Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chapter 35 - Zero Hour

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.

Despite whatever relief Korzybski may have felt, the effort to wrap up the first draft of the book had worn him out. At the end of December, he had ‘joked’ in a letter to Roy Haywood, “[I] work like an idiot and curse California for a rest. ‘Is’ of identity or not, it is a damned place in all respects.”(1) 

By the beginning of March 1929, he had completed the manuscript. He planned to leave in a couple of weeks. He had arranged to give a few lectures in California before traveling on to Kansas City, Missouri to join Mira, who had been visiting her sisters at Amy’s farm. Then he got disturbing news. Mira had been having health problems. He might have to leave at once.

But on March 3, she sent a night letter reassuring him that, although she had sciatica, he was not to worry or rush. Alfred decided to follow through with his plans. He packed up and a week later left the Pasadena cottage and went to Los Angeles for a few days, where he gave a talk to an abnormal psychology class at the University of Southern California. Then he went to Berkeley to lecture at the (Cora) Williams Institute. From there he took the train to Misery—as Alfred jokingly spelled it—arriving a day or two later. He got a shock when he saw Mira, who looked worn and had lost weight.

Sometime in February at the farm, she had slept with a hot water bottle to stay warm and had accidentally burned her leg. Although the burn itself did not seem severe, severe leg pain—labeled “sciatica”—had followed. Mira wasn’t eating much, had lost sixteen pounds, and felt weak. Whatever had set it off, the pain together with the associated symptoms seemed rather puzzling. Alfred was not beyond wondering about a psychological component to Mira’s distress. They had been separated for a year, during which time Mira had been suffering from hard-to-pin-down feelings of malaise. While working in Cleveland in 1928, she had gone to the Cleveland Clinic for a check-up. The findings were not clear. She had been earning a lot of money but found it a strain to hunt for painting commissions. To Alfred she seemed generally ‘nervous’ and overwrought. He wondered about the effect of menopause now that she was over fifty.

They decided to carry on with their previously set plans. Alfred got a last minute invitation to speak at the Kansas City, Missouri Young Men’s/Young Women’s Hebrew Association (YM/YWHA) on April 1. His two-part lecture on “Time-Binding” and “An Introduction to Sanity” was preceded by a dinner. The Jewish community of Kansas City appeared eager to hear him. An article duplicated in two Jewish newspapers before the talk noted: “During the World War, Korzybski enlisted in the Russian Army and was placed in a position where he succeeded in rendering service of inestimable value to hundreds of Polish Jews who were brought before him for trial on the flimsiest of charges. He is an outspoken Zionist.”(2) Alfred, in turn, also felt eager to speak to the Jewish group. Before the talk he wrote to Rainich, “I am extremely pleased and flattered by the invitation of the Zionists to lecture to them.”(3)

The Kansas City Times covered in detail the YM/WHA lecture as well as an informal talk he had given a few days earlier at the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Cameron, where he and Mira were staying. The article on that presentation indicates that by this time, Korzybski had brought in the map/territory analogy, one of the main unifying formulations of his non-aristotelian system, to talk about different forms of representation and language:
“…Is this map of the United States the United States? No. If it were correct would it be the United States? No. This is the human mind, this map, full of representations. What if New York came between Chicago and Kansas City on this map? Would it be a correct representation? No. But we would believe it.” [Ending this quote from Korzybski’s talk, the reporter added “And the map of the human mind seems full of misrepresentations.”]
As often happened, Alfred entranced the reporter and others in his audience with his dynamic presentation style:
Euclid and Newton have struck out. Einstein threw a curve. And now—one, two, three, simple as that—out goes Aristotle, the Babe Ruth of philosophy. Count Alfred Korzybski is in the box. No curves. No slow balls. Simple, direct, fast ones from the long arm of his genius. One, two, three… 
To compare Count Korzybski, engineer and mathematician, to a baseball pitcher is at once an affront and a compliment to his genius. See him in action. He watches all bases and keeps his eye on the home plate. He dramatizes his pitching, as a pitcher does. Finding words inadequate, he talks about chairs, with the leaves of a potted plant, with bits of paper, with his arms, legs, eyes—and last, his lips. Words? Blah! Logic? Phooey! Juggling bubbles, that is talk. (4) 
Pages from Alfred Korzybski Scrapbook -
 3.320 in AK Digital Archives

