Category Archives: REVIEWS

John Robert Colombo reviews Gurdjieff’s Early Talks

Gurdjieff’s Early Talks is a substantial volume, both physically and psychologically. As if to prove the truth of that statement, the book bears one of the longest title-subtitle combinations on record: Gurdjieff’s Early Talks 1914-1931 in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Essentuki, Tiflis, Constantinople, Berlin, Paris, London, Fontainebleau, New York, and Chicago. That is eleven cities in all!

The tome measures 8.5″ x 5.5″ and has a heavy card cover with pages that are light cream in colour. While the type is small, it is surprisingly easy to read. Here is the pagination: xx+442+vi. The publisher is Book Studio, a company that was founded in London, England, in 2008. Its website < http://bookstudio.co.uk/&gt; rewards checking , for it offers for sale a roster of new and reprinted Work-related books, all beautifully designed and printed and less well known than they should be.

One of its recent compilations is Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson’: New York Talks 1926-1930 which appeared in 2013. It consists of A.R. Orage’s lecture notes, edited with care by Lawrence Morris and Sherman Manchester. I devoted a fair amount of time reading the book from cover to cover. The text is quite repetitive and it made me think of the musical convention of “theme and variations” and specifically of Wallace Stevens’s ingenious poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Yet Orage was a brilliant writer, personality, and presenter, so the reader learns something new even when the author covers familiar ground.

Book Studio’s website also lists what must be a companion volume to the present one, a volume that I have yet to see. I have made a note to order it. Its title is as follows: Transcript of Gurdjieff’s Wartime Meetings 1941-46. Here is a description of its contents from Book Studio’s website:

“With the outbreak of the Second World War, Gurdjieff’s American and English students were unable to return to Nazi occupied Paris, nevertheless, Gurdjieff continued to teach despite difficult and dangerous wartime conditions. In 1938, Jeanne de Salzmann introduced her French work group to him, and with this nucleus, Gurdjieff held regular meetings at his Paris flat throughout the occupation.

“In question and answer format, Gurdjieff answers his students’ questions on practical work in daily life and gives specific advice, guidance, and exercises. Among those present in Gurdjieff’s company at this time were René Daumal, Luc Dietrich, Jeanne de Salzmann, Tcheslaw Tchekhovich, Henri Tracol and René Zuber. Thirty-three meetings held at 6, rue des Colonels Renard, Paris. Second edition with new material. Complete and unexpurgated.”

Since I am quoting from the publisher’s catalogue copy online, I will reprint the website’s description of the present publication, the one being reviewed here: Gurdjieff’s Early Talks.

“The talks in this volume are not verbatim transcriptions. In the early years of Gurdjieff’s exposition of the fourth way teaching, he rarely allowed notes to be taken during his talks. The majority of his early talks were written down after the fact by pupils who were present, either individually or collectively, and should be taken as recollections of what people believed Gurdjieff to have said.

“The provenance of the talks are library archives, private collections, and individuals from all around the world. They have been arranged chronologically and are presented in this edition for the first time in their entirety. [The last three words appear in italics in the original.] Over one hundred authentic talks, unaltered and unexpurgated. Illustrated and fully indexed, with exercises, sayings and aphorisms.”

So the present book is a bonanza for the reader. A feature that goes unmentioned is the forty-six photographs that are reproduced (rather indistinctly, unfortunately) from the collection of the multi-talented impresario Gert-Jan Blom. There are also perhaps half that number of line drawings devoted to the interactions of the centres. There is a one-page bibliography and a ten-page, detailed index. This is a generous book.

I have yet to mention the contribution of Joseph Azize who is no stranger to this website (which is maintained by Sophia Wellbeloved in Cambridge, England). In an appreciative foreword titled “In Appreciation: A Short Essay of Commendation,” Azize extolls this “practical system of ideas and methods, which, if diligently applied, would bridge the gap between dream and reality.” He continues, “The path which Gurdjieff pointed to does not lead straight out of the world, but through it, fulfilling the legitimate demands of daily life.”

By now the Work in the West is a century old and Azize argues that it has reached “a critical point … an interval or gap.” The note do represents Gurdjieff’s personal efforts, the note re the work of his direct pupils, and the note mi the publication of his writings and music. The mi-fa interval requires “access to all of his talks, transcripts and papers in their original form,” and it also requires that there be access to “even the English version of Beelzebub, upon which Gurdjieff manifestly placed so much of his hopes.”

With respect to Gurdjieff’s Early Talks, Azize states that “books like this one are vital for the entirety of the Gurdjieff work.” The transmission of the legacy requires this or “the direction will veer off into tangents. The Gurdjieff Work will lose its vivifyingness.” Azize’s argument makes sense in the context of the Work, yet it is hard to imagine how the preservation and publication of texts like these, with their limited distribution, will add the necessary “shock.” He recognizes this and faults the publication of Views from the Real World because “it was neither transparent nor respectful of the integrity of the texts.” He concludes this line of argument: “Sometimes, to polish is to tarnish. And here, at last, are the unpolished texts, taken down by anonymous pupils.”

It is interesting that nowhere in his foreword does he mention the name of P.D. Ouspensky who did more than anyone else at the time to preserve Gurdjieff’s verba ipsissima. Nor does he refer to the more recent achievement of Stephen A. Grant who worked to the same end through the redaction of a fresh translation of Gurdjieff’s words in Ouspensky’s text in a form that has appeal to today’s serious reading public. I am referring to Grant’s adventurous volume – it is not temerareous at all – titled The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff. It is a collaboration across time, across the interval, so to speak, presumably what Azize has in head and heart and hand.

In these pages there are texts of 103 talks, some as short as a paragraph in length, others more than twenty pages long, to a word-count in the neighbourhood of 186,000 words. Here is what is colloquially known as “god’s plenty,” rather more than one would expect covering only seventeen years of Gurdjieff’s life. The editing is seemingly effortless, though here and there, near the beginning, I found myself wondering, “Who is speaking?” After reading all the texts, it comes as a relief to discover two short sections titled “Sayings” and “Aphorisms.”

Here are two instances from the former: “Real art is knowledge, not talent” and “Think of what you feel, and feel what you think.” Here are two instances from the latter: “Like what ‘it’ does not like” and “There are here no Russians, or English, Jews or Christians, but only those who follow one aim – to be able to do.” As a collector of quotations myself, I am delighted to have these terse expressions at hand, though I find myself scratching my head as to why the former are described as sayings while the latter are considered to be aphorisms: they seem to me to be much alike coming from the same mind.

Scratching my head is not my response to the talks themselves, but expressing my pleasure at having them in print describes my elated reaction. A thorough review of the contents here would require presenting what is known about the Work through previous publications and teachings plus the additional insights embedded in the present text. That would take thousands of words and too many computer screens.  Instead, I will note a half dozen sections which intrigued me and hence will, I assume intrigue every reader.

1. Asked about the origin of the teaching, Gurdjieff answered, “My teaching is my own. It combines all the evidence of ancient truth that I collected in my travels with all the knowledge that I have acquired through my own personal work.” (This comes from the section “Questions and Answers, Prieuré, October 1922.”)

