VII National Workshop, The Spirit of Democratic Citizenship (Radical General Semantics) at the Department of English and CLS, Saurashtra University, Rajkot,

13 – 16 November 2013  

Shannon Bell with Dr. Zala and Mr. Trivedi

The Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences has been organizing national-level workshops all over India to create awareness, especially in the academia, about the inter-disciplinary field of knowledge called General Semantics. In this endeavour, the VII National Workshop on Radical General Semantics (RGS) was held in Rajkot at the Saurashtra University in collaboration with the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies. The Theme of the Workshop was “The Spirit of Democratic Citizenship” and its chief resource persons were Professor Gad Horowitz, a political scientist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, and Professor Shannon Bell of the Department of Political Science, York University, Canada. The Workshop adopted a novel way of approaching its topic by screening eight filmed lectures (2 on each day) on Radical General Semantics Professor Horowitz delivered at the University of Toronto in 2009-10, interspersed with conceptual clarifications by Professor Horowitz, and deliberations and discussions between the Professor and the participants, and this activity itself was constantly being filmed by Professor Bell who also very resourcefully steered the discussion for all the sessions. This unique approach helped the participants open up with their ideas, queries and observations making the sessions very lively. Most of the participants – comprising faculty and students at various levels of post graduate studies, the total numbering around 32 – were first-timers for General Semantics, yet they had in their midst one advanced learner in this area, Mr. Devkumar Trivedi, Member, Board of Trust of Balvant Parekh Centre, who often acted as a catalyst during discussions.

The first session of the Workshop began with the participants introducing themselves and Professor Bell passing on a USB key to them which contained useful RGS material in the form of several lectures by Professor Horowitz and some useful RGS web links. Lecture I of the Workshop was on the key GS term Structural Differential (SD) coined by the founder of the GS movement Alfred Korzybski. Professor Horowitz had brought an actual three-dimensional model of the SD (devised by one of his RGS students) to explain (in addition to his filmed explanation) how the fly-catcher like parabola shaped actual device represented ‘what is going on’ (WIGO) in the world for every human being which is a perpetually on-going process of experiences of feeling, causation and time that at any given moment is an event in the larger WIGO for the individual who then attempts to grasp / understand it at a preverbal level (identified in GS as the ‘object level’) which simultaneously also results into the consciousness of the ‘I’ apprehending the object. All this happens often within milliseconds with a sentient ‘I’ apprehending an object ‘O’ with his / her consciousness becoming simultaneously aware of the distinction between the ‘O’ and the ‘I’ and the contiguity of the ‘I’ and the ‘O’ within the WIGO including the consciousness which is an inseparable and kinetic aspect of the ‘I’. Of course, as became apparent from what the Professor said and in the ensuing discussion when the film was paused, the level of clarity of this experience greatly varies from person to person. But this entire experience still remained in the preverbal stage of objectification. The level after the ‘object’ level is where language enters and labelling of the ‘object’ takes place which is identified as ‘Label 1’ or ‘L1’ stage in GS. Then comes a kind of elaboration of the ‘L1’ identified as ‘L2’ followed by a larger description of ‘L2’ identified as ‘L3’ and the construction of a discourse on ‘L3’ identified as ‘L4’ and a generalization from the ‘L4’ becoming the ‘L5’, and this process might go on infinitely with the result that the object at ‘L1’ gradually loses its concreteness and becomes more and more abstract as it (theoretically) reaches the ‘Lnth’ stage. The abstractness might either result into the clarity of a higher-level theory or may simply relapse back into the WIGO as a language-defeated or end-of-the language abstraction waiting for another (and in such a case, better) series of labelling at another time. Professor Horowitz quasi-mystically and playfully termed this entire labelling process as: ‘L1 = what we say about the object; L2 = what we say about what we said about the object; L3 = what we say about what we said when we said about the object; L4 = what we say about what we said when we said about when we said about the object ... ad infinitum.’ SD, in this matrix is a cross section of a moment in the WIGO. It is ‘structural’ in the sense of being actually structured in a sensory/material entity (represented by the actual fly- catcher modelled thing) and it is ‘differential’ because it contains differentiating levels (L1, L2, etc.). And language in this context is both a helpful and a hapless thing as it not only describes experience, but also constructs the experience and validates the construction, and yet it fails often in many a sensory/emotional situation. It thus can be either a cure or a poison. One of the key objectives of GS according to the Professor is to make language act as the former. This would be achieved if people do not see the world as a rigid discourse of a cosmos of fixities but a non-linear, spiralling, disorderly ordered ‘chaosmos’ which is a non-elemental, non-reifying term in RGS. Since consciousness cannot really be split between the thinking and the feeling elements because it is fused and one, there would be more harmony within the individual and in the society if the world is perceived non-representationally without falling into the trap of believing intolerably that the Label equals the Object (L=O), and the Object equals the Event (O=E) which in the GS parlance is a non-Aristotelian way of perceiving the self and the world, and a non-Hegelian approach towards the relationship between ideas and reality. Thus, RGS always applies the hyphenated term ‘body-mind’ suggesting the human capacity for an organic experience and holistic, non-compartmental/ cross-disciplinary learning where it is possible to erect self-erasing structures and view ‘truths’ non-dogmatically and non-categorically. 