From Kansas City, the Korzybskis went to Chicago for a few days, where Alfred gave another talk, “An Introduction to a Theory of Sanity”, at the Institute of Juvenile Research, then at the University of Chicago. Afterwards, they saw Mira’s good friend, the sculptress Tennessee Mitchell Anderson who was living in the city. Tennessee, ex-wife of author Sherwood Anderson, introduced Alfred to an acquaintence of hers, Douglas Gordon Campbell, a young Canadian M.D. interested in becoming a psychiatrist. In 1924, attending the British Association of Science annual meeting in Toronto, Campbell had heard Korzybski’s presentation at the concurrent International Mathematical Congress. At the time, Korzybski’s theory of time-binding and the time-binding differential/anthropometer didn’t have much significance for Campbell. Nonetheless, now, Alfred invited him back to his hotel room and they talked for hours. Campbell was planning to travel with his wife to Europe in the fall and Korzybski invited him to write if he wanted to follow up on their discussion. The young physician—now intrigued—did write. Their ensuing relationship would become an important one for both men.

From Chicago, Alfred and Mira went on to Washington, D.C. Alfred likely used some of his medical connections to get Mira admitted to the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore where, by the end of April, she was feeling much better. With Mira safely ensconced in the hospital, Alfred stayed in Washington and conferred with Philip Graven.

In the second “Time-Binding” paper, Alfred had already recognized that the confusion of orders of abstractions, which caused such problems in scientific formulating (most obviously in the form of objectification of higher-order abstractions), formed the ‘cognitive’ background of mental illness as well. In writing his book, the relation between science/mathematics and sanity had become even more apparent. Indeed, he had changed the working title to Time-Binding: An Introduction to a Theory of Sanity. In the continuum going from ‘sanity’ to ‘unsanity’ to ‘insanity’—objectifications, illusions, delusions, and hallucinations all clearly seemed to involve greater and greater degrees of confused abstracting, i.e. the reversal of “the natural order of evaluation”.

Thus Graven’s application of non-aristotelian, extensional methods to his psychiatric patients seemed more crucial than ever to Alfred. He anticipated that Graven’s case studies would form a valuable appendix to the book and urged him to get over his reluctance to write. But Graven seemed unable to do so. Over the next few years as the book got closer to publication, his inability to write would become a growing source of frustration for Alfred.

While Graven was looking through Alfred’s completed draft, Alfred had begun to read Graven’s copy of Ivan Pavlov’s Conditioned Reflexes, translated by Anrep, which he immediately saw as fundamental to his own work. He would soon get his own copy, as well as a copy of Pavlov’s recently published Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes. In early 1931, he would also meet the translator of this second book, Dr. W. Horsley Gantt, who had worked with Pavlov in Russia and was just in the process of founding a Pavlovian Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Medical School. Despite the fact that Korzybski did not reject the data of introspection, he admired Pavlov’s efforts to achieve understanding of the ‘mental’ field on an ‘objective’, physiological basis. Pavlov’s experiments showed how changes in ‘order’ and ‘delay’ of stimuli—both internal and external—could affect the behavior of organisms. As Alfred put it later, “Stimuli are never ‘simple’ and of necessity involve fourfold space-time structure and order.”(5) It seemed to Alfred that his own work on orders of abstractions extended, and was also corroborated by, Pavlov’s discoveries.

In May, Mira felt better enough to return to Kansas City to complete some business—although she still looked too thin to Alfred. Alfred returned by himself to the apartment in Brooklyn. It had been vacant since Mira had left on her travels the previous summer. The dust had been gathering and it took him several weeks to get the place cleaned, to unpack, and to begin to figure out what he needed to do to get the book in shape for publication.

In April, he had written to David Fairchild, “the d…d [damned] book is finished”(6), blithely estimating that it might take just a few more months to get it into shape for publication. But it must have dawned on him fairly quickly, it was going to take more time. For one thing, he felt he was going to have to write another chapter about Pavlov’s work. In addition, in Pasadena he had begun reading the first two volumes of Jerome Alexander’s encyclopedic Colloid Chemistry. For Alfred, the behavior of colloids appeared to provide a plausible physico-chemical basis for explaining mind-body relationships. He felt impelled to bring that into the book as well. Aside from that, although he felt generally satisfied with the draft, somehow his non-aristotelian system still seemed to be missing something. He wanted to get more reactions from his manuscript readers, including Mira. Could he make the book more readable and better organized? So, in actuality the “d…d book” seemed far from finished. This all meant more delay, which he regretted but could do little about except to continue plugging away. (As it turned out, ‘a few more months’ would turn into four more years of grinding labor.) He hoped the end result would be worth the effort.

