Monthly Archives: July 2013

ORAGEAN MODERNISM: a lost literary movement – 1924-1953

 

 

Oragean Modernism is a fascinating display of critical and scholarly detection. It shows, the extensive influence that G. I. Gurdjieff’s writing and teaching have had on 20th century American literature. I recommend it as irresistible for all readers with an interest in either American literature, Gurdjieff or both. Sophia Wellbeloved

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The info below comes from ‘Amazon About this Book’

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DOL63OE#_

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In 1920 P.D. Ouspensky electrified the cultural avant-garde from New York to Moscow with his fourth-dimensional ideas about cosmic consciousness. His book Tertium Organum was a manual for becoming a Superman. He said:

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Two hundred conscious people, if they existed and if they find it necessary and legitimate, could change the whole of life on the earth. But either there are not enough of them, or they do not want to, or perhaps the time has not come, or perhaps other people are sleeping too soundly.”
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In 1925 the American followers of A.R. Orage rose to this challenge. Believing that they were the only force that could save the Earth from destruction, they carried out a master plan steeled by a new morality that faced head-on “the terror of the situation.” Fearlessly determined to intervene in world history, they infiltrated the American Communist Party and the publishing industry.
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The movement included Carl Van Vechten, Djuna Barnes, Nathaniel West, John Dos Passos, Arna Bontemps, Dawn Powell, James Agee, Maxwell Perkins, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, C. Daly King, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Dorothy West and many more.
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In Oragean Modernism, a lost literary movement Jon Woodson reveals the coded contents of their published writings—which were many of the stellar works of 20th century American literature.
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Jon Woodson’s Oragean Modernism: a lost literary movement, 1924-1953 (2013) is the sequel to his path-breaking intervention in Harlem Renaissance studies, To Make a New Race: Gurdjieff, Toomer, and the Harlem Renaissance (1999).

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Beginning with A Critical Analysis of the Poetry of Melvin B. Tolson (1979), Woodson has investigated complex modernist texts by African American writers, searching for the key to their contradictions, enigmas, and spellbinding literary mastery. Widening the scope of his inquiry to include Lost Generation authors, Woodson has revealed an unprecedented conspiracy of writers, editors, publishers, artists, intellectuals, and technocrats—all united in a secret plan to change the course of world history in order to circumvent a global disaster. Fortified by belief in their super-humanity, the Oragean Modernists were convinced that only they could redirect the fate of the Earth.

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Writing titanically, they produced a vast body of esoteric literature to disseminate their message to their contemporaries, and to future generations—should they fail. Comprising many popular and canonical literary works, the Oragean Modernist writings are nevertheless some of the most controversial and difficult literary works of the 1920s and 1930s. For the first time, Woodson’s iconoclastic study places these works in a context that gathers them into a narrative that is daring, sweeping, and intellectually electrifying.
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This is the best scan of what was going on in those crucial years, 1924–1953. His book is a major contribution to the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual history of the Harlem Renaissance and all the wells it drew from.O
Paul Beekman Taylor
Gurdjieff Historian
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clIck on

http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/B00DOL63OE/ref=sr_cr_hist_5?ie=UTF8&filterBy=addFiveStar&showViewpoints=0

for my online review of Oragean Modenrism

contact me on s.wellbeloved@gmail.com if you’d like to send me a review.

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Jon Woodson is a Howard University emeritus professor of English, Fulbright lecturer in American Literature, novelist, and poet. He is the author of :

Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants: Recovering the African American Poetry of the 1930s, OSUP, 2011

To Make a New Race: Gurdjieff, Toomer, and the Harlem. Renaissance, UP of Mississippi, 1999

A Study of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22: Going Around Twice, Lang, 2001.

Click on the link below for my review of Orgean Modernism

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RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE BIBLE: TALES & MEETINGS

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Recently I’ve received emails seeking to find and define differences betweenTales (Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson) and Meetings (Meetings With Remarkable Men). In my view there are many possible ways in which the texts might be explored, and understood.

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All of these must depend most fundamentally on the reader agreeing to do as Gurdjieff asks and read each of his texts (he includes Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I’ Am but excludes The Herald of coming Good ) in order to receive the special benefit he wishes for us (Tales vi). This implies an invitation to understand these books in relation to each other, and also in relation to the reader’s understanding.

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I’ve written about some of the ways that Gurdjieff’s texts might be considered as related in a number of sections on, Beelzebub’s Tales To His Grandson, Meetings With Remarkable Men, Life is Real Only Then, When ‘I’ Am’, The Herald Of Coming Good , Astrology, Autobiographical writings, Myth, Writings, and Zodiac in Gurdjieff: the Key Concepts (Routledge 2003).

However, I have recently been re-reading Northrop Frye’s The Great Code: The Bible As Literature (Ark Paperbacks, 1983) in which he employs typology as a literary critical method to examine the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testaments.

