Monday, January 5, 2015

Chapter 39 - A Monkey On His Lap: Part 2 - Publishers and Editors

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.

Monkeying With A Manuscript 

Early in 1931, although Alfred was still fine-tuning the formulations (“semantic reactions”, etc.), the book seemed sufficiently done for him to begin looking in earnest for a publisher. He wasn’t the only one impatient to get the book out. Keyser, who had just had another of his own books—Humanism and Science—brought out, gently gibed Alfred in a letter: “I hope you will publish your new book soon-—I was born in 1862—I hope to read your book before I go over to the great majority...”(12) 

Alfred felt obligated to give the first pass on the book to John Macrae of E. P. Dutton. Given that Macrae had sought him out in order to publish Manhood of Humanity, Alfred had great initial confidence Macrae would take this new work. But this time around, the deepening economic depression made Macrae as well as other publishers rather faint-hearted about this difficult-to-categorize and rather imposing-looking book. Macrae received two manuscripts from Korzybski in early March. Dutton had sold 18 copies of Manhood over the last year (13) and Macrae did not exactly seem full of enthusiasm although he did respect what Alfred had done, pondering over it and giving it to one of his editors to evaluate as well. He wrote the rejection letter himself on April 28:
My dear Count Korzybski,  
I have given both human and inhuman consideration of a very deep nature to your new manuscript... 
…I regret to tell you that I must decline to publish this new manuscript solely on the ground that I cannot afford to publish it. If I undertook to publish your new manuscript it would bring me, in my judgment, an actual loss of something like $2000… 
…We might find five hundred people to buy the book but actually I do not know where we can reach five hundred people who would read it...(14) 

Alfred felt irritated. Although he wasn’t expecting to have a huge bestseller, he did have confidence his work had value and believed, once properly edited, the final book would gradually find an audience, begin to sell and, he hoped, continue to do so for a long time. He disagreed with Macrae’s gloomy projection. He estimated he had an audience of around 10,000 people who might want to read his book.(15) Neither he nor Macrae had any way of actually knowing how many people would eventually become interested in and buy the book. But Korzybski’s assessment turned out more correct. By the time of his death in 1950, the book published in 1933 had sold almost 20,000 copies. Now (2011) the book is in its Fifth Edition. Dutton would certainly have made some profit if Macrae had shown more faith in Korzybski’s work. But Alfred wasn’t going to let this rejection discourage him. He would do whatever he could to find another publisher.

At least one positive thing resulted from his contact with Macrae. Alfred got in touch with one of Dutton’s long-time literary editors, George Moreby Acklom, whom he had met back in 1921. Alfred had been looking for some professional editing advice and Acklom, who felt positively disposed towards the book, agreed to help spruce up Korzybski’s prose for a fee. So around mid-1931, Acklom perused the manuscript, as did a young literature professor at Columbia, whom Alfred also paid to edit the manuscript. By this time Alfred was juggling multiple copies among multiple other readers as well, but somehow managed to keep order over the relative stages of editing of the different copies. This particular phase of the book production—paying literary editors to bring his writing closer to standard English—led to a dead end. As far as he was concerned, these editors “ruined the ms. completely. …literally eliminated the main things I wanted to say…I had to eliminate really whatever they did. It was really a good lesson for me. I must say, for instance, that in my work I cannot stick to grammar in the orthodox sense.”(16) 

For example, there were certain passages he had kept deliberately vague in order not to say something clearly false if put in more definite terms. In order to achieve the right amount of precision, he had also qualified statements in various other ways that might not suit a literary stickler. He liked to split infinitives, to more specifically modify a verb. He also liked to use double negatives, pointing out that to say “I am not a non-drinking person” and “I am a drinking person” had entirely different implications.(17) His use of new terms and of devices like the indexes, dates, single quotes, hyphens, extensional punctuation, etc., also didn’t lie within the bounds of certain ideals of either acceptable formal or idiomatic English. Beyond these conscious decisions of style, his English—however fluent—was permeated with the syntactical forms of his first language, Polish. (Mary Morzinski’s study, Linguistic Influence of Polish on Joseph Conrad’s Style seems applicable to Korzybski’s as well as Conrad’s prose.)

All of these elements of style rankled the literary editors. It became very clear he would not be able to accept their corrections when they not only corrected his own writing, but also passages he had quoted from Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead.
The structure of their language [Russell and Whitehead’s] is different, [like his own] more or less of a mathematical character, logical, mathematical. And so ultimately I had to, after all their corrections, I had ultimately to eliminate the falsifications and go ahead with Mira to correct, oh, say, smooth up the English.(18) 
Korzybski found more useful another way Acklom helped. Knowing the publishing business as he did, he composed a query letter that Korzybski would use as the basis of his campaign to find a publisher. Korzybski edited the letter, and in August 1931, had a typist ‘crank out’ multiple copies, which he sent to a number of U.S. publishers, most of whom were located in New York City. He also had letters of recommendation from some of his prominent friends and an analytical table of contents, which he would send to those publishers who expressed interest. Although he got a few rejection letters immediately, many wanted to know more. Korzybski had subsequent meetings with a number of editors at Holt, Knopf, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster, among other publishing firms. Some requested a manuscript. Alfred was still awaiting final responses from a few of them well into the summer of 1932.

