Our March 1st program on the theme of Science Fiction, Language, and General Semantics was wide-ranging and fascinating, with participants that included science fiction writers and critics. The panel consisted of
Marleen S. Barr, Science Fiction Critic and Novelist
Paul Levinson, Past President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and Novelist
Lance Strate, NYSGS President and Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University
Ed Tywoniak, Editor of ETC: A Review of General Semantics and Professor of Communication, Saint Mary's College of California
We were especially pleased that Professor Tywoniak was able to join us, traveling all the way from the west coast to take part in the discussion.
And here is the description of the program:
Science Fiction, Language,
and General Semantics
Science fiction has long been associated with spaceships, alien beings, futuristic technologies, and the like. But the genre has also provided an opportunity to speculate about the future of human consciousness, about modes of perception and communication, and about language and symbols.
Not surprisingly, general semantics, as a discipline based on applying a scientific approach to thought and action, has influenced science fiction in a number of ways. Science fiction writers such as A.E. van Vogt, Robert Heinlein, and Frank Herbert were familiar with general semantics and incorporated concepts learned from Alfred Korzybski and S.I. Hayakawa into their novels and short stories. Through them, the influence of general semantics spread to the fiction of Philip K. Dick, and the films of George Lucas. Moreover, novelists William S. Burroughs and L. Ron Hubbard were students of general semantics, while a fictional (and less than flattering) version of the Institute of General Semantics appears in the Jean Luc-Godard film, Alphaville.
More generally, questions concerning language, meaning, and consciousness have been incorporated into science fiction narratives, for example the presence of Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation in The Matrix, references to Julian Jaynes in HBO's remake of Westworld, and in the problematic nature of translation in stories such as Samuel R. Delaney's Babel-17, Stanslaw Lem's His Master's Voice, and the recent film, Arrival.
Clearly, this is a topic for discussion that is, in many ways, out of this world.
On February 8th, we held a panel discussion on the theme of post-truth, alternate facts, and fake news, all subjects of great interest within the discipline of general semantics, and issues that general semantics can help to solve. These three relatively recent coinages may be viewed as symptoms of a larger concern that our culture is in crisis, making this particular topic especially vital to try to understand.
Participants on this background hailed from a variety of backgrounds, making for an especially lively and insightful discussion about science, journalism, philosophy, and language. Here is the list of panelists:
Babette Babich, Professor of Philosophy, Fordham University
Peter Brown, Science Writer and former Editor-In-Chief of The Sciences, and Natural History, and member of Scientific American's Editorial Board.
Katherine Fry, Professor of Media Studies and Chair of the Department of Television and Radio, Brooklyn College, City University of New York
Paul Thaler, Professor of Communications, Adelphi University
Moderator: Lance Strate, NYSGS President & Professor of Communication & Media Studies, Fordham University
Post-Truth, Alternate Facts, & Fake News:
Our Culture in Crisis
On November 8th of last year, Election Day in the United States, Oxford Dictionaries announced its word of the year: post-truth. The selection represents a response to both the American presidential election campaign and Great Britain's Brexit vote.
Over the past year, the phrase fake news has also been frequently invoked, especially in regard to online communications and social media.
On January 22nd of this year, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway used the phrase alternate facts during a Meet the Press interview.
Modern science and journalism both are based on the ideal of objectivity, that we can gather data about our environment, examine the evidence available to us, and evaluate facts and claims regarding reality. General semantics is based on the understanding that scientific method can be applied to human communication, thought, and action, to the benefit of individuals, and humanity as a whole.
There is nothing new, however, about the idea that we have lost all sense of cultural coherence, that we are subject to all manner of Orwellian doublespeak, or that public discourse has been trivialized by an emphasis on sensation and amusement.
But, have we turned a corner over the past year, as the emergence of terminology like post-truth, alternate facts, and fake news might seem to suggest? Have we reached a crisis point in our culture regarding the role of rationality and reality-testing? Are we on the verge of the kind of dystopian society commonly depicted in so many of our recent young adult novels?
Or is there hope? And are there ways of coping and strategies for fighting for the future that can be adopted by writers, journalists, educators, and citizens?
On November 30, we held a panel discussion and debate on the topic of Bob Dylan being awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. The panel, organized and moderated by Thom Gencarelli, featured a wide-ranging discussion that included multiple intersections with the discipline of general semantics. Here are the details of the program:
A Conversation about Bob Dylan
and his 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature
On Thursday, October 13, 2016, the Swedish Academy announced that it had awarded Bob Dylan its Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” While Dylan’s lack of acknowledgment and acceptance of the award until two weeks later raised controversy, this paled in comparison to the controversy raised right away as pundits in the professional media and across social media weighed in: He deserves it. He doesn’t deserve it. Popular songs aren’t literature. Lyrics aren’t poetry. If the Academy’s prize for literature is expanded to include popular song, is Dylan the only deserving songwriter? Is he the most deserving? Et cetera.
This roundtable discussion seeks to address, make sense of, and try to come to some conclusions with respect to all of this ruckus. The participants will consider questions including: What is the relationship of lyrics to poetry? What is the symbiotic relationship between lyrics and music in popular song? Is poetry literature? Are popular songs literature? What is the meaning and significance of the Nobel Prize, or any award for that matter? What is the significance of Bob Dylan? What is the literary value of his lyrics? What is so new and distinctive about his “poetic expressions” and use of language? And is everything important about Dylan and his contribution simply a matter of language?
Finally…does he deserve it?
Thom Gencarelli, Professor of Communication, Manhattan College
Callie Gallo, English Department Teaching Fellow, Fordham University
Sal Fallica, Professor of Media Ecology, New York University
Lance Strate, NYSGS President & Professor of Communication & Media Studies, Fordham University
On September 28, 2016 a crowd of over 100 people came to listen and watch over the course of the evening, as the New York Society for General Semantics joined forces with the Poetry at the Players group for a program of poetic performance.
Following an hour of dramatic readings of poems from the past in the tradition of the Poetry at the Players group, the NYSGS hosted a series of readings of original poetry on the part of David Linton, Martin Levinson, Lance Strate, and Adeena Karasick.
The original readings were prefaced by an Introduction by NYSGS President Lance Strate:
The introduction was followed by a performance by David Linton of Marymount Manhattan College:
The performances continued with a reading by Institute of General Semantics President, Martin Levinson:
Our first panel discussion on Election 2016 was so well received, we decided to host another one after the televised debates were completed. This second program was held on October 26th, and featured Sal Fallica, Professor of Media Ecology, New York University; Robin Levenson, Professor of Communication Studies, LaGuardia Community College; Terence P. Moran, Professor of Media Ecology, New York University; and moderated by NYSGS President Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University.
The program is now available for viewing on YouTube through the following link: Political Talk and Political Drama: Election 2016 Part 2, and below:
And look for a post-mortem program in the spring, and more postings in the near future!
Held in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the New York Society for General Semantics, a panel discussion on the presidential election campaign entitled "Political Talk and Political Drama: Election 2016" was held on September 9th, 2016, and featured Terence P. Moran, Professor of Media Ecology, New York University; Susan J. Drucker, Professor of Journalism, Media Studies and Public Relations, Hofstra University; Paul Levinson, Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University; and Marvin Kitman, author, humorist, and critic. The panel was moderated by NYSGS President Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University.
The program is now available for viewing on YouTube through the following link: Political Talk & Political Drama Part 1: Election 2016, and below:
A second panel discussion on the election was held more recently, and will be made available in the near future. Stay tuned!
Have you taken a look at our Links and Resources page yet? If not, why haven't you? And if you have, have you checked it out lately? We've added some new items to our Resources Available on This Site box that we are happy to make available to you.