2. Discoursing on symbology, he said, “My task was to give my listeners a sensation of the taste of understanding with which one must approach the search after the laws of truth. Once more I repeat: in order to understand in these matters, constant efforts are necessary.” (From “Lecture on Symbolism: The Enneagram.”)

3. On the subject of non-identification, he noted, “Humanity is earth’s nerve ends, through which planetary vibrations are received for transmission …. We can easily sacrifice our pleasures but not our sufferings; we are too identified with them – we love ourselves too much. We must learn to express opposite feelings. Everything in the universe has a place in a scale.” (Delivered on Monday, 17 July 1922; no locale identified.)

4. On Christianity, he stated, “Mind is governed by a devil. Do not let your mind slave for your essence. The thinking center is Christian, the emotional center is pre-Christian, the body is pagan. Emotional center with body make the devil, which the thinking center must learn to control.” (From “Summary of Lectures: Fifth Lecture: Christianity.”)

5. Discussing kinds of impressions, he makes an amazing declaration that is well worth pondering at considerable length: “We are only sincere in our imagination.” (This comes from Wednesday, 5 January 1921.)

6. Covering a wide range of subjects, he makes a statement that has always haunted me since I first encountered it in the 1950s in the pages of In Search of the Miraculous: “Eastern Art has a mathematical basis, it is a script with an inner and outer content. In Persia there is a room in a monastery which makes one weep, owing to the mathematical combinations of parts of the architecture. Real art is knowledge, not talent.” (From “Religion, Will, Education, New York, Saturday, 1 March 1924.”)

It is interesting to consider what is not included in the talks. In the index there are hardly any references to people, not even to Madame de Salzmann, though there are three odd mentions of P.D. Ouspensky. The first reference identifies him as being present at a meeting at Warwick Gardens; the second mistakes him for Madame Ouspensky; the third identifies him as “a writer and professor of psychology”! (Ouspensky objected to be identified by his publishers as “a mathematician”; I wonder what his take on being labelled a “psychologist” would be.)

Come to think of it, in the text there are no references at all to Carl Jung or Sigmund Freud, despite the fact that what is being proposed by Gurdjieff is a system of psychopraxis with many principles and procedures in common with the then-current psychological and psychiatric theories of the Swiss and the Austrian clinicians and theorists. Indeed, Jung’s practice of “active imagination” kept popping into my mind as I read many of the procedures and approaches identified with Gurdjieff during these years.

There are instances of the withholding of sensitive information in the text of Views from the Real World and these lacunae have been mentioned in passing in the literature of the Work. Although the present texts are presented verbatim, so to speak, there are some examples of this practice in these pages. I will give one instance. In the section “Fontainebleau, Friday, 19 January 1923,” Gurdjieff outlines the role of “the general accumulator” with regard to the energy required for self-remembering. Here is the text:

It is possible to prolong memory of self-remembering by making the energy stored in us last longer, if we are able to manufacture a store of this energy.

[At this point Mr. Gurdjieff gave an exercise.]

Up to now we have been doing all the exercises mechanically, without thought ….

The bracketed words are in italics in the original.

And so it goes. I imagine an ideal world with all the interested parties – biographers, historians, researchers, lecturers, instructors, group leaders, and students of the Work – busy turning the pages of Gurdjieff’s Early Talks 1914-1931, if only to savour the taste of the Special Doctrine.

 

John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist who lives in Toronto. His latest books are A World of Differences (a collection of poems), The Northrop Frye Quote Book (3,600 quotations from the writings of the Canadian literary critic), and The Rohmer Miscellany (the record of Colombo’s long-time fascination with the works of the author Sax Rohmer, creator of Fu Manchu). His books are described on the website < www.colombo.ca >.

 

 

 

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John Robert Colombo reviews: “Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff: The Man – The Teaching – His Mission”

William Patrick Patterson’s latest opus is reviewed by John Robert Colombo.

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In the past I have reviewed in some detail four or more of the books written by William Patrick Patterson. The reviews have appeared on this web-blog devoted to Gurdjieff studies which is maintained by the Cambridge scholar Sophia Wellbeloved. As well, I recently reviewed the author’s last book “Adi Da Samraj – Realized and/or Deluded?” for “Parabola,” the New York quarterly publication which celebrates all the world’s spiritual traditions in words and illustration.

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Mr. Patterson (hereinafter WPP) needs little or no introduction to the readers of this web-blog. He is an extremely busy man, a long-time student of the late Lord Pentland (to whom the book is co-dedicated; guess the identity of the other co-dedicatee), and one of the principals behind Arete Communications, Publishers, Fairfax, California. Since the 1990s, WPP has been the mainstay of the Gurdjieff Legacy Foundation (which arranges study groups, seminars, workshops, talks, etc.) and the Gurdjieff Studies Program (which offers correspondence courses and private instruction).

Since 1992, he has edited the triannual publication called “The Gurdjieff Journal.” (I have been a subscriber from the first issue. I find its issues informative, though lately I sense the articles have begun to reflect the editor’s general cultural and social interests rather than specific Fourth Way matters.)

WPP was born in 1937 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has extensive experience as a writer and editor. Elsewhere he has described in detail his closeness to Lord Pentland who in 1953 was one of the founders of the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York City. WPP operates his enterprises in the busy field of the human potential movement, but he does so in that sector of it (the Fourth Way) that has been accustomed to privacy.

WPP appears to be a “one-man Gurdjieff movement” who runs a “one-stop Gurdjieff program.” His dedication, energy, knowledge, determination, and popular scholarship are not to be downplayed. Yet feelings run high in some circles that serious work in this sector takes place only in private. I have no problems appreciating his own contribution and legacy.

So much for WPP. Arete publishes serious and specialized books, so these titles seldom receive the media or even the word-of-mouth exposure that they deserve, a fate that is shared with the productions of many another dedicated publishing imprint. So my policy in reviewing such books has been two-fold: to go overboard in describing the physical appearances of Arete’s books; to go to great length to outline their contents. My assumption is that readers will never see copies of any of these books, unless they are specially ordered from specialty bookshops or mail-order services like By the Way Books or direct from the publisher’s website. (For the record I purchased my copy from the website.)

Now to “Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff: The Man, The Teaching, His Mission.” I have no idea how many copies of this book have been printed, but since it is a good and useful publication, I hope the press-run is extended at least ten times! Yet the publisher has to take into account the appetite of the market. It is a very interesting book, rather like a bowl of plum-pudding: Turn the page to learn something new, or to be reminded of something old in a new way. It is a book for people who are _interested_ in the Fourth Way, not principally participants in the Work.

The book is a big volume: over 650 pages in all, probably around 350,000 words in length. It measures 6 by 9 inches and is 2 inches thick. The pages are well designed; the type is well-leaded and easy to read. It is a sturdy, bound volume with card covers and maroon-coloured end-sheets and (a classy touch!) a thin white ribbon to serve as a bookmark. There are more than ten dozen black-and-white photographs and illustrations, some new arrivals, others old standbys. The book is of good workmanship and the text is substantial and well as organized.

