Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Chapter 62 - "Without Publicity There Is No Prosperity.": Part 2 - Books, Books, and More Books

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.

References to Korzybski also continued to appear in numerous books in a wide variety of fields. A number of them he welcomed; not the case with other books by would-be critics and so-called advocates who addressed his work extensively, but with varying degrees of error. 

Among the critics, Barrows Dunham in his 1947 Man Against Myth devoted considerable space to debunking a ‘straw’ version of Korzybski, conflating his work with that of other ‘semanticists’ in a chapter on the myth “That All Problems Are Merely Verbal”. Also conflating Korzybski with ‘the semanticists’, Richard M. Weaver in his 1948 Ideas Have Consequences criticized Korzybski for degrading ‘the power of the word’. Korzybski surely agreed with Dunham in this: all problems were not merely verbal—although linguistic and other evaluational issues had some importance in dealing with any problem. Korzybski also had some common ground with Weaver, for one thing agreeing that ‘ideas’ have consequences, having for years explored with his students the application of logical fate, writing as far back as 1921, “Humanity is a peculiar class of life which, in some degree, determines its own destinies; therefore in practical life words and ideas become facts—facts moreover, which bring about important practical consequences.”(3) Dunham’s and Weaver’s mistaken ideas about Korzybski would undoubtedly have consequences, misleading those who accepted them to dismiss Korzybski’s work. What could Korzybski do? He simply didn’t have time to deal with all the inaccurate portrayals and non-constructive criticism by people who didn’t adequately study his work. At seminars when someone would object to what they misconstrued as his views, Korzybski would repeat as often as needed, “I say what I say. I do not say what I do not say.”

In 1949 another faulty critique of his views appeared, a particularly interesting one because it lacked the hostility one might otherwise expect, given the writer’s history with him. Early that year, philosopher Max Black, then at Cornell University, wrote to the Institute asking for permission to quote from Science and Sanity for a chapter on Korzybski’s work. Although Korzybski had strongly protested Black’s scurrilous review of Science and Sanity five years earlier, he wrote back to the philosopher giving permission in a remarkably congenial manner; he also said he would appreciate seeing the chapter proofs.

Black’s book, Language and Philosophy: Studies in Method, appeared later that year with its final chapter on “Korzybski’s General Semantics”. Although mainly critical and mainly missing the mark in regard to what he criticized, Black had matured enough to treat Korzybski and his work with the kind of consideration they deserved. Allen Walker Read would comment:
In a way it is refreshing to find the degree of respect that he accords GS, and it is the sort of attempted criticism that [should be] welcome. Black thinks he is devastating in two directions: in his first part he discovers the circularity of knowledge and attributes it as a shortcoming of Korzybski, and in the second part he discovers that abstraction is a multi-ordinal word (though earlier in the essay he seemed to understand and praise the doctrine of multi-ordinality) and claims that this is a shortcoming in general semantics. (4)*
*[Max Black’s respect for Korzybski and his work continued to grow. In a letter to Elwood Murray, Kendig noted the following regarding Black’s 1958 “write-up of general semantics in the last edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica [“Semantics, General”]”: “Certainly this is not a very laudatory statement, but it does represent progress towards some sort of appreciation of Korzybski and his contribution. It might be interesting to mention here that on the day that Korzybski died Max Black went to his class in (I think it’s called) ‘Linguistics and Logic’ and said, ‘We will take a holiday today in honor of a very great man who died this morning.’ This was reported to me by one of his students.” (M. Kendig to Elwood Murray, 11/15/1960. IGS Archives)]

Misrepresentations by supposed advocates of his work would bother Korzybski much more than those from misguided critics. In 1949, Korzybski read and responded to the pre-publication proofs of books by two such advocates, S. I. Hayakawa and Anatol Rapoport. 

