Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Chapter 46 - "Shoot All The Mothers!": Part 5 - A Beautiful Home

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.

While he’d been unloading the burdens of his work in his letters to her, Mira was writing to him about her manifold doings in Cambridge. Given her level of upset when he left, her letters showed a surprising cheeriness. She’d unpacked their things, bought some needed furniture (cutting costs where she could as she respected his concern for saving pennies), and rearranged the place in a way she hoped would provide a welcoming sense of home to Alfred when he returned. Doing this, she felt in herself a level of domesticity that surprised her. The growing discord with Alfred in Brooklyn had left her feeling anything but homey, but she realized part of the problem there may have been the cramped studio space without enough room for two such independent people to get out of each other’s way. This was not going to be a problem on Story Street. When she unpacked during the summer, with much of the contents of their suitcases and trunks laid out in the open, there seemed to be almost as much space to move about as before. Both she and Alfred would have rooms of their own to work in. By the fall, having almost fully unpacked, furnished, and cleaned the place, she hoped the physical order she’d made might bring a new order of relationship between her and Alfred. 

Kik the monkey had something to do as well with keeping up Mira’s spirit. Mira tried to keep the little monkey on a leash when uncaged but from her reports to Alfred, she seemed to give the monkey a fair amount of freedom to roam around the house. Mira had always loved monkeys (her nickname was “Monk” for a reason) and enjoyed observing the animal as it explored. It was a smart, playful monkey. It liked to drink from the bathroom and kitchen faucets and had started to learn how to turn the spigots on and off. A few times a day it would run up to Mira when she sat or lay on the couch and would hug her around the neck, nibble on her ear, and playfully dance on her belly. It also liked to play “hide and seek” getting chased or chasing Mira around the room in fun. With all this, the monkey seemed relatively well behaved. Mira had trained it to respond to a few voice commands such as “no” when it was getting into some of Alfred’s things or “cage” to go into its cage. Mira confusedly referred to it with both feminine and masculine pronouns. But whether boy or girl, Kik was apparently a lot cleaner than naughty Kiki—or had somehow learned better hygiene—since there’s no indication from Mira’s letters that she ever had to clean any walls the monkey decorated.

That summer and fall, she planned to do some painting and had made a few forays to Nantucket and north of Boston to explore possibilities for commissions. But having only a short walk to the Harvard campus, a major objective of hers—besides getting the house in shape—lay in another direction: to make use of the educational opportunities of Cambridge. Her regret at not being able to attend college, and the exigencies of making a living had fed a lifelong ambition to make up for her lack of formal education. It was one of the things that had attracted her to Alfred. She had made her ‘sloppy thinker’ more meticulous and gotten it better furnished under his tough, sometimes merciless tutelage. She now seemed more eager than ever for further study on her own.

The celebration of Harvard’s Tercentenary (300th anniversary) then in progress gave her a great opportunity. She made it her business to attend many of the special public lectures and presentations provided during the summer session. During the two-week Tercentenary Conference of Arts and Sciences in early September she reveled in the scholarly feast, which included lectures by Whitehead, Eddington, and Einstein, among others. Friends of Alfred attending the Conference, such as G. Y. Rainich, and Hugh and Lillian Lieber, seemed genuinely glad to see her and to enjoy her company and conversation. During her short time in Cambridge, she was managing to get quite a boost to her intellectual self-worth after having come to feel so low about herself. During the summer session, sitting in a lecture hall while waiting for a speaker, she had written to Alfred “If I do say it, I am gaining an increased respect for my own thinker – that is after the hard, endless work you have put on it.”(15)

She had already met a number of Harvard people who seemed to respect her as a person with some intellectual ability. Chief among these were mathematician E.V. Huntington and his wife who had befriended the lonely Mira and invited her for dinner in their home. At the end of July they asked her to come with them on a trip to their summer cottage in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. She brought Kik with her on the trip (the Huntingtons loved the monkey) and ended up staying two weeks. During that time she became quite friendly with both husband and wife, reveling in the good relations they seemed to have with one another. Huntington had been writing a paper on symbolic logic. He invited Mira to read it, tutoring her on the subject, which she found both flattering and helpful since she was deeply interested in the relation of different kinds of notation to people’s formulating processes.

