Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Chapter 46 - "Shoot All The Mothers!": Part 4 - Case #46

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.

He was away for much longer than either of them expected. Although the seminar finished in mid-August, Alfred remained in the Midwest until the end of November. At the end of September he had visited Topeka, Kansas where he lectured at the Menninger Clinic; otherwise he had been shuttling between Chicago and Kansas City to work and consult with Campbell, Congdon, and Kendig. But mainly his work with Kendig had kept him from returning home.

Kendig was having significant problems, not only with the culture of the Barstow School, which seemed resistant to the changes she was trying to bring about. She also had more personal issues. Soon after she encountered his work, Kendig had become one of Korzybski’s most stalwart students. Like Mira, who had started much earlier, she was discovering that earnestly applying extensional methods to herself involved a certain amount of suffering. Since the previous year she had been doing extensive ‘laboratory work’ with Korzybski via personal interviews and letters. As far as I know, there is no remaining record of this work; the exact and detailed nature of the inner conflicts she was dealing with at the time remain unknown. But from Alfred’s letters to Mira, a general picture emerges: she seemed to have dredged up and to be struggling with some serious unresolved problems going back to her childhood (perhaps related to sexual abuse). Clearly, by the summer of 1936 she seemed to be undergoing a major serious internal reorganization. And Alfred, as he wrote to Mira, was seriously concerned for her sanity. In fact, he worried that Kendig was going to have a complete psychological collapse.

Even before he had completed the Northwestern seminar, he had been traveling to Kansas City to work with her and she, apparently, was coming up to Chicago as well. Mira had for a long time been the only person who knew that Kendig was the one he had referred to in letters and discussions with others as case number 46. Without going much into specifics, he inundated Mira with news about 46’s problems, his worries about her impending breakdown, etc. This constituted a major part of his letters while he was away. Mira did not like to hear about the nitty-gritty details of the evaluational housecleaning of Kendig’s (or any of his other student’s) psyche. She also worried about Alfred getting in over his head since he had no official psychotherapy training or credentials. (Although Mira didn’t mention it, Korzybski had certainly stepped onto dangerous ground, in this early phase of his teaching career, by referring in his letters to 46 and other of his students as “patients”.) According to Mira, it wouldn’t look good for Alfred if Kendig—a well-known student and advocate of his work for education and mental hygiene—had to be hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. By late July, Mira was already warning him to be careful, to consult with his psychiatrist students, and perhaps to stop pushing Kendig so hard. (The possibility cannot be eliminated that Korzybski may have inadvertently helped precipitate the ‘crisis’ Kendig was going through.)

Although he did end up following Mira’s advice by consulting in a limited way with Congdon and Campbell (apparently with Kendig’s permission), he seemed to bristle at the fact that Mira had dared to give him advice:
Many thanks for your advises about 46, I have spent a great deal of concentration on this subject, from every angle. It’s a most tragic situation all together and I have taken into consideration every single angle imaginable. Please dearest UNDERSTAND that as far as insanity is concerned, you have a complete misunderstanding. I am using my best judgement I ever had, because the issues at hand are the most serious any MD ever faced. 46 KNOWS the whole problem. Her situation is difficult everyway, my situation is also extremely difficult, but I am sane, she is not, and you do not understand INSANITY at all. (14) 
I find it hard to read this and not to conclude that Korzybski was overreaching. I doubt that he had taken every imaginable consideration into account. Mira, from the evidence of her advice to him, did not seem nearly as benighted about human behavior as he implied. Unquestionably Kendig was going through difficult times in the summer and fall of 1936. And it seems likely that Alfred did greatly help her to deal with some significant-for-her life issues. It seems clear she later felt indebted to him. She would devote her life to promoting and developing his work. But Korzybski’s estimation of Kendig’s general sanity seems questionable. Before she met Korzybski, Kendig had already shown herself capable and successful in the worlds of business and education. She had friends, a social life, and had married—although this had ended in divorce. (Of course, none of these preclude a person from having a serious psychiatric condition.) Even while this apparent crisis was going on she was running a school, apparently successfully despite problems. Later in life (even a short while later) she would function as a highly competent administrator, editor, and teacher at the Institute of General Semantics. People who knew her over extended periods considered her an exceptionally well-balanced individual. She was known as a wise and warm person to her friends, and a loving wife to her second husband. Since Korzybski’s judgment about people was hardly perfect, she may have not been in as serious a condition as he seemed to think at the time.
Kendig (circa 1936)
In any event, by the end of October 1936, Kendig seemed to have passed some kind of crisis point and to be on the way to restoration of her personal balance. Perhaps Korzybski helped her to do that—and sooner than would have happened otherwise. (But perhaps she would have eventually done so on her own without the extensive intervention on his part.) At any rate, Alfred began to consider returning home.

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. 
14. AK to MEK, 8/14/1936. MEK Archives, Box 17.

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