Friday, February 20, 2015

Chapter 48 - The Institute Of General Semantics: Part 4 - Seminars and Scholars

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.

Even before finishing his first evening seminar, Korzybski had begun a second, week-long course which went from August 15 to August 20—the Institute’s first “Intensive” seminar. The twenty-four attendees included nine people who had studied with Wendell Johnson, a Professor of Speech Pathology and Psychology at the State University of Iowa, who had been presenting general-semantics material in his speech hygiene course. Johnson had become interested in Korzybski’s work—and had been privately studying with him—as a result of his own lifelong stuttering problem.
Wendell Johnson
Johnson had taken his interest in finding a remedy for stuttering quite far—to the extent of getting a PhD in clinical psychology and speech pathology in 1931. In the fall of 1936, while convalescing from an emergency appendectomy, he started reading Korzybski’s ‘blue peril’, which a friend had just given him. Johnson recalled in a 1956 article:
As soon as I recovered sufficiently to hold this massive tome I began to read it—and I have never been the same since. My convalescence lasted about two weeks and by that time I was so thoroughly enmeshed in what I found in Science and Sanity, that I ended up spending the greater part of my reading time for the next year or so reading and rereading, evaluating and re-evaluating Korzybski’s complicated document. I satisfied myself that it is not a book about which one can be glib. (19) 

Soon afterwards he met Korzybski in Chicago and began to work with him privately. “I had never before encountered a teacher quite like him and he had never had a student who stuttered as I did, and so between the two of us we licked the platter of our mutual interests.”
...By 1936 I had the feeling that I had pretty much exhausted the possibilities of gaining substantial benefit from the existing theories of stuttering and the current methods treating it... 
Coming to Science and Sanity...I was motivated to gain from the book anything I could that might be helpful. I found a good deal that was intriguing...There is nothing in Science and Sanity about stuttering, as such, except one sentence which I believe to be in error, but the book generally is about the processes of abstracting, and I recognized it therefore, as being peculiarly relevant to the particular problem with which I was concerned...It seems to me that stuttering is similar to many other human problems that involve anxiety-tensions, and to the degree that this is so the possibility exists that the field of general semantics holds promise for the improvement of our understanding of a number of other human problems in addition to that of stuttering. (20) 

Korzybski soon met another individual with great promise. From September 8 to 15, he gave a special course mainly devoted to one-on-one individual training for Wilma Lloyd, a psychologist working with the Progressive Education Commission on Secondary School Curriculum. Three other individuals also attended for several days. One of them, Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa would play a significant role in generating interest in Korzybski and his work, although Korzybski and others would ultimately come to consider his contribution a mixed blessing.

Hayakawa, a Canadian citizen of Japanese descent, had gotten his PhD in English and American literature at the University of Wisconsin in 1935 for his work on Oliver Wendell Holmes (published as a book with Howard Mumford Jones in 1939).(21) He had also done work in lexicography. At the time he met Korzybski, he was about to return to his job as an English professor at the University of Wisconsin Extension Department in Madison. He had just come from a summer course in Linguistics at the University of Michigan. People there had heard of Korzybski but knew little about his work. Hayakawa, who had done some reading, gave a few presentations and felt curious to find out more. He wrote to Korzybski, who invited him to visit. Hayakawa later reported what happened when he met Korzybski that first day:
Korzybski greeted me with great cordiality. “So you are Hayakawa! You have been lecturing on general semantics at the University of Michigan and you don’t know a goddam thing about it!” I couldn’t take offense at this greeting. It was warmly meant—and I was certainly in no position to disagree. I laughed and he laughed and we were on good terms at once. (22)
S. I. Hayakawa
In Hayakawa, Korzybski recognized a man who had a special ability to write with ease. And Hayakawa found in Korzybski’s work the fresh and integrative point of view for teaching English he had been looking for. Hayakawa’s few days at this 1938 seminar appeared to give impetus to his ongoing interest in developing a vitalized approach to language instruction. He had been reading various writers on what he called ‘semantics’, such as Bloomfield, Bridgman, Ogden, Richards, Sapir, and others. General Semantics, with its emphasis on the total behavioral response of the individual, seemed to him to provide an important and practical unifying approach to these other studies.

