Monday, February 23, 2015

Chapter 49 - Growing Pains

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.

The next $10,000 check from Crane was due on January 1, 1939. Alfred had already wondered to Mira about Crane’s reliability. He couldn’t have felt totally surprised when the check didn’t come on time. He waited about a week before sending several letters and telegrams to Crane at his New York City address. He wrote to Douglas and Berta Campbell, also in New York, asking them to try to contact Crane. Shortly thereafter, in the middle of the month, the check finally arrived. Alfred felt relieved. Nonetheless, he didn’t relish depending so much on his benefactor’s whims. 

No one understood the tenuous nature of the Institute’s existence better than Alfred. On the surface, things looked good. For a small, recently founded, non-profit educational organization representing a strange new hybrid—to some mongrel—discipline without academic affiliation, the Institute of General Semantics was doing remarkably well. Korzybski finally had some decent, though insufficient, help. His work was getting publicity and gaining students and supporters. Science Press had bound the last 1,000 copies of the First Edition of Science and Sanity, which was selling well (about 100 books per month). In the long run, he felt sure the Institute could thrive based on his ability to “deliver the goods”. But he didn’t know of any organization like his that could function on book sales and tuition income alone. Crane had promised three more semi-annual payments of 10,000 dollars, which would get them through the end of 1941. By that time, they would have taught enough students and developed enough momentum and publicity to be able to mount a decent fund-raising campaign. In the meantime, the Institute’s survival depended on Crane keeping his original commitment.

The insecurity Korzybski felt about Crane’s largesse was only one of the pressures under which he was operating. There was also the pressure of his and Mira’s personal finances. If his berating of Mira from time to time about money seemed excessive, he genuinely worried about the fact that they did not have a large amount of savings. This meant they would have to count their pennies—even with an anticipated income from his Institute salary of $5,000 per year, the royalties and profits from his books, what his mother’s estate owed them for the mortgage of the house on Wilcza Street, and whatever Mira would be able to earn from her painting. In letters to Mira, to whom he seemed more likely than anyone else to reveal his dark and gloomy side, he told her more than once that he considered them both quite ‘old’—she had just had her 67th birthday and he would soon be 60—and they would need money soon enough for their final hospitalizations and funeral expenses. In the meantime, before he coagulated, he felt he had no choice but to push ahead with his work as hard and as far as he could. If for no other reason, he wanted to make sure Mira would continue to have food to eat and a roof overhead if he died before she did.

Since the publication of Science and Sanity, his dealings with other people and their concerns had increased with his efforts to publicize and teach his work. The founding of the Institute brought a new level of complications as the number of people and relationships he dealt with multiplied. As Gracuinas would have predicted, his problems had seemed to increase exponentially. He was juggling an expanded set of complicating responsibilities: to his chief funder Crane, to his co-workers, to the Institute-as-a-whole, to Mira, to his students, etc.

His sense of obligation to his students introduced extra complicating factors, especially his insistence on the necessity of personal interviews with them, which involved a serious enlargement of his work. But he saw no way out. His request that former students then write and report on their ongoing progress added to his workload. He also had mail from non-students seeking his help or advice, people who had either read his books or had read or heard something about his work (Chase’s book and the Time article already had a major impact here). Either he, Kendig, or Pearl had to reply. Then, he had visitors to the Institute—sometimes the obscure and sometimes the well-known like Bertrand Russell, I. A. Richards, and Kurt Lewin.

Some walk-in visitors he couldn’t turn away. For example, the previous November he had received a surprise telephone call from his friend Bronislaw Malinowski. The ailing anthropologist had come through Chicago on his return from the Mayo Clinic, where he had just gone through a complete medical workup. Alfred invited him to come to the Institute. The two men talked shop and Alfred gave his friend a manual relaxation session, then called in Kendig to meet him. When Alfred stepped out for a few minutes, Malinowski told Kendig that he considered Korzybski’s work the most important of the century. Alfred undoubtedly felt pleased with the visit.(1) He may not have considered such an unplanned event as a burden, but it did take time, which seemed more and more scarce.