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Typology is a method of biblical interpretation whereby an element found in the Old Testament is seen to prefigure one found in the New Testament. The initial one is called the type and the fulfillment is designated the antitype. Either type or antitype may be a person, thing, or event, but often the type is messianic and frequently related to the idea of salvation. The use of Biblical typology enjoyed greater popularity in previous centuries, although even now it is by no means ignored as a hermeneutic.

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Typological interpretation is specifically the interpretation of the Old Testament based on the fundamental theological unity of the two Testaments whereby something in the Old shadows, prefigures, adumbrates something in the New. Hence, what is interpreted in the Old is not foreign or peculiar or hidden, but arises naturally out of the text due to the relationship of the two Testaments.

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(Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Baker, 1970) p. 223. http://www.theopedia.com/Biblical_typology

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Frye’s magisterial work: offers a correspondence of patterning between the two Testaments that in my view can also be found in the relationship betweenTales and Meetings.

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The following are examples of type and antitype:

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Jesus is the antitype of Adam, of Joshua, of prophets Moses and Elijah, of King Solomon.[ …] Christian baptism is the antitype of the saving of mankind from Noah’s flood. The Sermon on the Mount is the antitype to the Ten Commandments. Eternal life is the antitype of ritual observance. John’s “In the beginning” is the antitype to Genesis’s. The new, spiritual, heaven and earth in Revelations is the antitype to Genesis’s physical heaven and earth.

(Marion L. Billington – Frye, intro to typology – Mon, 2 Nov 98 5:58:46 EST ) on a site which discusses Frye’s work at length,

http://www.charm.net/~bfant/johnny/great/frye/Frye_Index.html

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Beginnings and Falls

As a brief example of reading the Bible in a relation of correspondence with Tales, we find that the Biblical creation story in closely followed by the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, (Genesis 1: 1-31) is echoed in Tales by His Endlessness’ creation of the world in order to expel time which is destroying his habitat (Tales 748 -49). The expulsion of Adam and Eve for knowing about good and evil is echoed in the expulsion of Beelzebub from his home planet Karatas, for knowing better than His Endlessness and thus threatening revolution and overthrow of the established order (Tales 52-3).

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Knowledge is the key reason for expulsion in both cases. Adam and Eve’s acquisition of knowledge from the Tree of Good and Evil creates God’s fear that they may also become Gods by eating from the Tree of Life, which would, in terms not directly explained in Genesis, certainly overthrow the established order.

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The Fall of Adam and Eve into a world of toil and suffering and the Fall of Beellzebub into our planetary system are both followed by series of further Falls. In Tales although there are periods of improvement these are always followed by loss and disorder which echo the series of biblical Falls (see Frye 170-71 ).

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Endings and Ascensions

The Biblical ascension of Ellijah taken up to heaven by a whirlwind (2 Kings, 4: 11-13) is mentioned in the last two verses of the Old Testament (Malachi 4: 4-6) we might relate this to the ascension of Beelzebub, pardoned by His Endlessness and returning to his home planet in a spaceship at the end of the Tales. This also suggests a narrative link to the ascension of Christ having obtained forgiveness for humanity and his return to His Father in Heaven (Acts 1: 9-11).

At the end of Tales Hassein weeps in compassion for humanity (Tales 1161-64) this is echoed by Gurdjieff at the end of Meetings where, during their last meeting, the author and Professor Skridlov also ascend; they ascend a mountain and on the summit the Professor weeps ‘not from grief, no, but as though from tenderness.’ (Meetings 245-46). His life has been utterly changed by his meeting with Father Giovanni, this has been to his ‘worldly misfortune’ that is a casting out of his old values. Giovanni is the Italian name for John so in Biblical terms both the name and the effect of Giovanni’s teaching suggest the last book of the New Testament the Revelation of St John the Divine.

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So, although we have touched only lightly on the beginnings and endings of these texts and their interrelationship, I hope that this will encourage further exploration and suggest that Frye’s text can be a stimulus to new ways of reading and to moments of new understanding. The relation of Tales to Meetings in terms of Frye’s typology could lead to a reading that finds the type or types representing Beelzebub in Tales related to the Old Testament and the antitype of Gurdjieff in Meetings relating to the New Testament.

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Frye writes in The Great Code of the circular interpretation of the Old and New Testaments the gospel story is true ‘Because it confirms the prophecies of the Old Testament,’ while the Old Testament prophecies are true because they are confirmed by the New Testament. ‘They form a double mirror, each reflecting the other but neither the world outside (Frye 78). This applies also to readings of Gurdjieff’s writings which are often validated with reference to his cosmological and practical teachings, while in turn each of these is validated by his texts.