Shannon films the discussions.

The drift then of the lecture right from the first session progressed towards the topic of the Workshop: “The Spirit of Democratic Citizenship” with the Professor first dwelling upon the unitary individual and his/her perception of the world. He stressed upon how – following the precepts of RGS – a neuro-linguistic training of an individual body-mind can take place for a more organic experience of life and learning. Such a training would require us to welcome a ‘consciousness of abstraction’ (a Korzybskian term) without getting alarmed and thinking it to be a chaotic confusion and then living with the ‘semantic blocks’ (another Korzybskian term) believing obdurately that L=O, and O=E. The second session of the first lecture - tilted “Working with the Structural Differential” – took the topic further towards such a neuro-linguistic training of avoiding semantic blocks and readily and easily accepting a life shaped by already existing and established models whether it be the Lacanian ‘law of the father’ or the Marcusean concepts of socio-cultural domination without taking the trouble of enquiring whether or to what extent these long existing concepts and pre-given structures are relevant in the obtaining situation or if they should not be treated as fossilized and radically worked upon. Professor Horowitz mentioned that an important aspect of this kind of a training would involve ‘just seeing’ the life around us and then attempting the description of it in a purely ‘sensory grounded language’ (SGL) through an ‘ordinary descriptive English’ (ODE). Participants were given a simple exercise wherein a sign like I3 can in one context be interpreted as the numeral thirteen or in another as the second alphabet of the English language. The RGS method through such simple exercises would sensitize people towards the ‘non-allness’ of things where L≠O and O≠E, i.e., language can never fully grasp or explicate the object, and the object is not the entire event, but just a contextual and relative part of it. Such simple sensitization tasks, according to RGS, are the foundational blocks of individual and collective self development as well as individual and collective self government, these being the essences of a democratic citizenship. The idea behind such exercises of non-allness was to bring about a transformation in the habits of individuals by making him or her avoid the artificial and the much (ab)used modes of expressions and thereby freshly experience life. The first step in this direction, explained the Professor, is a sensorial record of any ordinary experience. He mentioned how literature is a useful record of seeing ordinary things in a fresh way citing William Blake where he had said about the sun not just being a ‘hot rock’ but ‘a choir of angels singing holy, holy holy’, or how an ordinary thing like a rose is perceived differently by different poets/writers [mention here was made again of Blake (‘O rose thou art sick’), Shakespeare (‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’) and Gertrude Stein (‘A rose is a rose is a rose’)]. Examples from such use of the SGL would enable us in being aware of the multi-dimensionality and ‘multi-ordinality’ (another Korzybskian term) of things. It would then not be difficult to understand that things often considered to be true are actually – as Korzybski would say – ‘false to fact’. With such theory and praxis in RGS, the first day of the Workshop ended on a highly enjoyable note. 

Shannon's Presentation on Shooting Theory.

The second day of the Workshop began with Professor Horowitz’s declaration that GS, as a movement, attempts to liberate humanity from conceptual domination that is damaging to life. This was in context of the previous day’s discussion on aspects of a healthy democracy which the Professor said he was going to discuss further. But the day began with an interesting literary example of SGL. Dr. R.B. Zala read out a passage from the Canadian author Yann Martel’s novel Beatrice and Virgil carrying an ODE of a pear in a dialogue between a monkey and a donkey, two characters in the novel. The underlying deadpan humour of the passage tickled the funny bone of all the participants and was a great way to begin the day. The Professor pointed out how the auditory reception of words also has a kinaesthetic power evoking a sensory experience that is characteristic of literature. Literary representations also continuously remind us of ‘multi-ordinality’ of things and the ‘similarity-in-difference’ of situations and experiences. Discussion among the participants immediately went to other important writers employing literary techniques that compel us to break our habitual way of perceiving things, and literary theoreticians like the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky’s identification of ‘defamiliarization’ as a literary technique, and the Indian theoretician Kuntak’s Vakrokti cropped up in particular. 

