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Irving J. Lee (1909-1955) as remembered by J. S. Bois; Bois, McCay & Associates, Montreal - General Semantics Bulletin, Numbers 18 & 19, 1955

After one year of operations, the Montreal General Semantics Society was bursting at the seams. On September of that year (I think it was in 1948) the membership had tripled. We had a problem on our hands: how to 'indoctrinate' quickly these newcomers.


What a surprise when I met Irving Lee at the Denver Congress! We had a good long talk all by ourselves on the steps of the lecture hall one night, while papers were being read that were of no particular interest to either of us. We were approaching the applied field in two slightly divergent directions, but we were exchanging experiences that had very much in common. We were looking forward to more intensive collaboration. He was so much alive, so warm, and so stimulating that I could not help telling him of my map of the dried-up professor. We had a good laugh over it.


We wanted a textbook. Lee's Language Habits in Human Affairs was adopted, and it worked beyond our expectations. I found it dry as a skeleton, but the structure was there, hanging together and articulated. The references at the end of the chapters told us where to find the material to put muscles on the skeleton, and bring it to life.


At this point I identified Irving Lee with the textbook. I expected him to be the dried-up professor I had met so many times in my life.


At the Great Barrington I G S (Institute of General Semantics) Seminar in 1950, I saw Irving Lee in action; sparkling, scintillating, electrifying the audience with his quick semantic reactions that generated chain reactions all over the place. I tore to pieces the last shreds of my old map of the dried-up college professor.


At the Cleveland meeting of the American Psychological Association, I saw Irving Lee the sober scientist, reporting to his confreres his experience with a small Chicago firm where he used G S [general semantics] to 'coerce' an executive group into agreement. His story was a marshalling off acts in logical order, demonstrating to a critical audience that a well-conducted experience in the applied field deserves as much attention as a strictly controlled experiment in the laboratory. This time the electrification of the field did not give any sparks; it was more like the ultra-sonic waves that stir deep and lasting.


We meant to see each other more often, leisurely, far away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. But we didn't. We invited him to come and address the Montreal Society. It was postponed. When in Chicago on business, I could not find time to see him. It was for the next trip.


Now, he is gone. His writings come to life when I read them in the glow of my memories of him in Denver, Great Barrington, and Cleveland.

March 4, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Irving J. Lee (1909-1955) as remembered by Thomas G. Miller School of Commerce, Northwestern University - General Semantics Bulletin, Numbers 18 & 19, 1955

With the death of Professor Irving J. Lee, all who came under his influence will decide what he meant to them. Evaluations of his scholarship, his intellectual gifts, and his speaking and writing skills will, in due time, receive systematic attention. As an undergraduate who heard Lee lecture and who remained to spend four years under his direction in graduate study, I wish to suggest a facet of his complex nature that will continue to linger long in my recollections.


I remember Dr. Lee not so much as a scholar, a thinker, a researcher, or a pioneer in communications, but rather as a teacher peculiarly endowed with a charismatic personality -- a teacher whose voice, gestures, movements, and commanding presence pulled students close to him.


This quality of which I speak is very elusive. If I attempted to define it, I would call it a contagious enthusiasm, a ceaseless flow of warmth and spontaniety, and a capacity to convey feelings and ideas so directly that there seemed to be no barriers between him and his students. The term 'charismatic' is a lame attempt to describe the personal magnetism by which he heid the complete attention of his listeners and inspired the admiration of his students.


This quality -- this intrinsic gift -- never deserted him in the classroom. It brought students by the hundreds to his beginning course, inconveniently scheduled by Dr. Lee at two-thirty in the afternoon. Graduate students, professional colleagues, and men of affairs -- all were influenced by his charism. From it he drew his limitless vitality and his abundant strength; by it he made learning an adventure for those who heard him. This charismatic quality brought him to the classroom less than three weeks before the end. It is the raw material from which legends spring.

