Posts Tagged ‘Annie-Lou Staveley’
DAVID KHERDIAN’S “SEEDS OF LIGHT”
John Robert Colombo discusses a book of poetry inspired by the Work experience
If there is any other collection of poems inspired by the Fourth Way, I am unaware of its existence. It is true that some poets, like the late Kathleen Raine, have a distinct feelings for these experiences and values, but to my knowledge Raine did not explicitly write about such experiences in any of her volumes of verse. My generalization is true for the English language, but it is not true for poetry written in the French language.
The reader with a sweet-tooth for the images and the movements characteristic of intense and intuitive poetic language, who has a command of French or who is drawn to patiently prepared translations, will have his or her needs well met by the free-verse poetry and wildly imaginative prose poetry of René Daumal. He is the literary mascot of the Work in France and a creative artist endowed with persistent and penetrating powers of invention, well deserving of great respect accorded him. In past columns for this web-blog, I have reviewed current English translations of Daumal’s books. Translations of his writings add unexpected grace-notes to the leitmotif of “quest” expressed in the French and English languages.
The writings of Pierre Bonnasse, a student of the Work in Paris who holds a doctorate in Literature from the Sorbonne, has published a multitude of books of imaginative power and value, including a collection of poems titled “Dans la nuit d’Aghtamar” which exists in an English translation that no publishing house has yet offered to issue. I will say no more about Bonnasse and his work here because I described them at some length on this web-blog in October 3, 2008, under the questioning title “Fourth Way Words?” Instead I want to turn my attention to David Kherdian and his poetry.
I began this review article with these words: “If there is any other collection of poems inspired by the Fourth Way …. ” The “other collection” was composed in English by Kherdian. It is to this collection – “Seeds of Light: Poems from a Gurdjieff Community” (McMinnville, Oregon: Stopinder Books, 2002) – that I am now turning my attention. I am doing so because it was recently drawn to my attention that the book, now a decade old, has received hardly any attention – if any attention at all – from reviewers with any knowledge or interest in work-related literature. Readers appreciate the contents of the book, but reviewers know nothing of its appearance. This is a shame. No book is truly “old.” Every book is really “new,” at least until it has been read.
Question: “Who is David Kherdian?” I asked this question four years ago in this very web-blog, the occasion being the review article titled “Possible Gurdjieff-Stalin Connection with Reference to David Kherdian” which appeared here on June 3, 2008. At the time I was trying to trace the suggestion that not only were Gurdjieff and Stalin personally known to each other – highschool students in Georgia, so to speak – but Gurdjieff wrote about their association in a chapter that was mysteriously excluded from the published text of “Meetings with Remarkable Men.” I have never determined the truth (or consequences) of this statement, so I take it to be a rumour, one that is likely to lurk for decades to come, and nothing more. Here is what I wrote about Kherdian four years ago.
Answer: Kherdian 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” and it is subtitled “By a Grandson of Gurdjieff.” It was 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 decades ago from a farm in Wisconsin. “Stopinder: A Gurdjieff Journal for Our Time” was a handsomely designed publication illustrated by his talented wife Nonny Hogrogian. Each issue offered subscribers a low-key yet concentrated 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.
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, it is time that someone surveyed the writings of David Kherdian from the perspective of the Work. A start might be made by asking him for permission to reprint “The Vanishing Master” on this news-blog.
To repeat, I wrote the above paragraphs on June 3, 2008. Now four years have passed and I will try to catch up with Kherdian. He has his own website < http://www.davidkherdian.com > which is short on biographical details but nonetheless interesting. Born in Racine, Wisconsin, of Armenian background, he is “the author and editor of over sixty books, that include poetry, novels, memoirs, biographies, bibliographies, children’s books, as well as critical studies, translations, and retellings” (according to his vita sheet). He has edited a number of anthologies of poetries selected on the bases of “ethnic expression” and “sense of place” – i.e., the writer’s background, linguistic and social, as well as the writer’s place of residence. An hour-long documentary on his poetry, produced by the New York independent filmmaker Jim Belleau, was released in 1997. His latest book is an anthology of his own work in many genres, “Gatherings: Selected and Uncollected Writings” (Tavnon Books, 2011). In the fall of 2012 the University of California Press will publish his “New and Selected Poems.”
Here is an item from the author’s website expressed in the third person: “He is currently in the market for an agent to handle his retelling of David of Sassoun, the tenth-century Armenian epic, well known in the East but virtually unknown in the West.” (Publishers, take note!) So he has been dizzily busy as a man-of-letters. Enough of background. Here is a brief look at his Work-inspired poems.
To discuss Kherdian’s poetry, I want to place his poems in an unusual and perhaps idiosyncratic context, one that permits me to discuss the possibilities in our day of the straight-forward diction of his work – the common style: plain, direct, unornamented, unrhymed, unrhythmed, the one adapted by most poets and by most contemporary bards. The style is difficult to distinguish from prose except that the lines do not run to the right-hand edge of the page. There is no name for this style, though the words “free verse” probably best describe it, except that what is being heard or read is not “verse” (rhythm and rhyme) but “poetry” (highly associative language) – “free poetry” perhaps; yet those two words do not sound quite right. Perhaps the word “prayer” – or “meditation” or “rumination” or even “consideration” – sound more appropriate. In short, it is today’s vernacular.
I am tempted to regard Kherdian’s poems as prayers (which Gurdjieff calls “recapitulations”) because they are admissions of current limitations and appeals to an outside agency or force and also to the force or agency within one’s own self for enlightenment, salvation, redemption, whatever. The poems are highly personal, characteristically subjective. How essential they are is what this review attempts to probe. There are two contemporary works that I feel do convey some of the possibilities of poetry as prayer, particularly when performed by a singer with electronic backing. To this end I will discuss two compositions. Both of them may be heard with a few keystrokes on YouTube.