The copy on the dust-jacket (undoubtedly written by WPP) identifies this title as the author’s ninth book. It points out, in addition, that he has produced the award-winning video trilogy (“The Life and Significance of GIG”) and two recent videos (which I have yet to view) called “Introduction to The Fourth Way: From Selves to Individual Self to The Self” and “Spiritual Pilgrimage: Visiting Gurdjieff’s Father’s Grave.”

The only way to convey the tome’s contents is to describe its table of contents. The Acknowledgements and Foreword are routine. The bulk of the text consists of nine sections arranged chronologically. An unusual feature is one that is found in the books of Colin Wilson: each section, part, or chapter is summarized through quasi-headlines: “Candidate for the madhouse. Exoteric, mesoteric, esoteric. Saleswoman of Sunwise Turn. Dangerous distortion. Orage ostracized.” They make amusing and sometimes startling reading. This sample comes from Part VI: The Herald.

Without further comment on my part, here are the titles of the nine sections: Part I, Search for the Miraculous. Part II, Higher Dimensions. Part III, Magicians at War. Part IV, Tzvarnoharno. Part V, All and Everything. Part VI, The Herald. Part VII, The Way of the Sly Man. Part VIII, Uspenskii in America. Part IX, Strike a Big Do. The attentive reader will catch from these titles the drift of the presentation of WPP’s presentation of the by-now canonical account of how this “self-supporting” part of the Eastern Wisdom Tradition was brought to the West.

The Afterword itself is nine pages in length and offers the reader a pertinent account of WPP’s current thinking about the Fourth Way and the great role he sees it playing in the contemporary world faced with “the scientific entrancements of Technology.” (I will return to the author’s odd argument and the conclusions he draws from it at the end of this review.)

The rest of the Afterword consists of fascinating documents that the author (as editor or compiler) has turned up in his researches in university libraries’ manuscript collections. There is the longest version that I have seen of the scenario of the ballet “The Struggle of the Magicians.” This is followed by two manuscripts dated 1926 in which P.D. Ouspensky ponders the historic cleavage: “Why I Left Gurdjieff” and “The Struggle of the Magicians: Where I Diverge from Gurdjieff” (Had I world enough and time, I would delve into these matters.)

What follow are WPP’s own essays: “Gurdjieff in Egypt: The Origin of Esoteric Knowledge” and “Gurdjieff and Christianity” and “Gurdjieff, Uspenskii, Orage and Bennett” and “Personals and the Inner Animal” and “The Science of Idiotism” and “Images of God or Machines?” (These essays are reprinted from “The Gurdjieff Journal” so they will be new to that publication’s non-subscribers. They are thoughtful and based on original research, or at least on vast reading.)

There follow short essays and reminiscences by various hands on various subjects: Jessie Dwight Orage, Solita Solano, Carman Barnes, Frank Lloyd Wright, Count Bobrinskoy. These texts seem to be hitherto unpublished and of anecdotal interest, so it is nice to have them in print. The occasional pieces are followed by WPP’s Notes, thirty-four of them, ranging in length from one paragraph (Chief Feature) to three pages (Seekers of Truth). Some of the pieces are rehashes, but others (to name a few: Intelligentsia, Mercourov, Mouravieff) offer new information or formulations in a readable way.

Following the Notes is the Chronology which goes from Gurdjieff’s year of birth 1872 (by WPP’s determination) to the man’s death (at the age of only seventy-seven) in 1949. The entries here cover current events as well as developments connected with the Work (which WPP has paralleled in previous books). What struck me about the section is just how some assumptions based on slight evidence have passed into statements of fact (two instances: Gurdjieff’s “working in the employ of the thirteenth Dalai Lama” in 1902; Aleister Crowley’s visit to the Priory in 1926).

A section that is likely to be overlooked is the one called References. It is the book’s backbone for it consists of twenty-five pages of sources (almost exclusively based on 111 English-language texts). A lot of time and effort was expended on this section, largely invisible to the casual reader – to the extent that a book of this seriousness attracts the attention of “the casual reader.”

I had long wondered if anyone would ever comb through the vast literature of the Fourth Way and then quiz senior participants in order to generate a list of its leading students, thereby exhibiting the zeal shown by genealogists of the Church of Latter Day Saints who copy birth records for their retroactive rite of baptism as Mormons! WPP has done the hard work. The section titled “Gurdjieff’s Students” consists of the names of 144 men and women, with vital years, schematically arranged, beginning with Russians, then yielding to English followers, French students, and finally American activists. Some Australians are named, but no Canadians (excepting Gurdjieff’s one-time physician, Dr. Bernard Courtenay-Mayers).

The Afterword concludes with the six pages devoted to the Selected Bibliography, and with an Index that is analytic, one dozen pages in length. In a sense, I suppose, this Afterword exhausts WPP’s larder of hard-to-digest information and opinion. The Afterword is almost a book in itself, one that could be titled “Fourth Way Notes and Queries.”

Having described the beginning and the ending of this book, I find I have passed over its middle section – the nine parts mentioned earlier in this review – which runs from page 1 to page 418! Yet I have already written over 1,400 words, and I wonder how long this review should be. I will leave it to the reader’s imagination – and perhaps to part two of this review – to fill in the big blank.

In a sense the heart and core of the book is found in the nine pages of the Afterword per se. This section seems to be a summary at the present time of the author’s thoughts on Gurdjieff’ “mission” (though “Gurdjieff’s ‘work’” might be a better term to use). WPP views Gurdjieff as a teacher and hence as someone who “acts.” What is this about? “His aim was to keep students between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no,’ keep them in question, and thus not knowing, for knowing is closure.” His message is that man is born without a soul and must acquire one and then develop it along given lines. He is truly the “Teacher of Dancing” because he is “one who embodies, understands and teaches the principles and laws of consciously receiving and transmitting energy in order to coat a soul.”

More than a century ago Gurdjieff recognized an imperative (memorably formulated in slightly different words by Denis Saurat): “Unless the ‘wisdom’ of the East and the ‘energy’ of the West could be harnessed and used harmoniously, the world would be destroyed.” WPP adds, “A major shock had to be given to avert the world’s destruction – the revelation of a heretofore esoteric teaching known only by its initiates …. ” There are religions founded by Hasnamusses as well as those founded by “genuine Messengers from Above.” The sign of the true religion is “wholeness” which is to be found in “the whole sensation of myself.” There is need for a new conception of God. “Then it follows that there must be a new conception of religion.” A tall order, indeed!

We live in trying times. WPP writes, referring to rolls of camera film, with its negative images and positive prints, “We either develop the positive or die in the negative.” He continues, “This eternal truth is inborn in every World-Time, be it Hunter-Gatherer, Agrarian, Industrial, Post-Industrial, and now the Technological.” He quotes from his second-last book “Spiritual Survival in a Radically Changing World-Time” about the dangerous nature of Technology. (In his books the word Technology is capitalized.) “Technology is not us. And yet it is us. This is what makes it so difficult to understand.”