March 4, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Irving J. Lee (1909-1955) as remembered by Harry Weinberg Department of Speech, Temple University - General Semantics Bulletin, Numbers 18 & 19, 1955

I think I learned from Irving Lee, more than from any other source, the significance and importance of the obvious, and techniques which are 'obvious', for teaching this [general semantics, G S] to others. I remember how often Korzybski used to say that the principles of general semantics are 'baby stuff.' But how can you get intelligent and educated people to listen to and apply this 'baby stuff?' The answer is simple -- concreteness, use of description instead of definition.


This was one of the secrets of Lee's great success as a lecturer. He would take one principle and illustrate it with dozens of examples. Sometimes, as his graduate assistant, when listening to his lectures I would become impatient and say to myself, 'Why doesn't he move faster, give them more theory, more of the philosophical implications and ramifications? No wonder some of the other faculty members look down their noses at G S as being simple, obvious, old stuff.'


My first appreciation of the effectiveness of his method began with an incident during my first year with him. I was asked to give a lecture on 'What is General Semantics?' before a group of adults, having all of twenty minutes to do it. I did it in fifteen. I was quite proud of this feat and told Lee about it the next morning as I trotted after him, expecting words of praise. He slowed down to a canter, turned his eye on me, took his pipe out of his mouth and said, with rising inflection, 'Oh?' -- and walked on.


Lee was famous, and infamous, among his graduate students for that 'Oh?' We came to him expecting answers and the 'Oh?' forced us to find them for ourselves, made us realize that there is always more to be said about any situation and that the most important part of a problem is the formulation of the question. Off and on for many months I pondered that particular 'Oh?' Then I forgot about the incident 'till one day, about six years later, I heard Lee give a lecture at an I G S [Institute of General Semantics] Seminar at Bard College. His concluding sentence I shaIl never forget: 'Teaching and learning that lead to no significant change in behavior are practically worthless.' At that moment that 'Oh?' and its significance flashed through my mind. In attempting to tell 'all' about G S in fifteen minutes, I had told them nothing.

March 4, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Irving J. Lee (1909-1955) as remembered by Martin Maloney

It is not an easy task, when a good man has died, and his loss has begun to make itself felt, to assess the extent and nature of that loss. Neither are most attempts very successful. Still, the task seems necessary, for we can scarcely hope to compensate or adjust to a loss which we do not understand.


The death of Irving Lee was, I suspect, for most of those who knew him, tragic beyond most deaths. It was not so much that his death was unexpected, or that he was still a young man, or even that his special knowledge and abilities will be proven early irreplaceable. These are relatively slight considerations.


I can of course speak only for myself, but it seems to me that a source of energy, of humor, of force - and I mean these terms to be roughly synonomous - has escaped from the world with his death, and I fear that many of us may live less effectively without it.


Irving's attack on life was at once stimulating and puzzling to me. I met him for the first time in 1938, when we were, as I recall, both graduate students, and he was about to complete his work for the PhD. He had, of course, become interested in general semantics by that time, was profoundly excited by his work with Korzybski, and was not in the least disturbed that none of his colleagues had heard of the manor his work. My first clear recollection of Irving is a sort of montage which shows him buttonholing everyone available, from the dean of his school on down, to ask with obvious relish, 'Yes, but can you tell me - what is a fact?'


What puzzled me was his unfailing delight in the answers and discussions which followed the question - a delight which appeared as keen at the twentieth repetition of the situation as at the third. It seemed to me at the time that if I knew what a fact was, I shouldn't find any special excitement in learning what other people knew, thought they knew, or didn't know.


I finally realized that, unlike myself, and perhaps unlike most people in the world, Irving was an habitual, indefatigable, highly-skilled teacher. It almost seems to me that teaching constituted his peculiar attack on life, that it was through teaching that he encompassed the universe and imposed order on it. I do not believe that I could give a single example of a situation in which his remarkable creative talent was expressed outside the limits of teaching. I suspect that it was his almost automatic adherence to these limits, in addition to the great talents which he brought to his profession, which made him so valuable a person.