Alfred also took time to go over his and Mira’s finances for the last year. He estimated Mira had earned something like $100,000, over the course of their married life. 1928 had been an especially good year in earnings for her. Yet they had very little to show for it. He had tried his best to function as Mira’s manager and advisor, but seeing the figures, he felt truly devastated; it seemed to him he had significantly failed. On May 21, he wrote to Mira:
My dearest one:  
Today I went over our bills. In 1928 you earned no more and no less than 16,000 (sixteen thousand dollars). I spent for a year, travel, and book[s] and my living expenses 1600, you gave Tennessee [Anderson] 500, Mother 500, Amy 500. We have in the Bank 3300 altogether 6400 so you spent in this one year alone over 10,000 dollars with all these months on the farm etc. 
I enclose a bill.  
I frankly admit that I am heartbroken and begin to have no doubt that you do not care for me as a wife should care for a husband, otherwise you simply could not throw away money like a drunken sailor. Our devotion is measured by what we are willing to do for the other fellow. I do not deny that perhaps you care for me as much as for your monkey [Mira had a pet monkey she was keeping at her sister’s farm] or cat or some thing of this sort until my chloroform time comes, but no doubt you are not willing to sacrifice any of your fancies for our future independence. In fact I have given up everything I have for you and slave at my work simply to please you. I am very deeply unhappy and terribly lonesome having nobody in this world who would help me a little even. You can see clearly from the bills that my living expenses which you supply at present are not a problem to worry about, I can earn that much any old way. Your working away from me is a serious hardship for me and your throwing away money all the time makes you work the harder for nothing because very little is left out of it. Your whole help to me as you know is very little, your real help would be if you would not throw away money and we would go to Europe with some cash which when invested in our property or something else would establish us in independence.  
Now you are not willing for one minute to take this one big help seriously, throwing money away all the time we are in messes all the time and I suffer more than I can tell you (I hate dramas so will not speak about it more). 
You know that I suffer by your being so cold toward me but your monetary behavior shows clearly that you do not care for me, and either do not see the hell I am in, or you see it and completely disregard it. I did not nag you, you are alone again with more chances to paralyze our future by throwing away money and staying away to make it, to throw it away again. Nagging on my part won’t do, I am also unable to look after every penny you throw away. You always must carry full pockets of money with you and let them go.  
The issues dearest are much more serious than you think. I am unable to tell you that in letters, but I am literally heart broken because you have proven over and over again that you do not care for me. I am a plaything for you, a monkey or myself is good enough to draw some exhibitionistic attention to yourself. But you will not sacrifice any of your fancies for OUR future. No matter how little I spend I suffer deeply under our conditions and your behavior keeps us perfectly paralyzed and unsettled. I cannot write any more. I feel too unhappy, and too harassed by everything. (7)  
Mira wrote back a few days later. She already felt distraught because her monkey had been sick and just died in her arms. She couldn’t disagree with the facts Alfred had pointed out about her spending habits. She wrote, “I had the sloppiest influence of a vagabond life [and] most demoralizing influence of a highly fluctuating income…” But she was working at doing better. And she vigorously protested the implication that she did not care for him. Alfred’s love and the success of his work had the highest importance in her life: 
I recognize your patient pains are the most difficult pains for you to bear – I can only beg you to recognize my growing pains are the most difficult pains for me to bear and keep up my fighting courage [and] cheerfulness – against the odds of our life – if there are minor parts of my character and temperament -– that leave you hungry in spots – remember there are minor parts in your character [and] Temperament that leave me hungry – Figuratively speaking [in terms of military combat] we are passing through the “zero hour” – of “going over the top”…I implore you to have more patient faith in me. (8) 
Over the next few weeks their letters back and forth had a notably blunt honesty. Ultimately each wanted to resolve their problems of mutual adjustment. By the time Mira got back to Brooklyn in mid-June, they seemed reconciled. And Mira did do better over the next few years. The ensuing severe depression in the U.S. and world economy may have helped her to focus and economize—they would have no money to spare for any frivolous spending. Mira concentrated a major part of her time and attention on helping Alfred produce the book. As she said, they had reached “the zero hour”. They did—as she wrote—‘go over the top’ together. Korzybski clearly would not and could not have produced what became his magnum opus without Mira. She wanted it—in a way—more than he did. She had urged him to develop his system from its inception in the notion of time-binding. She had financed his work to a significant degree. Over the next few years, her efforts with him to get the book into print became nothing less than “heroic”.

