Sunday, January 4, 2015

Chapter 39 - A Monkey On His Lap: 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.

Photograph: Clemens Bilan/AFP/Getty Images
A golden-bellied Capuchin monkey in Cologne Zoo, Germany.
Korzybski finished writing his book with a monkey on his lap. Actually two monkeys probably shared his lap as he worked during the winter of 1931-32. First, sometime in the fall of 1931 he and Mira got a female ‘ringtail’ monkey (a capuchin). They named her Kiki Netouche, and spent weeks constructing an elaborate six-foot wide cage of steel fencing material for her. It had a 14-inch opening with a ‘door’ going up and down on a rod, and an inside shelf upon which Mira installed a warm, woolen nest for Kiki to sleep on. With a soft belt they could put around her middle and attach to a six-foot leash of steel chain, they could have some control over her movements when she was out. Mira loved the animal. Korzybski, probably despite his better judgment, loved her too. As Mira recalled many years later:
I used red woolen cloth as a cape for my shoulder and a piece of the same material on my writing desk and it fascinated me how she behaved as if that color and wool was her “isle of safety.” When I would be writing at my desk, which I now have in the library here [Mira’s apartment in Chicago], I would have her sit on a piece of red flannel. She would draw marks on a piece of paper, giving me the feeling that she was trying to copy me. Later on, Alfred and I found great entertainment in putting a piece of red flannel next to my pillow and with Alfred’s head on my right shoulder we would chortle with delight at her response to playful teasing. (1) 
In October 1931, soon after they got her, Alfred wrote about Kiki to E.T. Bell: “[Kiki Netouche] is the wildest most selfish lively little beast one can imagine, she does everything to us but we are not allowed to touch her hence her name.”
Kiki was a famous Parisian cocotte, a typical infantile type. Her pet spot is on the top of my head and probably from this simian reaction I get some glimpses of the semantic reactions. In the meantime she is the wisest little thing you can imagine. She learns everything in 2–3 trials which is better than many many ‘humans’. Jokes apart one learns a great deal in watching day after days such a delightful little animal. She is the more charming that her little face is a copy of an old southern Negro, her temper is just of a Brooklyn gangster. I build for her a ‘royal cage’ with a Waldorf-Astoria roof garden on the top where she goes for her exercises. (2) 
Then, while Alfred was away in New Orleans at the end of the year, Mira “had an illegitimate child”, as he joked to Roy Haywood in a January 1932 letter, “and got another monkey (babe) which looks and acts like a rat so now we have two monkeys.”
But by Jove in watching monkeys one understands better what I mean when I say ‘copying animals in our nervous reactions’. The bigger Monkey ‘Kik[i] Nitouche’ is so disgustingly human and clever as to be shocking. (3)
Korzybski’s notion of ‘copying’ in our nervous reactions—and his emphasis on not copying animals—became one of the theoretical formulations some found difficult to grasp. To some it seemed to disparage animals, which Alfred clearly had no intention of doing. (He once wrote to an editor acquaintance “Imagine calling humans = animals, how grieved the poor beasts must be!”) (4) Korzybski’s warning against copying animals also did “not necessarily include conscious copying.”(5) He studied reports about animal behavior most carefully, and in his lectures frequently illustrated some point about human behavior with examples from Wolfgang Kohler’s The Mentality of Apes and similar material. (He might insist ‘man’ is not an animal, but he didn’t deny that we descended from a mammalian line known as primates.) He had certainly learned a great deal throughout his life from interacting with animals and studying their behavior; now he had new ‘teachers’, Kiki and the other monkey, known at various times as ‘Kiki no. 2.’, “the monk”, or simply “the monkey”. From one or the other of them, Alfred copied a gesture—making a behind-the-back upward ‘scoop’ with the hand, and then a forward throwing motion. He made a point to teach it to his students in subsequent years:
There is another extremely important gesture—without talking. I speak from personal experience. To train a monkey—you know I wrote S&S [Science and Sanity] with a monkey on my lap—now to train a monkey to be clean is practically impossible. They may be darlings—they are—but try to train them to be clean. You can train a horse, a cow to be clean, a dog, a cat, but not a monkey. One monkey happened to be born that way. I didn’t do it. I am not guilty, but that monkey happened to be born somehow clean, and so when he had to evacuate he did it in his hand, from behind. You understand? Do I have to give you a diagram? (laughter) He did it in his hand and then threw it in my office on the walls. (laughter) This is the gesture, which is very, very useful to you, because we do the same thing with labels. We throw labels, and particularly medical men and psychiatrists when they talk to you; oh, paranoia (throw), oh, dementia praecox (throw). Labeling and I advise you to learn that gesture which I learned from a monkey who was so clean that he evacuated in his hand and threw it in my office on the wall. You like it? (yes) We are so accustomed to throwing labels on each other, this is a tragic thing, we are so accustomed to throwing labels on each other. Are we not? When you throw labels remember the monkey. If you would learn that ‘fact’ alone, be conscious when you are throwing around labels. (6)  
Alfred would certainly need to remember this for himself, given what was thrown in his direction in the years after the book was published—not only from critics, but also from some people who fancied themselves as students of his work.