A section of the audience

Professor Horowitz then began screening his third lecture which was on “Entering the Object Level” introducing two terms describing how human beings lived their lives either at the ‘intensional’ level or at the ‘extensional’ level. The former is living a life of ‘either/or’, i.e., the Aristotelian either O≠L, or O=L. But, life often presents to us situations when there is in fact a lot of mutuality between O and L, and that is living life at the ‘extensional’ level. According to Korzybski, to lead the second kind of life, which he termed a ‘saner’ way of living, one has to be ready for surprises, even ready for surprising oneself, and welcome the surprises. Surprises are not only required for a better understanding of the WIGO, but they are essential for the propagation of fresh ideas. The extensional way of living requires a neuro-linguistic training which begins with a readiness to allow the richness of sensory experience to permeate the body-mind and in fact is an effective strategy to occlude living under conceptual domination. Korzybski gave the short-hand name of FIDO to all animals and Smiths to all people, and opined that there is a tendency among the Smiths to perpetually live under already given concepts and terms that are almost always either over or under defined (the Korzybskian ‘over/under defined terms’). One such long-held always over-defined frightening term is ‘death’. Professor Horowitz mused why do we give so much of importance to death, and then reminded that Korzybski has in Science and Sanity enlisted quite a few other similarly over/under defined terms including violence, education, God, dollar, free sex, ego etc. Giving the example of God as a way of making us understand the human tendency to nominalize and then convert abstract concepts into absolutes, the Professor put forward a question that what if not to words can the attributes related to God like compassion, surrender, love etc., be ascribed to. And then he warned that every attribute would further lead to other attributes, in an endless chain of words, and that it is a common tendency to use language self-reflexively thereby constructing a wood where the tree is entirely lost sight of. Korzybski had termed such delusionary use of language the ‘blah-blah about trah-trah’, and practitioners of GS often call a false philosophy woven through a web of words as a ‘foolosophy’. A better and a non-absolutist way of dealing with (especially abstract) nouns is to treat them as a process; so, instead of using the over/under defined noun ‘violence’, we can ask: ‘Who is acting violently?’ ‘To whom?’ ‘In which context is this violence being enacted?’ and so on, and then would the noun in all its multi-ordinal dimensions be better understood. Citing an example in the context of the concept of God, Professor Horowitz mentioned John Caputo who propounded the ‘weak theory’ in his work The Weakness of God exploring such aspects as the naming of God, what happens in the name of God, what kind of event is harboured in the name of God etc. Each time an aspect is named differently in the name of God, it takes on a whole web of connotations and conventions just like the same word ‘woman’ assumes different meanings when named as ‘mother,’ ‘wife,’ ‘prostitute,’ ‘nun,’ ‘spinster’ or ‘witch.’ The contextualization of a noun is merely an aspect of and not the noun as a whole. The cultural contexts of things should not make us forget the fact that culture too is a linguistic construction just as language is a cultural phenomenon. But the global world is increasingly becoming prone to a simplistic, two-dimensional linear array of view-points whereas GS attempts to remind us of the sinuousness of life and its experiences whether it is through the opinions of the feminist Lucè Irigaray whose contention is that since there is no free-floating individual, choices have to be seen in the hyphenated individual-social context, or through the archaeologist Sam Mallin’s work on societies adapting the sinuous instead of the linear mode of life, or through the sculptor Richard Serra’s installations manifesting the sinuousness resisting the oppressiveness of linearity. 