Whoever has viewed the 2010 film “The Tempest” directed by Julie Taymor will be bowled over by the visuals and soundtrack of its closing sequence, a sequence known as “Prospera’s Coda.” The Prospero of Shakespeare’s play is reinterpreted by the actress Helen Mirren in terms of a woman magus, Prospera. The final speech of the play is not delivered by the actress; instead, it is sung, or intoned, off-screen, by the English vocalist and lyricist Beth Gibbons. The effect is quite arresting, quite unsettling. The lines that Shakespeare wrote are pure poetry – rhythmical and rhymed verse:
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
Intoned by Gibbons, they are heard not as awesome affirmation or heroic renunciation or inevitable reconciliation, but in the contemporary context as the cry of a person without craft, the outcry of a person in pain without restraint. The presentation thus goes against type. It is overpowering, in some way beyond the language of poetry itself.
The same curious amalgam of art and artlessness is characteristic of the stunning finale of the final episode seen in 2005 of the HBO television series “Six Feet Under.” Sia, the Australian singer and songwriter, intones words of pleading and meaning, heart-brokenly, directionlessly. This time the words lack the Elizabethan air; instead what they have is the simplicity of the simpleton who nevertheless suffers needlessly:
Help, I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And, the worst part is
There’s no-one else to blame.
The words are Sia’s and the presentation is true to type. It is called “Breathe Me” and it could be likened to the confession of a person who is drowning in the despair of present-day life. It is free verse and it is very effective. But, like “Prospera’s Credo,” it is about as far as possible from the common style. Redemption is not close at hand.
The visuals contrast too. The images that appear on the screen as Beth Gibbons intones Shakespeare’s words are dreamy and nightmarish. The visuals that appear as Sia seems to trip over her own words, so downtempo, so obsessive and abulic, are the images of an automobile journey across the American continent from Los Angeles to New York City. The landscape of Prospero-Prospera’s island (filmed in Hawaii) and that of the car’s journey across the Mojave desert might well be that of the moon. In both instances, whether presented against type or true to type, the visuals and electronic and acoustic effects make the work very contemporary in a direct and unmediated way. The effectiveness of the poetry or verse lies in its presentation, here aided and abetted by the media of cinema and television.
There are no trumpets or drums, intoning or appealing women, whether maguses or fallen women, in Kherdian’s poetry. Instead, there is some hope and the anticipation of self-knowledge if not power over the negative aspects of the self in David Kherdian’s “Seeds of Light: Poems from a Gurdjieff Community.” This is a trade paperback of attractive design with woodcuts by the poet’s wife, Nonny Hogrogian. It bears the imprint of Stopinder Books, McMinnville, Oregon. It consists of 202+iv pages and the year of publication is given as 2002. The effort is “Dedicated to the Memory and Living Presence of G.I. Gurdjieff.”
By my count the collection consists of 123 poems and they are arranged in chronological order in five divisions identified as “books.” I sense that book by book the poems advance from being descriptive and anecdotal to expressive and experiential. The first poems are somewhat sketchy, the last poems rather full-bodied. Yet the book is a whole and may be read from cover to cover like a log of rural experiences. The book is not like a diary – there are no personal revelations, there are no descriptive passages – so the poems have to be read for what they are, page-long, free-verse poetry. Do not look for characterization or profiles of people; they are not even noticeable by their absence.
The intelligent and insightful introduction has been contributed by Allen Roth whose name may ring a bell because he is the author of Sherborne: An Experiment in Transformation (1998). He notes that the poet and his wife, an illustrator, lived from about 1978 for nine years at Two Rivers Farm, near Aurora, Oregon, a community founded by Annie Lou Staveley, a pupil through Jane Heap of G.I. Gurdjieff. It was presumably the sole farm in the area that had and still has its own printing press. How many people have lived on these acres, how many people were weekend visitors, how many acres there are … none of this information is shared. Instead, the reader is invited to share Kherdian’s perceptions, impressions, and thoughts.
Of these poems, Roth writes, “We are given tastes, not recipes.” So there are no descriptions of exercises, meditations, or movements on these pages. It is as if the rationale for the rural retreat has been displaced or subsumed in the tasks of everyday farm life. “He is the single, full-fledged poet I know who sings of the work, although much has been written by some good writers in other forms.” Yet, as Roth notes, “These poems are noticings, of oneself in the moment of noticing: the gateway to all spiritual aspiration.” I like the plural noun “noticings.”
It is probably safe to say a reader who knows nothing about communal living and work centres will benefit from reading Kherdian’s poetry, though the reader might be puzzled by poems which from time to time conclude with spiritual affirmations that appear so to speak out of the blue: “There is a beauty in all this / beyond the telling.”
The reader can sense both the man and the poet at work in the earlier poems; in the later poem the reader can sense that they are the same being. There is an instance of this in two poems titled “i ride the red tractor.” In the first poem the “i” is identified as “a stranger to this green earth / these turbulent, thundering skies.” In the second poem the “i” is “this human form” which would “come to them” (“bird and animal / red tractor or green”) “in the halo of my love.” There is a transformation recorded here in parallel poems with the same title. It is casually presented, characteristic of Kherdian’s subtle sometimes impressionistic writing generally.
The poems are anything but innovative or subversive; they are anything but traditional or conservative. They are individual in the sense that the idiom adopted by the poet is that of modern free verse. The poet is aware of Ezra Pound who sought to introduce Modernism, which led to Post-Modernism, for Kherdian twice quotes the injunction “make it new,” a command identified with Pound. Kherdian does not make it new, but he makes it his own – here is a man here, a man in the guise of a farmer-poet – who does this and does that. Share his experiences and their meanings. In terms of the division of man in P.D. Ouspensky’s schema, it is possible to place Kherdian’s magnetic centre in his moving / instinctive centre – that is his “major” centre, his minor being the emotional.
