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

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 But the interval is even more dangerous because many important texts remain unpublished.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