Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Chapter 55 - Poland Fights: Part 2 - The Need for Funds

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.

As midyear approached, Korzybski could do very little to help the Jews or anyone else in his besieged homeland. He had little time or money to donate to any efforts like Peter Bergson’s. The Institute was barely scraping by financially. It was getting harder to get students. He would give only four seminars that year, with smaller class sizes. In addition, the Institute had just expended a great deal of time and money to publish the Papers from The Second American Congress on General Semantics, finally coming out at the end of July. After much delay, Kendig had completed the final major job of writing the contributors’ biographies earlier in the year. They had gotten page proofs from the printer in April of 1943. 

The struggle to produce the Congress volume definitely seemed worthwhile. In an “Acknowledgment” dated May, 1943, Alfred had written:
...My words of appreciation can not convey the depth of my feelings of gratitude for the Congress and to the Congress contributors and those responsible for this volume. In many ways, this Second Congress with all the empirical data and the whole atmosphere was an unique experience for me. After the struggle to formulate a non-aristotelian system, to see that it does actually work in practice was a sort of fruition of a lifetime’s work. So once more I want to express my deep-felt thanks to those who contributed to that memorable occasion. (6) 
Nonetheless, despite the back orders for the volume, it would take some time to recover the Institute’s investment.

Another significant burden on the Institute was the Society for General Semantics and its new publication, now called ETC.: A Review of General Semantics. S. I. Hayakawa, who had been appointed editor, was working furiously on getting out Volume I, Number 1 of the journal. (Scheduled for June publication, it finally came out in August.) Although the Society existed as a separate organization, helping it and Hayakawa had definitely taxed Korzybski’s already reduced and over-worked secretarial staff. (Korzybski, who took seriously his role as a “Consulting Editor”, also contributed to the journal’s first issue. He wrote a letter to the editor on the significance of the new journal’s title, and a foreward to an article on “Science and Values” by Edward L. Thorndike, that he had gotten Hayakawa to reprint. Hayakawa had also reprinted Korzybski’s early post-Manhood article, “The Brotherhood of Doctrines”.)

Besides the Congress Papers, the Institute was adding to its record of solid work and accomplishment with an expanding offering of general-semantics related articles and books. These included a new Institute publication for seminar students on The Technique of Semantic Relaxation by Charlotte Schuchardt, who by then had taken on a significant part of the teaching of that activity at Korzybski’s seminars. With even greater impact, as Kendig pointed out in her letter, over two hundred thousand copies of Hayakawa’s Language in Action, several thousand of Lee’s Language Habits in Human Affairs, and many copies of Johnson’s Language and Speech Hygiene, had gone into circulation. ETC.was widening public interest in general semantics as well. Hayakawa, Lee, and Johnson, among other students of Korzybski, were writing articles and becoming well-known in their respective fields. Hayakawa, in particular because of his book, had become a national figure and was locally known as well because of a regular column he’d begun writing for the Chicago Defender, Chicago’s weekly newspaper for the Black community.

Interest in general semantics or ‘semantics’, not all of it enthusiastic, was becoming widespread in the broader intellectual community. In the Fall 1942 issue of the marxist Journal, Science and Society, Margaret Schlauch had written an extremely critical piece, “Semantics as Social Evasion”, based on her misinterpretations of Korzybski’s work. English professor and literary theorist Herbert J. Muller also misconstrued Korzybski’s work, but came out more favorably towards it in his book Science and Criticism: The Humanistic Tradition in Contemporary Thought (published in March of 1943):
... Science and Sanity can equip [the critic] with a sounder grammar and vocabulary. Unlike the positivists and the totalitarian reformers, Korzybski points to a principle of flexibility, not a fixation, as a solution to our problems. He leaves room for the necessary criticism and supplement of his thought...” (7) 

In more popular American culture, ‘semantics’ had become pervasive. A newspaper review described the late 1943 movie Lost Angel starring six-year-old child actress Margaret O’Brien. The movie concerned “a group of scientists who take over a foundling child and attempt to educate her in lore and knowledge, forgetting altogether the human equation. She is taught semantics, music, Napoleonic history, Chinese economics and the higher sciences and arts.”(8)
clip from Lost Angel

 As Allen Walker Read would write in his 1948 article “An Account of the Word ‘Semantics’”: “The great popular vogue of the word semantics can be traced to the ferment caused by the works of Alfred Korzybski.”(9) But already by 1943, the term had slipped away from any korzybskian moorings it might have had and was likely to be used to refer to a mishmash of Korzybski’s work with that of others, or to indicate detached verbalism, verbal quibbling, or the intentional use of words to mislead and deceive. It had become clear to Korzybski that it confused people for students of his work to refer to it as ‘semantics’. As a result, he was emphasizing even more strongly the importance of explicitly distinguishing between ‘semantics’ and ‘general semantics’.

Despite the significant public interest, with wartime asperities prevailing the Institute was going to have difficulty surviving for very much longer. The income from seminars (Korzybski taught 37 of them from July 1938 to the end of 1943), and from books (even with greatly increased sales of Science and Sanity), could not cover expenses. The Institute continued to get financial help from various individuals. In April, it received $1,000 from the Society for General Semantics, which had pledged $5 from every individual’s membership dues. None of this sufficed. The Institute was going to be drawing on cash reserves soon. Without a significant infusion of more money, it would not be able to continue past 1944—let alone carry on the kind of program Korzybski and Kendig had envisioned but had not yet been able to carry out. In October Kendig wrote to Charles Congdon, who had been elected President of the Society and was still on the Institute Board of Trustees:
Some days ago I sent you the Financial Report which was submitted at the Annual Meeting. I call your attention particularly to the Forecast for 1943-44. You will notice that we had an operating deficit of over $6,000 for 1942-43 and forecasted operating deficit of $13,500 for 1943-44. If we don’t make up this $20,000 early in 1944, we shall have exhausted all our reserve funds by the end of the fiscal year. That would be goodbye to the Institute. The immediate objective must be to raise some $20,000, in order for us to plan to go on. (10)

They would require even more money to carry out the long-term plans, first elaborated in 1939, to make the Institute a center for training leaders in different professions as well as competent teachers of GS. With sufficient funds, Korzybski could be freed from the incessant burden of having to give one basic seminar after another, as others could give them too. This would give Korzybski the time to do more creative work and writing and to do in-depth training of leaders. In the meantime, Korzybski and everyone else at the Institute were going to have to carry on as they had been doing and muddle through. Kendig worked on her appeal, “Letter to the Students and Friends of The Institute of General Semantics”, throughout the fall. She had a final version in December, which got sent out to the Institute mailing list in January 1944.

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. 
6. “Acknowledgment by Alfred Korzybski”, in M. Kendig, ed. Papers from the Second American Congress on General Semantics, p. vi. 

7. Muller, p. 104. 

8. “ ‘Lost Angel’ at Capitol Exhilarating”. Washington, D.C. News, 12/31/1943. AKDA Scrapbook 41.374. 

9. Allen Walker Read, ‘An Account Of The Word “Semantics”,’ in Word 4 (2), August 1948, p. 88. Reprinted for private distribution by the Institute of General Semantics.

10. M. Kendig to C. B. Congden, 10/12 /1943. IGS Archives.

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