It would seem natural for Korzybski to have two of his biggest past supporters, Keyser and Polakov, look at his draft. However, both men had major new developments in their lives that precluded spending much time then with his manuscript. Keyser, although now retired from teaching, was busy writing his own books. (His latest, The Pastures of Wonder, had just been published.) He was also busy with his personal life—he had just gotten married again. Sarah Keyser, a former pupil much younger than her new husband, taught mathematics at a private school in New York City. Alfred decided not to impose on his mentor’s time and energy until the book had reached a more completed form.

Polakov also had little time to spare. He too had met a younger woman, a dancer, whom he was planning to marry soon. He was also getting involved in a new business venture. Ironically, the Soviet government—now under Stalin’s brutal fist—was hiring a number of U.S. ‘capitalist’ companies to help industrial development in the ‘communist’ state. Soviet planners had a special interest in H. L. Gantt’s approach to scientific management. Since Walter qualified as one of the world’s leading experts in it, the Supreme Council of the National Economy hired him to lend his expertise toward implementing the Soviet Union’s Five Year Plan. At the end of 1929, Polakov and his new wife Barbara would arrive in Russia. (Around this time, Stalin was initiating the forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture, which over the next few years would result in the deportation and starvation of millions of Russian and Ukrainian peasants.) Until the summer of 1931, Walter would naively try to apply his enlightened industrial management techniques to the Stalinist madhouse, with little success. Though he and Korzybski corresponded during his time in Russia, he was not in any position to provide much help with the editing of the book.

However, Russell Maddren—a globe-trotting surgeon, whom Alfred had met through their mutual friend Jesse Lee Bennett—felt eager to help. In California, Alfred had briefly seen Maddren, who had been staying with his brother in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles. From there, Maddren and his wife set off through China and Russia to Denmark—his wife’s homeland. While in Copenhagen, Maddren—much taken with Korzybski’s work—had even attempted to translate Alfred’s 1924 Time-Binding paper into Danish. By the summer of 1929, the Maddrens were back in the U.S. and living in Freeport, Long Island.

One day in mid-July, Maddren picked up Alfred and Mira in Brooklyn and drove out with them to Polakov’s seaside shack on Long Island. They all planned to work on the manuscript together. However, Alfred was not keen on the ‘corrections’ that Mira and Maddren were making. He described what happened in a letter to Sally Avery:
We have been at the seashore…We had in mind to go there when Poly was not and invite the Maddrens and work at the reading of the MS. But Poly came, the place became too crowded so we had to go. We went to Freeport…where the [Maddrens] live and we stayed with them a few days. Mira and Dr. M were reading together the MS., cursing me out. The place was too crowded and I went back to Brooklyn and M. is still there, they are reading the MS. and making corrections and suggestions. I am back in Brooklyn, alone working as usual. When I came back from Freeport I had to go to Park Row (City Hall) you probably remember there is a movie across the post office. I went there. I was too distressed to go home and work so went to see. The story was about a fine Southern gentleman who got in troubles (women, money, etc.) He ended it all by taking poison. This cheered me up as there is always that way out when burdens get too heavy. (9)

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. AK to Roy Haywood, 12/22/1928. AKDA 20.29. 

2. The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, 3/29/1929. AKDA 3.19–20. 

3. AK to G. Y. Rainich, 3/31/1929, AKDA 22.145. 

4. The Kansas City Times (Kansas City, MO.), 3/28/1929. AKDA 3.320. 

5. “Discussion of Mental Hygiene and Criminology” in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 162. 

6. AK to David Fairchild, 4/26/1929. AKDA 22.190.

7. AK to MEK, 5/21/1929. AKDA 28.84. 

8. MEK to AK, 5/25/1929. AKDA 28.85. 

9. AK to Sally Avery, 7/20/1929. AKDA 22.282.

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