One of the publishing companies he contacted in August 1931 was Brewer, Warren & Putnam Inc. Korzybski’s query letter was directed to partner Joseph Brewer, who definitely had an interest in the book. Years later, Brewer recounted his first encounter with Mira and Alfred. Though he didn’t accurately recall some minor details, his account gives an impression of how Korzybski and his work were perceived by Brewer and his colleagues in the publishing world:
I was sitting in my office one day in 1930 [correspondence indicates the actual year as 1931] doing whatever it is that book publishers do, when I was told that the Countess Korzybska was in the reception room asking to see me. Whereupon in swept Mira in a flurry of furbelows, for she always wore a sort of fancy dress with hats, cloaks, scarves etc. After a little social conversation she proceeded to enquire about our firm and to tell me about her husband and a book he had written to be called Science and Sanity [that title wasn’t actually chosen until the middle of 1932]. Well, publishers are often faced with cranks and this all sounded suspicious. But still, you never know and you don’t want to risk turning down out of hand a work of genius. And so I agreed to look at the manuscript if submitted.  
Mira, it seems, had been sent to case the joint and to see if our firm looked suitable as a possible publisher for the magnum opus. Apparently we passed inspection for a few days later Alfred himself appeared with a typewriter-paper box of manuscript. His appearance, with his limp, his shaved head, his piercing eyes and his accent raised again the crank suspicions. But his warm smile and gracious manner allayed them and we began to discuss his work. I had not heard of the Manhood of Humanity but I did know about I. A. Richards and [T]he Meaning of Meaning and had long been interested in psychology and linguistics. Thus what Alfred said about his book sounded eccentric perhaps, but just not crankish. The upshot was that I undertook to read the manuscript.  
This was no easy task for besides my unfamiliarity with much of the subject matter—especially the mathematics—this was by no means a finally revised text. And it was a not too well typed carbon copy on almost onion-skin paper. Nevertheless, I persevered with it even over weekends in the country and became fascinated by it. I talked to my partner, Edward Warren, and after reading some of it, he agreed that it was not crank stuff and was an important work as I had suggested. We discussed it over a period of time and finally came to the conclusion that while it was something that we should like to publish and would be proud to do, we just did not have the know-how nor the equipment to handle such a book to good advantage. We were a young firm whose experience had been exclusively with current fiction, non-fiction and art books. This would be an expensive book to produce and we simply had no idea of how a book of this character could or should be marketed. It needed a knowledge of special outlets and sales methods to handle it with any hope of success and we felt it would not be fair to the author nor to us to undertake it. (19) 
Brewer wrote a rejection letter to Alfred at the end of October 1931. However, he remained fascinated by the book and its author. For his part, Korzybski felt grateful for Brewer’s interest and advice. (Brewer had provided a printer’s estimate of production costs for the book, which Alfred and Mira found useful since they were beginning to consider the possibility of publishing the book themselves.) Brewer recalled: “Alfred understood our position and I believe respected us for it since he was convinced of our sympathy for the work. Out of our consultations and discussions Alfred and I developed a warm friendship that lasted throughout his life.”(20) 

The Dartmouth-and-Oxford-educated Brewer, in his early thirties, became a frequent visitor to Carleton Avenue. He discovered that Alfred also belonged to the ‘brewer’ family. As he described,
In those early days I saw a good deal of him and Mira. I went fairly frequently to the apartment on top of an old house in Brooklyn. There was a large studio-like room with a monkey in a cage for Alfred’s behavioral observations, work space and equipment for his studies and for his secretary’s typing, filing, etc. I wish I could remember her name [Lily MaDan] for she was an integral part of the menage. She was an odd, tall girl, very New England spinster in appearance but a bright, warm person devoted to Alfred and Mira. This was still Prohibition time and Alfred used to make his own very strong beer. [He used a small still sent to him by Sally Avery.] Coming up the stairs to the apartment there was often a pervasive aroma of malt and hops. Alfred would discourse learnedly about the varieties of hops and how they were to be selected if the beer was to be as he liked it. I spent many merry evenings there drinking the beer and discussing revisions of the manuscript plus a multitude of other topics including Mira’s lovely miniatures, her reminiscences of their subjects and Alfred’s reminiscences of Poland and the War. (21) 

Brewer left the publishing business after Brewer, Warren & Putnam, Inc. went bankrupt in 1933, shortly after publishing The Pastures of Heaven, a book of short stories by John Steinbeck. Brewer, a Michigan native with an interest in higher education, became the President of Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan in 1934. In the following years, Brewer kept contact with Alfred, who came to Olivet several times to lecture.

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. 
12. C. J. Keyser to AK, April 15, 1931. AKDA 23.14. 

13. E. P. Dutton Statement of Royalties to AK & MEK from 5/1/30 to 4/30/1931. AKDA 31.158. 

14. John Macrae to AK, 4/28/1931. AKDA 24.677. 

15. AK to Tramer, 5/29/1931. AKDA 23.328. 

16. Korzybski 1947, p. 281. 

17. Ibid., p. 280. 

18. Ibid., p. 281 

19. Brewer, pp. 377-378. 

20. Brewer, p. 378. 21. Ibid.

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