Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chapter 31 - "The Tragedy Of My Work": Part 5 - Pressed for Time

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.

Every so often, Alfred would apologize/complain to one or another of his friends about the slowness with which the book was coming along. He felt a time pressure to finish it. Even his time spent working at the hospital, as necessary as it may have been for the development of his work, had seemed to him like a diversion from writing. By the fall of 1926, he was ready to leave St. Elizabeths and devote himself full-time to getting the book done. 

Part of the time pressure he felt involved a pull to get back to Poland. He had been gone now for over 10 years. His mother would write from Warsaw and complain. Family business never seemed to be going well. Although he and Mira would send money, it seemed nothing much was going to get straightened out until he got back home.

On the other hand he didn’t look forward to dealing with his mother on a daily basis. Also since he was formulating and writing in English and had developed a network of interested and helpful friends in the United States, he felt he had to stay in the U.S. until he finished the book. He hoped he could get it done soon. But it had become apparent; the process was simply going to take longer than the impatient part of him demanded. In the meantime, he was suspended between the U.S. and Poland.

Early in October, he went to Philadelphia for a few days to meet Mira, who was finally coming home to him after a summer of painting commissions in Massachusetts. They were planning to wrap things up in Washington over the next few months. They held the lease for the apartment in Brooklyn where Mira’s sister Minnie had been living. Minnie was going to stay with sister Amy at her farm near Kansas City. Alfred and Mira intended to move into the Brooklyn place sometime in December or, at the latest, in January 1927.

Meanwhile, just after the second Time-Binding paper came out at the end of October, Alfred went on a quick speaking trip to the Midwest. Ethel Dummer, a wealthy Chicago/San Diego philanthropist and child welfare advocate, had gotten interested in his work and put him in touch with psychologist L. L. Thurstone, who arranged a talk for him at the University of Chicago. Although he had a small audience, Alfred was happy to meet Thurstone and, probably even more so to meet neurologist C. Judson Herrick, whose writings he had just gotten interested in, and who attended his talk. Alfred would describe Herrick’s work as a “non-aristotelian neurology”. He would find in Herrick’s writings some plausible mechanisms for the different forms of abstracting behavior he wanted to understand better from a neurological point of view. From Chicago, Alfred went to Detroit to give a talk sponsored by the Association of Polish Engineers of America. The high point there was meeting in the audience a boyhood friend from Poland whom he hadn’t seen in 20 years. Afterwards he went to Ann Arbor for a few days to see Rainich and give a lecture before taking a train back to Washington and Mira. He considered his two-week trip a success. Many of the academics he met had wanted a copy of his latest paper and he began corresponding with Herrick, who eventually became one of the scientists who corrected his book manuscript.

Alfred had lined up a few presentations to psychiatric and educational groups around Washington for late November and early December. Then the couple would move to Brooklyn, where they planned to stay until he finished the book—soon, he hoped. And then what? Sometimes, considering the obstacles in the way, he had thought he might just finish the book and be done with the whole business, just go off somewhere exotic with Mira, say Africa, Japan, India, or China. He had talked with Mira about it and already made some inquiries about teaching possibilities in the Orient, a long route back to Poland. Alternatively, the possibilities of developing the General Theory of Time-Binding further in the U.S., or elsewhere, was dependent on getting enough people interested in applying the apparently easy-to-grasp and difficult-to-practice theory. He had severe doubts whether he and Mira would be able to do this.

Whatever his frustrations and doubts, Mira was not pressing him about the time it was taking him to complete the book, though theoretically she had the right, since she was essentially supporting them both with the income from her work. (Alfred had taken the de facto job of managing both Mira and their funds.) No, she only encouraged him. She felt only the greatest devotion to him and his work. Its success would truly fulfill her highest ideals.

Yet, the level of ardor, even utopianism, he perceived in her attitude towards his work disturbed him. In talking about it to other people, she sometimes seemed to him like she wanted to save the world. (He didn’t perceive himself as a utopian.) Relatedly, his work had reached a stage where he had begun to feel that her lack of scientific background and language was making it difficult for her to accurately represent in any detail what he was doing. As his wife, people were likely to accept, as from the source, her word about his work. As a result of these factors, he was beginning to want her to limit herself in how she talked to people about it—a strain in their marriage. On the other hand he admired her intelligence, independence, and “guts”—even if he didn’t like some of the things that came with them.

Some of those things included the long periods of separation her mode of work demanded. It was not only the separation itself, which he found trying. While away, soliciting the “rotten rich” for painting commissions, she had to live like them—nice hotels, the best restaurants, etc. She also tended to spend money frivolously, in his opinion, on things they didn’t need. Thus the considerable money she was capable of earning (she worked hard and deserved every cent of it) tended to run through her hands once she got it, which worried him. Until he was able to earn adequate money from his work (royalties from Manhood of Humanity were at this point negligible), he felt they both had to hunker down, decide what they wanted together as a couple, and then work together to achieve it. Which included, for the time being, saving their money and focusing on what they had agreed upon together as most important. They were not getting any younger.

To a significant extent, Mira would eventually come to agree with Alfred about aspects of her behavior he had problems with. (Of course, there were aspects of his behavior that she had problems with as well.) Eventually, the two of them would manage to minimize the areas of conflict between them. But they were going to hit some bumps on the road before they got there.

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. 

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