I recall that Irving's 'What is a fact?' question piqued my curiosity a good deal, and that I read a little about general semantics - The Tyranny of Words beyond doubt, and perhaps a few pages of Science and Sanity. I then wrote an article on the subject, this being my method of discovering what I had read. The article came to Irving's attention after a time; and when next we met, he invited me to tell him what I thought I had been writing about. I attempted to answer his questions for half an hour or so, and came away admitting to myself that, whatever I had learned, it didn't make much sense. I remember, too, that not once in our discussion did he point out to me what I could or should have said, and much less what he would have said in my place. And yet, the result of our talk was that I felt obliged to find out these things for myself.


He was a remarkable, almost a unique teacher. In the course of our acquaintance, I can remember talking to him on a great variety of subjects, on everything from his studies with Korzybski to golf and stamp-collecting; I think that I read almost everything he wrote within the last dozen years or so; I heard him speak on various occasions. I don't think that I knew him to change his style or his technique once in that time.


It is this style, I think, which I valued most about him, and which I miss most profoundly in his death: this energetic, humorous, penetrating, interested attack on whatever aspect of the world was brought to his attention.

March 4, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Semantic Person An address by Irving J. Lee, delivered at the first conference on General Semantics, Chicago, IL, June 22, 1951; as outlined by Erica Gann

The Semantic Person  An address by Irving J. Lee, delivered at the first conference on GeneralSemantics, Chicago, IL, June 22, 1951. 


Lee: Now, Alfred, you have been thinking about this stuff for a very long time. Can you tell me, in a nutshell, what are you trying to do? What is the objective of all this reading and studying and talking and sweating that you go through day after day, year after year? What are you after?” 

Korzybski: Irving, we are trying to produce a new sort of man. A man who will have no new virtues, but we will know how to describe him, and, maybe, we will know how to create him. 


Irving J. Lee's Semantic Person; as outlined by Erica Gann 

“So, I have been drawing up this profile, as I think, in a very few minutes. Now, let me just list what the chapters would be about. Perhaps some of you could fill in the contents of these; perhaps some of you think that maybe these ought not to be part of that profile. But the idea, I think, is a pretty good one, the discovery of a rounded picture of what would a thoroughly extensionalized, properly evaluating man be like. Well, I offer this as something to think about.” - Lee 

1. Tremendous reservoir of curiosity about the world and the people around him; see and listen with tremendous depth and continuity; inquire and query; never be afraid to ask; never be ashamed of venturing into an understanding; never be scared to admit that he would like to know more. 

2. Have a good memory; astonishing capacity to forget the unpleasant; shake off the urge for self-pity; be able to forget petty disaffections that he is exposed to; able to forget annoyances and irritations that keep bothering us. 

3. Tremendously highly-developed sense not only of the similarities among things but also of the differences among them; acutely sensitive to the nuances, subtleties, variations, gradations; enriched sensitivity to the shadings and varieties no matter where he went and under all the things he came to; when things were new, he would act new; when things were different, he would reorganize the differences in his responses; never suffer from the blindness that obliterates uniqueness. 

4. His behavior would be a remarkable manifestation of this thing called non-elementalism; integrate knowing and doing; know that inequities, inequalities, injustices exist and realize that talking about them is not enough; feel the impulse to participate, to perform; would not be satisfied to say that there is greed, and difficulty, and diffidence - act in terms of their elimination; realize that knowing alone is barren, but acting without knowing is barbarism; take calculated risks almost at the drop of a hat. 

5. Fight against the sterilization of his appreciation of what is both beautiful and ugly; know how to love, how to hate, to be angry, and indignant; provide stores of affection for people; capable of tremendous indignation and be free of irritations and annoyances that are so small. 

6. Have a reservoir of faith, convictions, deep beliefs; continuously be aware of that etc., protecting him from becoming the bigot and fanatic; consciousness that there is something more, which would keep him from letting go and from becoming the kind of fanatical demagogue that it is so easy to become when one has a message. 

