On May 14th, the world lost one of its most celebrated, talented, and accomplished authors, Thomas Kennerly Wolfe, Jr., best known simply as Tom Wolfe. Wolfe earned his PhD in American Studies from Yale University in 1957, and worked as a newspaper reporter for a decade, writing for periodicals such as the Washington Post and the New York Herald-Tribune, as well as New York magazine and Esquire.
Wolfe pioneered the use of a personal, literary style in news reporting and feature writing that became known as the New Journalism. A best selling author, his nonfiction works include The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965); The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968); The Pump House Gang (1968); Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (1970); and His Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine (1976). His examination and critique of the contemporary American art scene, The Painted Word (1975), proved to be extremely controversial. His history of the early space program The Right Stuff (1979), was adapted as a feature film by Phillip Kaufman in 1983.
His book, In Our Time (1980), featured his own artwork, while From Bauhaus to Our House (1981), as a follow-up to The Painted Word, took on the topic of American architecture. Wolfe turned novelist with the publication of The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), which was followed by A Man in Full (1998), I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004), and Back to Blood (2012). Hooking Up (2001) collected several works of his short fiction coupled with several of his essays.
Tom Wolfe was an early promoter of media ecology scholar Marshall McLuhan, famously posing the question, "What if he's right?" in a 1965 essay published in New York magazine, and comparing McLuhan to the likes of Newton, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, and Pavlov. Wolfe's last book, The Kingdom of Speech (2016), a critique of Noam Chomsky's approach to linguistics, was awarded the Institute of General Semantics's S. I. Hayakawa Book Prize at last year's annual Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture, which was co-sponsored by the NYSGS.
Wolfe is credited with coining a number of terms, including the right stuff, radical chic, the Me Decade, good ol' boy, and statusphere. As an author and journalist, he was truly a man of letters, to invoke an old fashioned phrase that fits well with the famous man in a white suit, as he was known. And as a student and scholar of language, art, media, and communication, as well as a writer, interviewer, and raconteur, he most certainly was also a man of words.
On June 27th, 2018, the New York Society for General Semantics honored his contributions, creative and intellectual, and celebrated his achievements with a special panel discussion on select aspects of his career and publications.
The participants on this program were:
Thom Gencarelli, Professor and Chair of the Communication Department at Manhattan College, member of the Board of Trustees of the Institute of General Semantics, and the Board of Directors of the NYSGS, and the new editor of ETC: A Review of General Semantics.
Martin Levinson, author of several books on general semantics including a forthcoming new edition of Practical Fairy Tales for Everyday Living, President of the Institute of General Semantics and Treasurer of the New York Society for General Semantics.
Lance Strate, author of several books including the award-winning Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition, Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, Trustee of the Institute of General Semantics, and President of the New York Society for General Semantics.
The program was moderated by Jacqueline Rudig, Treasurer of the Institute of General Semantics, and member of the Board of Directors of the New York Society for General Semantics.
It was a thoughtful and belletristic discussion!
General semantics is concerned with the ways in which language and symbols function as representations of our outer environment and our innermost feelings and thoughts. These representations function as maps of our external and internal realities. They help us to understand what we perceive and experience, they guide us in evaluating and navigating our world, and they give us tools for thought and action.
Different representations or maps may be more or less accurate or more or less useful in helping us to achieve certain ends. But different representations or maps may also help us to learn about different aspects of our reality, providing us with different perspectives, and abstracting out of external events different parts of the greater whole. What scientific modes of representation tell us about the world, for example, is quite different from what literary modes reveal, but each one provides us with knowledge that the other cannot.
The theatre is one of our oldest forms of literary expression, one that has an extraordinary influence on our use of language and symbol, from the Attic playwrights of ancient Greece and the introduction of the proscenium arch, and the unparalleled creative production of William Shakespeare in Elizabethan England, to the avant-garde experimentation of Bertolt Brecht in 20th century Germany, and Lin-Manuel Miranda's combination of hip hop and history in the Broadway hit Hamilton.
It follows that it is worth considering questions such as, what is unique to theatre as a mode of representation? What are its advantages and limitations, its problems and potentials? What are the relationships between dramatic performance and language and symbol, spoken and written word, play and script? Importantly, what role can theatre play in helping us to understand our world, in education, in social and political commentary?
Given that programs for the New York Society for General Semantics are held in the historic Players Club, founded by Edwin Booth, the greatest dramatic actor of the 19th century, as a social club "for the promotion of social intercourse between the representative members of the dramatic profession and the kindred professions of literature, painting, sculpture and music, and the patrons of the arts," a panel discussion on theatre was especially appropriate.
The participants on this program were:
Emily Lyon, a Brooklyn-based theatre director and dramaturg who recently created a theatrical piece, How We Hear, inspired by Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. Her other directing work includes The Summoning (Best Direction, Best Production: sheNYC), Sword & the Stone/The Tempest tour (Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival), The Secret in the Wings (Hedgepig Ensemble), Women of Williams County (Best Ensemble: Manhattan International Theatre Festival), Interior: Panic (FringeNYC), Max Frisch’s The Arsonists (DCTV Firehouse), Some of the Side Effects (Best Premiere: UnitedSolo), and As You Like It (Geva Theatre Directing Fellow).
S. Brian Jones, Director of Operations for The Players, recently completed his masters in the Masters of Applied Theater program at CUNY School of Professional Studies. He has served as a Teacher in Residence and Arts Administrator with schools, regional theatre companies and social service agencies, conducted credential training workshops for teachers with Delaware Institute for Arts in Education, served as an advocate for Arts Education within the educational and government systems, and worked at Foundation Theatre, Freedom Theatre, Delaware Theatre Company, Christina Cultural Arts Center, New Castle County Parks and Recreation, La Jolla Playhouse, Horton Grand Theater, Ensemble Arts Theatre, Creative Management Group, Dorwell Productions, Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, the 1199 Child Care Corporation, The Artist Playground Theater and Inside Broadway. Most recently, he worked as the Education Programs Manager for the award winning Off-Broadway Company, Epic Theatre Ensemble.
M*** S******* is a New York based actor, director and writer. As a performer, he has appeared on Broadway in the 39 Steps and off Broadway in Small World at 59east59, Checkers at the Vineyard Theatre, Tryst at the Irish Repertory Theatre, As Bees In Honey Drown at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. His directorial work has been seen at The Alley Theatre, the Fulton Opera House, Virginia Stage, the Westport Country Playhouse, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, George Street Playhouse and many others. His play, The Dingdong: or How The French Kiss, an adaptation of Feydau’s Le Dindon, premiered Off Broadway and has played around the country. His adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which he will also direct, premieres this December at Florida Repertory Theatre. Mark is a graduate of Brown University and received his MA in Communication and Media Studies from Fordham University, where he teaches film courses. *Name withheld by request.
It was a lively and dramatic discussion!
On September 28, 2016, the New York Society for General Semantics held its first Language of Poetry session, and we were happy to host our second such program on April 4th, 2018. The program was moderated by Teresa Manzella, a member of the Board of Directors of the NYSGS.
The original readings were prefaced by an Introduction by NYSGS President Lance Strate:
The introduction was followed by a performance by Martin H. Levinson, a member of the Authors Guild, National Book Critics Circle, PEN, and the book review editor for ETC: A Review of General Semantics. He has published nine books and numerous articles and poems. His latest work, a book of poems titled Signal Reactions , is due to be published later this year. He is the president of the Institute of General Semantics and Treasurer of the New York Society for General Semantics.
The performances continued with a reading by Patricia Carragon, an active member of the online poetry group brevitas, the PEN Women’s Literary Workshop, Women Writers in Bloom, and the creative writing workshop Tamarind, and an executive editor for Home Planet News Online. Her latest books are The Cupcake Chronicles (Poets Wear Prada, 2017) and Innocence (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Patricia hosts the Brooklyn-based Brownstone Poets and is the editor-in-chief of its annual anthology.