"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

S. I. Hayakawa

This 1968 photo of S. I. (Samuel Ichiye) Hayakawa (1906-1992) by an unknown photographer hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
On December 2, 1968, the interim president of San Francisco State College, English professor and semanticist S. I. Hayakawa, climbed atop a sound truck during a student-led protest that sought a more inclusive campus across the board, from the student body to the faculty and administration. He then ripped out the speaker's wires and effectively silenced the protestors. This photograph shows a gleeful Hayakawa, in his signature tam-o'-shanter cap, next to another man who is struggling to reconnect the wires. 
Hayakawa initially exhibited sympathy for student activism. However, by 1968, he believed that the student movement had gone too far. With support from Ronald Reagan, who was then the governor of California, Hayakawa navigated escalating student protests and kept the campus open. Though in the end he rejected some of the students' demands, Hayakawa did honor their request to establish a Department of Black Studies.
S. I. Hayakawa in his two books Language in Action and Language in Thought and Action advocated for the General Semantics movement founded by Alfred Korzybski, a self-help doctrine bordering on pseudoscience but intended to shield modern  people against the propagandistic use of language. But He is more famous for his foray into politics and his opposition to the Free Speech movement.

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