We have to relate to Technology. “The hazard of not relating to it rightly is not only to forfeit our very identity and spiritual possibility, but to open the Gates of Hell to a certain planetary destruction that will erase the human experiment.” Yet introduced into the apocalyptic vein are pints of fresh new blood. “The seminal and sacred teaching Gurdjieff brought is in essence scientific in that it is centered in continual questioning, verification, exploration, and faith of Consciousness, not belief or dogma.” He continues, “It is _the religion for our time_ so directly attuned is it to the World-Time.”

I find the phrase “World-Time” to be off-putting, and I am uncertain about its origin. It looks and sounds like a formulation from the German historian Oswald Spengler. (Perhaps Weltzeit?) Is it used by other writers than WPP?

“Only the Fourth Way can stand against the scientific entrancements of Technology, as it itself is founded in a scientific technology, albeit a sacred one, of self and soul development by inner practices based on the knowledge of chemical processes and laws. The only foundation that can adequately carry this is the awakening to and acceptance of the truth that the teaching Gurdjieff brought is an esoteric school united with its true and original Christian origin.”

I find the tone of the Afterword to be disturbing, evangelical in its strain and tenor, and while one may applaud the author’s moral fervour, it seems the argument is more rhetorical than reasonable. There are few connectives. Will all the doom and gloom be lifted by a quorum of followers of the Fourth Way? Technology presents problems but not ones that science cannot resolve. Problems should be dealt with on their own level. In this context, I find myself recalling the final, sobering sentence of Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion (1927, 1968) translated by James Strachey. The founder of psychoanalysis and the critic of the world’s cultures wrote as follows: “No, our science is no illusion. But an illusion it would be to suppose that what science cannot give us we can get elsewhere.”

According to this tome’s jacket-copy, as I mentioned earlier, this publication is WPP’s ninth book. It is also the author’s longest and most ambitious book, one that at times brings to mind James Webb’s tremendous work The Harmonious Circle. The jacket-copy goes on to say that the present volume will be WPP’s “last.” His last on Gurdjieff? On the Fourth Way? On saving the world from itself? I hope that this is not so. Say it is not true, WPP.

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto author and anthologist with a special interest in Canadiana and esotericism and wisdom traditions. He is the author, editor, compiler, or translator of over 220 books, all listed on his website < www.colombo.ca > . A book of his poems “The World of Differences” will appear in February of this year. He has compiled “The Northrop Frye Quote Book” (3,600 quotable quotes arranged by 1,100 subject headings), a decade-long undertaking, which will be published in March.


JOSEPH AZIZE REVIEWS: Martin Benson Speaks

Martin Benson Speaks, ed. Carl Lehmann-Haupt, Codhill Press, 2011 (248 pages)

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In previous posts, I have stated my conclusion that the Gurdjieff Work has reached an interval in its historical development. Increasing difficulties are met with in the Work, whether considered at the level of individuals, groups or as a movement. These difficulties are lawful, for now – right now – all are working in the interval. The momentum that once was is now weak, and the new energy which is needed has not yet appeared. Worldwide, the Gurdjieff current and all those in that line, are in the interval of its development.

The great value of Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods is still apparent. But the line of force which came from Gurdjieff himself and his direct pupils has been dispersed, never to be directly recovered. At the interval, indeed, precisely at the interval, new forces are needed, and wisdom is necessary if it is not to be diverted in a new direction, and run the risk of disappearing, or even worse, continuing and becoming its opposite.

Memoirs and collections of talks, such as those in this interesting volume, provide some of the requisite force. Will they provide sufficient? By themselves, of course not. The ideas have to be applied in a balanced manner. Yet, I think that I can be confident that this book will help.

This is the sort of book which puts the content back into the over-used word “interesting”. Too often, that word is used to avoid making unflattering comments, or to hide an inability to articulate certain qualities felt rather than distinctly seen. But this book arouses one’s interest. It provokes further thought, and leads one to pursue further avenues of study.

It is not what I would judge to be one of the first-rate recent Gurdjieff books, such as those by Solange Claustres and Jeanne de Salzmann, or the recently published volume of Orage’s commentaries on Beelzebub. Neither, however, is it at the other extreme with some others there is no need to name. But some of it is very powerful, and even when I am disposed to disagree with Benson, or to be doubtful, his opinion is nonetheless worth examining. Beyond even that, there are passages where he articulates a line of thought I had been tentatively developing. It was delightful to come upon such confirmation.

The great weakness of the book is that it is an apparently randomly assembled collage. Benson does not really emerge: we obtain glimpses of him. We hear his voice but don’t really see him. Hence, perhaps, the title – for it really is just Martin Benson speaking with the bare minimum, if that, by way of introduction.

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The Groups

I will start with what is, for me, the most important example, Benson’s observance of two differing tendencies in the Gurdjieff Foundation groups: the Ouspensky-influenced organisation, and the “sittings” introduced into in the 1960s by Jeanne de Salzmann working in tandem with Bill Segal. Lehmann-Haupt writes:

Martin Benson was a different kind of teacher and his approach to the Work differed from the more psychological one practised by some of Gurdjieff’s other pupils. … He didn’t believe in psychological exercises. He didn’t think you could come to a state of attention by closing your eyes in a quiet place at an appointed time. “You all talk about attention,” he said, “but you haven’t got the power to come to a real attention, just by yourself.” He believed that one had to be put on the spot and shocked before one would be able to attend productively. (12)”

Benson himself is quoted as declaring:

I could almost answer that nobody, sitting in a quiet time, can come to attention. You have to be in a receptive part of attention, and it takes a big shock so that you’re ready to receive it; that will put you into real attention. Now, you may not believe this, but this is what I have come to. The Old Man was capable of giving us the shock.” (78)”

You know why I don’t go to sittings? On account of that. … the reason people go to sittings is the thing I don’t want to go to sittings for. … Instead of arriving at a state of absolute awareness of yourself – what we call consciousness – you may arrive at what we call illumination. This is what the Japanese go in for in Zen. The danger of a process is that one could go so far and never return. … I don’t delve into the Zen thing because I figured out years they {sic} they’re out after illusions not consciousness. (159-160)”

So I suggested last year, “This is not the Gurdjieff Work anymore. We should change the name from the Gurdjieff Foundation to the British Ouspensky People in America Foundation.” Well, Mme de Salzmann almost died when I said that. (171)”

This confirms, or at least lends support for, the view that the “New Work” which Jeanne de Salzmann introduced in the 1960s under the influence of Asian practitioners to whom she had been introduced by Bill Segal, was truly, as it so clearly appears to be, a departure from Gurdjieff’s line. The only question is whether, together with this new practise, she also continued to teach Gurdjieff’s preparation and exercises. There are different views about that. Incidentally, if I understand Benson correctly, he felt that he could help Segal, who was – it seems – too much off with the spirit, and not enough in and caring for the body (p.157). Benson’s way and advice was to “Keep your feet on the earth” (163).

Benson was critical of the Ouspensky groups ( see pages 39, 118 and 192). I am interested in those remarks chiefly because they relate to the question the form of the Work, and how too rigid a form can stifle the content. But an unyielding and even doctrinaire approach to the Work was by no means the exclusive preserve of the Ouspensky people. I knew some people from the Foundation who could have given Ouspensky a few tips in this respect.

To my mind, the issue of change and continuity comes it is an inescapable part of the human condition: we need both. That is, we cannot live without a mix, or perhaps a balance, of change and continuity. We need principled development. But, as stated above, we also need the wisdom to judge when the development is based on sound principles, and when it is a lop-sided development which will lead to the diversion, indeed the corruption of the line of work. We need discrimination to sift the good ideas from the bad. We need courage to stand against a group, when it is necessary, but who has the wisdom to know when refusing to accept the group consensus is merely self-will?

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The Human Condition and the Exercises

This, I think, is true: our quandary before all these questions of judgment is an inescapable part of our condition. Speaking of our condition, Benson provides a hitherto unpublished comment by Gurdjieff which sheds, I would say, a powerful light on our condition:

You know, Mr Gurdjieff would say a curious thing: “The angels are pure, and there is no place for them to go. We on this earth are fallen angels, but we have a place to strive for, objectively and actively to come to.” (138)”

Benson also gives some information about the exercises which came directly from Gurdjieff, and which I have said time and again, are to be distinguished from the “New Work”. In respect of these exercises, and I reiterate that I have recently been informed that Jeanne de Salzmann did teach them to small groups, Benson said:

You never know what you do in these exercises to allow things to happen, allow vital things to happen otherwise nothing will happen. (140)”

This may well be very true: it is not that Gurdjieff’s exercises and preparation furnish any guarantee, but perhaps they allow a certain movement of vital energies to occur which otherwise would not, or probably would not. And that may be sufficient to make these exercises critical.

The book abounds with some most unusual observations. Some of them may just be strange, but others, such as the “salt in the mountain” remarks (127), strike me as quite possibly true, and if so, point to a phenomenon we have been too little aware of. Just recently, a newspaper article in the Sydney Morning Herald, stated, quite in passing, that the indigenous aboriginals of Australia had known that there was something unhealthy beneath a certain are in Kakadu, and refused to live there. It turns out that it harboured uranium deposits.

Another idiosyncratic, but profound comment is about how he ran the Sundays at the ice house at Armonk:

I don’t demand anything, least of all the finished product – or to do things neatly, correctly. That’s not the demand. I make such demands of the natural forces that make their senses vibrate and grow close to nature in the greater sense of the word, to actually feel that they’re alive in order to do better things. (164)”

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Glimpses of Gurdjieff

Little is said in this book about Gurdjieff. One of the anecdotes, concerning Gurdjieff’s remark to the minister at Benson’s wedding, strikes me as rather inconsequential (178-179). But the others strike me as more powerful. Benson has an interesting slant on Gurdjieff’s habit of writing in cafés: it was, he says, in order to steal the “wasted emotions” of the people who were there (173-174). This then starts Benson speaking about the “stealing” exercise, which he also does at p.156, where he curiously says that he could have performed the exercise had he been able to get into an objective state, but that he had never been able to. The passages at pp.123-124 about taking a part of God’s force may not be the same thing, exactly, but neither are they unrelated, and they repay careful pondering.

Another forceful anecdote concerns how Benson approached Gurdjieff at a time when he, Benson, was “suffering tremendously.” Gurdjieff said to him: “You see that skin? That is yours and no one else’s. This is a part of you.” Short, almost pitiless in its expression and conciseness, but how profound. So much of our suffering is predicated upon an implicit attitude that other people have to change or apologise before our pain can end. As Benson goes on to say, in his own voice: “It’s just as bad … to continue feeling bad about the situation.” (48)

Speaking of Gurdjieff, however, the most unexpected piece of information here is that Gurdjieff was involved in two motor accidents while at the Prieuré: the second, and much less serious one, is described at pp.193-196. I had not heard of that one before. The account of it, of Benson’s removing the staples from Gurdjieff’s body, and what Gurdjieff did the day after he returned from the hospital was strangely moving. I wonder why no one else mentions this, or is it just that I have missed it?

I mentioned that there were points in Benson which accorded with ideas I had already had. One of those is the idea that doing has been down played in the Work since the death of Gurdjieff. I expressed that view in those parts which I wrote of George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, and illustrated it by reference to Mr Adie’s teaching, Then I read in Benson:

… as it says in the Book of Solomon, ‘Man should rejoice in his works, for that is his portion.’ Do you all understand that? No more, no less. That’s what you leave behind, that‘s your development, that’s you. Is that understandable? (82-83)”

In a curious way, you grow by doing. (139)”

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Miscellanous Points

There are a few errors, e.g. “practiced” for “practised” (12).

More serious than the odd spelling errors, are certain notes which are not just indulgent, or even self-indulgent, but absurdly so: see the anecdote which ends: “Christ, I loved that” (120). I can see nothing to love there.

There is a very strange passage on love, which spans the strange and the inspired. First, I cannot see why Abeldard and Heloise’s romance is “the most tragic love story that has ever existed” (135). But then, Benson’s comments on “love” being a concept which came not from Christianity but from Greece, specifically Plato (135-136), is seriously muddled. Many writers such as CS Lewis may have interpreted Christian love through Greek spectacles, but it is prominent in the Gospels, long before any influence of Greek thought. However, to say that what is valuable is not “love” but “wisdom” is quite stimulating (136). Of course it is a simplification and the result of an abstraction: in reality, love and wisdom must go together, and perhaps even be aspects of the one cosmic force. It is interesting how often people who claim to be straightforward and bluff, not given to intellectual niceties, are in fact more at the mercy of their analyses than the “intellectuals” whom they deride.

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The Ongoing Issue

Now that I am onto it, I cannot lose sight of what I call “the ongoing issue”. And that is this, the Work does not seem to work beyond a limited point. All development seems to plateau out after a period of probably three years, about the length of time it usually takes get a university degree. There are exceptions, of course, but these seems to depend upon a fortunate conjunction of the student and the teacher. This is a large thought, but it is one of those which I found expressed in Benson, and which confirms me in my view. He writes:

I think some people are born with a greater being than other people. They have to be educated, in a sense, not educated in a school, but ‘brought out’. If they stay at it they can understand more and more and eventually become an entirely different person through that understanding. But I don’t think this is acquired so much. (150)”

This seems to be right. Gurdjieff had the power to lift people beyond their deserts, and this gave them a tremendous desire to help others, and a confidence that development was possible. But it just doesn’t seem to be the case that this development is possible for very many of us. And to evolve into someone with the individuality and understanding of Gurdjieff, or even close, seems quite impossible. Benson puts it more bluntly: “I don’t think we have the possibility of reaching consciousness” (154).

But if this is right, then Gurdjieff was wrong. Yet if Gurdjieff was wrong on that point, he still had a point: we can have more consciousness than we enjoy. It may well be that we would never be making efforts towards any consciousness unless we came to believe that we could have full consciousness. And it is even more likely, I think, that if we are not making efforts towards full consciousness, we will sink even deeper into unconsciousness. As Jane Heap used to say, the only difference between a groove and a grave is the depth. As Benson used to say: “The power of forgetting is … the curse of mankind” (80, see also 165).

