Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Chapter 54 - War Work: Part 3 - More Publicity and Reviews

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.

Korzybski had made an impact on many people. One of them was Robert Heinlein, a new writer in the nascent field of science-fiction writing. Heinlein—who attended a seminar in Chicago in 1940—had first attended Korzybski’s 1939 lectures in Los Angeles. That year John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, published Heinlein’s first story in that magazine along with those of A.E.Van Vogt and Isaac Asimov. What would be called “The Golden Age of Science Fiction”, which roughly spanned the next two decades, had begun. The genre was becoming widely popular. Korzybski would serve as a significant influence on some of its principal figures, such as Heinlein (one of the first to mention or make use of Korzybski in his work), Campbell, Van Vogt, H. Beam Piper, and Reginald Bretnor, among many others—more and less well-known. Their work, in turn, would help to further publicize Korzybski’s work. 

The publication of the Second Edition of Science and Sanity at the end of 1941 provided another opportunity for fresh publicity. Undoubtedly, the concurrent appearances of Hayakawa’s and Lee’s popularizations, as well as the reviews those books received, also drew attention to their primary source. New reviews of the Second Edition began to come out in 1942 in both popular and professional publications and continued over the next several years. They varied from the laudatory (psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley’s review for the April 1943 Journal of Mental Hygiene) to the respectful but questioning (Howard P. Becker in the April 1942 American Sociological Review) to sincere misconstrual (Kenneth Burke’s comments in his 1945 book A Grammar of Motives) to sheer ad hominem (philosopher Max Black’s nasty, brutal, and short attack in the April 1943 North Central Association Review).

In this latter review, Black very skillfully said little if anything of substance about the book, decrying its “faintly crazy tone” and concluding, “the volume is perhaps a little too large to be conveniently used as a missile.” Korzybski (unusually for him) bothered to protest to the editor of the publication almost a year later, writing in his typical blunt and direct fashion,
In my protest I can say nothing worse than that a reviewer should read honestly what he reviews, not glance through a book, pick here and there some few words taken out of context, falsify important issues, and just personally abuse the author. Is that the ‘intellectual’ standard of integrity of Max Black, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois? If so, fortunately this is not the standard of scientific men anywhere. Professor Black may not believe in honesty, but certainly he should be able to read understandingly; if not, he should be silent. In science we do not follow the notorious legal motto: ‘If you have no case, abuse the opponent’. 
....Under such conditions it would be only fair to education and human adjustment, and even science, if the editors of your Quarterly would decide to publish a review of Science and Sanity by a responsible person, who at least would read understandingly and honestly the volume for review, as honest criticism is always useful.  
Professor Black ends his review ‘...with the parting comment that the volume is perhaps a little too large to be conveniently used as a missile.’ Even here the reviewer mis-evaluates, as in cases of some frivolous reviewers this admittedly heavy book used as a ‘missile’ may not be so ‘convenient’ (if we want to be ‘lazy’), but it may nevertheless be very effective to knock in some sense, perhaps even honesty, and anyway some respect for heavy work. (10) 

The editor, in reply, seemed apologetic. Korzybski also sent a copy of his protest letter to Black as well as a cover letter in which he told the philosopher, “It was a painful protest for me to write, because somehow I can not reconcile myself to the lack of intellectual integrity of a reviewer who does not read the book he reviews.”(11) 

Black, apparently unchastened, replied to Korzybski with a short note, “...I am not in the habit of replying to personal abuse and I do not propose to depart from that practice in this instance. My professional reputation can take care of itself. ...As for the review itself, I am content to have readers check its accuracy by comparison with your original text.”(12) That, so it seemed, ‘was’ that. But, as we shall see, Black had not finished with Korzybski.

It didn’t cheer Alfred that much of the criticism of his work seemed beside the point, although not usually as egregiously as in Black’s review. But he had an attitude toward such criticisms much like that of his friend E.T. Bell, who wrote a short notice for the Second Edition in the October 1942 edition of The American Mathematical Monthly. After briefly describing the contents, Bell wrote,
There is nothing to add to the notice of the first edition, except one general observation: any book that was ever worth reading has been cordially damned by at least two persons. With this in mind, the author may see fit to exhibit in his third edition a select anthology of the fatuous things that have been said about general semantics, and his contribution to it, in the eight years between the two editions. Such an exhibition would be more illuminating to serious students than a hundred pages of laudatory remarks.” (13) 

Bad reviews or not, over the next few years the demand for Science and Sanity seemed extraordinary for such an apparently daunting book. With the Second Edition in print, at least 1,500 books per year were being sold—over four times the average yearly rate of sales for the first edition. By the end of the war, approximately 8,000 copies had gotten into circulation, with from a quarter to a third of individual orders coming from people in the armed forces.(14) Despite the financial and operating difficulties that the war had brought on, the Institute of General Semantics still seemed to fill a crying need. Somehow, it was going to hang on.

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. 
10. AK to The Editor, The North Central Association Quarterly, 2/22/1944. IGS Archives. 

11. AK to Max Black, 3/11/1944. IGS Archives. 

12. Max Black to AK, 3/13/1944. IGS Archives. 

13. E.T. Bell. Review of Science and Sanity (Second Edition), The American Mathematical Monthly 49 (8), Oct 1942. AKDA 41.170.

14. Institute of General Semantics Newsletter, August 1945. AKDA Scrapbook 4.137.

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