Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Chapter 50 - The August Intensive

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 eclectic mix of students likely to attend an IGS seminar might include artists, businessmen, college professors, college students, engineers, doctors, housewives, lawyers, psychiatrists, salesmen, scientists, secretaries, writers, and an occasional mystic. In that regard, the 1939 August Intensive seminar—which ran from August 25 to September 2 (the personal interviews continued until September 6)—had a typical group. However, a number of notable participants also made this one of the more remarkable groups in the history of Korzybski’s Institute seminars. For one thing, S.I. Hayakawa, Wendell Johnson, Irving J. Lee, and Elwood Murray all attended. These men would soon become known as major academic interpreters and popularizers of Korzybski’s work. 

August 1939 Intensive Seminar,
Group photo with Korzybski
Hayakawa, the man with the bow tie seated on the ground on the left, had just taken a job in Chicago at the Armour Institute of Technology (later to be named the Illinois Institute of Technology). He had registered as a seminar student and had gotten a tuition scholarship. He brought his wife Margedant as a guest. An examination of the seminar attendance record shows that both missed more than half the sessions, much more than any other students in the class. Neither of them had a personal interview or participated in the semantic relaxation session. Hayakawa himself sat in at later seminars, although he often fell asleep when he felt bored, a habit he apparently kept when—many years afterwards—he became a U.S. Senator. He never did sit through a complete seminar, and he later proudly admitted that he never had a standard interview with Korzybski to work on his own personal adjustment.(1) In a later video interview, he did recall experiencing semantic relaxation at some time or other from Korzybski’s hands, which definitely impressed him.(2) 

As for Margedant Hayakawa, she recalled years later that Korzybski terrified her from the first time she met him—he struck her as an ‘authoritarian personality’. Later, although Korzybski sometimes invited her to come to classes or see him for an interview, she always managed to avoid doing so. (3) Her negative initial reaction to Korzybski may have influenced her husband. But at this point, he appeared very enthusiastic about Korzybski and GS. He had already had two articles about GS published. He had also just finished the draft of the first experimental edition of Language in Action. Korzybski and Kendig did some editing of it during the seminar and felt very enthusiastic about Hayakawa as well.

Wendell Johnson (standing in the third row from the front at Korzybski’s lefthand side) also attended the August Intensive with his wife Edna. Johnson was becoming another major academic exponent of Korzybski’s work. In relation to GS, 1939 had already turned out to be a very productive year for him. In the Spring, the IGS had published his booklet Language and Speech Hygiene: An Application of General Semantics, as the first in its series of General Semantics Monographs. It had started as the course outline of Johnson’s University of Iowa speech hygiene class. With a great deal of editing by Korzybski and Kendig, he then expanded it into a short practical treatise on general semantics. (In 1946, he presented his further development of this monograph material in People in Quandaries: The Semantics of Personal Adjustment. Published by Harper & Brothers, the book provides a highly-readable and still valuable introduction to Korzybski’s work.) In the latter part of 1939, Johnson was continuing to be productive in his teaching and application of GS. He had already begun supervising speech-pathology graduate research related to his GS-inspired “diagnosogenic” theory of stuttering.(4) For the 1939 Fall semester, Johnson would begin teaching a regular three-credit course in “General Semantics”, the first university course offered anywhere under that name. (He continued to teach a course in “General Semantics” at Iowa for over two decades.) At this August seminar, eight of the other participants (besides his wife) were either colleagues of his or students, who said he had gotten them interested in attending.(5) 