Whatever trouble they got themselves into and whatever messes they made for Alfred and Mira, the monkeys also provided great amusement during a time of otherwise difficult drudgery. For instance, one day, probably in 1933, Lily MaDan, the secretary Alfred and Mira hired to help them complete the production of the book, “brought in a young sparrow, just learning to fly, which she rescued from a cat about to pounce on it.” Mira recalled:
We clipped one wing so that it could not fly out the high window we had…We scattered bird seed on a space beside Kiki’s cage. Then it happened. Curiosity brought Kiki down from [her] cage and out of the open door, and the seed scattered stuck to [her] moist feet. For reasons of [its] own, the sparrow had preferred picking them from the bottom of this foot that Kiki held up, which of course tickle[d] [her]. Seeing is believing…Kiki gently, very gently put her…hand over the back of the sparrow and held it quietly there while [she] gobbled up the seeds [from her other foot] for herself. (7)

Kiki, unfortunately, died only a few years later—probably sometime in early 1935, as indirectly indicated by condolences written to Mira by Barbara Polakov in June 1935. Kiki’s demise, which Mira wrote about in her memoirs, was unexpected:
[One day] I noticed her walking on the floor, she limped badly on one side. The next day I bought a small animal case and took her to Philadelphia where a personal friend was Director of the Zoo. She died that night there, and I have her heart preserved. The Doctor reporting that the rib had pierced one of her lungs due to my ignorance in not feeding her the vitamins she would have gotten had I fed her cod liver oil. (8) 

They may have had the other monkey with them for another two years. But after the book was published, Alfred and Mira had to hustle to support themselves and to get Alfred’s work ‘off the ground’. Their lives became increasingly busy with travel and other complications. Having the monkey to care for simply became too much for either one of them to handle. Eventually Walter and Barbara Polakov, who had returned from Russia by mid-1931, agreed to take “the monk”. They had more space and were more settled than Alfred and Mira, having bought a little farm in Fairfax, Virginia near Washington, D.C. where Walter was working for F.D.R.’s administration. Early in 1937, Barbara Polakov, then in New York City, wrote to Mira about her anticipation of having the monkey:
Dear Edgy,
Of course, Poli’s told me of the monk and I’ve been practically sleepless nights thinking of the fun I’ll have with it! He’s also told me the monk is a more playful rascal than Kiki No 1. No matter what I say and how I say it, it will all hail down to this: I’m just all gaga over the thought of having him. The above can also be said for: at the prospect of seeing you-all. ...(9)  
Several months later, Walter wrote to Alfred, “Kiki[2] is very mischievous – a hore [whore?] and fun all in one.”(10) Alfred missed the monkey. Early in the following year, 1938, as he was packing to move to Chicago where the Institute of General Semantics was being set up, he wrote to Walter, “How is the monkey? Ask him to report on his health. The more I know humans the more I like monkeys.”(11)

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. MEK, Autobiographical Memoir (Unpublished), p. 49. IGS Archives. 

2. AK to E. T. Bell. 10/28/1931. AKDA 23.458. 

3. AK to Roy Haywood, 1/13/1932. AKDA 23.517. 

4. AK to G. M. Acklom, 8/7/1931. AKDA 24.693.

5. Korzybski 1994 (1933), p. 36. 

6. Korzybski 1949, p. 345, (mp3 – 32C & 32D). 

7. MEK, Autobiographical Memoir (Unpublished), p. 53. IGS Archives. 

8. Ibid., p. 49. 

9. Barbara Polakov to MEK, 1/4/1937. IGS Archives. 

10. Walter Polakov to AK 1937. IGS Archives. 

11. AK to Walter Polakov, Jan. 18, 1938. IGS Archives.

No comments: