++++++++++++++++++ EBAY ITEMS 4 SALE ++++++++++++++++++

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

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


Post a comment