Snooping around the Time-Bending Attic, Part 2

By Johnson, Wendell; Chisholm, Francis et al. | et Cetera, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Snooping around the Time-Bending Attic, Part 2


Johnson, Wendell, Chisholm, Francis, Meyers, Russell, Bontrager, Ray, et al., et Cetera


IN THE FIRST INSTALLMENT of this series, I related some items of historical interest regarding Alfred Korzybski and the establishment of the Institute of General Semantics. I also provided two short excerpts from transcripts of Korzybski's early seminars in which he talks about what general semantics "is," what it may be considered to be "about," what it concerns itself with, etc.

Now, each one of us can - and, no doubt, does - hold our own opinions and perspectives about these same questions. Anyone can read Korzybski's Science and Sanity, Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action, Johnson's People in Quandaries, or any book or article that deals with the subject, and then talk in terms such as, "This is what general semantics is about." And, one hopes, the talker will demonstrate an awareness of to-meness, non-allness and the etc. in his/her talking that follows.

However, while we each may possess the right to an opinion, I would maintain that not all opinions are necessarily right. Some opinions reflect more understanding, more insightful interpretation, than others. Therefore, I opine that, especially for those of us who consider ourselves students of general semantics, it's important to continually seek to broaden and modify our own evaluations regarding what general semantics is about.

As a step toward this objective of ever-widening our perspectives as to what general semantics is about, I offer here some excerpts from six men with especially credible views on the subject. Each of these men not only read what Korzybski wrote, but knew him (and each other) with some degree of intimate familiarity. Each read Korzybski, listened to him lecture, asked him questions, talked with him "off-line" in social situations, in private conversations, etc. Each then took his own evaluative perspective of what general semantics is about and applied it, developed it, wrote about it, and taught it in his own unique manner. Therefore, "credible" seems to me an appropriate term to apply to the 'opinions' expressed by Wendell Johnson, Francis Chisholm, Russell Meyers, Ray Bontrager, Irving Lee, and Samuel Bois, on this particular subject.

These excerpts come from materials found in the Institute's archives and, so far as I know, have not been previously published.

Wendell Johnson

Wendell Johnson, Ph.D., author of People In Quandaries, Your Most Enchanted Listener, Because I Stutter, and dozens of published articles about general semantics, taught speech, general semantics, and performed clinical studies at the University of Iowa. The following excerpt comes from his opening lecture to his general semantics class in the fall of 1956. The entire course was broadcast live by the campus radio station, WSUI, and, thankfully, recorded on tape.

This is a course which deals with the part that our use of words, designs - symbols of all kinds - tends to play in the development of our individual personalities, our institutions, and our human societies. So we shall be concerned in the course with the disorders of our symbolic processes, which is to say the language of maladjustment - the language which reflects maladjustment and which tends to produce maladjustment. We shall be even more concerned with the kinds of language which we are able to develop or cultivate which tend to be very effective, which tend to be conducive, to what we call "normal adjustment."

Now, I am not too happy with this word "adjustment." I do not mean by it some kind of self-satisfaction, some sort of blind acceptance of things as they are, but something much, much more dynamic and helpful than that. I mean by "adjustment," by healthful adjustment, something that we might call the "realization of our own individual potentials for development." I don't mean being like somebody else, like the average man, or like the mold, but being oneself as fully as possible.

Well, there is a way to use language which tends to encourage this sort of development. …

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