By the middle of September, feeling stimulated by all this input she decided to put some of her thoughts into writing. Her main purpose was to clear up for herself some GS-related topics she’d been wondering about. She ended up with a number of longhand pages. To make them more readable she got them typed (at this point she couldn’t type well enough to do it herself). The typed notes amounted to around 18 pages. For a little additional charge, the not-very-busy typist mimeographed a few extra copies for Mira, who decided she wanted Alfred, the Huntingtons, and a few other people to look at them. As she wrote to the Huntingtons on October 9, she didn’t want anyone to take what she wrote too seriously. It was a “purging” so to speak of some things she was trying to get out of her system and she only wanted to know if it might contain any inkling of a usable idea.(16) 

Up until then she had not written much, other than letters. One could find a lot to criticize if one wanted. Experimenting with hyphens and underlining, she overdid them. She misspelled words. She wrote incomplete sentences and long ones with confusing or absent punctuation. But despite these flaws, her 1936 writings sometimes also showed originality and raw vigor with a quality like free verse. (Remember, she had spent some time with Gertrude Stein.) And having studied and worked to get GS into her gut, she did have some significant things to say about learning and applying it. Here are some snippets from a page she wrote, addressed to a supposed student of general semantics—truly reminder notes to herself:
When one is enmeshed in an Aristotelian civilization,...I grant you combined with the habits of one’s own education and language – one has to be constantly vigilant – just as one has to be in transforming the energy used in an un-useful physically pleasant habit – say – from childhood of biting one’s nails – to the higher transformed useful pleasure in the energy of cultivating beautiful nails.  
To transform personal “emotional” wastes of energy in connection with living out un-congenial conditions – one has only to call into activity, onto the job, one’s unique human faculty or function – because of our cortex -– that is – of being the observer and the observed, in one organism; the sculptor and the clay, in one organism; the organism and the organizer, in one organism:– of being humanely impersonal about the most personal goings-on inside one.  
It makes of life a “grand adventure” if one can have as an intimate companion, one who is also so oriented, but, with those who are not, it makes for tolerance, poise, patience, and master of a situation, by making it clear to the other fellow in extensionalizing the situation, what characteristics the other fellow has left out of consideration, as it helps one to discover what one’s self has left out, and when that is done, fight for dominance is stopped and co-operation is begun. Widely different biological and sociological inheritances, and life-habits can be adjusted and just the differences, united enlarge each the other’s life, constructively. (17) 
She surely had inklings of some good ideas here and in the other pages she sent special delivery to Alfred on October 9. She had written a bit about a GS evaluational compass and among other things had worked out some novel ways of relating some of the main GS formulations to each other in diagram form. 

Mira's Suggestion for an Evaluational Compass 

Alfred wrote back the following day:
Dearest One:
Received your special delivery with enclosures of the article of Norris and your own. Please do not add to my burdens by spending money on typing, mimeography, etc., perfectly worthless verbal masturbation the distribution of which does definite harm to my whole work...Please do not get discouraged, STUDY SERIOUSLY S+S without adding your fancies to it, try to understand PLAIN ENGLISH following your “beloved” Oxford, with which you only play. Dearest I have enough professional troubles, for pity sake do not add family troubles to it. Write long hand all you want to, but do not waste money on typing mostly worthless or harmful material. I am terribly tired dealing with “mental aberrations”, PLEASE do not add to my burdens. All my love (18)

‘All my love’ indeed! On his side, he did have some justifiable grounds for concern. What Mira—as his wife—said or wrote might gain more attention and be judged more critically as a representation of him and his work than something said by almost anyone else. It seemed reasonable to ask her to be careful. But his blatantly patronizing attitude and nearly total dismissiveness towards her written efforts surely seem excessive. He did love her, but unfortunately he had also developed a fixed set of disapproving attitudes toward her that would stay fixed for a number of years and that would lead to much pain for both of them. And Mira had reached a point in her life, much to her chagrin, where she wasn’t going to accept the resulting treatment.

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. 
15. MEK to A.K, 7/20/1936. MEK Archives, Box 17. 

16. MEK to Huntingtons, Oct. 9, 1936. MEK Archives, Box 17. 

17. MEK, n.d. MEK Archives, Box 17. 

18. AK to MEK, 10/10/1936. MEK Archives, Box 17.

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