Hayakawa had revised Language In Action, renaming it Language In Thought And Action (a retreat into elementalism from the previous restrictive-though-functional title). Hayakawa noted in his “Foreword”, “My deepest debt in this book is to the General Semantics (“non-Aristotelian” system) of Alfred Korzybski”, indicating his subject area—and by implication that of Korzybski—as “Semantics...the study of human interaction through the mechanism of linguistic communication.”(5) He sent a version of the new “Foreword” to Korzybski in early June (the publisher later sent some galley proofs related to ‘the abstraction ladder’). The two men corresponded into the next month, with Korzybski again frankly stating his concerns about his work getting misinterpreted as a result of Hayakawa’s depictions of it.(6)

Although Korzybski had long suffered Hayakawa’s indifference to his concerns, he had been willing to forgive a lot. Even as late as 1948, in the front matter of the first printing of the Third Edition of Science and Sanity, he had continued to include Language in Action in the list of books, “By Other Publishers” under non-aristotelian “Volumes Already Published”. Korzybski had certainly shown willingness to overlook a great deal in other people’s writings about his work. Stuart Chase had continued to marry general semantics with semantics in the discussion of the communication field in his 1948 book The Proper Study of Mankind, a popular survey of the state of the social/behavioral sciences. Irving Lee seemed to do similarly in his anthology called The Language of Wisdom and Folly that appeared early in 1949. Although dedicating the book to Korzybski and including Korzybski’s “Fate and Freedom”, Lee had changed his original, descriptively accurate subtitle from “Readings on the Relations of Language, Fact and Human Evaluation” to “Background Readings in Semantics”. (Lee’s book with its earlier subtitle is noted under “Volumes in Preparation” on the International Non-Aristotelian Library page of the first printing of the 1948 Third Edition of Science and Sanity.) Their books showed that neither Chase nor Lee seemed sensitive to Korzybski’s growing problem with having his work linked to ‘semantics’. But neither Chase nor Lee shared the public status of Hayakawa as a major spokesman for GS. Korzybski knew the power of public perception and misperception if anyone did. He had good reason to feel concerned about Hayakawa’s book and found it very unsatisfactory when it came out later in 1949. Despite Korzybski’s pleas, Hayakawa did not—perhaps at this stage he could not—retreat in this or in later writings from his elementalistic language, emphasis on ‘semantics’, ‘abstraction ladder’, etc.

Korzybski seemed even more upset seeing the proofs of Anatol Rapoport’s upcoming first book, Science and the Goals of Man, presumably based on Korzybski’s work. Rapoport wrote to him about it in July 1949 and had the publisher, Harper and Brothers, send him a copy of the galleys. Korzybski studied them that fall and felt flummoxed. How could Rapoport write, “We are time-binding animals”(7), if he had read Manhood of Humanity, where Korzybski had said over and over in various ways that ‘ not an animal’? (p. 192) And if Rapoport considered Korzybski (not Hayakawa) as the foundational writer in general semantics, how could he have written that the “...abstraction ladder is represented by Korzybski in his so-called “structural differential” ”(8), implying that for Rapoport the ‘abstraction ladder’ constituted the primary model of abstracting?

Reading Rapoport’s galleys, it must have finally dawned on Korzybski the extent to which Rapoport, for several years now the Associate Editor of ETC., had fallen under Hayakawa’s spell. Before this time—despite some problems Alfred had with an ETC. article by Rapoport on “Dialectical Materialism and General Semantics” in early 1948—he had generally liked Rapoport’s articles in ETC., complimented him on his writings, tried to get him to come to seminars (to no avail), and had generally seen him as a rising star worth cultivating. As late as September 1949, Korzybski wrote to Rapoport, congratulating him on his “unusually fine article” on “Mathematical Biophysics, Cybernetics, and General Semantics” in that Spring’s ETC. and asking for reprints.(9) 

