Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Tracking How We Change: Joseph Conrad's Insights on "Dating" Ourselves

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Tracking How We Change: Joseph Conrad's Insights on "Dating" Ourselves

Article excerpt

AS TIME PASSES, we change. If we deny or ignore change, we create problems for ourselves. The general semantics technique of dating reminds us that we change.

Recently, I re-read Joseph Conrad's evocative, wistful short story "Youth," a work I first studied at the age of 20 in an English literature class. Now, at 60, having taught English composition and literature for over 37 years, I realize that I have, like Conrad's characters, dramatically changed my perspectives, in what seems the blinking of an eye. In "Youth," we see the viewpoints of the young 20-year-old second mate Marlow (who, along with his cronies, nostalgically recalls his experiences from a vantage point of 22 years later) and of the tired and weary skipper of the hapless vessel Judea, Captain Beard, described by Conrad's narrator Marlow as 60 years "old," "twisted and bowed" with "hollow eyes and sunken cheeks."

As time-binders, we general semantics practitioners realize the practicality of dating ourselves, using the Korzybskian extensional device to take stock of our capabilities and limitations. For example, I might say of myself that David[.sub.1995] is not David[.sub.2005]. Susan and Bruce Kodish in Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General Semantics refer to the uncommon sense of George Bernard Shaw's tailor who realized that 'things' change over time:

   Not only does each customer differ from each other, but each customer
   differs from himself or herself over time. The customer who in 1981,
   weighed 190 pounds and had a 38 inch waist may, in 1991, weigh 220
   pounds and have a 44 inch waist. A good tailor will take into account
   such changes over time and measure as necessary each time the
   customer calls. (p. 138)

The Kodishes suggest that not only our tailors, but each of us individually need to date ourselves on regular intervals:

   Dating helps us differentiate a particular individual at a given date
   from that individual at another date. It helps us to realize that no
   particular individual 'is' exactly the 'same' from moment to moment.
   You today are not you 10 years ago. In what ways have you changed?
   Some individuals, like the tailor, seem 'naturally' more extensional
   and seem more likely to take the time factor into account. Most of us
   need the reminding that dating our terms and statements gives us. (p.

Dr. Sanford I. Berman also reminds us, "If you don't think you are changing, take a look at a picture of yourself twenty years ago." He points out that Korzybski recommended that we date our evaluations. We must date ourselves, events, and other people. We recognize that our language has static, non-changing implications. (Audio Cassette "What is General Semantics?")

Joseph DeVito, in his audio lesson Static Evaluation, says,

    All statements referring to reality should be dated since the
    reality to which they refer is always changing. John
    Smith[.sub.1968] is certainly not John Smith[]. Our
    parents ten years ago are not the same as our parents today. They
    have changed and perhaps they haven't changed as much as we would
    want them to; they nevertheless have changed and our attitudes
    toward them should likewise change." (General Semantics: Guide and

Dating ourselves can help us to see the subtle changes in our sensory organs, for example the gradual deterioration in visual, auditory, gustatory, and tactile sensations. We become aware of these changes as our optometrist gradually changes our vision prescription, or our audiologist fits us for hearing aids, or we require glucosamine supplements, along with a cane or walking stick, to help us continue those long arduous hikes we could once take effortlessly. Perhaps we find that we need more seasoning to bring out the robust flavor that the taste buds can no longer detect. Perhaps our family complains to us when we crank up the TV volume. …

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