Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chapter 33 - First Draft: 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.

“When the first draft is done the back of the job is broken.”(1) Korzybski would have agreed with the maxim. But getting the first draft done had turned into a monumental struggle. As the summer of 1927 slipped into autumn, he was wondering whether he or the job of the book would ‘surrender’ first. Alfred wrote to E.T. Bell in Pasadena, “As to my book, I [am] working like mad...if I do not get it out of my system pretty soon it will break me.”(2) 

At least he had a “quiet and nice” place in which to work. Alfred and Mira’s penthouse studio apartment in the large, old-fashioned house at 321 Carlton Avenue in Brooklyn, convenient to New York City subway lines, consisted of one big room “like a barn” which gave the two of them plenty of space. It had a kitchen area as well as “a bath, closets, a garret and a private roof garden.”(3) The metal and glass skylight helped illuminate the apartment and also contributed to the fact that, as he later noted, they “roasted in summer” and were “freezing in winter”.(4) Although both Alfred and Mira would spend significant periods of time away from it, the Brooklyn apartment remained their home until 1936.  
Alfred Korzybski on his roof at 321 Carlton Ave., Brooklyn, New York

In the fall of 1927, they had settled into the “uneventful” existence, which would typify their years in Brooklyn. As he described their daily routine of the time, he and Mira were “up at 7. I prepare the breakfast, as usual, bring the papers and mail as usual, and again as usual go to my desk and work all day until late at night, day in and day out, I go very seldom out.”(5) Mira had spent the summer in the Hamptons on Long Island trying to get painting commissions. The failure of her campaign had left their working funds extremely low. Since they didn’t want to touch their ‘sacred’ savings account money, Alfred felt forced to ask both Roy Haywood and Calvin Bridges for loans to help tide them over. Neither of his friends had spare cash to lend. He and Mira were just going to have to tighten their belts for a while. Mira was probably going to have to go out soon and do some more traveling to get jobs. Meanwhile, Alfred’s book appeared a long way from finished.

Alfred’s voluminous correspondence vouched for the fact that he could spit out words with ease. Also, when he had to, he could produce a polished piece of writing for a deadline. Jesse Lee Bennett had asked him to write a review of Keyser’s new book, Mole Philosophy and Other Essays for the July issue of his magazine The Modern World. Even with the tumult of the Houck business and the move to Brooklyn barely behind him, Alfred had come through on time with the review.

No, the slowness of the book writing came from the intrinsic difficulty of the task he had set for himself: to formulate a methodological synthesis of human knowledge circa-1927, broadly applicable to science and everyday life. He was continuing to accumulate more material, which seemed essential to his enterprise. Half in delight and half in despair, he wrote to William Alanson White that “new scientific books in every field seem to support my work, but I must stop reading and devote more time to writing as there seem[s] to be no end to it.”(6) The despair seemed to outweigh the delight; in a letter he wrote to Bell:
The slowness with which my book progresses is maddening, the more that every new neurological discovery comes beautifully my way, and also other discoveries, I still have nothing to retract but just amplify, and by Jove if I do not stop somewhere the damned book will never be published. The newer quantum messes are coming in and I do not dare even look at them. (7) 
But look at them he did. The letter to Bell continued. “Do you know the papers of Heisenberg…on the phenomenological aspects of quantum theory, Carl Eckert[‘s] Operator Calculus…and Schrodinger’s Undulatory [wave] theory mechanics…What do you think of it? ”(8) Alfred also wanted Bell’s opinion about the work of Dutch mathematician L. E. J. Brouwer and his colleague, German mathematician, Hermann Weyl. Brouwer had developed an approach called “intuitionism” which seemed to take a non-elementalistic, human behavior approach towards the foundations of mathematics. This, and Brouwer’s questioning of the “law of excluded middle”, definitely gave his work a non-aristotelian thrust that Alfred found promising. In addition to Bell, Alfred was reaching out to other mathematicians and physicists whom he hoped could help him understand these latest developments.

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. Barzun and Graff, p. 384. 

2. AK to E. T. Bell, 8/24/1927. AKDA 20.608. 

3. AK to H. S. Sullivan, 10/9/1927. AKDA 20.699. 

4. Korzybski 1947, p. 269. 

5. AK to Sally Avery, 10/13/1927. AKDA 20.704. 

6. AK to W. A. White, 9/28/1927. AKDA 20.667. 

7. AK to E. T. Bell, 10/20/1927, AKDA 20.723. 

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