Irving J. Lee, a 29-year-old assistant professor of public speaking at Northwestern University, had preceded his attendance at the August Intensive with what he described as a ‘six-months battle to digest everything Korzybski had put into print.’(6) Lee (in the group picture standing behind Kendig on the far left of the third row) had worked for a number of years as a high school social studies teacher before beginning his graduate studies in Speech and Social Psychology at Northwestern, where he had already begun to gain a reputation as an exceptionally talented teacher. Although he had gotten his PhD only a year before, he had already been appointed Chairman of the Northwestern School of Speech. His interest in GS seemed to have sprung naturally from his interest in public speaking, rhetoric, and social/behavioral science. On his registration form for the seminar, Lee wrote that he was “...interested in those modes of analysis by which a speaker can make his assertions more ‘meaningful’ to audiences and vice versa.” Within two years, he would write the book Language Habits in Human Affairs with a foreword by Korzybski. Korzybski would come to consider him one of his finest students. Before his untimely death in 1955, he had become one of the most accomplished writers and teachers in GS, writing many more articles and books and inspiring general readers, as well as a new generation of general-semantics teachers and researchers in the field of Speech Communication. 

Irving J. Lee
The last of this group of four was veteran speech professor Elwood Murray (standing on the far right of the back row). Unlike Hayakawa, Johnson, and Lee, whose works developed a popular audience, Murray’s influence remained primarily within academia. Born in 1897, Murray had grown up on a Nebraska farm and had already had a varied career as a school teacher and debate coach before getting his PhD in Speech with a minor in Psychology at the University of Iowa in 1931. His graduate school experience seems emblematic of the direction he took in his career. He had intended to do his work in rhetoric. But after he wrote an article on Aristotle that upset his chief advisor on the subject, he switched his topic to Speech Pathology and did research on “Disintegration of Breathing and Eye Movements in Stutterers”. He would remain interested in those areas of communication traditionally the purview of rhetoric, but he would take a decidedly behavioral/social science approach to studying them—something relatively new in the field of speech at that time. Since 1931, he had served as Professor of Speech and Dramatic Arts and Chairman of the Department of Speech at the University of Denver. 
Elwood Murray
Murray had learned about Korzybski from someone in his department. Having read Science and Sanity before the course, he wrote on his registration form that he wanted to know how he could apply GS “[f]or personality adjustment of speakers, [and was] also interested in [using it for] improving technics in human relations for a technological age.” Kendig noted after the seminar, “[as] a person [Murray] benefited from the seminar and seems pretty well ‘sold’ on General Semantics although puzzled about how to translate his own former work into the system of evaluation.”(7) He managed to do so quite well. He would soon integrate general semantics into his teaching and writing. Many of his graduate students would pursue GS-related research. On a personal level, Murray maintained a close, helping relationship with Korzybski and the Institute of General Semantics over the rest of Korzybski’s life. Murray’s relationship with the Institute continued throughout the course of his long career at the University of Denver and after his retirement from active teaching in 1962 (he briefly served as Director of the Institute from 1967 to 1969). Murray would become an important pioneering figure in getting the academic Speech discipline to evolve into the interdisciplinary science-art of Communication. Korzybski’s work would remain one of his main sources of inspiration.

Several other participants in the August Intensive seem worth mentioning here. It was the second seminar for Alvin M. Weinberg, then teaching mathematics and working as a research assistant in biophysics at the University of Chicago where he had just finished his PhD work. (In the group picture, you can see him in the second row sitting on the right, next to Pearl.) He would later become the Director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and a major figure in physics research, scientific administration, and public policy in the United States. As a graduate student he had consulted with C. B. Congdon at the student health service about depression and his lack of success with girls. Congdon eventually sent him to the Institute where he attended Korzybski’s first 1938 seminar. Thereafter he wrote an article for The American Physics Teacher on “General Semantics and the Teaching of Physics”, published in April 1939. In his autobiography, he recalled his studies with Korzybski with a curious combination of obtuseness and appreciation:
Korzybski was a roly-poly, bald Pole who looked like a football linebacker. I would listen intently as he explained what was in Science and Sanity, but to no avail. Perhaps if I could read Science and Sanity I could understand what he was driving at—but again, it was all too obscure. So, although I attended Korzybski’s seminars for two years..., I can’t say that Korzybski’s seminars cured my malaise. (Marrying my wife Marge in 1940 did do the trick!) Still, Korzybski’s basic thesis—that the structure of language has much to do with our psychological perceptions—seems to me to make sense. (8)
In 1963, many years after Korzybski’s death, Weinberg agreed to become one of a new second group of Honorary Trustees of the Institute. Kendig later reported, “In accepting election, [Weinberg] indicated that doing so was by way of acknowledging ‘my intellectual debt to Korzybski’.” He also gave the Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture in 1966.(9)