This, I think, may be the upshot of “the ongoing issue”.

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© Joseph Azize, 27 December 2013

Review, Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson: New York Talks 1926-1930 A.R. Orage – Lawrence Morris and Sherman Manchester

Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to his

Grandson, New York Talks 1926-1930,

is published by  Book Studio, 2013

(363 pp. plus a selected bibliography and an index)

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Gurdjieff’s legacy has reached a critical point. In my opinion, the line which he began, and which those who follow it with more or less faithfulness call “the Work”, has reached an interval or gap. I mean by this what Gurdjieff meant: if the Work is to develop in the direction with which it began, it must cross each interval with the help of forces which correspond to the current with which the movement began. An impulse which is not true to Gurdjieff’s own line will carry it in the wrong direction.

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The first step of this line of development, the note DO, was Gurdjieff’s personal efforts: bringing his ideas and methods, teaching, writing, composing, etc. The second and third steps were, I would say, the work of his direct pupils (the note RE), and then the publication of his writings and music (the note MI). Of course, there is some overlap at each stage: living processes are like that. It is only analysis which distinguishes clearly separated stages: a trumpet does not sound in heaven to announce the end of one and the commencement of another.

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In this case the interval between MI and FA would bear risks if not only because those learned from him in person have almost all died. But the interval is even more dangerous because many important texts remain unpublished. Very few of his pupils, whether second generation or later, have access to all of his talks, transcripts and papers in their original form. Even Beelzebub, upon which Gurdjieff manifestly placed so much of his hopes, has been effectively bleached of colour by what purport to be two retranslations, displacing the text he himself authorised.

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But there is more: Gurdjieff’s method was one of engagement under fluid conditions. Unlike his pupils, he created no institutions beyond the temporary. Even before the motor accident, he had told Nicoll that the conditions at Fountainebleau were temporary. Gurdjieff rarely repeated himself, and he made pupils responsible for passing what they had learned. “What falls from the wagon is lost”. Each pupil had this privilege and burden. It is arguable that too many did not pass on as much as they could have as well as they could have. Some things can only be passed on person to person, others can be indicated or even transmitted well enough in writing – and if they are not passed on that way, may well be lost for ever. Despite the good intentions of those establishing them, could the founding of foundations have effectively served as a corporate substitute for the individual efforts required? And although associations are necessary, perhaps not associations of the type we have seen.

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Whether one agrees with me or not on every detail, my chief point here is that while Gurdjieff founded no religion, sect or denomination, the line of engagement with the ideas and methods he brought needs to be fed. Good records of personal encounters with Gurdjieff, and attempts to develop his ideas in the light of contemporary experience (e.g. the work of Bennett and Buzzell), is vital – without it no engagement would be possible for those who did not know Gurdjieff. That is why books like this one are vital for the entirety of the Gurdjieff Work.

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If the interval between Gurdjieff’s direct legacy (the notes DO, Re and MI), is to be filled to allow note FA (which must be Gurdjieff’s indirect legacy) to sound as it should, then the first three notes should be fully sounded. That is, the ability of the Gurdjieff Work to continue in the direct line initiated by Gurdjieff himself absolutely and necessarily depends upon the full and complete transmission of that legacy. To the extent that this transmission is defective, the direction will veer off into tangents. The Gurdjieff Work will lose its vivifyingness.

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Will this book be accorded the value it deserves? I am not sure. I shall not detail all my reasoning now, but basically, Sophia Wellbeloved’s analysis is correct: “… the Work is now in the process of redefining itself as a tradition.” (Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts, 154) If this is so, then it follows that those within the tradition believe that they have all they need. And if one construes “need” very narrowly, this might be correct. But they do not have all that they could want and can use.

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This is, I repeat, a vital book for anyone interested in Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods. It presents for the first time the two sets of notes made by both Lawrence Morris and Sherman Manchester of the lectures given in New York between 1926 and 1930 by A.R. Orage. Already an accomplished intellectual when he met Ouspensky and then Gurdjieff, Orage was undoubtedly one of the wisest of Gurdjieff’s pupils. This volume furthers the completion of what I see as step 3 (fully sounding the note MI), the publication of Gurdjieff’s writings.

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First, it contains ideas of a quality far higher than what we usually meet with in life. You have to read some of it, and ponder it, to see whether you agree or not. Remain with it, and ask, can these ideas make a difference to my life? Remind yourself of them in different circumstances.

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Second, if you are going to read Beelzebub’s Tales (and everyone seriously interested in Gurdjieff’s ideas should), then, better than any other material I have seen or could imagine, this book provides assistance. Mrs Annie-Lou Staveley must have felt much the same, for when she read the passages which Nott published within his own book, she issued them as a stand-alone hardcover. Nott’s extracts totalled 91 pages out of a 228 page book. That is, the Orage notes, which he edited, form about 40% of his own work. More significantly, the contents of this volume are unedited, and run to 363 pages. Further, more text fits onto each of these pages than it does on those of Nott’s book. I would estimate that this book is at least six times longer than the generous extracts in Nott. It is also helpful that for many of the talks we have two separate sets of notes, those of Morris and Manchester. The comparison is often intriguing.

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Third, Orage’s reading is both individual and exemplary, meaning that it can serve as a model. If Orage can read like an individual, perhaps, we too can. It is a model of relatively conscious thinking. Excluding comparison to sacred literature such as the Bible and some of the Upanishads, the depth of this book invites comparison with Shakespeare (I am now more certain than ever that Jane Heap, as reported to me by Dr John Lester, was correct: Shakespeare was in conscious receipt of esoteric influences. He was also Catholic: see John Finnis and Patrick Martin, “Another Turn for the Turtle”, Times Literary Supplement, 18 April 2003, 12-14).

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To me, Orage’s material here is enlivening. It consists not only of his comments on Beelzebub, but also of his question and answer sessions with his own pupils, and of his remarks on all sorts of aspects of life. If Beelzebub was the cornerstone of “All and Everything”, Orage’s wise insights build lay part of the edifice. At random, I opened the book at p.233 and found this:

the object of these beings in Babylon was …

to make remember. So they decided to introduce

elements into works of art that would cause the

observer to question, to ask what is there strange

about this. Egyptian frescoes produce or provoke this state.

Greek art does not.

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This not only sheds a great light on what many people, not myself alone, have felt but been unable to articulate, it does so with a clarity and force which Gurdjieff lacked. These notes confirm, many times, that Orage had gained an objective understanding, or at least an understanding closer to objective than any of us are likely to achieve. What else but startling objectivity could bring someone to insights such as these, to select but three?

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A mother crying over (to us) a repulsive criminal is enslaved by an earlier actualization.” (p.2)

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The philosopher is a speculator who deals with words. The priest does not even deal in words but in symbols, but their meaning he no longer knows.” (p.165)

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Wholeness cannot be written about.” (p.324)

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I could well believe that not everyone is touched by each of these three comments, but to my mind each of them offers clear evidence of a person whose reason was alive. You would have to be both highly intelligent and discerning to understand these sayings. But imagine the state of Orage’s being for him to coin them.