I will not pause over the poems in whole or part that describe pigs, ducks, horses, chickens, starlings, flies, and other farm animals and fowl; here Kherdian has to contend with the reader’s remembered richness of D.H. Lawrence’s wildlife poems. Ditto for weeds, flowers, seeds, etc. Kherdian is inclined to see the wildlife that catches his eye as instances of all life:
Ah well, I tell myself, some things
just naturally resist a reasoning
mind, that’s all. And have you not
noticed how various and multiple
and mysterious everything is –
including chickens (not to mention
humans), etcetera, etcetera.
That is the ending of “the wild ones.” It is quite effective, and it would work on the podium as a spoken poem, but it tells us “a little about a little,” rather than “a lot about a lot.” Kherdian is not the poet of the big statement, but of the little insight, which is all the richer for its uniqueness. The poem “to the man or woman” is about a meditation cushion, accidentally left behind, which he then uses while shelling corn. He wonders if it will retain the impression of his body. He then ponders the act:
We want to touch everything
in this manner, with all
the parts of our bodies, consciously,
with all our feelings and thoughts,
for it is in this way
that we are trying to
awaken to The Farm
Only one of the poems is formal in the literary sense of that word. It is “mount st. helens” and it describes the feelings on the land when “the ashes fell.” It is formal because its stanzas are constructed like those of the classic French form known as the villanelle, except that there is no repetition of lines and no use of rhyme. I wish it were a villanelle. As it is, the memorability of the poem rests on the process of its thought and feeling, unbuttressed by stylishly or skillfully written lines. It ends:
We had been shocked into wakefulness, and the
certainly of that made us question again
the uncertainty of life and its meaning.
The structure of at least one other poem recalls the structure of a classic form, in this instance “poem” comes close to the three-line haiku, though its length is eleven lines. Five lines describe the sight of one of the farmers on a bicycle. Three lines are devoted to how the scene that is so far distant is so silent. Five lines move into another dimension, the last two being these:
I turn and do not see the invisible
imprint I have left on the ground.
There is a lot in these poems about close to indelible impressions. Reading these poems I occasionally thought how D.H. Lawrence would have done it better – or at least deeper – but then he was weighted down and occasionally buoyed up with deep passions and society’s restrictions against venting them. Yet every so often I also thought of Rainer Maria Rilke. The German poet would have approved of a number of Kherdian’s poem, especially the one titled “1,2,3,4, ducks in a row.” Lawrence would know what he thought of the inner life of the duck, but Rilke would have known better, especially in his period at Castle Duino in Trieste. And Kherdian too knows better. Without paraphrasing the twenty-one line poem, let me quote the last stanza about the sight of these strange creatures of creation:
As if it were my business. As if I, who understand nothing,
including myself, should be expected to understand
them, and know what they mean, or what
they SHOULD mean. Whose life am I living, anyhow?
The mundane task of keeping the birds from eating the fruit is described in the poem “they’re after my strawberries again.” The task is being poorly performed by the straw-hatted scarecrow. Is the poet better able to perform it? Here is how it ends:
What am I waiting for?
Heaven’s intervention? Childhood’s return?
A permanent summer sun and no villains?
Perhaps I’ll just sit back and wait
for a better poem, a better scarecrow,
and all the luck in the world,
plus a little bit more.
Everyone can use “the luck” and “a little bit more.” The expectations for the scarecrow were high, for the poet not so high, for the poem, it was the luck of the draw and the presence of perseverance and talent.
So far the poems that have been discussed and quoted come from the first half of the book. If I gave equal representation to the poems of the book’s second half, this appreciation would have to be much longer than it already is. Instead let me suggest only the following – that the later poems differ from the earlier in that the “noticings” of peculiarities and anomalies and unexpected emotions noted in the lines take on greater depths of meaning and significance in the later poems. What were sketches are now sculptures; what were two dimensional are now three dimensional.
This process of deepening and heightening is a consolidation of the poet and the process, of the man and the meaning, and it may be sensed by the reader in an occasional poem like “the cat” which describes movements of Tessie the tom cat. The description is neat and it “inscapes” the spirit of the animal, to use the verbal form of Gerard Manly Hopkins’ noun. Here is the three-line ending to the eighteen-line poem:
The hollow inbreath,
sensed but not seen,
between be and become.
The poet delves deeper or scales higher in “the death / life thing”:
when what we call life
and what we call death
join in their wholeness.
This Taoism or Buddhism or what-ism can go too far, as in the composition titled “the poet addresses his double” which looks at answers, organization, death, balance, and control, only to conclude:
Enter your life, only that.
Thank God, and be yourself.
Rather than leave it on a low note, I want to take this review to a high note and listen to what Kherdian has to say in what is obviously one of his major poems. The poem is “celebrating gurdjieff’s one hundredth,” and it is subtitled “January 13, Aurora, Oregon.” It is only seventeen lines long, seventy-two words of text (plus the nine-word title and subtitle, to make it 81 words in all). It is not a miniature literary work but in a way it is gem-like.
The poet imagines that the headlights of cars penetrating the fog are “candles in procession / walkers in Asian mountains / chanting as they come to prayers.” The mythic is contrasted with the ironic: “Here their descendants arrive / in shields of tin and glass / over mended gravel roads.” In a melange of imagery, the poet imagines “brothers, our fathers” – people in the present, people of the past – “our drum the silent wheel” – the prayer wheel apparently, but also the automobile wheel – “our prayer beads” too – “that hums under the hood.” There is the notion of poetry as prayer here too. The poem ends (if it truly ends) with three words separated by two spaces:
We Affirming Come
In its quiet way and not quite clear way, it is quintessential David Kherdian.