In early January 1939, he got another surprise—this time burdensome. The managing company of 1330 E. 56th St. wrote to Korzybski demanding that he stop giving lectures in the Institute apartment. One of his neighbors in the building had complained. The seminars constituted a major income source for the Institute, which didn’t have enough money to rent an extra hotel room or lecture hall just for that purpose. Alfred surveyed the other tenants, some of whom hadn’t even been aware of the Institute in their building. They wrote letters of support for Korzybski. But the letters didn’t help. If Alfred wasn’t going to stop giving his seminar lectures on the Institute premises, then the Institute was going to have to move. The change would not be entirely unwelcome. After all, the cramped apartment had turned out rather less than ideal. Korzybski and his small office staff couldn’t avoid getting in each others’ way. And when Alfred closed the door of his windowless office for privacy—say to conduct an interview—his hot and inevitably smoke-filled room was not exactly conducive to semantic relaxation.

Within a few months, he had found an entire house to rent located on their current street, but a block further west in the direction of the University of Chicago campus. In terms of space, the peculiarly numbered building at 1234 East 56th Street seemed much better. It had a downstairs reception area and a dining room they could use for a library. Another large room that could hold at least 60 people would work very well for lectures. There were four or five rooms upstairs that could be used for offices and/or bedrooms, as well as a large garret for storage trunks. It definitely had the extra room they needed and, since they would have the whole building to themselves, no neighbors to bother. On the other hand, the oil-heated building, in disrepair, needed a fair amount of maintenance and would require a full-time janitor. And at $175 a month, it was certainly going to cost more than their present rental. A special board of trustees meeting had been called on March 31 to take advantage of the fact that Crane, then living in New York City, had come to town. What did he think? At the meeting, he approved of the move and a week later, when the prospective landlord wanted a commitment on a five-year lease, Crane sent a telegram to Alfred in which he agreed to guarantee it for that period of time. 

IGS Headquarters in Chicago at 1234 E. 56th St.
At the meeting, Crane still appeared highly committed to the Institute. For one thing, he told Alfred that he was planning to get additional life insurance for himself in which he would name the Institute as his beneficiary. In addition, he might be willing to provide more money after the last of his promised semi-annual payments (there were three more to go). He also strongly urged a number of measures designed to bolster the Institute.

First, he wanted some plans in place for the Institute in case of Korzybski’s unexpected death. Who was competent to fill in as Director? Korzybski assured Crane that, if necessary, C. B. Congdon would be able to carry the Institute mission forward with Pearl and Kendig’s guidance and assistance. Second, Crane had become a strong advocate of gathering a list of well-known academics, professionals, government officials, etc., as honorary trustees of the Institute. (The original idea had probably come from Kendig.) Crane believed such a list would be useful for Institute fundraising. The Honorary Trustees would have no official duties but would agree to have their names associated with Korzybski and get listed as supporters of the aims and program of the Institute of General Semantics. Within the next nine months, letters of invitation would get sent and an initial group of distinguished world scientists, intellectuals, and professionals would agree to be listed. Third, Crane offered additional material help. Kendig was in serious financial straits. She had made $5,000 to $12,000 a year in previous jobs. But now she was getting a salary of $2,400 from the Institute from which she had to pay her rent and living expenses as well as send money to support her ailing mother, who had a mortgage on a farmhouse in Connecticut. She didn’t think she would be able to continue working for the Institute unless she got more money. But losing her at this point would seriously disrupt Korzybski’s efforts to keep the Institute going. Her background in publishing, education, and research, and her strong work ethic and organizational abilities had made her indispensable. Crane said he would donate an extra $1,000 to the Institute for the next two years to supplement her income. He sent the first check for Kendig in April. With the general enthusiasm he showed at the board meeting, and the additional money he was providing for Kendig, could Crane’s reliability still be in doubt?