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How often, since reading it have I wondered, am I enslaved by an earlier actualization? Am I dealing in symbols the meaning of which I am ignorant? I am indebted to Orage and his collaborators: people who were not even alive when he was born.

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With this volume, more useful material is available to those who wish to develop themselves. Only with that effort, only with many such individual efforts, can the Gurdjieff Work as a whole cross the interval before it now.

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Joseph Azize was a pupil of George and Helen Adie, themselves pupils of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky and Jeanne de Salzmann, who developed what they received in their own individual ways. Among other issues, he is currently pondering the question of fate. His latest publication, an academic study of Gurdjieff’s “Four Ideals” exercise, has recently been published in ARIES. Another academic study, this time of Gurdjieff’s attitude to fasting, which incorporates a survey of some medical experts on fasting and starvation, is slated to appear next year in another international journal.

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Joseph.Azize@gmail,com

18 October 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#_

0O

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.
O
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.
O

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.
OO
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.
OOO
* * * * *
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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.

* * * * * *

O
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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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.

O

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.

JOSEPH AZIZE WRITES: The Gurdjieff Literature 2012: Rediscovering Meetings

The Gurdjieff Literature, 2012

Rediscovering Meetings

These are simply some notes of Gurdjieff-related literature which came to my attention in 2012, and which have provoked in me thoughts which seem worth sharing. The most important of this selection is, without doubt, the MP3 recording of A.G.E. Blake’s reading of Meetings With Remarkable Men. This small CD has been significant to me. In addition to the impact of hearing the text read, I had not realised why Meetings benefited by being heard as opposed to being read. It is, I am fairly confident, because by making the effort to follow the spoken word, we receive the text in a new tempo. One’s accustomed tempo of reading to oneself allows us to pass over small words and phrases so lightly that they leave no appreciable impression. We subliminally notice certain parts and ignore others. The same is not true when one hears it read, at least not to the same extent.

But the value is even greater when the lector, to use a word from divine liturgy, reads at a pace influenced by the contents and nature of what is being read. Blake does not read at all theatrically, but allows each word its weight. The result is that countless passages, sentence, phrases and words burst into meaning for me. I shall not give examples, lest I rob the reader of their own discoveries. Suffice it to say that listening to this CD has brought me closer to Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods, and, I think, helped to balance my perspective on them.

I now see that, although the text is clearly auto-mythological (which word I am coining to refer to an apparently autobiographical work which offers mythology rather than biography), we nonetheless have to start with the story as it is. The text may work within us, through the mysterious laws of association (deep calls to deep) suggesting different interpretations, dimensions and connections. But there is no need to analyse it: there is no need, if one has accepted the narrative as if it were history. The book is addressed to the whole of us; it is a loss to redirect the invitation to the head.

The movie, beautiful as it was, comprised a series of vignettes held together only by chronology. The Blake recording showed me what the film missed: as it was made, the move omitted Gurdjieff. Of course Gurdjieff was shown in it. Yes, but not in his most important role, that of narrator. Hearing the recording, one cannot but be struck by the presence of the narrator. Almost all of the words, phrases and sentences which now burst into meaning for me were spoken by the narrator: they provide coherence to the inner content. To leave them out is to make a necklace without some of the most important beads and without any thread. When de Salzmann made the Lubovedsky incident the climax, she lost Gurdjieff’s chosen ending: the last reunion with Skridlov. Re-read that last paragraph, the one commencing: “Formerly, it may be said …” and you will see what I mean. That is where the movie should have ended: anything else misses the point, Gurdjieff’s point.

This leads me to the last example I will offer of my revivified interest in Meetings. It also strikes me that Gurdjieff may have been telling the literal truth when he told of the “duel with cannon”. I have often wondered why Gurdjieff’s system never produces people like himself. From time to time, piano teachers have pupils who are as proficient as themselves if not better. The same happens everywhere, in sports, art, literature, science and religion. This never happens with the Gurdjieff work. It is said that Gurdjieff himself declared that anyone could achieve what he had if they were prepared to suffer as he had. I do not believe it. Many people in groups have suffered very considerably, and yet no one even comes close to Gurdjieff in terms of being and understanding. Why? Could it be that Gurdjieff’s experience on the cannon range was, for him, an artificial organ “to constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests”? Perhaps that accident allowed Gurdjieff to make a breakthrough. One could not set out to repeat that now, for one’s very identification with the goal would hinder the aimed for result. However, if there is something in this, it could help to explain the strange paradox which led Ouspensky to despair: the system seems true, but the promised result of development never proceeds beyond a limited level, which is hardly distinguishable from the level one finds in life.

Three Books by Pupils of Pupils

If I am right that, in some way, Gurdjieff was an anomaly, then those who knew him benefitted from close contact with that anomalous individual, because what he had could not be passed down any other way with anything like the same impact. Of course, the personal touch always makes a difference, even at universities. But I do not think that what I have said is a truism. Although Gurdjieff collected the fragments of a hitherto unknown teaching, his own being remained anomalous: he was not able to raise his pupils to his own level, and they have not been able to pass their benefit on to others with anything like the success which attended Gurdjieff. It has always struck me as lawful that the pupils who received the most from Gurdjieff were the most individual. These were the mavericks, the Orages, Bennetts, Staveleys, Heaps and Adies. I could be wrong, but so it seems to me. Only now are we starting to reap a harvest of literature about these pupils of the Master.

This is significant, because it means that the second generation pupils, those who learnt from those who knew Gurdjieff, are starting to find their confidence to speak about those who had taught them. Until recently, very few had written, partly because many of the first generation pupils were still alove. Paterson was one exception. I believe he possessed credentials in journalism. A more notable exception, both for content and depth was David Kherdian, who was already an accomplished and decorated author, and wrote about Mrs Staveley while she was still alive. However, this is rare. For the most part, we of the second generation have been silent until after our teachers’ deaths.

This phenomenon of recording the teaching of those who learned from Gurdjieff is also important because those who knew him personally were often able to apply his teaching in novel contexts. Some of them, such as Solange Claustres and especially Bennett and Nicoll, not only recorded valuable sayings of Gurdjieff’s, but also drew from his ideas interesting ideas of their own. A few months ago, I read three examples of these books by the second generation pupils which preserve something of the influence of the first generation. I will start with Notes on the Next Attention, which is Fran Shaw’s notebook of her time with Michel de Salzmann at Chandolin.

It is a nice book, very peaceful, and sometimes touching. By moments it is even powerful. De Salzmann made a substantial impression on Shaw, and she has creditably laid herself down, as it were, to allow him to be heard. It would be quibbling to criticise or analyse these quotes. They partake of the nature of poetry, e.g. “Stillness: what is still is the attention” (118). Perhaps to encourage one to meditate upon rather than hurry when reading it, it is broken into many small chapters with blank pages in between. The book, is, I think, valuable as conveying a subjective approach to the mystery of conscious development which was influenced by Gurdjieff, although it does not strike me as being entirely true to Gurdjieff’s line.