I could continue to discuss other poems in “Seeds of Light” and in the poet’s subsequent collection “Letters to My Father” in light of this author’s earlier prose work titled “On a Spaceship with Beelzebub By a Grandson of Gurdjieff” which Colin Wilson praised as “One of the best accounts I’ve read of actually being a member of a Gurdjieff group.” That book alone deserves to be described, but that is a subject for another review-article, perhaps one that I will write when, later this year, the University of California Press issues David Kherdian’s “New and Selected Poems.”
John Robert Colombo
John Robert Colombo, based in Toronto, is a Member of the Order of Canada and holds an honorary doctorate from York University, Toronto. His latest books are “A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore” (a volume of aphorisms) and “Less of Light” (the poems he wrote during the year 2011 plus a dream diary). Check his website for more details. < http://www.colombo.ca >
The John Robert Colombo Page
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Keith A. Buzzell’s Trio of Current Publications
The Doctor with Three Books
In front of me are three publications that have been tastefully produced by Fifth Press, an imprint based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The imprint is new to me and may well be new to the majority of the readers of this blog. The publisher’s focus is explained on its website, though even that sheds no light on why it is called the Fifth Press (rather than the Fourth, the Third, the Second, or the First Press). I guess there is a reason for the number but it eludes me! Here is the focus:
“Fifth Press was established in 2004 for the express purpose of publishing Dr. Keith A. Buzzell’s exploration of the depth of meaning of Gurdjieff’s writing. We are currently working with Will Mesa who has extensive experience plumbing the interstices of Beelzebub’s Tales. We hope we may contribute to the fabric of our work together and for all life.”
On the basis of its mission statement, Fifth Press is doing a good job in realizing its aims and objectives. Let me also add, in passing, that Dr. Will Mesa is an Cuban-born student of the Work who studied under Henri Tracol in Paris; he is a Professor of Electrical Engineering, apparently based in New York City. He once explained, “Toward the end of my fourth reading of Beelzebub’s Tales, late in 1986, it dawned on me that the book I was reading and studying was the best theoretical and experimental book I had ever studied.”
It is apparent that there are many scientifically minded and technologically trained people like Dr. Mesa and Dr. Buzzell who are “in the Work” and are making sizeable efforts “to square” what Mr. Gurdjieff wrote in Beelzebub’s Tales with contemporary scientific and technological theories and practices. This is one way to “make relevant” what the author wrote between 1924 and 1927, the text of which was translated into English and published in 1950 and subsequently reissued in a revised (and controversial) edition in 1992.
At this point it is incumbent upon me to state that if in order to understand the text of Tales as it appears in the first or the second edition I have to read it not only once, not only twice, but all of three times, once out loud, then I may make no claims to understand the book. The fact that the accuracy and authenticity of the text cannot be accepted without being challenged is not what disturbs me; after all, bookstores offer the public not one but two editions Tales as they do of James Joyce’s equally long Finnegans Wake. Indeed, relatedly, the publishing imprint Library of America was established to solve just this problem by issuing standard editions of the works by America’s leading literary authors.
In the late 1950s I was trained in the New Critical method of explication de texte, so I am wary of people who accept whatever text is at hand – pace the King James Version of the Bible – and then take it literally and erect intellectual structures like castles in Spain upon the fundament of “gospel truths.” I have observed that leaders of study groups make use of the text is largely as illustration, a passage here, a passage there, to add to the foreground or the background of the observation of interest. It is almost as if the work is too large or great to encompass as a whole.
It is obvious that Tales is a complex and demanding text – “problematic” is the word that a semiotician might use – but at the same time it meets Northrop Frye’s description of scripture as “literature plus,” so it is difficult to “get a handle on the book.” I also see it in Frye’s terms as an “anatomy,” a sum of innumerable parts that with its single structure is greater than the sum of all those parts. But all this is surmise and suggestion, as I am not going to comment on Tales. Instead, I will discuss the man who does and the way he does it – by identifying the author of these three books and by comment on a handful of his interpretations and discoveries.
There is no Wikipedia entry for Keith A. Buzzell, but I did determine the following biographical details on the Internet: “Dr. A. Keith Buzzell was born in 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts. He studied music at Bowdoin College and Boston University, and received his medical doctorate in 1960 at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. For the past 35 years, he has been a rural family physician in Fryeburg, Maine, a staff member of Bridgton Hospital and currently holds the position of medical director at the Fryeburg Health Care Center.
“Dr. Buzzell has also served as a professor of osteopathic medicine, a hospital medical director and a founder of a local hospice program. He has lectured widely on the neurophysiologic influences of television on the developing human brain and on the evolution of man’s triune brain. In 1971 Keith and his wife Marlena, met Irmis Popoff, a student of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and the founder of the Pinnacle Group in Sea Cliff, Long Island, New York. From then until the mid-1980s they formed work groups under her supervision. Since 1988 Dr. Buzzell and Annie Lou Staveley, founder of the Two Rivers Farm in Oregon, maintained a Work relationship up to her death in 1996. Keith continues group Work in Bridgton, Maine.”
The reference to osteopathy or osteopathic medicine caught my eye because the practice is not recognized as a medical discipline in Canada. A doctor of osteopathy is not a medical doctor in any of this country’s provinces. This might be my country’s loss, for a doctor of osteopathy is recognized as a medical physician in the fifty states of the American Union. Please note that I am not in any way questioning the value of osteopathy or the credentials of Dr. Buzzell; indeed, he seems eminently qualified in the practice of medicine and has a wide range of interests suitable for his examination of the complexities of Tales. In mentioning this fact, I am clearing up a public confusion about osteopathy!
Fifth Press has issued three handsome volumes of his books. They appear in trade paperback editions, 6.5 inches wide by 9.5 inches high, printed on quality paper, glued rather than sewn to the spine. Here are the titles:
(1) Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales and Other of Gurdjieff’s Writings. The first edition is copyright 2005; xvi+228 pages. (2) A Child’s Odyssey: Explorations in Active Mentation: Re-Membering Gurdjieff’s Teaching. This first edition is copyright 2006; xiv+297 pages. (3) Man – A Three-brained Being: Resonant Aspects of Modern Science and the Gurdjieff Teaching. This edition is copyright 2007 and identified as the second edition; ii+139.
The three volumes (which have the look of a series of books) are well designed and produced. There are about forty-five lines per page of rather small type, with footnotes, glossaries, and bibliographies. The text is illustrated with charts and diagrams, some in pastel colours. My estimate is that what we have in this trio of books is close to 330,000 words.
Regular readers of Sophia Wellbeloved’s web-blog will be familiar with the reviews and commentaries of my companion columnist, Joseph Azize, a man who is extremely knowledgeable about Work-related subjects. Joseph’s detailed review of one of these books (Man – A Three-brained Being) appeared on Sept. 27, 2009, and may be read there with much benefit.
In the same vein, a fairly detailed consideration of another title (Perspectives on Beelzebub’s Tales) may be read on Amazon.com where it is titled “Perspectives: A Must Read for Serious Students of the Tales” and dated April 4, 2005. This review was contributed by Seymour B. Ginsburg, a respected author in his own right. The two reviews include chapter summaries but in the main they recapitulate the contents of these books chapter by chapter. While I enjoy doing the same – reprinting tables of contents and adding running commentaries on them – I will refrain from duplicating their work, concentrating instead on a couple of points of exposition.
There is one further point to make: Dr. Buzzell has been a presenter at some of the All & Everything International Humanities Conferences. The sole conference I attended was the one held in Toronto two years ago; I reported on those sessions on this web-blog. Here is what happened on April 24, 2009:
At 11:00 a.m., Keith Buzzell spoke on “Do-Re-Me of Food, Air and Impressions.” He is a seasoned presenter and with slides and one handout related the Table of Hydrogens to the various types of “food” and ultimately the “coating” of higher being bodies. There is the food that grows on the surface of the earth, that exists in the planetary atmosphere, and that comes from the sun. One of his catchy phrases was “Only life can sustain life.”
Hydrogen 768 is the food of man, but the categories are “enormous.” In fact, while I did not conduct a word-count, I assume Keith used the word “enormous” twenty-one times to describe the categories on the Table, and quite rightly. He also turned his attention to the difference between “mass” and “non-mass.” At times I thought I was attending a lecture on the Joy of Chemistry. Any dieticians in the audience would have been lost!
There was an interesting analysis of the role of proteins and how modern science is revealing the facts of digestion which are in line with what is discussed in “Tales.” We learn by analogy: “Higher hydrogens digest lower hydrogens.” The speaker suggested that there is “a way of understanding how our minds can transform our physical brains.” “The input of the three brains is the substrate of the spiritual body, the DNA of the kesdjan.”
During the discussion it was mentioned that there are ten bacteria for every cell in the human body. “We could not live without all our bacteria. We have to get along with each other.” Keith quoted a teacher who asked, “How can you expect to have extra knowledge if you don’t know ordinary knowledge.” The discussion ended with a discussion of magnetic vs. mechanical fields of influence and the human will and whether it can be suborned, followed by the differences between “body” and “centre.” It was 1:00 p.m.
Perhaps that excerpt from my notes on Dr. Buzzell’s presentation catches some of the excitement of the exposition that is characteristic of the man and his analyses. At the conference I chatted a few times with him and his lovely wife Marlena, finding them to be a professional and knowledgeable couple very dedicated to their work and the Work.
Here are some thoughts inspired by paging through Man – A Three-brained Being. I find it difficult to imagine that anyone but a student of the Work with a special interest in Tales will be drawn to read and study this work of analysis. Specifically, I find it unlikely that anyone but the most exceptional chemist, physicist, astrophysicist, physiologist, or neurologist would want to commit any amount of time and energy to assessing what use has been made here of mainstream scientific theory and practice.
In a way that is a shame because it means there is little chance that there will ever be a dialogue between orthodox scientists and unorthodox but nevertheless rigorous thinkers, so necessarily compartmentalized are the scientific disciplines in our time. I seem to recall reading in a volume of recollections of life at the Prieuré that the Harley Street physicians who were in attendance in the mid-1920s spent an evening trying to identify the Hydrogens and interpret them in light of known chemical reactions. Ouspensky had a pet phrase which he used when students attempted to think outside the system or to relate non-system matters to the system. He would say, “That’s another opera.” That’s another work.
Indeed, Ouspensky titled his book of lectures The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution (1951); in 1989 his literary executors authorized the publication of the rest of the lectures and called the publication The Cosmology of Man’s Possible Evolution. Reading Dr. Buzzell’s current book, I have the sense that it could well be retitled The Chemistry of Man’s Possible Evolution, for it focuses on biological and chemical reactions in the production of change, movement, images, consciousness, and transformation. I will leave it to other commentators, like Joseph Azize, to delve deeper. I will leave this book, as does the author, with the opening sentences of the last paragraph:
“Our aim in this book has been to blend a scientific perspective on the physical Universe and on human biology with a perspective on the possibility of self-transformation as taught by G.I. Gurdjieff. Because it is verbal in form, it can do little more than hint, or metaphorically point toward, the broad spectrum of human experiences that must be personally lived in order to have its full meaning.”