Twenty-five year old William Seward Burroughs II from Clayton, Missouri, grandson to the inventor of the Burroughs Adding Machine, labeled himself as a “student” on his seminar registration form. (In the picture, you can see him in the front row, the man on the right in the light jacket and dark tie, seated on the ground directly in front of Weinberg.) One of the future creators of what became known as the Beat movement of mid-20th Century American literature, he had graduated from Harvard in 1936 with an English degree. Since then he had studied anthropology and hoboed around America and Europe. He had already read Science and Sanity and noted on his registration form that he was interested in the “interrelations of language and cultures”. A rapt student with perfect attendance at the thirty-five hour
seminar, he said many years later that he “...was very impressed by what [Korzybski] had to say. I still am. I think that everyone, everyone, particularly all students should read Korzybski. [It would] save them an awful lot of time.”(10)
William S. Burroughs II photo submitted with application to IGS August Intensive,1939 
A thirty-one year old instructor in philosophy and logic from Harvard, Willard Van Orman Quine, also attended (seen in the picture standing at Korzybski’s righthand side). Quine—who would come to be considered one of the most important American philosophers of the mid-to-late 20th Century—didn’t agree with Burrough’s assessment of their teacher. He had corresponded congenially with Korzybski before coming to the seminar. He would continue to do so intermittently for several more years. But, as he later indicated in his autobiography, he had long held serious “reservations” about Korzybski—and Cassius Keyser—ever since he had read Keyser’s chapter on “Korzybski’s Concept of Man” in Mathematical Philosophy.(11) Quine came to the seminar in order to humor his friend Edward F. Haskell, then a University of Chicago anthropology graduate student, who shared a common interest with Quine in the unity of science. (Haskell would later become known as a maverick formulator in that area.) Haskell had already attended a seminar and had spoken enthusiastically about Korzybski to Quine. Concerned about what he called the “uncritical following” (12) that Science and Sanity had developed at Harvard, Quine felt curious to see the man for himself. On his registration form he wrote that he had read the book. Yet it seems clear from what he wrote in his autobiography that he had actually only read “samples”—and rather carelessly at that. According to Quine, Korzybski nonsensically claimed on page 194 that ‘1 = 1 is false’ because of the spatial difference between the two sides of the equal sign. (The nonsense actually consisted of Quine’s assertion that Korzybski said that.) (13) By the time the seminar began, Quine had already sized up Korzybski as a quack. However, he presented a front of polite interest. 

Korzybski, for his part, welcomed Quine’s presence. He had given Quine a tuition grant to attend the seminar and also gave him class time to make a presentation on mathematical logic. In a letter to Crane after the seminar, Kendig wrote,
Quine was the high point of the seminar. He was a great inspiration to A.K. and his being here has very important implications for the I.G.S...As a result of his conferences with A. K. and the material presented in the seminar he will base his future work on the extensional method...Quine was most enthusiastic in his parting comments on the seminar and the great value of General Semantics. (14)  
Some enthusiasm! Quine’s letters to others dripped with contempt for Korzybski and his work.(15) In his published writings, Quine never stopped disparaging Korzybski (see Word and Object, The Time of My Life, and Quiddities). Korzybski seems to have eventually caught on to Quine’s true attitude toward him and the extent to which the philosopher had gotten himself entangled in verbalism about issues they had both explored. Korzybski was probably thinking of Quine when he referred in a later seminar to an important mathematical logician who had tried to refute Heraclitus—as Quine did indeed try to do. As Korzybski explained, the nameless logician argued that contra-Heraclitus, you could cross the same river twice since the river ‘is’ “running water” and you are crossing again into ‘running water’.(16) This seems like a fairly close paraphrase of Quine’s consistent view of the matter and a good example of orientation by definition rather than fact.

