POSSIBLE GURDJIEFF-STALIN CONNECTION WITH REFERENCE TO DAVID KHERDIAN
Stalin in 1908
Stalin in 1915
John Robert Colombo reviews the article “The Vanishing Master”
There has always been the suggestion that G.I. Gurdjieff and Joseph Stalin met as young students while attending the same seminary in Tiflis in the Caucasus. If so, they made strange bedfellows! The symbolism is surprising, yet stranger events have indeed occurred.
But what do historians make of the notion? In an earlier posting some months ago, I reported that Simon Sebag Montefiore, in his award-winning biography titled “Young Stalin” (2007), discusses the matter in a footnote and dismisses it as being a statement without substance.
Then I received an email from a correspondent in Paris who is familiar with the subject as well as with my ongoing interest in it. He writes as follows: “Through my usual obscure (and perhaps obscurantist) channels, I’ve recently had in my hands a photocopy of a review of Walter Driscoll’s ‘Gurdjieff: An Annotated Bibliography’ by David Kherdian in ‘Ararat Magazine,’ Spring 1991. It is a very well written review and contains some interesting opinions about Gurdjieff, his background, his works, and his aims. What might be most interesting (to you, having reviewed a Russian TV program on Gurdjieff and Stalin) is this remark.”
Background: The article is titled “The Vanishing Master” and it is about 2,000 words long. It offered Kherdian the opportunity to record some of his own feelings about Mr. G. as well as his observations about the limitations of J. Walter Driscoll’s bibliography of Gurdjieffian publications, specifically about his treatment of “Meetings with Remarkable Men.” Kherdian discusses what is included as well as what is not included. “But nothing is said about the chapter on Joseph Stalin, which was left out of the final MS, nor the reasons why it was left out (fear of the Cold War, presumably) – nor why – the fear of that having been removed by global events – that chapter has not been restored and the book reissued.”
My informant in Paris continued, “Kherdian does not give his sources for this affirmation.” All I can do is wonder about the origin of this idea: the missing chapter on Stalin the Man of Steel! Will it one day appear?
My informant concluded: “I don’t know if it’s possible to verify what Kherdian claims; if such a chapter about Stalin really existed, as far as I can see, it can only be in one of three places – the Gurdjieff archives held by the ‘SERCH’ in Paris, the estate of A.R. Orage, if such an estate exists, or the estate of his second wife Jessie Dwight, if she’s now dead (which is likely), and if such an estate, presumably managed by her children, exists. Anyway, getting anything from any of those possible sources would probably be as difficult as getting to the Most Holy Sun Absolute.”
Two details included in my informant’s account may be unfamiliar to readers of this news-blog. First detail: What is SERCH? This is the acronym for the association that constitutes the Gurdjieff groups in France; it stands for Société d’Etudes et de Recherche Pour la Connaissance de l’Homme. Second detail: Who is David Kherdian? He is a thoughtful and productive person, an Armenian-American poet, novelist, and essayist with much experience in the Work.
One of Kherdian’s books “Seeds of Light” was published by Stopinder Books and is subtitled “Poems from a Gurdjieff Community.” Another of his books is called “On a Spaceship with Beelzebub,” is subtitled “By a Grandson of Gurdjieff,” and is praised by Colin Wilson as “one of the best accounts I’ve read of actually being a member of a Gurdjieff Group.”
I first encountered Kherdian when I subscribed to the journal that he edited a decade or so ago from his farm in Wisconsin. “Stopinder: A Gurdjieff Journal for Our Time” was a handsomely designed publication that was illustrated by his talented wife Nonny Hogrogian. Its issues offered its subscribers a concentrated, yet low-key approach to human problems in rural and rustic settings. Over the decades Kherdian has published about two dozen anthologies, volumes of verse, collections of memoirs, and works of fiction. He has his own website, and although it is short on biographical details, from it I gather that his current publication is “Forgotten Bread: An Anthology of Armenian American Writers.”
Kherdian’s article “The Vanishing Master” is almost twenty years old but it is still fresh. In practical terms it offered the author an opportunity to share his views of Mr. G., whom he describes as a man formed by his Armenian background. Armenians – as well as Bulgarians, I have noted – describe themselves as being situated at the “cross-roads of the world,” the cock-pit of history and civilization. For this reason, Kheridan finds something unique about Mr. G and his message.
“He was the very first of the Eastern teachers or Masters to formulate an ancient teaching for the West – this planet’s growing point. All the others brought their religion or ideology entire – garment, beads, and all – changing the fit and form of Western spirituality into its Eastern strictures. Gurdjieff, of mixed Greek-Armenian parentage, grew up in Armenia, at the crossroads of East and West, the Armenians being the only people who belonged to neither yet were part of both. Whether he chose himself or was chosen, we do not know. We only know that he left his school, assumed a mission and devised a plan for its execution. He called it Esoteric Christianity, perhaps because it straddled East and West, as he did, being raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and then pushing East for his training before returning, transformed, to the West.”
Such is his view of Mr. G. This is not the place to present Kherdian’s interesting argument that there are now two generations of Gurdjieffians and that their aims are anything but congruent. Instead, let me mention in passing that in addition to Mr. G.’s standard publications, the author mentions two others that are not generally known or widely available. Their titles are “The Struggle of the Magicians” and “Narcotics and Hormones.” Both were privately printed by Stourton Press.
June 3, 2008
John Robert Colombo, a frequent contributor to this news-blog, is currently reading the proofs of “The Big Book of Canadian Ghost Stories.” An observer described Colombo as “anthologist to the stars” based on his contribution to the plaque affixed to the Phoenix Mars Lander launched by NASA and now resting on the surface of the Red Planet. (See “Contact” and then “Lander” on http://www.colombo-plus.ca )