In mid-May, the Institute moved to the new address. Alfred and Mira also moved to a new apartment, still close, which they would keep for another year before letting the lease run out. Alfred’s long working hours, combined with the increasing disability he experienced due to his war injuries, made sleeping at the Institute more convenient. He had a bedroom right next to his upstairs office. Mira had found a painting studio to rent at 161 East Erie Street on Chicago’s Near North Side, about eight miles north of the Institute. Over the following year, she would make her living quarters there as well. Alfred and Mira still saw each other, talked on the telephone, and—she more than he—wrote letters. She also attended a few Institute seminars. From the evidence of letters into the next year, their relations seemed congenial enough. But since Mira had returned, the pattern of distancing by Alfred seemed clear. He worked almost constantly with the result of far too little contact for Mira’s liking.

Two weeks after the move, Alfred and Pearl left for a short trip to Los Angeles on a slow train. (He figured a slightly longer ride, away from everyday business, would give him a little ‘vacation’ and a chance to work on a third “General Semantics: Extensionalization...” paper he was planning for an upcoming AAAS meeting.) Vocha Fiske had organized a Los Angeles Society for General Semantics. She had at least sixty people there eager to hear Korzybski. He gave three introductory lectures on GS, another one on GS and psychotherapy, and one on GS and education over a weekend (June 2, 3, and 4), in addition to having personal interviews with interested attendees. With whatever fees he received (besides paid expenses), he considered the results quite positive. His lectures, which were transcribed and later printed by the Los Angeles Society, seemed exceptionally good. He returned to Chicago immediately, getting back about five days later. Both he and Pearl felt exhausted. So did Kendig, who had been left to supervise the Institute where they were still unpacking and developing a daily routine. Almost at once, they had to prepare for another intensive seminar among  innumerable other tasks. As Alfred wrote to Crane, “Everybody is fooled and surprised because the Institute is run so well. Nobody realizes that we can do that at the price of killing ourselves, with practically no help.”(2)

The pace of seminars for 1939 (seven in all) did seem rather killing. The first, from February 5 to 11, had been a special tete-a-tete seminar given for psychiatrist George S. Stevenson, Director of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, who had become very interested in Korzybski’s work. (A psychologist from Canada participated as well.) Then Alfred taught a March-April evening seminar series, before giving the Los Angeles lectures in early June. After his return, he had another Intensive scheduled in June, to be followed by another June-July evening series. An Intensive followed in August, then after a long break, the second annual Holiday Intensive. He found the teaching load—including interviews—exhausting. If they could reduce the number of seminars for 1940 (which seemed possible), he would have more time to write, attend to long-term planning, fund-raising, etc.

Long term plans and fund-raising—for what? From the beginning of the Institute, Korzybski had wanted to focus on training professionals in different fields who would be able to teach and apply GS in their own areas. Physicians and psychiatrists were important groups for him, as were educators from elementary to college levels in different specialties. He and Kendig foresaw senior students running separate IGS divisions for the purpose of training the professionals in their fields in extensional methodology. The first area to be developed would be psychiatry. A senior psychiatrist such as Congdon, well-trained in GS by Korzybski, could serve as the Medical Director of a Psychiatry Division of the Institute supervising the in-depth training of other psychiatrists, physicians, medical students, social workers, nurses, and counselors. This division would develop therapy staff and facilities. Korzybski could continue his introductory, in-depth seminar courses including personal interviews. However, he would be able to refer those who wanted or needed more long-term personal application work, or even psychotherapy, to others more suited to do that. An education division could train GS-oriented teachers from different subject areas, as well as teachers who would teach GS, including some who might teach at the Institute. Such an extensive program would free Korzybski’s time for focusing on just the teaching he wanted to do, for his own creative writing, and for directing other people’s writing and research. Of course, this plan—which Kendig outlined in September 1939—would require significant grant money to get started. And they would need more time, planning, and money to get the grants. Still, they certainly intended to get out from under the staggering work-load they had been carrying, in order to develop the IGS into a powerful educational force with adequate staff and a program that might make optimal use of Korzybski’s, Kendig’s, and others’ creative energies. In the meantime, they would have to keep up with the brutal pace they had set so far—one damn seminar after another.

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. 
1. AK to MEK, Nov. 13, 1938. MEK Archives, Box 17. 

2. AK to Cornelius Crane, 6/20/1939. IGS Archives.

No comments: