Sunday, January 18, 2015

Chapter 42 - Reviewing Reviews: Part 2 - First Reviews

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.

Just Published Announcement from Science Press
AKDA 2.685
In fact, the first review had already been published in September 1933 in The Collecting Net, a subscription newsletter “devoted to the scientific work” at the biological research stations at Woods Hole on Cape Cod and Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island. Ralph Lillie, a University of Chicago physiologist who had helped edit Science and Sanity and had great regard for Korzybski and his work, wrote an informative and complimentary notice based on his reading of the manuscript. Lillie began, “This interesting and original book deserves careful study by all who are concerned with science and its applications.” Alfred didn’t know about it until mid-December when Lillie wrote to him sending along a copy.

By this time, other reviews began to trickle in. Alfred and Mira had been working for months to try to get the proper attention for the book. Responses from the circular mailing in May had included a number of requests for review copies, which they began to send out as soon as the book had been published. Given their tight budget, Alfred felt constrained about the number of copies they could distribute. But despite his insistence that they must focus on more scientific journals (psychiatric and educational included), they had sent a number of copies to more literary-focused magazines and to philosophical journals as well. Given that he had no budget for advertising, he was eager for publicity wherever he could get it.

However, he had limits. He refused—politely—to send a review copy, as requested, to The Catholic School Digest, whose review may or may not have been bad. He also refused another request, from a biologist who wanted to review the book for The Christian Century, a popular, non-denominational, liberal Christian magazine. The man sent another review he’d already written along with some other pages from the magazine. Korzybski wrote back to him and politely refused to send a copy noting, “I must strictly depend on scientific journals for reviews.” However, when he got a request for a review copy from Rabbi Felix Levy, who wanted to put something about it in the Year Book of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (representing the Reform movement of Judaism), Korzybski wrote back saying he would gladly send a copy. Alfred’s biases against religion, especially Christianity, may have unduly cut off his work from exposure to potentially interested readers. His personal opinions aside, nothing in the system he had developed made it inherently odious to religious people not inflexibly committed to fundamentalist views.

Surprisingly, one of the first and—in Korzybski’s opinion—one of the best reviews of Science and Sanity appeared in a daily newspaper, The Knickerbocker Press, in Albany, New York. The paper ran a two-page feature article by A. Ranger Tyler, its new literary editor, in its Sunday, December 10 edition. Tyler had already written to Alfred in early November after ‘inheriting’ the book from the paper’s previous literary editor who had received the review copy. The book immediately ‘grabbed’ him, as he frankly told Korzybski in his letter,
I can not adequately express my joy at finding someone attempting the fundamentals of sanity. My work as a newspaperman—when I am not reviewing books—gives ample evidence of the stranglehold of what you term Aristotelian semantic reactions have on a woefully large majority of otherwise personable human beings. Walter Pitkin [an acquaintance of Korzybski] gropingly felt the situation in his amusing “A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity,” but he was simply being a reporter. (4) 

Even after only about a month of reading, Tyler was already analyzing news issues (for himself) in terms of orders of abstractions.(5)  He even admitted to Korzybski to have become a bit manic in relation to the book, “My wife thinks I dream orders of abstraction, etc.”(6) He started writing the article at the beginning of December as he finished his first reading.

Korzybski appreciated the headline, “Can Human Nature Be Changed? Yes, Author Reveals” and the sub-heading, ”Basic Shift in Methods of Thought on Scientific Lines, Suggested in Epoch-Making Book”. In the article itself, Tyler had written, “I stake my reputation on the belief this is the most significant book of the century, so far.”
Let us be frank. While the book is written for the comprehension of the “average educated layman,” most readers of any degree of education will find it difficult, especially at first to understand. The divergence from our customary channels of thought is responsible for this...Anybody with the willingness to understand can gain great value from the book. It is naturally of particular significance in the work of educators, teachers, and psychiatrists, because it offers the first suggestion of how to teach children to think as they were “constructed” to think and how to eradicate the confusions that usually are found at the bottom of mental ills. (7) 

After the review was published and he felt more at ease to express himself, Korzybski told Tyler about his amazement at the fact that Tyler had managed to write about aristotelian and non-aristotelian systems, non-identity, semantic reactions, and abstracting, among other formulations in more or less everyday language without introducing fallacies about his work.(8) 

In the young newspaperman (who admittedly had a biology degree and had taught math at a boy’s prep school), Korzybski appears to have found his ideal ‘average intelligent layman’—actually an all-too-rare, more or less extensionally-oriented and generally sane individual. As he later wrote to Tyler: “ ‘knew it’ all by yourself, and I only happened to formulate what you felt instinctively yourself. The depth of understanding [in the review and subsequent letters] shows that. You could not absorb organically that much from one reading, unless you had it.”(9) To Korzybski, Tyler seemed to belong to that small group of ‘naturally’ extensional non-aristotelians who found in general semantics a clearer language and method for doing better what they were already inclined to do. The much larger group of ‘aristotelians’ would need a great deal more training and drilling, whatever their verbal assent, to orient themselves differently. Over the next year, Korzybski and Tyler met in person and maintained a steady correspondence. Alfred would confide to him quite a lot in this early period of getting his work established. (The two men stayed in contact for a number of years afterwards and Tyler was one of the few people to have papers presented at both the First (1935) and Second (1941) American Congresses on General Semantics. (10) 

In the first six months after publication, other newspaper reviews, articles, and editorial pieces appeared in the Mansfield [Ohio] News-Journal, the Binghamton N.Y. Press, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Wilmington [Delaware] Evening Journal, The New York Post and The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. In early February 1934 an Associated Press reporter interviewed Korzybski, which led to a whole new round of articles in newspapers around the country, which made use of the syndicated piece. Finally The New York Times, whose editors had initially seemed resistant to covering the book, on February 11 carried a sizable and friendly review by Korzybski’s old acquaintance George Moreby Acklom. Although containing some errors (Acklom referred to Alfred as ‘Dr. Korzybski...‘a psychiatrist’) and mildly critical, Korzybski probably couldn’t have expected anything better.(11) In general, the newspaper coverage of the book (mainly positive, if not laudatory) indicated a rather remarkable public interest for such a seemingly ‘heavy’ book.