I paid hard-earned money for Remembering Being With My Teacher, by Ashala Gabriel. I feel somewhat cheated that I wasn’t warned. Gabriel places the emphasis on the two letter word in the title, to the extent that I often felt that this was an exercise in self-expression, a personal sketch with words rather than pencil lines. It certainly does not appear to me as if it was systematically written as a book intended to convey meaning to the readers. Take this passage, for example: “… I never again had a smidgeon of doubt about my naturally-mystical nature which my teacher had now demonstrated and confirmed nor about the reality of these magical-Harry-Potter-made-visible worlds he and I could avail ourselves of undetectably …” (p.114). What can this mean, and what does it matter to another soul in the world that her nature is not just naturally mystical but “naturally-mystical”, if you please? Similarly, at p.82 we read about “Having had a few touches with these splitting of atoms and reconfigurings of cells we mystics can come by somewhat naturally …”. I respect her devotion, and am not attacking her as a person, but I am critical of the decision to publish and sell these elitist and self-satisfied indulgences. I can’t see why the following, like almost all of these episodes, does not belong to Pentland and herself alone: “When I opened my eyes and slowly-emerged out of my re-incarnated-dream-body, my teacher, Lord Pentland, stood both with and before me, wearing the most unforgettably-collusive-Cheshire-cat-smile, as we co-inhabited the core of this now-silver-white-light-body-reality …” (106). The five page summary at the end of the 140 page, would have been sufficient, and some of the material there is quite good. If Gabriel would care to write something more straightforward, which sheds light on questions of general concern, I sure it could be quite worthwhile. I am keen to learn more about Lord Pentland, having myself fairly recently cast doubts on the objectivity of Moore’s Eminent Gurdjieffians. But this “book” does not enlighten me at all.

Far more to my taste is the book I most value of these three, James Opie’s Approaching Inner Work: Michael Currer-Briggs and the Gurdjieff Teaching. Opie’s notes were checked by Briggs himself before his death, and Briggs, a pupil first of Jane Heap, but then of Gurdjieff, was clearly a man of some wisdom. For me, the centrepiece is perhaps the story concerning his relations with his brother at pp.45-47. What is really striking about this book is the practicality of what Briggs had to say. Compare, for example, the chapter on justifying and explaining (pp.59-62), or what is said about self-criticism and self-respect at 75-76, and certainty at 83-84. There is nothing like it in either of the other two books. Interestingly, Opie has taken care to make what he writes clear. It would be mean spirited to make this criticism of Shaw’s book – it is of an entirely different nature. This little tribute to Briggs shows the value of just doing a job without any show or fanfare, but doing it well. Opie and Shaw can be proud of their volumes, but of course, their true pride is that they accepted their vocations to write those books, and did so with something like humility.

There is just one further point about Opie’s book which I would like to note: Opie clearly disliked the “separation” (let us put it that simply for the sake of argument) between the Foundation and people like Bennett and Staveley. He does not mention this in a polemical way: his attitude merely sets the backdrop for Briggs’ impartial comments. I have no criticism of him for that, but his remarks made me start thinking: why was there ever this “us and them” mentality? Why was it ever thought that Gurdjieff’s pupils should all be in one institution or society? It is not decisive, but after Gurdjieff’s Institute folded, he could have, but did not ever re-instigate it. I could state my opinion at further length, but it is sufficient for this review to restate the question: why did these “separations” loom so large in the generations after Gurdjieff’s death? For example, the walls of suspicion which built up were such that the Gurdjieff groups in Australia, which could and should have flourished, and did so briefly with the Adies, are now practically moribund.

Gurdjieff in the Public Eye

Paul Beekman Taylor is, I would say, the leading Gurdjieff scholar today. I am making no comment in any direction about anything other than his scholarship. But as a scholar, he is in a position to, and I would suggest he should, write de novo a new biography of Gurdjieff. His valuable G.I. Gurdjieff: A New Life too often, in my view, refers back to Moore’s ‘anatomy of a myth”. That is a good and useful book, and Moore’s achievement was impressive for a person with his limited academic background. I am not criticising that book. But I am certain that Taylor could produce something different, and of even greater value. And about two years ago Taylor performed a service in collecting and editing the materials in Gurdjieff in the Public Eye: Newspaper articles, Magazines and Books 1914-1949. I am presently reading his recent Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff, but apart from highly recommending it, shall not offer any review right now.

As with practically everything Eureka produce, Gurdjieff in the Public Eye is well-made, easy to read, and attractive. At least all of the known material, with immaterial exceptions, is now to be found within one set of covers. The article by Zigrosser at pp.177-184 is a minor classic. This man’s understanding of Gurdjieff was astounding. At pp.193-194 is a letter from Gurdjieff which I cannot recall having seen before. It is not profound, but it is full of Gurdjieff’s dry humour. The volume is full of small details which shed a different light on Gurdjieff. For example, for the first time ever, in Gorham Munson’s valuable article, did I learn that Gurdjieff sometimes drove “very carefully” (209), which makes me wonder, how much of the Gurdjieff legend is a caricature?

I shall certainly be mining this book for the many comments and asides which, but for it, may have been overlooked for ever. I shall not list all of them here. However, to give but one example, in the early days when journalists and visitors were able to speak with Gurdjieff directly, the question of whether other people had succeeded in achieving the aim of the system was raised. That Gurdjieff took this question seriously and answered it directly supports me in my critique of the Gurdjieff work as it is today (see pp. 34-35, 53-54 and 155, and along pertinent lines, p.83).

That Gurdjieff courted publicity, and later did not, does not – to my mind – necessarily mean that his earlier attitude was wrong and his later one was right – it may just show that different policies are appropriate at different times. A more interesting question is: if the leaders of the Gurdjieff groups were to be interviewed today, what could they show of themselves to distinguish the groups from any other self-development society, or from Buddhism, or even from religious institutions? What if the enquiry were extended to those of us who were once but no longer are in groups? Could any of us impress with our being the way that Gurdjieff did, or anything remotely like it? This is not to say that our experience of Gurdjieff has been without value – for many of us it straightened us out and allowed us to make something of our lives. Heaven only knows where I would be today had I not met Mr Adie. But I know that I am not half the man he was, and he would not even have made that comparison between Gurdjieff and himself.

The answer to my rhetorical question is obvious, but one question remains, what does this say about Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods? Clearly there is a flaw somewhere, but where? Could it be as radical as the issue of the aim of human existence? Could it have something to do with the relation between God and man? This is not the place to defend my view, but I should state it here: I do not believe that any view of human history or destiny which omits the position of Jesus of Nazareth – simultaneously central and transcendent – can be objective.

The books mentioned are available, inter alia, from By The Way Books. The CD is available from http://www.anthonyblake.co.uk, or you could try the Duversity site, which has the requisite links.

JOSEPH AZIZE has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, ‘George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia’ represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

“Maronites” is pp.279-282 of “The Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia” published by Cambridge University Press and edited by James Jupp.


Joseph Azize
Joseph.Azize@gmail.com