Wednesday, May 18, 2016

New York Society for General Semantics

So, back in January, I became president of the New York Society for General Semantics. And I know what you're thinking⎯why did I wait until now to let you know about it? Well, the organization had been inactive for a couple of years, and it's taken some time to get it started up again.

Actually, it's still in the process of re-organization, but I've set up a new website at which has a modest amount of resources, as well as general information about the organization and what it represents. Go check it out. And please feel free to subscribe for updates on events and other news, especially if you are in the vicinity of the New York Metropolitan Area.

Here's the new logo for the NYSGS, courtesy of my old friend Peter Darnell of Visible Works Design:

As you may know, that letter A with the bar or line over it is a symbol for not A or null A, which is short for non-aristotelian, general semantics having been developed as a non-aristotelian system by its founder, Alfred Korzybski. What he meant by that was a kind of post-Aristotelian logic that could take its place as principles of thought alongside the new non-Newtonian physics and non-Euclidean geometry that were associated with Einstein's paradigm shifting revolution in physics in the early 20th century. Science fiction fans may also recall the Korzybski-inspired null-A novels by A. E. van Vogt.


Anyway, when I first became associated with the NYSGS many years ago, it was run by Allen Flagg, and held monthly meetings that generally consisted of a speaker, or other kind of presentation, on topics of interest, such as language, symbols, media, and technology, communication, consciousness, and culture. I don't know very much about the early history of the organization, I'm sorry to say, except that it was founded in 1946, on September 9th of that year to be exact. And its name indicates a connection to the larger Society of General Semantics that was founded three years earlier by English professor S. I. Hayakawa (later to become notorious as president of San Francisco State College and then United States Senator from California), and communication scholars Wendell Johnson and Irving Lee. In 1948, the SGS changed its name to the International Society for General Semantics, a name it retained until it merged with the Institute of General Semantics in 2004.

The NYSGS has had a long association with the IGS, including serving as a co-sponsor of the annual Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture and the symposium that follows, which is almost always held in New York City. And given the New York connection, there is also a significant association with Neil Postman, who was the former editor of ETC: A Review of General Semantics for over a decade⎯ETC was founded by Hayakawa and published by the SGS/ISGS until the merger, after which it has continued to be published by the IGS, most recently under the editorial helm of my friend, Ed Tywoniak. And among the resources that are available from the site are Postman's piece on media ecology and general semantics from the 70s, and a wonderful document entitled, Instant Pep* for Language (*Postman Enthusiasts Project) by the Staff of Fort Meyer Elementary School, Arlington, Virginia, originally published by the ISGS in 1968. And there's more of interest on the site as well, but I'll leave it for you to explore.

So, my plan is to hold events at The Players, a club in the Gramercy Park section of Manhattan that was originally founded by Edwin Booth, the most famous stage actor in 19th century America, and brother of the infamous John Wilkes Booth, along with Mark Twain and other notables, back in 1888. According to their website, "The Players is a private social club that draws its membership from the international theatre community, the related fields of film, television, music, and publishing, as well as respected patrons of the arts." This should add some creative energy and synergy to our programs.

Our programs will begin in earnest in the fall, but we'll be holding a preliminary meet-up at The Players on June 2nd. It's free, but registration is required. All the information is over there on, so let me wrap this up right now, so you can stop wasting your time over here, and go take a look, and maybe sign up. And otherwise, stay tuned! 

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