Perhaps the most important initial review for Korzybski was the personal one he awaited from Cassius Keyser, who—occupied with his own writing and various health issues—had had limited time and energy over the past few years to help with the evolving manuscript of Korzybski’s opus. And although Korzybski had occasionally seen the “dear dear old man” and had tried his best to keep Keyser up to date via letters, he had shied away from imposing too much on his friend. After the book’s publication, Keyser surely must have gotten one of the first of the complementary copies Alfred sent to various friends and helpers. What would Keyser make of it?

Toward the end of 1933, Alfred had begun collecting statements about the book for possible use in his campaign to interest foundations in his work. Mira saw Keyser in the beginning of December by which time Keyser had finished his first reading. Would he write a recommendation? Keyser agreed. In a few days he sent Alfred a letter with his statement enclosed:
I have read Korzybski’s Science and Sanity attentively and critically from lid to lid. Though I do not find myself in full agreement with the author at every point, I am bound in candor to say that as a whole this work is a tremendous and timely drive in the right direction. It is undoubtedly and beyond all comparison the most momentous contribution that has ever been made to our knowledge and understanding of what is essential and distinctive in the nature of Man...bearing...upon...the whole of our human methodology for gaining, communicating, and utilizing knowledge at any stage and upon any level. (12) 

At the beginning of his trials to get publicity and establish his work, seeing Keyser’s response—combined with the Lillie and Tyler reviews, which he had just received—buoyed up Korzybski tremendously. He wrote to Lillie a few days later:
...I rush this letter not only as an acknowledgement and expression of my gratitude, but also to send you a statement of Prof. Keyser...The letter of Professor Keyser made me very happy not only because it is really splendid but particularly because Prof. Keyser has done so much for putting my first book before the public, as he devoted his most important Phi Beta Kappa address to a review of the book, and in some cases was criticized for it and his health did not allow him to see the Ms or the proofs of the new S+S so he read an entirely new book to him. Personally for about 12 years I labored under a definite and permanent longing that the dear Old Man should not be ashamed of this new work, to have such an appreciation is of course a great deal of happiness to me.(13) 

Soon afterwards, Keyser extended what he wrote for a review later published in the April 1934 edition of The New Humanist. The review, entitled “The Foundations of the Science of Man”, discussed Science and Sanity in terms of its aim, means, principles, terms, and major theses. The review showed the mathematician’s remarkable capacity as a careful, analytical reader. By January, Keyser had almost completed another still more extensive review article for Scripta Mathematica, when he was hospitalized for some problems related to his old surgeries. He wasn’t able to finish it until April. As he explained to Korzybski, he felt the lack of criticism in the New Humanist review might lead readers to dismiss it. Keyser had not only tightened up and elaborated what he had previously written but added a critical section of “Queries, Doubts, and Reservations”. This piece, entitled “Mathematics And The Science Of Semantics” published in the May Scripta qualifies as one of the best reviews of Science and Sanity ever written—and one of the clearest short introductions. As the late Keyser/Korzybski scholar Elton S. Carter, pointed out, “Cassius J. Keyser [was] rare indeed among the critics of general semantics, not because he praised Science and Sanity, but because he exhibited ample evidence of knowing what he was talking about.”(14) Korzybski wrote to Keyser in June after he had read the Scripta review and addressed some of Keyser’s queries, doubts, and reservations. He felt grateful to Keyser and considered the criticisms mild. (15)

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. 
4. A. Ranger Tyler to AK, 11/ 2/1933. AKDA 27.178. 

5. A. Ranger Tyler to AK, 12/1/1933. AKDA 27.197. 

6. A. Ranger Tyler to AK, 12/7/1933. AKDA 27.215.

7. A. Ranger Tyler. “Can Human Nature Be Changed? Yes, Author Reveals”. AKDA 2.688. 

8. AK to A. Ranger Tyler, 12/12/1933. AKDA 27.223. 

9. AK to A. Ranger Tyler, 1/3/34. AKDA 27.254. 

10. See Tyler’s “The Place of General Semantics in Journalism” (1935) and “Newspapers, Education and General Semantics” (1941) in the volumes of the First and Second American Congresses on General Semantics. 

11. Acklom, “The Cleavage Between Science and Human Activities”. New York Times, Feb. 11, 1933. 

12. C. J. Keyser to AK, 12/9/1933. AKDA 34.329. 

13. AK to Ralph S. Lillie, 12/14/1933. AKDA 27.225. 

14. Carter 1955, p. 66.

15. See E. L. Gates, “Keyser And Korzybski: Letters About Keyser’s Reviews of Science and Sanity And Comments, April-June 1934” in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 183–188. Also see Elton S. Carter 1955.

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