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I don’t want to suggest that readings of either kind would result in any fixed understanding of Gurdjieff’s writings, or that any fixed understanding would in itself be useful. The value of text exploration and analysis leads to moments of new understanding, and in turn these lead to changes of state. And although these new understandings cannot and need not be clung onto as a ‘final’ or ‘true’ meaning any more that our changes of state can be clung to, they are in themselves beneficial.

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SIMSON NAJOVITS REVIEWS ‘Les Femmes Mystiques’

 

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The recently published Les Femmes Mystiques is an exceptional book; it is remarkable for the wealth of information it provides about women mystics of all the religions and spiritual movements from antiquity to the present, and it is remarkable from what can be interpreted from the overall impressions it exercises on readers.

It was complied under the direction of the young (37 years old) French specialist of religions Audrey Fella who leads in with a 43-page introduction in which she holds – and it certainly seems to be so – that it is within western Christianity in which there have been the greatest number of female mystics and that this is largely due to the influence of Jesus’ open attitude towards women, although she makes no mention of the influence of Saint Paul who clearly opted for the control and relegation of women to inferior status as all the historical religions have more or less done. Fella defines mysticism “as the union of the soul with God or the absolute” and believes that women mystics have “particularly distinguished themselves in “the affectionate and sometimes sensual mystic of love,” although “mysticism is no more feminine than it is masculine…and is not more natural to women than it is to men.”

More than 900 double-column pages of notices organized as a dictionary-encyclopedia, feature more than 250 women by more than fifty scholars of religion. This of course includes the Catholic women (more than half the total) we would expect to find like Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna, Thérèse de Lisieux, Héloïse, Bernadette Soubirous, or Edith Stein, but also the Protestants Sarah Edwards or Anne Lee, the Orthodox Xenia de Petersburg and the Copt Mary Kahil. And there are the Hindu Anadamayi Ma, the Buddhist Alexandra David-Néel, the Sufi Fâtima Bint Abî, the Hassid Malka Rokeah, and also Shintos, Taoists and Shamans…and, and the philosopher-scientist Hypathia, the Theosophist Helena Blavatsky, the Don Juan Matus and Carlos Castaneda-influenced neo-Shaman Taisha Abelar, artistic mystics like Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf or Isadora Duncan, political mystics like Simone Weill, Wiccans like Starhawk, “pagan” occultists like Lotus de Païni… The book is very usefully completed by a 22-page glossary of selected mystical and spiritual terms.

However, there is a glaring and surprising lack in this book – the quasi-absence of women linked to Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way. There is no mention whatsoever of Jeanne de Salzmann, Olga De Hartmann, Henriette Lannes, Pauline de Dampierre or Louise Welch. This absence doesn’t seem to be a result of unawareness of the Gurdjieff movement because the American painter Georgia O’Keefe’s knowledge of Gurdjieff’s teachings and her links to Jean Toomer are mentioned.

In only six pages and less than 4000 words, the Spanish emeritus professor Bernard Sesé traces the amazing career of Teresa of Avila from somebody who felt that she was “a miserable ruin and sinner” to somebody who came out on the other side of mortifications, the tricks of the devil, extreme torment, pain, suffering, extraordinary visions of enthrallment, constant meditation, prayer and study to joy, bliss, grace, union in her body with Jesus, “peace, quietude and ineffable peace of the soul,” love and service to others and one of the most important roles in the construction of Roman Catholic spiritual theology and a personal example to many other saints and doctors of the Church. There is a full description of how Teresa in her Interior Castle mapped “the seven mansions of the path of the soul until the center of the intimate castle where a spiritual marriage takes place.” This notice is a near-perfect example of what is possible using the way of devotion, a way that the Hindus name bhakti, personal devotion, adoration and loving faith, but it doesn’t adequately address questions which any person aspiring to neutrality must – did Teresa relish in suffering and was her despicience of the ordinary world (in Autobiography, the Way of Perfection she saw “ecstasy” as “making the soul despise the things of this world.”) a price that must be paid for magical religious rapture?

The notice about the Hindu saint and spiritual master Anadamayi Ma by the emeritus professor of INALCO (the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris) France Bhattacharya is especially well done. It tells how Anadamayi rose from a poor village girl in Bengal, subject to ecstatic trances, married off at 13, but refusing sexual relations, who at 22 years old experienced the divine kheyâl – the spontaneous desire for spiritual practice – and without the assistance of any guru became a spiritual master of immense emotional and intellectual intensity with a worldwide following. She respected Hindu rituals and unsurprisingly recommended a Hindu strictly vegetarian diet (without garlic or onions seen among Hindus following a spiritual path as foods which excite desires and favor a lack of mental control), but she was also noted for supporting spiritual equality irregardless of sex and caste.