The August Intensive had its mystic too. Ralph M. deBit (in the picture, the short man at the far right of the third row) described himself on the registration form as a lecturer and writer of books such as Textbook of the Sacred Science, Universal Will, and The Way To Life. Born in 1883, he had grown up in a small town in Kansas as a Bible-toting Christian literalist. At the age of eighteen he had gone out west and worked for several years at an Idaho lumber camp, before forestry school, marriage, and work as a ranger in Idaho’s Bitteroot Mountains. A number of anomalous and inexplicable experiences there impelled him to leave his job at the end of 1910; he didn’t know exactly what he was looking for, but he had embarked on a ‘spiritual’ quest. He moved with his family to Spokane, Washington, the nearest big city. When he saw a poster for a lecture on the Bhagavad Gita being given by a teacher named A. K. Mozumdar, he decided to attend. At the lecture—as related in Vitvan, Richard Satriano’s biography of deBit—Mozumdar, a short Hindu man in his thirties dressed in suit and tie, had just started to speak when he jumped off the podium, ran up to deBit, rapped him on the legs with the thin wooden cane he’d been using as a pointer, and shouted: “Where have you been? What has kept you? I have been waiting for you.”(17) He told the rest of his audience to go home.

DeBit had found what he was looking for too. For the next seven years he studied with Mozumdar who had founded a “Society for Christian Yoga” in Spokane and was seeking to connect various so-called “Wisdom Teachings” from Eastern and Western religious traditions. In 1918, deBit left to teach on his own after years of studying and working with Mozumdar, who had given him the Sanskrit name, Vitvan (“one who knows”). DeBit moved to New York City, lecturing there and in other places on his own and for the Theosophical Society, before moving to Los Angeles where he founded “The School of the Sacred Science”, later building an ashram in Colorado. He was able to support his family with his teaching but felt increasingly dissatisfied. Having read widely, he saw the need to integrate what he was teaching with the outlook and findings of modern science. In 1937, one of his sons on vacation from college handed him a copy of Science and Sanity and told him he ought to read it. DeBit started to leaf through the book and then began to read:
The boy protested, “I didn’t mean that you must read it now, Father.”But Vitvan was totally immersed in his reading.That evening he did not come to supper and the light in his room burned through the night. Late the following afternoon he finished the book. He could not contain his excitement. “I’ve found it!” he said. “Here is the key. This man has shown me the way. It is possible now, with this system, to correlate the Ancient Gnosis with modern scientific findings; to formulate a new articulation suitable to present the Wisdom Teachings on a level comparable to our present state of development.” (18) 
On the registration form for the 1939 August Intensive, he wrote that he became interested in general semantics “In response to a life long search” and expected “to use Science and Sanity as a text-book for my own School and in public work.” He felt tired of what he called “meta-fizzling” in esoteric teaching and knew his encounter with GS meant he was going to have to reorient what he taught and the way he taught, but didn’t know exactly how he would do it.

