Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chapter 44 - On The Road: Part 3 - Gypsy Teacher

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.

1934 ended for Korzybski with a flurry of activity. He visited the Boston area for a couple of weeks in October to confer with John Lynn and other psychiatrists at McLean Hospital, as well as various people at Harvard and around Boston, including Miriam Van Waters, a woman teaching general semantics to some of the inmates at the Massachusetts Reformatory for Women. Then in November he made a quick trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to The Science Press headquarters to pay off the main part of the balance he still owed the printer. In mid-November he and Mira attended a daylong meeting of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, topped by an evening banquet given at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. The program for the day focused on the mental hygiene needs of children, with speakers calling for educational curricula and research. They seemed to be asking for just the kind of thing Trainor, Potts, Kendig, and others were in the process of doing with his work. 

The meeting may have served as the location for the following, related by Korzybski in 1947 to Charlotte Schuchardt [Read] who took notes:
A Situation. New York? 15 years ago? Important Psychiatric Meeting of foreign & USA psychiatrists, Meyer included. MEK [Mira] was with AK [Alfred]. [Adolf] Meyer of course was a god. MEK ‘knew better’ than AK. When we sat down to talk at table, Meyer brought a chair to me, pushed me down, said (in front of great specialists,.) ‘Don’t talk now, we are all baffled by GS let the Countess explain it.’ MEK burst into speech with the most [psychiatrically] idiotic stuff although the feeling was OK. ‘From an artistic point of view’. Of course the national and international authorities were ‘convinced’ GS was ‘all bunk’. (10) 

Few people knew the extent to which Mira had helped with Alfred’s work (not only supporting him financially but also making publishing decisions with him, and serving as a major editorial sounding board throughout the writing process). Yet Mira’s explanations of his work to others had often seemed inadequate to him. He seemed to have held her, as his wife, to a higher standard than he held other people. This complex of factors, suggested in the story above, would become a significant issue in Alfred and Mira’s relationship over the next few years, during which time he and Mira would again be separated for long periods of time—always a strain for them both.

At the end of January, Alfred would be leaving home to visit Barstow School, attend the Congress, and make other presentations. He would spend much of the next three years on the road: from 1935 into early 1938, Korzybski would crisscross the United States by train a number of times, giving many lectures and beginning his signature training-seminars. He would present to a variety of groups including children, college students, teachers and other professionals, as well as mental hospital staff and patients. He would continue to develop and refine his formulations and methods in significant ways as he seriously involved himself with helping individuals to adopt an extensional orientation in their lives. He would give several papers at conferences and publish one of them, plus an important review, in a psychiatry journal. His work would begin to gain an unprecedented level of public recognition (some of which became a mixed blessing). He would find crucial supporters who would help him launch the final, institutional phase of his work.
Korzybski crisscrossed the United States on passenger trains like this one.
The next few years would also tax him personally. He would have to deal somewhat helplessly from afar with his mother’s increasing disability and distress and then with her death. In 1936—after what seems like a precipitous move that he and Mira would make from their long-time Brooklyn apartment to Cambridge, Massachusetts—his relationship with Mira would come close to the breaking point. And during these years the great depression would continue and he would watch the world move closer towards an apocalyptic war he could predict but do little to prevent.

During this period, Korzybski’s whirlwind pace gave the impression of a traveling road show. He gave lectures and taught seminars wherever he could, preferably for at least his expenses. He was looking for sponsors and trying to develop interest in his work so ultimately he wouldn’t have to continue moving around as an itinerant, gypsy teacher.

By the end of 1937, plans—spearheaded by two of Korzybski’s psychiatrist students—would be set in motion for an Institute of General Semantics to be formed in Chicago. From May 1938 on, the Institute would give him—if but little rest—a home base to work from and a small staff of people to help him teach, develop, and promote his work. But at the end of January 1935, the future of his work seemed hidden behind a giant question mark, as he said goodbye to Mira and headed west—first stop, Kansas City, Missouri.

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. 
10. Memo, “BIOG.”, 4/16/1947. IGS Archives.

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