An interactive session

Professor Horowitz’s fourth lecture further dwelled on the spiral/circularity of human thought where the emphasis was on the ‘felt’ sense of anything (as a precursor to thought) through our sensory receptors as opposed to the ‘idea’ of the thing. Ideas in themselves are not bad but since human beings have a tendency to historicize ideas, these tend to get frozen into some kind of absolute rationality that prevents the circularity of fresh ideas leading to dogmatism in societies. And in this the typical ‘time-binding’ characteristic of human beings – that humans are the only time-binding creatures is a famous GS maxim propounded by Korzybski – comes in the way. Traditions are blindly adhered to without a care to investigate their current relevance leading to ‘semantic blocks,’ or obstructions in the mutual free flow of thought and evaluation between the Object and the Label levels, ultimately leading to degrees of ‘unsanity’ like a Black police officer shooting a Black person in the New York Subway as a pre-emptive step just because the Black person happened to carry an object which from a distance looked like a weapon. For Korzybski, sanity involved in ‘thalamo-cortical integration,’ meaning allowing the sensory experience reach the lower brain centre, the thalamus, and then allowing the higher brain centre, the cortex to reconstruct the experience freshly each time and not just jump to conclusions (a protruding object in a bag carried by a Black person looks like a weapon, therefore shoot that Black person). This method would employ a moment’s ‘psychological delay’ between sense perception and action which in fact would result in the construction of ‘a new object’ under the then given circumstances and stem the failure from generalization and the subsequent damaging action. Korzybski considered semantic blocks as a major deficit in democratic societies (poverty, according to Professor Horowitz being another), that sought consolation in trudging on the beaten path in order to avoid the complexity and creativity required seeking a new. Whereas, new paths are not only necessary but also possible if certain changes are adopted by individuals and the society. Korzybski’s ‘silent practice method’ is one such path breaking and path forming approach, details of which the Professor said would unfold hence in the workshop. But in this session he mentioned a few similar approaches attempted by others like the Canadian existential phenomenologist Eugene Gendlin’s ‘focussing movement’ in which participants were asked to think of long-held ‘structures’ they would like to restructure by focussing intently on the existing structure, discovering its building blocks, and then (as if) brick by brick trying to reshape it. A similar attempt mentioned was Herbert Marcuse’s essay on liberation wherein he made a case for a biological basis for socialism with a revolution in perception, the discovery of a new sensorium breaking the automation in the society, and the eventual rise of a new sensibility as a political factor. Something quite akin was attempted in literature in the mid-twentieth century in America by the Beat writers with Allen Ginsberg’s Howl becoming both a manifesto and a record of the liberation of the senses and the mind. Martin Albert’s and Robin Hahnel’s concepts on participatory economics, and Roberto Michelle’s critique of various kinds of oligarchies were other similar attempts that could be seen as coming close to thalamo-cortical integration. The day ended with a homework assigned by Professor Horowitz to all participants to read a small essay written by him on thalamo-cortical integration.

In the evening of day second, there was an audio-visual presentation by Professor Shannon Bell on her project called “Shooting Theory” which she began to conceptualize from 2007, and on which she was going to make a presentation at the Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai shortly after this workshop. The idea behind the project was to transpose Martin Heidegger’s claim regarding technology, ‘that you can’t think technology technologically,’ to the praxis of political thought. Professor Bell’s argument was that one can’t think political theory simply within language. Taking Heidegger’s contention that the place from which to think technology was art, Professor Bell’s own assumption is that the sites in which to think, produce and enliven written theoretical textual concepts are visual images and sound-scapes that can be brought forth by digital video technology. “Shooting Theory” therefore combined techniques of digital videography (borrowed from the theory expounded by Deleuze in Cinema 1 and Cinema 2) with the skills of philosophical thinking, in the broader frame of General Semantics in which “just seeing” the object of interest from a manifold of positions puts in question the label level of “seeing as.” Professor Bell’s images were from caves, the elements of nature, abandoned mineral mining sites, and the ancient archaeological sites of civilizations following the sinuous way of life. Participants enjoyed the session and discussions went on late till dinner time.

Day three of the Workshop began with a discussion on the essay “Thalamo-Cortical Integration and the Devices of General Semantics” by Professor Horowitz. Particularly discussed concepts/points were ‘non-Aristotelian,’ ‘intension and extension,’ ‘semantic block,’ ‘over/under defined’ and practising the ‘silent way.’ Apart from the Professor’s re-explication of these terms, inputs from Shri Devkumar Trivedi were very lucid and useful. The film on Lecture 5: “The Devices of General Semantics” then began to be screened keeping the spirit of democratic citizenship as a reference point. These GS devices were actually an extensional way of reading the ‘structural differential’ (SD). First among them was the ‘Index’ which pointed to the singularity/uniqueness of a thing or being overcoming the vagueness of an abstract universality (that robbed, using a Heideggerian term, the thing of its ‘thingness’). And yet, singularity retained within it its amenability towards a generalization. The second device was the ‘Date’ which refers to the historicity of the thing or being, and indicates a process taking place over a period of time negating any absoluteness of the thing/being, or, ‘the fallacy of simple location’ as put by A.N. Whitehead. Third was the ‘Chain Index’ which referred to the context in which a thing/being always exists and should be considered. Seen in juxtaposition with the ‘Index’, the ‘Chain Index’ squared off the former indicating that no thing has a ‘being-in-itself.’ Then there was the device of ‘the etc.’ which indicated that there is always more to say about any thing/being and which was another way of employing the principle of ‘non-allness’ because any Object is after all only a partial manifestation of the Event. Then there were the devices of ‘Quotes’ and ‘Hyphens.’ The former indicated the provisionality of all definitions. Professor Horowitz remembered the critic Gregory Bateson in this context who once famously said: “Everything we say should be within quotes.” The device of the ‘hyphen’ again indicated that no being or thing could be seen as a stand-alone phenomenon. Similarly, the device of the ‘Asterix’ or the ‘*’ indicated every concept would have a foot-note to it and cannot be the only definition/explanation.