Over all, the author writes vividly, even at times stirringly. The book opens with a lively account of how at every turn our lives have been changed by the use that has been made since 1900 of quantum mechanics and its effects. Buzzell writes, “There appears to be more than serendipity involved in the simultaneous appearance of Gurdjieff as a teacher (circa 1913) and the published insights of such men as Planck, Bohr, Einstein, Schrödinger and Hubble. Superficially, the perspectives of 20th century science and of Gurdjieff appear to be diametrically different and yet, it is our contention that both herald a startlingly new view of our Universe.” Buzzell finds many parallels between passages in Tales and later scientific discoveries. In passing he relates Tales to innovations in Modernist music and literature, subjects that will no doubt attract future historians of ideas.
With great clarity the author discusses the implications of the “three-brained” being identified with Mr. Gurdjieff and, a good forty years later, the “triune” mind discussed by the physiologist Dr. Paul MacLean. The author is certainly wrong in suggesting that Mr. Gurdjieff (or A.R. Orage, his amanuensis, redactor, translator, editor, etc.) introduced the term “mentation” because as early as 1850 the word was used to refer to “thinking” or “mental processes.” Nowhere is there any consideration of the theory that is the rival of Dr. MacLean’s, and that is the theory of the bi-cameral mind of the psychologist Julian Jaynes.
Also missing is any discussion of W.H. Sheldon’s three “somatotypes” or C.G. Jung’s four-fold typology of “body types.” Not that the author is under any obligation to discuss any of these or other matters, but it would have been interesting to see how well these conceptions could have been worked into a consideration of Tales. Yet what he sets himself the task to accomplish – to explicate Tales in light of current science – he does accomplish. The intention is not so much to vindicate the scientific endeavour or to justify the unorthodox approach and language of the text, but to delve deeper into the text.
Dr. Buzzell does.
Part two continues this review.
John Robert Colombo, who writes irregularly for this blog-site, is known across Canada as the Master Gatherer for his compilations of the country’s lore and literature. His most recent book is a collection of told-as-true Canadian ghost stories called Jeepers Creepers. He is an Associate, Northrop Frye Centre, Victoria University, University of Toronto. Check his website < http://www.colombo.ca > for further details. If you wish to received notice of future reviews and commentaries, send JRC an email: < email@example.com >.
Jane Heap / Notes, Jane Heap, anonymously edited by Annie-Lou Staveley and David Kherdian, 1983 and 2002, Two Rivers Press, Aurora, ISBN 089756023X
This is an edition of the notes Jane Heap prepared before delivering her talks to her pupils in the Gurdjieff ideas and methods. They are not ‘to introduce the ideas’, but ‘towards practical application of the ideas’. Her pupils had already learned the theoretical outlines, and were now participating in groups (the Gurdjieff schools generally organize pupils into ‘groups’ for collective study of the applied methods). The fact that these notes were not written for publication makes them more valuable, because we eavesdrop, as it were, on Jane thinking to herself about how she can address the practical needs of her pupils.
Gurdjieff’s ideas can only ever be superficially understood without an attempt to apply them to oneself. One finds in this volume, to an extraordinary degree, evidence of knowledge and practice united in work – which I would define as ‘informed action directed to a constructive aim’ (see George Adie p. 28). Although written as a number of chains of thought, not as one thematic exercise, the contents of this book are probably the greatest exposition of the ‘technique of techniques’ we will ever have.
There is a table of contents, a two page introduction by Michael Currer-Briggs (whom Dr Lester, Jane’s pupil and physician, described to me as Jane’s ‘right hand man’), a large number of extracts from Jane’s private notes, with minimally intrusive editing by Mrs Staveley (one of Jane’s pupils, whom Jane effectively ‘graduated’ from her group before her death), and David Kherdian (Mrs Staveley’s pupil, and an acclaimed literary talent). Pages 87-95 comprise a collection of Jane’s aphorisms. The text is organized into readings of between one and ten pages, with italic sub-headings at various points. This is good, because the presentation is intense and compressed, so the sectioned layout assists the reader to select and study integrated units of related thoughts.
The volume is an attractive hard cover, with thick paper cover and plastic protection, approx. 6 ½ by 8 inches, with oil print on the endpapers. It comprises 95 pages printed on a slightly creamy, textured, top quality paper. The original 1983 edition was handset. Except, I think, that the first edition had leather trimmings, the 2002 edition is an exact facsimile reproduction of the first. Information about Jane, her style of teaching, and the publication of these notes and others, is found on the fly-leaves. The excellent choice of the paper, print and binding were the work of David Kherdian and his wife Nonny Hogrogian, a celebrated artist. However, the entire group at Two Rivers Farm were concerned in various aspects of its compilation and printing. To see and hold it, one feels that one is in the presence of a product of respect and careful attention, even down to the good use made of the fly-leaves.
At the outset, I should observe that there is another book of Jane Heap’s notes, The Notes of Jane Heap, which, although also published by Two Rivers Press, was edited by Michael Currer-Briggs and others of Jane’s London pupils, not by Mrs Staveley. That is different from the book I am reviewing, although almost everything I say about the contents of this volume would apply to it, too. There is a significant overlap between the contents of the two books. The chief difference is that the ‘London notes’ lack even the subtle editing of this volume, and that, I think, is advantageous in that the notes are even more concise, but then, sometimes they’re almost impenetrable. That volume is a nice hard cover, but as an artefact, it is not in the same league as this masterpiece.
I have seen the typed transcript of all Jane’s notes, and it’s fairly apparent from their contents that some of them, especially the “Black Book”, can only have been meant for her own purposes, and not even in preparation for addressing her groups. But this book does not include those most private notes: this volume consists of notes which Jane wrote in longhand when preparing to give talks to her groups.