Regarding Rapoport’s book, both the publisher and Rapoport wanted Korzybski’s comments; he hemmed and hawed, working with Charlotte on notes for a response, until finally in November he wrote to the publisher, who expected some kind of blurb:
Thank you for sending me the galley proofs of Anatol Rapoport’s SCIENCE AND THE GOALS OF MAN. I have read them carefully three times, and am very sorry to say I have no comment to make which you could use. I am writing to Dr. Rapoport separately, and will send a copy to you. (10)
But Korzybski didn’t write to Rapoport, deciding to remain silent. He had already spent a great deal of time on Rapoport’s book and had more pressing things of his own to work on. Given the depth and number of his objections to the book and the unlikelihood of having any impact on Rapoport, whom he now considered ‘inaccessible’, spending more time composing a letter seemed futile.(11) Shortly before his death, Alfred told Dave Bourland about his disappointment with Rapoport, “who had such promise for contributions he could make to the field of general semantics, considering his background, his intelligence,...doing damage to everything that I tried to present.”(12)  

From Korzybski’s point of view, other books published in 1948 and 1949 gave much more satisfactory accounts of his work, starting with physician Bertrand S. Frohman’s Brief Psychotherapy: A Handbook for Physicians on the Clinical Aspects of Neuroses, which had finally come out in January 1948. Frohman sent a signed book at once to Korzybski, who read and reread it—as indicated by the markings in his copy. Korzybski wrote his kudos to the book’s publishers, Lea and Febiger and, on February 18, to Frohman:
I am deeply grateful to you for your inscribed copy. As I said to the publishers, that such a book was a dream of mine which has just materialized. I know it’s a strong statement, but just the same it’s true, and I hardly can fully express my gratitude to you. ...I intend to make your book an obligatory textbook for all my students and I feel it should have a world-wide distribution and eventual translation into a number of languages. (13) 
Korzybski meant every word of this. He gave copies inscribed by him with marked enthusiasm to Charlotte, Kendig and Mira, writing in Mira’s book: “Dearest – The first textbook of Sanity from professional point of view based on GS – to the ‘Mother of future civilizations’ yours as ever March 1948 Alfred”. Korzybski wanted to do whatever he could to promote Frohman’s book and followed through by having it for sale on the Institute’s publication list and by getting 2000 advertising circulars from the publisher for the Institute to distribute with special added promotional wording: “This new text utilizes General Semantics, the Non-Aristotelian system of orientation, formulated by Alfred Korzybski. The application of General Semantics to problems of personal maladjustment is described in a special section.”(14) Korzybski also worked on a review of the book but never completed it; had he lived longer he probably would have done so.

The two men found each others’ work compatible for good reasons. Frohman found in Korzybski’s work a conscious approach to his ‘natural’ mode of evaluating. (He is still known today, as perhaps the first person, in the early 1930s, to apply the term “bruxism” to tooth grinding and to explain it as a stress-anxiety symptom.) Korzybski provided a basic language for what Frohman had already been doing. And Frohman’s work exemplified for Korzybski the application of his extensional methods to psychiatry, an application he had long hoped to see in book form.

