries and waiting for replies took time. Besides this, Alfred and Mira still hadn’t finished packing, Alfred had returned from the Midwest with a cold, and he needed more dental work. They certainly were not going to be leaving for Poland at the end of January or even sometime in February. In a letter to Keyser on February 3, Alfred wrote, “We made our minds up to sail about the 15th of March.”(29)  To Luella Twining, he wrote “We are sailing in about 5 weeks, that’s decided for good this time.”(30) 

A couple of weeks later, Alfred was contacted by William B. Leeds, Jr., multi-millionaire son of a tin plate magnate. Leeds, in his early twenties, had read and re-read Manhood of Humanity and had developed a big enthusiasm for time-binding. He had also recently gone to the movie theatre and seen a new animated silent movie on “The Einstein Theory of Relativity” produced by Max Fleischer Studios (later to gain fame for their Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons). 

The Einstein Theory of Relativity (1923),
Max Fleischer Studios

On February 15, Leeds wrote to Korzybski:
...I have been astonished…to see how plain such difficult ideas [as relativity] can be made. It has occurred to me that if the ideas in your book were to be explained in a similar simple manner as I believe they can, there would be thus rendered a very great service to the public. I should therefore like to propose the offering of 10,000 dollars for two prizes: one for the best [motion picture] scenario based upon your book, and one for the best essay dealing with the nature and significance of your concept of humanity as the time-binding class of life. Should you approve of this proposal, it would give me great pleasure to place at your disposal the sum above mentioned to be applied by you as above indicated. In such case I would suggest a meeting at your convenience for the consideration of details.(31) 
Here was a huge opportunity to publicize his work. Korzybski was going to do everything he could to take advantage of it. He met with Leeds, who had a suite at the Ambassador Hotel. By March 10 they had a plan. Alfred and Mira, Keyser, Polakov, Wolf, and Alfred’s friend Guy Van Amringe along with Fred Barton, who may have served as Leeds’ initial contact to Korzybski, and Barton’s wife, would form a corporation, which would administer the Leeds Prizes. Alfred would serve as president and Fred Barton would manage the publicity. The corporation would find judges, administer the prizes, own the copyright of the winning film scenario, and produce the movie based on it. They hoped to get Scientific American magazine involved in the essay contest. But the plan had intrinsic complications. With Leeds’ money completely devoted to the prizes, and apparently not to be provided immediately, Korzybski and friends needed to raise money at once for advertising, publicity, office work, film production, etc. And they had no guarantee Scientific American or any other publication would have any interest in the essay.

Leeds’ offer quickly began to evaporate. In an initial publicity effort on March 13, copies of Leeds’ and Korzybski’s correspondence—along with a short notice written by Mira—were delivered to major newspapers in New York City. That evening Leeds called Korzybski asking him to have the publicity postponed. Leeds said he would take care of notifying the newspapers a few days later. That evening Korzybski wrote notes to the newspapers asking them to hold off any announcements of the prize. But there was no later notification. Would Leeds produce the money even after the contest had been conducted? Alfred was not willing to accept Leeds’ offer under the increasingly doubtful conditions. By March 27, the project had ended. Alfred clearly seemed irritated. As he wrote to Roy Haywood, “We met the young man and his wife…and they were very nice and looked sincere, they were NOT. They fooled us.”(32) (Leeds’ promises notwithstanding, his enthusiasm had dwindled and Korzybski didn’t hear from him again.) Afterwards, Alfred still entertained the possibility of forming a corporation to finance a contest and film without Leeds’ help. But Wolf, and probably others as well, dissuaded him from continuing for long with the plan.

During the period of their business with Leeds, Alfred and Mira had once again delayed their trip to Poland. Now they decided to put it off indefinitely. (Those reading this may breathe a sigh of relief, as I imagine the Korzybskis may have done.) Perhaps Alfred would go to Poland by himself for a few months. They soon decided against even that, since Alfred was becoming busier. Among other things he had been getting more invitations to lecture. Perhaps after things settled down, they would be able to get their momentum going once more for the move to Poland. But although they were not going to leave the U.S. just yet, they felt determined to leave the basement on East 22nd Street as soon as possible. Alfred had come to refer to it as “the rathole”. They were rushing and packing again, this time to move on April 1 to a two-room furnished suite at the Hotel Grenoble on 7th Avenue and 56th Street near Carnegie Hall.(33) 

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. 
21. AK to R.D. Carmichael, 12/7/1922. AKDA 9.301. 

22. Henry Lane to AK, 3/8/1923. AKDA 7.143-5. 

23. Louis G. Barrett, D.M.D. to Alfred Korzybski, July 10, 1947. IGS Archives. 

24. AKDA 9.433. 

25. AKDA 3.166. 

26. AKDA 3.167. 

27. AKDA 3.166. 

28. AK to J. B. Shaw, 1/22/1923. AKDA 9.445. 

29. AK to C. J. Keyser, 2/3/1923. AKDA 9.474. 

30. AKDA 9.484. 

31. William B. Leeds to AK, 2/15/1923. AKDA 9.556. 

32. AK to Roy Haywood, 3/26/1923. AKDA 13.589. 

33. Ibid. 

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