Continuing with the devices in the post-lunch session on day third, Professor Horowitz applied these GS devices to labels like Jews, Blacks, Women, Indians, Aboriginals etc. Of particular interest was the example taken from a 1972 Saturday morning church sermon by the Black leader, civil rights activist and Senator Jesse Jackson which actually reads like:

Jesse : I am –

Audience : I am –

J : Somebody.

A : Somebody.

J : I may be poor.

A : I may be poor.

J : But I am –

A : But I am –

J : Somebody.

A : Somebody.

J : I may be uneducated.

A : I may be uneducated.

J : But I am –

A : But I am –

J : Somebody.

A : Somebody.

J : I may be on dope.

A : I may be on dope.

J : I may have lost hope.

A : I may have lost hope.

J : But I am … somebody.

A : But I am … somebody. … …

Professor Horowitz asked the participants to replace the ‘but’ with an ‘and’ in the above church interaction to demonstrate from a real example how existing language can be turned into a non-Aristotelian language, where the thing-in-itself both retains uniqueness (Index) and yet remains contextualized (Chain Index). Because, the person/class/race/gender etc., will always be more than what we think we know, and would always remain, in the words of Marion Kendig (who succeeded Korzybski in the GS movement): ‘a vast texture of aliveness.’ The use of such mental habits makes the structure of the language itself match the WIGO. He reminded that the Aristotelian perception privileges similarity and criticizes difference, but the use of devices like dating puts a space-time world of motion and change against the so-called absolute concepts incorporating historicity and instantaneity simultaneously avoiding the traps of both ‘presentism’ and ‘ahistoricism.’ Certain other concepts like nature-nurture, biologism-culturalism, gorilla nature-human nature, core of a religion-practice of a religion etc., were also discussed in the context of the GS devices. At the end of the day the professor brought to the notice of the participants how certain terms/concepts by Alfred Korzybski anticipated certain more established concepts of Adorno, Foucault and Derrida and as a substantiation distributed a one-page handout (containing his own jottings) titled ““SEX”: Freud, Korzybski, Foucault” where he concludes with:

“All three thinkers sought non-A formulations which would preserve the possibility of coherent theorizations of what is going on as ‘sex’, indexed, dated, ‘related to endless … factors,” etc. But only Korzybski was smart enough to come up with the necessary five or six bits of language which would do the trick. And Korzybski was forgotten, while the blah blah artists have gone on and on for decades…”