7. Great reserves of patience; be a little less hurried, a little less impetuous, and overquick in his actions; when occasions require it, be able to move quickly, but there will be a sense of continuous awareness, testing of what goes on. 

8. Great sociality and friendliness; engage fully in small talk as well as in serious talk; poise to be able to talk with people at a dozen strata in the community; free of the kind of bashfulness that keeps us from talking to people who don't speak the immediate patois that we have learned. 

9. Know how to achieve precision and specificity in his talking, if he has to; avoid the traps of oversimplification, distortion, eschewing when the occasion calls for care and accuracy. 

10. Not likely to succumb to defeat and despair and give himself up to failure and resignation; know the meaning of defeat but he will know that you have to date defeat, too; know there are moments when it doesn't seem worthwhile, but he will also know that you have to put a date on you, or whoever is involved. 

11. Ruthlessly realistic as possible; know when he's responding to his feelings inside and outside. 

12. Be neither the rugged individualist nor the completely altruistic cooperating man, he'll be both; know the virtues of time-binding; know how much we owe to the past and he will know how necessary it is to move uniquely; willing to express inventiveness, initiative, the arts and devices of cooperation. 

13. Be alert to the possibilities and potentialities of the human being; rarely satisfied with his performance as he knows it; realize that we haven't the faintest notion how much a man can know, how much a man can learn, how much a man can do; recognize the limits of learning are awfully hard to define; that in this vast, tremendously big world of ours, the possibilities of human growth and human development, perhaps, have not yet been readily defined.

March 4, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Irving J. Lee - When to "keep still."

When to "keep still."




Author: Irving J. Lee


Date: Oct. 2005


From: ETC.: A Review of General Semantics (Vol. 62, Issue 4)


Publisher: Institute of General Semantics


Document Type: Article


Length: 1,898 words




Main content:




On Silence




WHAT IS ASKED may seem pointless, but the experience of many students of language in its relation to life facts indicates that the procedure is effective. This is a plea for participation.




Pinch your finger. Say no words. Notice the experience. Do it again. Notice that something happened on the silent level. You had a direct experience which may be described verbally in many ways. But whatever might be said in words would not be what you felt by the pressure of the pinch. You should continue to remain silent so that you may become more aware of what goes on inside-your-skin. The nature of that inside feeling, of whatever happens, of whatever comes to awareness is not an affair of language, but is in its entirety an un-speakable matter. This may seem obvious, but unless it is sharply realized that what was felt belongs to the realm of silence, that it is quite different from what may be said in the realm of discourse, we shall miss a most important factor in the process of proper evaluation.




Pick up an object, a pencil or a book. Turn it over in your hands. Handle it. Drop it to the floor. Say nothing as you go through these operations. Look at the object. Now say the word "book." Notice that what you said was not the object itself. What you handled is not words. You might write with the pencil, but you could not write with the word pencil You could drop the book to the floor, but you could not drop the word "book" unless the word was objectified by being written on paper. You must see that you are dealing with two distinct levels, one verbal, one silent.




Stand up and walk the length of your room. Notice the movements of your feet. Say nothing about what you are doing. Don't even talk to yourself "inside." Merely realize that you are engaging in a form of physical action. After walking, sit down. The action is now ended. Is it clear that the walking took place on a level that was non-verbal, that you merely did something? Now you might try to describe the process of walking, the way your legs move, the shifting positions of your body, the character of the action as you felt it. Regardless of the clarity or complexity of what you have just said, that description will not be on the silent level of the actual walking. No matter how you walked, that action will not be on the level of what you said. Whatever you may say about your behavior, the behavior itself will be different.




In short, the "feeling" of the pinch, the objective pencil or book, the action of walking and sitting belong to a silent universe, while anything said belongs to a verbal universe. It must be clearly understood that what was called "a pinch," "a pencil," and "walking" are matters which exist on un-speakable levels, very much different from whatever exists on speech levels. Students who are in any doubt about this point should reread the preceding paragraphs and follow the directions before going on.