Penelope Pearl [later Russianoff], a clinical psychologist and the daughter of Korzybski’s friend Raymond Pearl, attended several seminars with Korzybski and also saw Frohman for personal help. In her 1988 book When Am I Going To Be Happy: How To Break The Emotional Bad Habits That Make You Miserable (dedicated to Korzybski, among others), she described Frohman’s extensional approach to get her “off my tall kick,” the “crippling” obsessive self-consciousness she had developed growing up as an especially tall girl (“by age fourteen, I was six-foot-two and weighed under one hundred pounds.”):
One day Frohman said to me: “Every time I ask you something, you manage to turn it around into something wrong with you. Your height. Your personality. Your intelligence. It’s as though you’re driving along at night and your headlights are supposed to be shining on the highway so you can see where you’re going. Instead, you’ve got them pointing backward so that they are blinding you. You can’t see anything but your own failings. You don’t see anything else that’s going on around you. You don’t really see other people. You’re so absorbed in what a man might think about your height that you don’t give yourself the right to judge him. It’s highly possible he’s not perfect. What is it that you might not like about him? Turn those headlights around so that you can see something besides yourself.”  
Flash of insight! Suddenly I had this vivid image of myself careening along a highway in a blinding glare of self-absorption. Bertrand Frohman’s words were literally a turning point in my life. I turned the lights around and instantly saw with crystal clarity exactly where I was. ...I woke up the next morning and said to myself: “All right. I’m not a cuddly little blond and I never will be. So I’m going to start living my life as what I am. I am going to stop rejecting myself.”...My new attitude must have communicated itself. After a lifetime of rejections by men, actual or self-inflicted, I started dating fairly often and also began making a number of just plain friends, who coincidentally happened to be men. (15) 
Frohman definitely seemed like a person after Korzybski’s heart. Penelope Russianoff described his “very direct way of dealing with the issue of motivation.”
Psychiatrists do not ordinarily make house calls, But, as Frohman once explained it to me, a bedridden woman had pleaded with him to come to see her. As soon as he entered her bedroom, she handed him a box of matches. “Open it,” she said. He did, and inside he found a dozen or so burnt match sticks. “Every one of those,” she announced defiantly, “stands for a therapist who failed me.” Frohman took out one of the unused matches. He lit it, blew it out, put it back in the box, and said, “That’ll be one hundred dollars.” Sometimes we have to be jolted into knowing whether we want to change or keep on clinging to our negativity. (16) 
Although not now well-known, Brief Psychotherapy notably appears as one of the earliest books in the fields of brief and ‘cognitive’ psychotherapy. The book remains highly readable for its down-to-earth language, large number of interesting case studies, and the remarkable extent to which Frohman, both explicitly in the GS section and implicitly throughout the book, utilized Korzybski’s insights to discuss the psycho-somatic issues and adjustment problems frequently confronted by general medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and other health professionals. Well received when it came out, the book went into a second printing only a few months after first appearing. Tragically, Frohman developed serious health problems over the next two years and died in December 1949 while still in his fifties. Given his talent, his enthusiasm for Korzybski’s work, and Korzybski’s enthusiasm for his, he seemed likely to have become well-known promoting his korzybskian approach to psychotherapy. Instead, both his name and his book sank into obscurity.

In 1948, another new GS-related book, A.E. Van Vogt’s The World of Ā, intrigued and bewildered Korzybski. He wrote to Mira in March, “Do not buy it, because I am sending a copy to you. I read the damn thing three times, and I simply cannot make out what he is driving at; if you can, I would appreciate your opinion.”(17) 

Van Vogt’s 1945 three-part serial about the adventures of the body-switching, memory-swapping Gilbert Gosseyn (‘go sane’) in John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction magazine, had already become a big hit. Campbell called it a “once-in-a-decade classic” and Van Vogt revised the story for Simon and Schuster, which brought it out in early 1948, making it the first post-war science fiction hardcover book offered by a major publisher. The early magazine stories had already drawn some people to general semantics, David Bourland for one. The novel, known in subsequent paperback editions as The World of Null-A—still in print—and two sequels by Van Vogt, presented the prospect of a Ā civilization and would introduce many more to Korzybski’s work in following years.(18) It would also confuse some people about Korzybski’s work; for one thing, Korzybski never talked about ‘Null-A’.(19) 

Another 1948 book, William Vogt’s conservationist call-to-arms, Road to Survival, devoted an opening chapter to korzybskian methodology and its application to ecological problems. Chosen as an August 1948 selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club, Road to Survival especially addressed the problems of population growth and land use. Vogt, Chief of the Conservation Section of The Pan American Union, had developed an interest in GS at least a year or two before, and had applied it in a 1947 article on “River Resources Development in Latin American Economic Life”, that the Institute sent out as its February 1948 mailing to members. Despite some negative reviews at the time depicting Vogt’s book as a product of Neo-Malthusian hysteria, Road to Survival became widely popular as one of the pioneering documents of the environmental movement that would sweep the United States and elsewhere over the next half century. Whatever the merits or demerits of his detailed analysis, Vogt’s concern for the land certainly had the sympathy of Korzybski, who had a deep interest in soil conservation, etc., from the days of his childhood in Poland growing up on his family’s farm. Korzybski included Road to Survival on the list of books available at the Institute that he recommended for students of general semantics