The last day of the workshop began with certain tasks from the ‘silent practice method’ like the visual and aural awareness heightening exercises, the tactile awareness heightening exercises and tracking of the emotions through these awareness heightening exercises. Professor Korzybski guided participants how they could anchor their thoughts to just the sensory awareness in order to beat tiredness/sleepiness while meditation, or its opposite, i.e., a criss-cross of thoughts that derail the mind from meditating. The Buddhist practice of follow-the-breath method was also discussed in this context. It was highlighted how ‘silent practice’ is a way of mindful meditation just like Vipassana, and how it makes you aware about what the Professor called ‘garbage thoughts.’ A one-page handout titled “Towards Continuous Silent Practice” with Professor Horowitz’s jottings on it (given earlier along with his essay on Thalamo-Cortical Integration) was gone through. Then there was a discussion on ““SEX”: Freud, Korzybski, Foucault,” as well as on certain GS devices like ‘etc.,’ ‘quotes’ and ‘hyphens.’ Especially in the context of the last device, a three-dimensional model called the Moebius Strip (a strip of paper with its ends twisted and joined to give it a helix-like look) was employed by the Professor to demonstrate the terms like ‘inter-exist’ and ‘inter-being’ and that ‘there is no inside without outside,’ and that things might be individually distinguishable and yet in a context inseparable from others. The Moebius Strip model was then used to illustrate aspects about actually existing democracies in today’s times and how they are facing the one-sided, linear force of Globalization, but in fact also contain the two/many sidedness of local distinctions. The professor used the hyphenated word market-hives for such democracies, where ‘hives’ represent forces of top-down collectivism, and the ‘market’ the resisting free individual. Participants remarked how the Moebius Strip resembled the chromosomal helix model and the discussion then proceeded towards the works of some geneticists like Evelyn Fox-Keller and Matt Ridley (of The Agile Gene and Nature via Nurture fame) and their emphasis that genes are both causes and consequences of our actions. To treat the Strip as possessing two separate sides (when actually they tunnel into one another) is the damaging mistake of elementalistic splitting human beings commit according to Korzybski whose famous phrase on this is the ‘church for the soul, gaol for the body’ divide; whereas at the opposite end were such confused fusions when a map is considered to be a territory. Such splitting and collapsing need to be undone in such a way that over a few generations it would enter from a learned stage to an innate (genetic) stage resulting into a saner society. At the linguistic level too, entire habits needed to be shifted (that would then enter into the cell-genes of subsequent generations) from an emphasis on nouns to the interactivity of verbs. The resulting new lexicon would be part of a new ‘social-epistemology’ as discussed by Steve Fuller, philosopher-sociologist in his works like The New Sociological Imagination and Dissent over Descent. This discussion was a preamble to the last important topic of the Workshop, “Levels of Self,” which because of the innate nature of the topic, many participants found it a bit difficult. The discussion here was on the self existing ‘inside and outside the skin’ along with the duality that we all have an abstract idea of a self and yet the self of our bodily awareness is what we are most sure of. Professor Horowitz gave an SD onto the ‘self’ where he identified the Event as ‘self-as-world’; the Object as ‘self as Somebody’; and the Label levels contained the ‘narrative self’ wherein love of existence blended with egoistic self-love often resulting in a confusion between ‘excellence’ and ‘worth’, because any performance can be rated (as ‘excellent’ at its highest level) but the self (worth) can’t really be rated. Therefore it is always better to see oneself through one’s own series of experiences and learn from it to become better instead of identifying with some abstract identity and then start thinking that ‘I am xyz.’ It is better to recognize not ‘who’ one is (a ‘hero’, a ‘genius’, a ‘sex queen’ etc.) but what one is: i.e., ‘I am the summation of my skills, talents and achievements’. In this context the American psychologist and founder of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) Albert Ellis’ ‘zero state’ balancing an unusually high self-esteem and an excessively brutal self-depreciation, much like Freud’s ‘reality principle’ (ego) keeping the ‘pleasure principle’ (id) and the ‘morality principle’ (super-ego) in balance, and the balance of the self as expounded by the Stoics were mentioned and discussed. Professor Horowitz ended the session by reminding the participants that equality is a quantitative term and can be worked upon to a sane and healthy level in a democracy (and that it was urgently required in today’s world), and the abstract ‘worthiness’ of self or life would not be such a problematic term if we orient ourselves pro-life (eros) not at the cost of another’s pro-life desire, and, most importantly, remove the garbage of morbidity towards self and others (thanatos). Subsequently, a new GS language called the ‘e-prime’ was required to come into currency which would have no absolutes and drop all judgemental statements.

The four-day Workshop ended with a short Valedictory function where the Department of English CLS expressed its gratitude towards the resource persons professors Horowitz and Bell, Shri Devkumar Trivedi for his encouraging and highly informed comments and observations, and most importantly to Professor Prafulla Kar, Director, Balvant Parekh Centre for General Semantics and Other Human Sciences for finding the Department worthy enough to host this Workshop, and for his brilliant and scholarly interjections and connections during it.

During the Workshop, Professor Horowitz touched upon some key references that would aid the participants’ understanding of RGS better. The works mentioned included – besides Alfred Korzybski’s seminal Manhood of Humanity (1921) and Science and Sanity (1933) – the physicist David Bohm’s The Undivided Universe and Science, Order and Creativity; the artist Charles Biederman’s The Search for a New Art and the Bohm-Biederman Correspondence: Creativity in Art and Science; the GS scholar S.I. Hayakawa’s Language in Thought and Action; the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski’s work on the Trobriander villages and their non-linear way of life commented upon by another anthropologist Dorothy Lee in her work Valuing the Self: What We Can Learn from Other Cultures as well as her other book Freedom and Culture; the Indian philosopher-speaker Jiddu Krisnamurthy’s Freedom from the Known and The Awakening of Intelligence; the anthropologist Eli Sagan’s At the Dawn of Tyranny; the American philosopher-sociologist Steve Fuller’s The New Sociological Imagination and Dissent over Descent; the science writer Matt Ridley’s The Agile Gene and Nature via Nurture; the feminist Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble; the political philosopher John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice; the American Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Theology, David Ray Griffin’s Unsnarling the World-Knot; the British philosopher-writer and popularizer of Eastern philosophy Alan Watt’s The Joyous Cosmology and On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are; the American psychologist Albert Ellis’ A Guide to Personal Happiness and The Practice of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy; the American Psychologist specializing in the development of infants Daniel Stern’s fascinating book Diary of a Baby: What Your Child Sees, Feels and Experiences; the existential archaeologist Samuel Mallin’s Art Line Thought (there was an engaging aside on how this last title was an extremely expensive one with Amazon showing the price of its new Hb version touching around $ 350, the used copy quoted at $ 200, and if the Professor had this book in his personal possession, to what extent was it possible to steal it!). Professor Horowitz suggested to the Balvant Parekh Centre how it would be a fascinating idea to develop a library exclusively of non-Aristotelian works. Professor Kar readily accepted the idea acknowledging how this task can be an interesting and challenging target for the Centre. 