I must mention that the notice about Anadamayi solved a longstanding personal mystery for me. As a young man I traveled from Paris (by all sorts of means, mostly hitchhiking) to the holy city of Hardwar in northern India to meet Anadamayi and at the end of a long day of rituals and talk I asked her to sign a book of her sayings and she signed with a dot, which I immediately interpreted as an esoteric symbol…and after all these years I learned from Bhattacharya’s notice that quite simply Anadamayi didn’t know how to write.

The notice about the neo-Shaman Taisha Abelar by Audrey Fella is particularly instructive for the questions it raises about the relevance of the abundance of criticism of the American Toltec shaman Carlos Castaneda (notably by William Patrick Patterson in The Life & Teachings of Carlos Castaneda in which he gives us a catastrophic portrait, especially of Castaneda’s last days, or his disappearance). While Fella mentions the widespread charges of fraud which Castaneda’s writings have provoked, notably the culminating magical practice of jumping off a cliff leading “to the passage from ordinary reality to another reality,” the notice about Abelar’s experiences seems to corroborate Castaneda‘s experiences and at the very least indicates a coherent spiritual system no different from what goes on in many other systems, and notably Tibetan Lamaism, and opens the question about is really possible using extreme methods and how all this can be divided into reality, imagination, self-suggestion or symbolic-metaphorical meaning. It brings to mind the definition of mythology by the British scholar of religions S.H. Hooke, in Middle Eastern Mythology :The right question to ask about myth is not, ‘Is it true?’ but ‘What is it intended to do?’

However, for anybody who believes that any wee particle of truth which we can find is in science and art rather than in religion or for anybody who is an atheist, it has to be acknowledged that what we have in Fella’s book is a huge accumulation of the usual mystic stuff about sexual abstinence, anorexia, stigma, lacrymations, possession, demonology, angelology, relics, visions, prophecies, premonitory dreams, dictated writing, healing and of course various mortifications. It is easy to interpret all this as psychosomatic phenomena born from an incapacity to accept reality as it is, or a refusal of reality, or a wishful, unquenchable thirst for a meaningful life, but one of the paradoxical and remarkable interpretations which can be made from Fella’s book is the overall impression that whatever one accepts or refuses about the truth of what is related it is impossible not to conclude that what we often have here are authentic spiritual adventures and the mystery of people who truly believe in spiritual fulfillment…and above all that often the genuine result is consolation, a consolation which rarely can be found in the spiritual paths which are less centered on mysticism.

This is turn raises a question which Gurdjieff addressed – as quoted by Ouspensky in In Search of the Miraculous; Gurdjieff states that monks are frequently “naïve”, but their essence, “the truth in man”, is more developed than in “an average cultured man”, a factor which opens the way of the fakir or the way of the monk to him…but “the method and means which are possible for a man of developed intellect are impossible for him.” Gurdjieff underscores that the way of the monk is “the way of faith, the way of religious feeling, religious sacrifice. Only a man with very strong religious emotions and a very strong religious imagination can become a monk. …All his work is concentrated on…feelings…But his physical body and his thinking capacities may remain undeveloped. …In order to be able to make use of what he has attained, he must develop his body and his capacity to think. …Very few get as far as this; even fewer overcome all the difficulties. Most of them either die before this or become monks in outward appearance only.” And so what one might venture to assert – and what we see in Fella’s book – is that the mystic, the monk, does indeed often find consolation, but that it is far less often than he or she goes far down the path towards unified growth, what Gurdjieff called “a real I am”, that is of course if one believes that any of the esotericisms or religions do in fact provide the means for a radical transformation rather than just constituting the fulcrum for a magnificent failure.

On the whole, Audrey Fella’s book is remarkably evenhanded and can be used for reference needs or even read from A to Z as fascinating biography. It is a sincere attempt to relate facts, or apparent facts, sprinkled with doses of criticism and even skepticism, but of course it has to be said that that like any book compiled by dozens of people with varied sensitivities it is also riddled with notices which make no attempt to separate possible legend from possible fact, an example of this being the notice about the Virgin Mary, Mother of God in which the usually related tale of Mary and the standard interpretation and meaning of her role are spun out by Thérèse Nadeau-Lacour, a professor of moral theology at the université Laval in Québec.

I hope that this book will soon be translated into English.

Fella, Audrey, (Directeur de la publication), Les Femmes Mystiques: histoire et dictionnaire, 1 vol (1087 pages), Notes bibliogr., Glossaire, Index, Robert Laffont, Paris, 2013.

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Simson Najovits is a writer and former Editor-in-Chief of Radio France Internationale where he broadcast on lifestyles, religion and politics. His stories, poems, essays and articles have been published in Canada, the United States, France and Britain. He is the author of the two-volume, Egypt, Trunk of the Tree, published by Algora in New York and translated into Arabic by Shorouk in Cairo. He has been awarded Canada Arts Council and Quebec Arts Council grants. He has lived in Paris for many years and spent many years in the Work.