In October, Charles Biederman’s long-awaited, lavishly illustrated, 710-page, Art as the Evolution of Visual Knowledge, appeared. Some people might feel puzzled to find ‘general semantics’ linked with ‘art’. But when Biederman gave a copy of his book to Korzybski signed, “To my teacher Alfred Korzybski I dedicate this volume [signed] Charles Biederman”, he didn’t exaggerate; his attendance at Korzybski’s 1938 seminar had a profound influence on his art and his theory of art. Biederman had taken as his motto, “Nature is not words,”(20) and had presented the function of art as a series of statements about and means of orientation towards ‘reality’, pointing to the ultimate possibility of a merger of ‘art’ and ‘science’ with other aspects of human culture. John W. Barnes and Joan Waddell Barnes, husband and wife students of Korzybski, wrote an extensive 18-page review of Biederman’s book, which the Institute printed and distributed as its April 1949 membership mailing.   

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. 
3. Korzybski 1950 (1921), p. 47. 

4. Allen Walker Read qtd. in “Book Comments To Come” in General Semantics Bulletin 1 & 2 (Autumn-Winter) 1949-1950, p. 48. 

5. Hayakawa 1949, “Foreword”, p. v. 

6. AK to S. I. Hayakawa, 7/8/1949 in “Two Letters from Alfred Korzybski to S. I. Hayakawa” in Alfred Korzybski Collected Writings, p. 840. 

7. Rapoport 1950, p. 143. 

8. Rapoport 1950, p. 155. 

9. AK to Anatol Rapoport, 9/19/1949. IGS Archives. 

10. AK to Richard B. McAdoo, 11/27/1949. IGS Archives. 

11. Charlotte Schuchardt to Anatol Rapoport, 6/1/1950, IGS Archives. In her letter to Rapoport, Charlotte included these notes: “Re: Science and the Goals of Man by Anatol Rapoport, Notes made by Charlotte Schuchardt in November 1949 in conversation with Alfred Korzybski, preparatory to writing letter to Rapoport”, IGS Archives. 

12. Korzybski qtd. by D. David Bourland. Video Interview with Steve Stockdale, 5/26/1997, Part 3 of 3. 

13. AK to Bertrand S. Frohman, 2/18/1948. IGS Archives. 

14. Advertising Circular for Brief Psychotherapy. IGS Archives. 

15. Russianoff, p. 51-52. 

16. Russianoff, p. 61. 

17. AK to MEK, 3/25/1948. AK Archives, Box 22, Folder 1. 

18. I opine that Van Vogt did a much better job of demonstrating a non-aristotelian, extensional orientation in a subsequent book, The Voyage of the Space Beagle, which didn’t mention Korzybski or GS. 

19. “Null”, in Van Vogt’s (not Korzybski’s) usage for the bar above the A, referred to the ‘empty set’ in set theory, implying ‘nullity’, ‘denial’, and ‘without value’; thus suggesting an outright rejection of aristotelian ‘logic’, etc. In contrast, Korzybski’s usage of the bar above the A represented non, the Ā standing for ‘non-aristotelian’, where the non- indicated a system ‘broader than’, ‘extending’, and ‘going beyond” but including aristotelian ‘logic’, etc., as a special case. If some readers of Van Vogt’s fiction, enticed to further GS study, failed to get beyond the terminology and related assumptions of Van Vogt’s books, it seems unfair to blame Van Vogt too much for their mistake. He was writing fiction, after all. Nonetheless Van Vogt’s terminology may have misled some people—once again demonstrating ‘the power of the word’. 

20. Neil Larsen, Dec. 2000. “Charles Biederman: A Brief History”. 

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