In August 1973, some nine years after Jane’s death, some of her pupils, having already provided Jeanne de Salzmann with a complete copy of the typed transcripts, met with her in Switzerland to discuss what use they might make of the material. And it is fortunate that they did, because Madame challenged them to produce their best. I do not just mean that she issued a challenge: anyone can do that. De Salzmann helped them probe deeply for their truest, best effort, as is apparent from the extracts below. It must have been an intense two days for these people. The notes of the meeting with Madame de Salzmann record her as saying on the first day:
This is something none of the other books have. There is plenty published about Ideas but not about How to work. Perhaps the thing to do is to prepare a small volume on this. Then Mme Salzmann will show it to the older ones – Tracol, Mme Lannes, Deselle – to see if it would help. We must be more DYNAMIC.
The capitals are as in the notes of that meeting, provided to me by the late Dr Lester. De Salzmann went on to say:
We must remember that what we do will be for the benefit of Jane – editing and shortening – and not hold back or hold on to the old memories because we were there – were taught by her. We must remember that the book will be read by people who never knew or saw Jane. For this reason we must remember that we have to insure that the book has IMPACT. (Jane’s sayings – need to be worked up and brought on).
I am not sure whether this last sentence represents de Salzmann’s aside, or was placed there by someone else. She made the point, which I feel the London notes bear out, that unedited, these notes incline towards being too dense. Thus, while I do not know if Madame ever gave approval of Mrs Staveley’s and Kherdian’s book prior to publication, it is that one which more closely accords with her advice:
As they are – Jane’s Notes – we would have to shorten them – edit them for reading. When they were given they were spoken – they were for that group to hear – for that moment – that meeting. They were spoken to be listened to. At a meeting – when spoken – the formulation does not matter so much because of the people there – they could be explained – elaborated – questions could be answered. But for reading by other people – people on their own – at home and not in meetings or groups – it would have to be different – and very carefully formulated – absolutely right.
One can sense the high demand which de Salzmann made, and the quality of thought which she brought (I am told she used to quote Gurdjieff as having said: “Very good is not good enough”). Other of de Salzmann’s comments, as recorded in these notes, illustrate the initial impulse which went into the production of this volume:
We must remember there is never enough MENACE in ourselves – never enough hard confrontation. If there is a true confrontation there is an agony – a horror – in that moment of balance. This way or that? Whichever way we go is an escape. We have to pay. If we give up then we are lost. … We meet someone – read a book – it arouses our interest – we feel that person has something. Even at a very early age that possibility of interest is there. This arousing of interest happens in our ordinary lives. We become aware that there is a hunger in us and because of that we follow that interest – we put our energy into that and no longer just as always before on everyday things. In doing that we put our energy onto a new and different level in ourselves.
We meet someone – like you met Jane – who has something different – that meeting raises your interest to this other level – it calls you to give your interest and energy in that direction. That person remains special for you – will always remain so – has become permanent. They have altered the direction of your life. Then later you will meet something else which will do the same and again raise you to another level. Gradually something becomes your own – what you have received is available to you. And you are in danger. There is a menace for you – a trap. You do not go on – you stay there. It has become too easy and you fall down and allow life to take you away. You do not stay there with that danger, that menace. You do not find your place. If you lose that position of danger it is hard to come back again.
Then there is TIME. Gurdjieff used to give work of a certain kind, for a time only. And just when people were getting used to that work – beginning to be able to do it – to find it easy, he would sweep it away – destroy it – because of that danger – the danger of it becoming too easy. Life changes – some of the things we still hear about – read about are now old fashioned. The time has gone for them, and this is inevitable and according to Law. There is a different way to call people to work now – a way that has to be used today. This we must always be searching for – and at the same time we must remain faithful to the Work – the Ideas – as we received them.
It is easy to make grand efforts – big efforts – to work extra hard on this or that, with terrific energy. This also can be an escape – can be a danger too. But if your work is related differently – if it is not just in one part – your mind or your feelings or your body – if everything in you is related and related to that danger – that menace – so that a true confrontation can take place – a confrontation that brings you up with a jerk – then that is different.
That, then, is how Jeanne de Salzmann came to be the godmother, as it were, of this volume. Now for the two other key players. Jane Heap and Annie-Lou Staveley were two of Gurdjieff’s most accomplished, and most faithful pupils. Unfortunately, there has not yet been any study of either of these most redoubtable persons which does them justice. Jane (1887-1964) was with Gurdjieff from about 1924, I believe, although at some point he sent her to London to commence her own groups. Initially, I understand, he asked her to join Ouspensky’s London group, but he refused to accept her. If I remember correctly, Moore says that his stated reason was that she was an ‘incorrigible lesbian’. Apart from wondering what a ‘corrigible lesbian’ would look like, and how Ouspensky would go about correcting one, I would need to see some evidence before I could believe that Ouspensky had made the comment: it seems an odd thing to say knowing that it could be reported, and that she had been a pupil of Gurdjieff’s.
This book is direct and powerful to an extent I have never seen matched: “Only what we actually experience is valuable” [page 8]. As De Salzmann said, these notes tell how to apply the Gurdjieff method. They do not expound the ideas, but they operate from the ideas in such a way that certain important ones are highlighted; and when they are, their setting, which is a practical one, illuminates them in fresh ways. For example, she says that ‘I’ is a ‘power of emanation’ , and that it is a ‘potentiality of essence’ , and so opens a new perspective on these ideas. Then, the piece “I Am my Burden” draws on the Law of Seven, and yet develops it in a direction contemplated, but not executed, in Miraculous:
To finish everything you begin! We rarely finish anything completely – always something is lacking. How to see clearly in ourselves the cause of this! I may be unable to finish because I have decided but have not understood. … Or you may take the habit of finishing – but it will not give anything because the same habit may turn into something else. 