Over the next year he would write an introductory text-book, Language in Action, using ‘general semantics’ as his framework for bringing together these various other, related approaches to understanding words and their ‘meanings’ in human communication. Initially, he had the book mimeographed and published privately as a textbook for classes at the University of Wisconsin. It was soon picked up as a text by other universities. In 1940 he produced a second revised book, giving discounted copies to the IGS, which agreed to be listed as the publisher. Korzybski recommended the book to his friend David Fairchild. Fairchild told another friend, an editor at Harcourt, about it. Harcourt and the Book of the Month Club published it at the end of 1941 and it soon became a huge success both as an English textbook and for general readers. The book in its Fifth Edition, with the title Language in Thought and Action (renamed in 1949), remains in print. By now, it has sold over one million copies. By the mid-1940s, differences between the two men would emerge as a major source of trouble for Korzybski. However, at the beginning of their relationship, Korzybski felt delighted with Hayakawa’s interest in his work.

In these early days of the Institute, as GS was becoming better known, Korzybski wanted to focus on teaching professionals in different fields how to train their own nervous systems, achieve some kind of improved adjustment for themselves, and then to apply GS to their work, teach it, and write about it. Some people were already confusing Korzybski’s educational work with psychotherapy—although there was no denying some overlap. He welcomed the interest of students of speech and language instruction like Johnson and Hayakawa because—for one thing—it clearly showed that GS could not be isolated within the bounds of therapy.

However, the prominence of such students in the early days of the Institute may have encouraged an equally mistaken view. Many people had trouble understanding that GS was not another school of speech or language study but provided a general methodology dealing with problems in any human activity involving evaluation (not exclusively a linguistic matter). One could get a glimpse of the discipline’s generality in the Institute’s first copyrighted publication. Earlier in the year, Hansell Baugh, a librarian of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, had started putting together a volume of papers from the 1935 Congress at Ellensburg, Washington. Korzybski and Kendig corresponded with him for several months to assist with the editing. The book, entitled General Semantics: Papers from the First American Congress for General Semantics came out in October and included papers relating GS to mathematics, logic, psychology, linguistics, education, sociology, biology, and psychiatry. The printing of around 200 copies sold out within a year (it was reprinted in 1940).

Korzybski had several more seminars scheduled in 1938. He found the pace grueling but deemed it necessary if the Institute was to get a large enough core of professionals working to apply the discipline. For some time, the Institute would continue to experiment with different formats for delivering the twelve or so lectures of two or more hours each that Korzybski considered necessary for conveying the basic content. (This didn’t include the additional time needed for students’ personal interviews with Korzybski.) Formats included bi-weekly evening, Saturday, and longer continuous courses. After that first August intensive, Korzybski gave a number of other intensive courses over the next year, including a Holiday Intensive that winter which ran from December 26–31. Success with the intensives led Korzybski and Kendig to judge that format particularly useful for busy professionals and Korzybski delivered at least one, usually more than one, every subsequent year of his life. The Winter Holiday Intensive became an annual IGS tradition, usually starting a day after Christmas and continuing through the first few days of the New Year. Korzybski’s lecture time—in whatever format—gradually increased over the next two years from about twenty hours per course to from thirty-six to forty hours, which would become his standard.

Korzybski at the lecturn,
Autumn 1938

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. 
19. Wendell Johnson 1956 ‘I Knew Korzybski When’ in Kessler, p. 7. 

20. Ibid., pp. 8-12. 

21. Oliver Wendell Holmes: Representative Selections

22. Hayakawa 1979, p. xiii.

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