This being a presidential election year in the US, we thought it appropriate to include Terence P. Moran's ETC article, "POLITICS 1984: That's Entertainment". Moran's analysis influenced Neil Postman's discussion of politics in his best known work, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and remains relevant for politics in 2016.
The topic of race remains one of the most important controversies and concerns in the US, which is why we decided to include "TWO ARTICLES ON 'RACE'" by the anthropologist Ashley Montagu, published in ETC back in 1944. This also serves as a reminder of the significant role that general semantics has played in education regarding stereotypes and prejudice.
As a follow-up to our previous post, We Mourn the Passing of Past President Allen Flagg, we are also including "An Interview with Allen Flagg" by Martin Levinson, published in ETC in 2006, and "'The World in Quandaries' Symposium," a report by Ben Hauck published in ETC in 2007.
Finally, we are pleased to make available a rare and lovely essay by Christine Nystrom that continues to generate great interest, "Literacy as Deviance," published in ETC in 1987.
Please let us know if you find these resources useful, and if you'd like to see more!
Members of the NYSGS community gathered at The Player's Club on the evening of Thursday, June 2nd, 2016 to meet and celebrate the beginning of a new program for the organization.
Around 30 friends of NYSGS came together to share food and drink, and to hear remarks from the current president, Lance Strate, as he announced a regular series of events for the Fall. Dr. Strate offered warm remembrances of NYSGS past-president Allen Flagg, who had passed away a few nights earlier, and opened the floor to friends to share their memories, including Cynthia Dantzic, Michael Fandal, Bob Larick, NYSGS Secretary and IGS Trustee Jacqueline Rudig, and NYSGS Treasurer and IGS President Martin Levinson.
At the close of the evening, Dr. Strate led a number of people on a short tour of The Players Club, including a visit to founder Edwin Booth's carefully preserved quarters, and a close look at his "life mask," dated 1864. It was a wonderful introduction to NYSGS's new home in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Manhattan, and we look forward to our next meeting.
The New York Society for General Semantics mourns the passing of our Past President, Allen Flagg.
Allen was President of the NYSGS for many years, and remained a member of the NYSGS Board of Directors, as well as a Trustee of the Institute of General Semantics, and an officer of the Friends of the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
IGS President and NYSGS Treasurer Martin Levinson commented, "Allen was a true Renaissance man and a kind and thoughtful person. He will be greatly missed by those of us in the general semantics community. The world is poorer for his absence."
For me and for many others, and for many, many years, Allen Flagg was the New York Society for General Semantics. He was an inspiration, I am very much saddened by his loss, and one of the main reasons I took on the presidency of the NYSGS was to carry on his legacy.
A Message from Lance Strate, President of the New York Society for General Semantics
What an honor and a thrill it has been for me to take on the role of President of the New York Society for General Semantics at the start of this year!
A great deal of work has been going on behind the scenes to get this organization back up and running, and we are looking forward to some exciting programs as we move forward.
The NYSGS has for many years offered a variety of thought-provoking, mind-expanding, intellectually stimulating, not to mention entertaining, and yes, even spiritually uplifting events, and I intend to uphold that tradition.
We have arranged to hold our events at The Players Club in Gramercy Park, a site that is historic and hospitable, and will undoubtedly help us to unleash the creative potential of our non-aristotelian approach.
We will also continue our long association with the Institute of General Semantics, including our co-sponsorship of the annual Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture and Symposium.
Please be sure to fill out the subscription form on our home page so we can send you updates about our upcoming events, news, resources, etc. And join us for the next phase in the history of NYSGS.
I'd like to close with a word of appreciation to the other NYSGS officers, Vice-President George Barenholtz, Secretary Jackie Rudig, and Treasurer Marty Levinson, as well as to past president Barry Chase, and especially to long time past president Allen Flagg, whose many years of service and enduring dedication has been an inspiration to us all!
And with that, I will end this introductory post, asking only that you stay tuned, we've only just begun!
The New York Society for General Semantics is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization established September 9, 1946.