Satriano recounted what deBit/Vitvan experienced in his first personal interview with Korzybski, whose motto was “I don’t know, let’s see.” (Like everyone who had a personal interview with Korzybski, Vitvan would have been asked to write an autobiographical statement that Korzybski would read beforehand.):
...When Korzybski arrived at the office where Vitvan awaited him he took one look at Vitvan, seized him by the shoulders and pulled him to his feet. Then he ran him head first into the wall. When Vitvan had sufficiently recovered to speak he said, “What in the name of God was that all about?” “God is a word without a referent, sir,” said Korzybski. “I bumped your head because you are soft. Sentiment is repugnant in you. The job you must do can only be done if you get hard. You must get hard.” Vitvan said later, “He knew where and how I had been functioning. The heart center was my direct contact with anyone I taught. He knew that I had to get tough if I was going to make the next steps up available to my students. He used example most effectively.” ...At the seminar’s conclusion Vitvan bade goodbye to Korzybski, whom he was ever afterward to refer to as Blessed Count Alfred. (19) 
DeBit eventually changed the name of his school to “The School of the Natural Order”, integrating GS into his teaching. By 1956, after a couple changes of address, the school had relocated to a ranch in the Snake Valley just below Mount Wheeler in the high desert of Eastern Nevada, near the small town of Baker. Although deBit/Vitvan died in 1964, as of 2011 the school still exists there as a non-profit, educational organization. Although what the school teaches may seem rather esoteric to some, those who run it do encourage their students to study GS.
One other person attending the 1939 August Intensive deserves special mention, a thirty-year old dancer/modern dance educator from Milwaukee named Charlotte Schuchardt (seen in the group picture, sitting next to Hayakawa in the front), whom Korzybski had invited to participate without tuition as a guest. She had first met Korzybski when she attended his 1936 Northwestern University Seminar. She subsequently moved to Boston, where she worked for two years as the secretary of the Mathematics Department at MIT. After this she worked for a year as a secretary for Porter Sargent. Charlotte, who had studied zoology and physical education in college, had a masters degree in dance education from the University of Chicago and still had great interest in doing something with dance. On her seminar application she wrote about how she hoped to apply GS to her professional work: “Cortico-thalamic evaluation seems closely related to genuine movements in Dance. I would like to work along this line.”
Charlotte Schuchardt [Read], circa 1940

Korzybski may have already asked her to come work at the Institute, which she did within the next few months, working there part-time for the next few years while continuing to pursue a dance career. She would in due course become one of Korzybski’s most trusted co-workers, first as a secretary and editorial assistant, then a few years later as his confidential secretary and as a seminar instructor (she would assist and eventually teach the semantic relaxation sessions). He later appointed her as his estate and literary executor. After his death, she fulfilled those roles and also served the IGS for many years as a teacher (20), editor, trustee, and Executive Director. Until her death in 2002, she remained one of the most important continuators of Korzybski’s work.

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. See Shearer, “Avoiding Korzybski’s Seminars”, p. 134. 

2. S. I. Hayakawa video interview, http://thisisnotthat.com/video/MP-stade.html 

3. Shearer, “Avoiding Korzybski’s Seminars”, pp. 132–133. 

4. In 2001, master’s degree research done in 1939 by Mary Tudor and supervised by Wendell Johnson became the subject of sensationalized newspaper accounts of supposed ethical abuses, which eventually resulted in a lawsuit filed against the University of Iowa by alleged victims of the study. Whether any ethical abuse occurred remains a matter of controversy. An account, with documentation, of the Tudor study and lawsuit, written by Johnson’s son Nicholas can be found at “The Wendell Johnson Memorial Homepage” at http://www.nicholasjohnson.org/wjohnson/, accessed on Feb. 2, 2009. 

5. Participant Applications, Intensive Seminar, Aug. 1939. IGS Archives. 

6. Irving J. Lee Biographical Sketch in Kendig 1943, p. 562. 

7. M. Kendig to Cornelius Crane, 9/2/1939. IGS Archives.

8. Weinberg, Alvin. p. 4. 9. Kendig, “Alvin Weinberg Biography”, General Semantics Bulletin 34 (1968), p. 15.

10. William Burroughs. “Press Conference at Berkeley Museum of Art, November 12, 1974”. Internet Archive audio. http://www.archive.org/details/BurroughsPressConf 

11. Quine 1985, p. 59-60. 

12. Ibid, p. 140. 

13. Ibid., p. 139. Also see Quine 1960, p. 117. 

14. Kendig to Crane, 9/2/1939. IGS Archives. 

15. See Creath. 

16. Korzybski 1949, pp. 144-145. 

17. Satriano, p. 24. 

18. Satriano, pp. 75-76. 

19. Satriano, pp. 79-81. 

20. After Korzybski’s death, Charlotte gradually moved away from teaching Korzybski’s method of neuro-semantic relaxation and incorporated the sensory awareness teachings of Charlotte Selver and Elsa Gindler into the IGS seminar-workshop curriculum, leading groups in non-verbal awareness, i.e., training in conscious listening, seeing, touching, moving, etc.

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