Sanjay Mukherjee Department of English and CLS,

Saurashtra University , Rajkot  

The Events of Radical General Semantics 2013 in Baroda , Rajkot and Mumbai

Shannon Bell Gives an Overview of the Radical General Semantics Programs Conducted in India  

At JJ School of Arts

Gad Horowitz’s lecture “Levinas: A New Ethical Orientation,” the third in the Balvant Parekh Distinguished Lecture Series, set the tone for the four day General Semantics VII National Workshop: “The Spirit of Democratic Citizenship (Radical General Semantics)” at the Department of English & CLS, Saurashtra University, Rajkot November 13-16. The following quote from Gad’s Levinas lecture provides an ethical imperative directing the skills and techniques of General Semantics: “The plea of the other COMPELS a response, not politically, rationally, or with force but ethically; there is no way of not responding. Obligation happens here together with every kind and degree of response. It is only in responding to the other that I am constituted as a responsible human agent, no matter to what degree I assume my responsibility.”

Gad began the Rajkot workshop: “I would like to begin by invoking the names of Mahatma Gandhi, who attended high school in this city, Shri Balvant Parekh, the great patron of general-semantics in India , and Alfred Korzybski, the founder of the general-semantics movement.”

He immediately set out what he means by coupling radical with general semantics: “GENERAL-SEMANTICS is not just one ‘human science’ among others. It was founded as a movement aimed at advancing human civilization by way of a radical transformation of its basic grammatical-cognitive-affective structures, which is why I teach it as ‘radical-general-semantics.’ It is not merely one critical theory among others but a set of PRACTICES, of the kind that Michel Foucault called ‘practices of the self,’ which can and should be learned and internalized to some extent, ‘neuro-semantically,’ by every human being beginning in childhood.”

The format we followed for each of the four days was first viewing one of the eight video lectures by Gad (there are 22); the video was shown for 15-20 minutes, then I as manager of, workshop resource person and videographer, would recapitulate central points, ask questions to which Gad himself would respond, followed by interaction from participants. Then again 20 minutes of video followed by the same process. We viewed two video lectures per day covering the following themes: event, object, label levels, structural differential, spiral circularity of human thought, non-elementalism; the devices of general semantics—index, multi-ordinal index, date, chain index, etc., quotes and hyphens—and levels of self. What impressed me as moderator was the sophisticated placing of English Literature and Indian Philosophy into the large frame of General Semantics by several of the workshop’s senior participants; this included using the event, object, label levels and devices of General Semantics in literary textual analysis. On day two we assigned the task of focusing attention on a natural object and describing it carefully in sensory-specific language, for example, the description of a so-called “banana” might begin with the words “a yellow elongated object turned up at both sides something like a crescent.” Among the participant’s numerous responses shared the next day was the beautiful description of a pear from Yann Martel’s novel Beatrice and Virgil read out by Dr. Ravisinh Zala from the Department of English & CLS.

To ensure that the first-time practitioners of General Semantics were able to understand the formulations, we began each morning session with written questions from the participants; the questions ranged from defining such terms as intensional, extensional, non-aristotelian, silent level practice, semantic blocks to questions of a more philosophical nature, such as, ‘what is meant by the “spirit of democratic citizenship”’ and questions of a more practical nature, such as, ‘how will silent practices help in a student’s study life, particularly in reading?’  

Gad and Shannon with the Organizers of Rajkot Workshop

Saurashtra University lived up to its well-deserved reputation for hospitality complete with the excellent catering service of Parthil Caterers, a tour of Rajkot that included Alfred High School which Mohandas Gandhi attended and the Rama Krishna Mission Temple, a closing dinner on the rooftop terrace of Hotel Sarovar Portico, and a wonderful lunch just for Gad and me at the home of the Head of the Department of English, Dr. Kamal Mehta and Madame Mehta on our last day in Rajkot.  

