HOMMAGE a SAMUEL BOIS - Ethel Longstreet 1978
On a fine November day in 1945 late in the afternoon,
I was landed on an airstrip in southern Japan . From there a jeep was
to take me over the mountains to join a ship which lay in Nagasaki harbor.
I can even remember the tune that was coming from the ship . It was a
dance tune popular in 1945 . It was called "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't
My Baby?" -From Science and Human Values by Jacob Bronowski .
As the fragrance of the Madeleine tea cakes inspired Marcel
Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, so the dance tune came to me on a
fine November afternoon in 1985, forty years after Nagasaki, when a question
was put to me by a young man in a class I taught at the University of
Southern California called General Semantics and Writing for Films : "How
is this subject relevant?"
How is this relevant? "Is you is or is you ain't my baby?" With
a welling up of feeling came a rush of heat to my eyes .
Not only a remembrance of things past, but a surge of passion for the
immediacy of things present encompassing a past and an anticipated future
. Relevance.. .I put this question to myself. What moves me to stand here
on a fine afternoon forty years after Nagasaki? What have I to offer (in
Stephen Sondheim's words) "a later generation which knows all the
hell that was going to break loose?" I have myself, my passion, my
time-binding capacity, my movement which brought me to this day . Today,
science and the scientific method have been accepted by an overwhelming
majority of educated people in western and eastern cultures . We know
that evolution, with variations, is a theory we accept as a "given";
that we live in a world of processes . . .on the move . Even Galileo has
been reinstated into the Church . We postulate that all we know is "structure"
: things, people, and events in relation to one another. We know that
our language and symbolic activities shape and structure our perceptions,
our experience, and our behavior. We see through a semantic screen darkly
or brightly in relation to our individual and unique "structured
unconscious" (as Bois put it) . 'We cannot perform any act without
"disturbing the universe ." We feel that events have peripheral
dimensions for which we require peripheral vision; and that no technological
advances, no chants of love will save us . We will have to create new
maps to take our bearings, "and need a new star to steer her by ."
I was introduced to Samuel Bois in 1957 by S . l. Hayakawa. Bois had recently
retired and had moved to Southern California. He was already, and I quote
him, "released from the Catholic Clergy by privilege ." Born
in 1892, he received his B.A. from Laval University in Quebec, and was
ordained a Catholic priest. Eventually, he took his Masters and Doctoral
degrees from McGill University in Montreal . After the second World War,
in which he served as a Lt . Colonel in charge of Research and Information,
he shifted his professional activities to industrial psychology, while
continuing to work for the development of psychology in Canada . Bois
relates that he came across Korzybski's Science and Sanity in 1939 and
took a seminar with him in 1945. In 1947, 1948, and 1949, Bois lectured
at the seminars conducted by Korzybski, and in 1950, after Korzybski's
death, he conducted the regular seminar in Korzybski's stead . Bois became
a Vice President and Trustee of the Institute of General Semantics, and
served on the Board of the International Society for General Semantics,
becoming a frequent contributor to the Bulletin and ETC., the respective
journals of these organizations . I had invited Hayakawa to address Viewpoints
Forum - a platform for thinkers, scholars, and dreamers. I founded the
Forum in 1957 after working for Linus Pauling's efforts to block the detonation
of the H Bomb ; and after the American people had decided for the second
time that "Adlai Stevenson didn't have it ."
When Hayakawa became unavailable for the scheduled date, I invited Bois
to speak . He read my brochures, and being
cautious, attended a few of the bimonthly meetings of the Forum . Bois
approved of the company we kept and agreed
to address us : His subject, Man, the Semantic Reactor. The talk was interesting,
the French accent intriguing, but even our sophisticated audience was
not prepared to receive what Bois was talking about, nor was I . After
the talk, Bois invited me to attend his seminars in Executive Semantics
. I began to see some light and with it the
realization that creativity was not contagious, however we might explain
it : the creative leaps of a Linus Pauling, a Harrison Brown, or an Aldous
Huxley were special intuitive techniques of very special people. I knew
then where I
wanted to direct my movement : toward general semantics, a teachable,
learnable, general system of evaluating for ordermeaning- values and behavior
. Bois' development of the matrix A Semantic Transactor was a path through
the tangled forest of specializations into a clearing with a view of the
whole . I was beginning to understand what was meant by "being born
In October, 1959, Samuel Bois and I joined in a symbiotic
relationship : Bois as Director of Education and Research and I as Executive
Director of Viewpoints Institute : a center for guided awareness, where
the recent sciences of man, the new art forms, and general semantics were
used to facilitate self-understanding, self-acceptance, and selfmanagement.
Bois published his first book, Explorations in Awareness, in 1957, and
four subsequent books during the almost twenty years he participated at
Viewpoints Institute: Awareness, Communication as Creative Experience,
Breeds of Men, and, finally, Epistemics, the science-art of innovating,
or as he often called it, a guiding system through behavioral space .
Bois carried a heavy teaching; schedule . We worked together offering
daytime and evening classes at Viewpoints, at conferences, seminars, at
many colleges, universities, and private institutions in Southern California
. Gary David and Ada Beth Lee were two of the creative teachers developed
at Viewpoints, and thousands of students have attested to the value of
their experience there .
A short time before Sam's death in 1978, we were sitting in a dry room
in a dry place in the desert, with Sam very frail
and quiet. He held my hands in his delicately boned fingers, looked up
at me and asked "Ethel, what has kept us working
together all these years?" I sensed his puzzlement and his trust
and affection . I knew that my answer was important to him . I smiled
and answered "Sam, I've always known ; we share a dream in common
." The old man's tears came slowly and brought on my own. A coincidence
became a "marker" for me .
Before I had heard of General Semantics or Bois, he had
published Explorations in Awareness . In my first prospectus for Viewpoints
Forum in 1957 and in Bois' Explorations at the very end, we had both quoted
the same paragraph of Jean Paul Sartre . "The serious error is to
think that the word is a gentle breeze which plays lightly over the surface
of things, which grazes them without altering them; and that the speaker
is a pure witness who sums up with a word his harmless contemplation .
To speak is to act; anything which one names is already no longer the
sane, it has lost its innocence ."
At a seminar for the California Teachers' Association in 1971, Bois distributed
a paper to the participants : "What Our
Work In General Semantics Is About ." I saw it then as an attempt
to go beyond formulations, models, or systems into an episteme of participation.
I will read only a few paragraphs :
"It is not a matter of changing the world around us, but a matter
of making the most of that limited part of the world
that is within our field of influence : Our Own Self. It is not a matter
of imposing on the rest of humankind our
technology and our way of life, but a matter of making available to all
inhabitants of this planet the most advanced
mental and physical tools that may bring about abundance, peace, and self-actualization
. It is not a matter of repudiating as altogether false former myths,
religions, and theories, but a matter of extracting from these earlier
systems what kernels of everlasting wisdom they kept wrapped up in formulations
that are now obsolete . We do not belong to any group that binds us together
in a common religion, profession, pressure group, or political party.
But we undoubtedly have something in common, not easily expressed in sharp
formulation, perhaps, but surely effective at the preconscious level,
otherwise, we would not gather together to participate in a common experience"
RELEVANT? IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN'T MY BABY?
Adieu, man arni,
Adieu, mes amies .