From these notes we can glimpse something of the teaching, and of the ‘technique of techniques’. I first heard this phrase from George Adie: both he and Helen Adie had been close to Jane, and they perhaps learned it from her. Mr Adie used it as a description of the Gurdjieff method, a technique which is not like any other we have known. It’s a technique which comes from a higher level, so that even in its form it is under fewer rules than our ordinary methods. The heart of this ‘technique of techniques’ is the preparation, and so, the preparation itself can also be called the ‘technique of techniques’. And yet, Jane says that “Every time I have to remind myself that it has to be the first time I ever tried the exercise” .
Can the use of a technique and the imperative to continually reinitiate fresh efforts be reconciled? They can be, and they often are, in practice. We see this even in the world where employing techniques in trades, arts and crafts, far from inhibiting freshness, makes it more possible. The great innovators like Leonardo da Vinci and J.S. Bach devoted great attention to the fine details of their arts. They can be reconciled in theory, too, because mastering the platform skills requires that the three platform functions (intellect, feeling and organic instinct) are trained, as a vine is trained to a trellis, and harmonized at least in respect of that art, which may explain why many people who master a craft, an art, a science or a skill, come to appreciate it with something in the direction of love.
The technique of techniques is under the laws of a higher world: it is based on the understanding of higher mind. In addition, the preparation is done in quiet, away from electro-magnetic fields, in the light and air of morning, which, as Gurdjieff said, possess special properties. Very few principles are required to do the preparation, either for the contemplative part, or to complete it by making a plan for the day or, in the evening, to review it and perhaps make a sketch for the following day.
Although the preparation is made in a special environment, with special knowledge, nonetheless its fruits must be expressed in this world: which means the formulation and the fixture of plan, and the wish and resolve to keep one’s word to oneself. So there is definition and decision, and it has to be that way. To refuse to use any technique is idiocy, a recipe for delusion. This is true whether we’re speaking of carpentry, gardening, painting, music, or inner development.
This point deserves emphasis: this book presents the authentic Gurdjieff teaching of the ‘preparation’ (not the ‘sitting’), thus Jane says “All depends on your preparation”  , but see also pp. 10 (mentioning divided attention), 14-16, 31, 34, 38, 46, 48-9, 52, 54, 63, 69 and 81. It helps that Jane refers both to the evening preparation and to the connection between the preparation and one’s plan for the day [pp. 14, 55 and 70]. The Adies brought all of these methods, and I have concluded that they are critical to any possibility of accelerated development. I would say that I proved this to myself, because after their deaths, I gradually let those good habits run down, but I’ve returned, thankfully, to them just in accordance with the principles they gave.
The preparation is a sort of bridge between worldly and spiritual life, what Mr Adie called ‘life under the sun’ and ‘life under the stars’. Both lives go together, as Jane said: “We transport into work what we are in life. If I behave like a pig in life, I behave in the work like a pig also …” . Another practical concept uniting the two lives in practices is the teaching of the good householder, whom she says is “the man who neglects nothing. The man that is faithful and accurate in small things and, at the same time, remembers that he has another life to care for and who tries to relate them” [21, see also p. 15].
So, Jane points us to a unitive discipline , pursued for an aim . To speak of discipline, today, invites resistance. Dr Lester often said that Jane understood the importance and lawfulness of resistance. He said, for example, that if someone in their craft shop The Rocking Horse was hammering an object which was not sufficiently steady, she would call out “Not enough denying force!”. The same wisdom inhabits this book: “The No is to make the Yes remembered. No and Yes have to become more inseparable – one without the other is not profitable. … Yes without No – the angel without the devil – is impotence. … If it were not so it would not lead you to something. It would be romance – fallacious.” [10-11]. Later, we find this powerful comment: “Gurdjieff says the word ‘passive’ meant something very strong and concrete” .
Negative emotions can be used: hence her succinct advice: “Look over the top of being negative” . And not only negative emotions: Jane understood the value of fasting, , something which one can harmlessly experiment with by following the traditional fasts of the Eastern Christian Churches (modern Catholic practice is arguably better than nothing, but it does not compare to the Eastern traditions).
A special feature of this volume is that Jane preserves in an organic context many sayings of Gurdjieff, some of which would otherwise have been lost. Here is my list:
“Try to be responsible for what you have understood” 
“We are always making requirements” 
“To believe is to make sheep” 
“Revalue your values” 
“Everyone has a dog in himself” 
“Not even an apparatus in us for negative emotions – but they use every part of us”
“Your work is cheap” 
“You are a very naive person” 
“A good egoist is something very big – a man who becomes concerned for his own reality, then begins to be concerned for the reality of others” 
“Try to do what you do – just what you do – but do it!” 
“Use little reminding factors” 
At the end of the volume, as noted, are her powerful aphorisms. An earlier draft of this review cited some, but there were so many I ached to include that it became unworkable. So I have, instead, selected lines from the other part of the text which strike me as profound with an almost unearthly profundity: “A picture formation in the mind is one of the foods for attention. Think what is meant by this food – food for voluntary attention” ; “What you have lived in dreams is etched in you …” , and with that, “As long as you accept to feed on deception you will not be given better food” .
There are so many such master-teachings that I cannot do them justice. I will give a subjective list of a few: see  for her comments on blood and instinct,  on worry,  on death, and pp. 19, 22-23, 28-29, 32-33, 50, 69, 71 and 76-77 for her comments on reality, unity aim and cause and control. It seems to me that she gives the clue to a theoretical understanding of reality and unreality in oneself. One of Jane’s famous sayings about death is here, too . Dr Lester was there when a woman, in a state of mild anxiety, asked Jane what death was like. Jane replied: “Don’t worry. You won’t notice much difference.”
Finally, the Notes of Jane Heap ends with a few extracts about death and recurrence. And that is a good way to end. But this volume ends with something I think is even better: a chapter titled ‘Here – Now’ which seems to me to sum up the entire book in a tour de force. I will end with just one sentence from that chapter:
Do not fear – it is stupid. Quieten your emotions – this is the first step – then collect a little.
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.