What is the importance of this emphasis on the difference between the silent and the verbal?




In the first place, it must be realized that our lives are lived on the silent, objective levels, that whatever we "think," "feel," and "do" happens as such silently, and that only as a secondary matter does talk come in. Actual living happens silently and is first in importance before speech. When you sit down to dinner hungry, you are primarily interested in the silent food before you. The digestive system, blood stream, etc., could not be nourished by words, but only by life facts capable of being digested. As Emerson says in "New England Reformers,"




    The sight of a planet through a telescope is worth all the course in


    astronomy; the shock of the electric spark in the elbow outvalues


    all the theories; the taste of the nitrous oxide, the firing of an


    artificial volcano are better than volumes of chemistry.




Language enters to serve auxiliary functions as a convenience at a different level of life. Whatever use that language serves will be a use quite different from the use to which the food is put in the stomach. Experiences of anything are primary in human living. And whatever may be said of them does not appear as a part of that silent living.




Secondly, objective levels, objects, feelings, happenings, actions, etc., are infinitely diverse and complex in their characteristics. So full of particulars are they that their fullness can never be reached by words. The classic example of the inadequate coverage of speech appears in the futile attempt to describe the taste or color of something to one who has never had a similar direct experience. To know a taste or color it is necessary to go beyond the words to the experience itself. Though the tasting or the seeing may be immediate and seemingly simple, the full perception is so inconceivably complex that one cannot get to it by words alone. It can be reached only as a first-order direct effect of the experience. The same may be said of objects. One may pick up an object and say "This is a book" without recognizing the false-to-fact character of what was said. The object appears as an absolute individual full of countless characteristics and it is not words and never can be; to speak as if they are "identical" may be described as delusion. Further, to say that it is a "book" is to say something that does not correspond to the totality of the object. Whatever is said is not "all" that can be said. The manifold uses, interpretations, characteristics of the silent objects and first-order experiences with which we become acquainted are ever so infinitely complex and diverse that talk cannot exhaust them. A feeling of this may be at the bottom of Maeterlinck's view in Treasure of the Humble:




    It is idle to think that by means of words, any real communication


    can ever pass from one man to another. From the moment we have


    something to say to each other, we are compelled to hold our peace.




And in the Book of Job (ii:13):




    So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven


    nights and none spoke a word unto him: for they saw that his grief


    was very great.




For us, even more important is this: an understanding of this silent universe will help dissolve the false-to-fact character of our limited, too-often dogmatic talk.




In the third place, when you realize the complexity of un-speakable levels, you may not be so eager to "burst into speech." It is easy to say something about anything. It is not so easy to be conscious of the limited, partial character of what is said. Verbal levels represent abstractions of some details from the fullness of the silent objects, actions, and experiences. This consciousness of abstracting whenever one talks will be more readily acquired when one stops to notice the silent levels. The acquisition of this habit is most difficult. Existing educational procedures somehow generate habits of speaking as the primary human function, so that students too readily speak without awareness that the first-order experiences about which they speak are unreachable by words. To train students to be silent, to know they live on a level comparable to the level of "things" goes contrary to conventional training. And yet training in silence seems to be the most practical means by which to become aware that there are un-speakable realms in actual living. One must learn to be silent outwardly as well as inwardly. Students should learn to look at objects and actions while closing their lips with one hand. To see what is going on and to evaluate it properly without identification we must be silent. There must come a consciousness that as soon as we speak we shall be leaving out differences and emphasizing similarities. Learning to point with a finger will keep the silence. Looking and pointing are silent means of expression, analogues of the silent world. Silence on the objective levels may well be the first step to the achievement of a consciousness of abstracting and of the realization that there is much more in our world than we normally take cognizance of.