Gad's presentation at the Sir J.J. College Studio

Our two-day General Semantics workshop at the Sir J. J. School of Art (November 18 and 19) with the students in Ms. Snehal Tambulwadikar’s class “Art History and Aesthetics” was equally invigorating for us. Here we were teaching General Semantics to newcomers to the field who also happened to be artists. Art was placed in the context of General Semantics and what a perfect context in which to do so – a studio surrounded by forty-some paintings produced by the students attending.

On Day 1, after a superb introduction to General Semantics presented by Dr. Deepa Mishra, Convener of a Nodal Centre for General Semantics, Smt. CHM College, Gad offered an overview of the main points of General Semantics—structural differential, silent practice, the devices, etc. Several of the art students participated very actively; reference was made to their paintings in the context of the structural differential and object and label levels. Day 2 began with Gad linking the skills and techniques of General Semantics with Miksang Contemplative Photography ( and the work of the American artist Charles Biederman, himself a student of General Semantics, ( as foreground to Shannon Bell’s work on Shooting Theory. Shannon showed six of the twelve films she has made bringing together digital video technology and print textual philosophy/ theory through imaging philosophical/theoretical concepts. The films shown were Edmund Husserl Blind Residuum Caves (, George Bataille and Simone Weil – Beautiful Waste: Dead Sea Sinkholes (, Emmanuel Levinas – Shooting the Elemental (, Walter Benjamin – Flâneuring Ancient Arcade Ruins (, Martin Heidegger – Flashes of Perception (, and Samuel Mallin – The Sinuous Turn ( Shannon located imaging theoretical concepts in the broader General Semantics framework of just seeing (pure object level) and seeing as (the level of labeled experience).

We were very pleased to have in attendance at the workshop the Sir J. J. College Dean Vishwanath D. Sabale, Mr. Hemant Shah- Director of a Nodal Centre for General Semantics at Maniben Nanavati College and Ms. Kavita Nimbalkar - Administrator of Corporate Social Responsibilities for Pidilite Industries Ltd.

Aside from the dynamic Sir J. J. School of Art workshop, other highlights in Mumbai included the Grand Hotel (where we stayed) view of the industrial port, attempting to drive to Juhu Beach precisely at the time of the sunset water puja just after Diwali and then a walk on Juhu Beach the following day (thanks to Pidilite’s generous hospitality we has the pleasure of being driven here and there by Gajendra by far the best driver in Mumbai), a trip to the Gateway of India during a Jain festival, passing through the crowd to make our offering at the Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Mandir Ganesh Temple, skywalking on the Bandra skywalk, repeated trips on the Sea Link, lunch at Café Madras (don’t leave Mumbai without eating at Café Madras) and then on our final day a visit with Dr. Prafulla Kar to Pidilite Corporate Office to meet and have lunch with Shir Balvant Parekh’s two sons—Madhukar and Ajay Parekh—and Balvant Parekh’s brother Narendrakumar Parekh. Our discussion touched on Radical General Semantics (Gad had sent his introduction to the Rajkot workshop to the Parekh’s before our meeting); vibrant recollections of their father and brother’s involvement with General Semantics, their respective experiences attending University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of California at Berkeley and our teaching at University of Toronto and York University; we met many of the staff and had the pleasure of being part of the weekly birthday lunch in which whoever of the 1000 employees has a birthday that week is invited to lunch with the CEOs. We have a copy signed by all three Parekh’s of the Felicitation Volume, Behind the Curtain, presented to Shri Balvant Parekh on the occasion of his 75th year. Of all the essays documenting a life of endeavor, mindfulness and generosity the most precious to me is “He Has Very Deep Interests in Many Subjects” by Kanta Parekh (his wife). She jokingly calls him “over-wise” due to his interest and expertise in many subjects – “Psychology, Politics, Science, Gujarati literature, Medicines, etc.” (278)

Walking with Dr. Kar and Gad in The Hanging Gardens and overlooking Marine Drive and the Queen’s Necklace from Kamala Nehru Park shortly before leaving Mumbai, I wondered if Balvant Parekh used to walk here when he was poor and starting out and also when he became one of India’s leading industrialists and philanthropists. He did. One of the essays in Behind the Curtain writes about the older Parekh spending time walking and talking with leading Gujarati and Indian poets in the Hanging Gardens . After all, as Gad said in the Rajkot workshop as he directed us to walking as a silent practice: ‘walking is a sacred obligation.’