In the fourth place, one of the more immediate beneficial results of acquiring the habit of silence is the development of an awareness that study and analysis are on-going, never finished. When once this is understood, the student develops a creative outlook; more and more of the limitless content of the world about him comes into view. Silence gives opportunity for observation. There is time to see what there is to be seen. Arguments, debates, conflicts are quickly generated when the objects, situations, people are known only in part but thought and talked about otherwise. The habit of silence gives one time to look first before speaking. And that looking is, after all, the creative source of what we know as science, art, technology, etc.




The experience of those who have learned silence on the objective level reveals a heightened development of critical attitude. Constant and continuing use of silence when writing or speaking may develop sharply the memory of characteristics left out, no matter what the subject under consideration. Statements are not the un-speakable world; the demarcation of the two levels automatically suggests that statements will leave some things unsaid, some characteristics omitted. Inquiry, investigation, further searching--these are the hall-marks of useful criticism. Students will learn, once silence is fundamental in their reactions, to ask questions: "What do you mean?" "Does that statement cover all?" "Where was the abstracting?" Questions inevitably lead to further search and more talk and an understanding of the limited reasons for whatever conflicts arise.




Our eagerness to make statements on matters which may be foreign to our experience or knowledge may well be a major source of the superficiality of so much speech-making and writing. Students too readily take what they hear and see as the full expression and the complete experience, instead of sharply realizing that too often those statements are merely introductory to the matter in question. As Walter Lippmann has said in his book Public Opinion, "For the most part we do not first see, and then define, we define first and then see." The achievement of silence should reverse this unnatural pattern. Looking at the silent world, we must first be silent. For unless we have learned to observe the vast panorama, "the great blooming buzzing confusion of the outer world," we shall pass over too much that we might know about.




It is important to point out that "we do not repress or suppress ... the bursting into speech; a gesture of the hand to the labels reminds us that words are not objects, or actions, or happenings, or feelings." (1) Lapsing into silence will have a jarring effect, which is not to repress but to make for the realization of an important evaluation mechanism in which we must be trained, if we would avoid the harmful effects of speech which becomes false-to-fact when too little is considered. (2)




Phatic Communion




Silence must be regarded as a methodological device of first importance when it functions to induce delay, to aid the inspection of life facts, and to achieve a non-allness orientation. But there are occasions when we do not wish to keep still, when we talk for the sheer joy of talking...








1. Alfred Korzybski. Science and Sanity, (4th Edition, 1958). Lakeville, CT: Institute of General Semantics.




2. For the substance of the material on "silence," see Science and Sanity, pp. 34-35, 399-400, 416-417, 476-477, 481-485.




* Excerpts from Language Habits in Human Affairs, Second Edition, by Irving J. Lee, edited by Sanford I. Berman, published by the International Society for General Semantics, Concord, CA, in 1994, available from the Institute of General Semantics.


Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2005 Institute of General Semantics








Source Citation




MLA 9th Edition:




Lee, Irving J. "When to 'keep still'*." ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 62, no. 4, Oct. 2005, pp. 424+. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A138483277/LitRC?u=googlescholar&sid=bookmark-LitRC&xid=f066eb1b. Accessed 4 Mar. 2023.




APA 7th Edition:




Lee, I. J. (2005). When to "keep still"*. ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, 62(4), 424+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A138483277/LitRC?u=googlescholar&sid=bookmark-LitRC&xid=f066eb1b




Chicago 17th Edition:




Lee, Irving J. "When to 'keep still'*." ETC.: A Review of General Semantics 62, no. 4 (2005): 424+. Gale Literature Resource Center (accessed March 4, 2023). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A138483277/LitRC?u=googlescholar&sid=bookmark-LitRC&xid=f066eb1b.








Lee, I.J. (2005) 'When to "keep still"*', ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, 62(4), 424+, available: https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A138483277/LitRC?u=googlescholar&sid=bookmark-LitRC&xid=f066eb1b [accessed 04 Mar 2023].




March 4, 2023 | Permalink | Comments (0)