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Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland: A Polemic by James Moore (2010)

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James Moore

Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland, A Polemic by James Moore (2010)

1. Introduction

2. The Real Question

1. Introduction

I will assume that the reader has access to John Robert Colombo’s review of this book at https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/was-lord-pentland-an-eminent-gurdjieffian/

This will save me going through the preliminaries. To a significant extent, I am in agreement with JR’s review. But I do think that the most important point a critic can make about this book is that it is not actually a biography of Lord Pentland in the sense that the genre of biography has been known in English letters: it is, rather, a polemic which takes Pentland as its chief but not its sole target. It is as if Pentland is merely a convenient, and – for Moore – an agreeable because a disdained target.

That the book is a polemic shows itself in two ways: its coverage of Pentland’s achievement is minimal to the point of mockery, and its coverage of other targets is overplayed. Thus, Moore also takes aim at what Pentland’s father, the social class to which he belonged, the Britain in which Pentland flourished, and P.D. Ouspensky. Moore sometimes takes aim at Jeanne de Salzmann and through her and Pentland, what is now clumsily known as the “International Association of the Gurdjieff Foundations”.

The title is, of course, pretentious, referring as it does to Lytton Strachey’s minor classic. But then, the author named his autobiography Gurdjieffian Confessions: A Self Remembered. I doubt that he would see any pretence at all. Moore’s writing continues its steady decline. In my view, Gurdjieff and Mansfield was the best written of his books. Each succeeding volume sees further adventures in grandiloquence to the point where, in this book, Moore’s prose positively obscures his meaning as much as it reveals it. For example, speaking of the “Dunkirk Spirit”, Moore remarks: “By just such a rare and free flowing energy the aridities of Ouspensky’s scholasticism might have been irrigated. But they were not.” (p.53). What does this mean? We can see that he dislikes Ouspensky’s “scholasticism”, but he does not explain what the stated “aridities” are, or how they could have been “irrigated” by the spirit of Dunkirk. The dry four word sentence “But they were not”, seems to suggest that there was some fault of Ouspensky’s part, or that of someone else. However, as so often in this book, Moore does not condescend to explain his meaning, the basis for his opinion, or what his sources were.

Consider this line: “Here as elsewhere Pentland is litmus paper shy of turning red or blue”, (63). I do not know what he means in this context. I know what litmus paper is, and I know what shy means, but what is he saying? Moore aims for effect to the point of losing sight of why one writes.

One of Moore’s techniques in this book is to assume an omniscient voice, a manner of proceeding which allows him to criticise and condemn without needing to do more than demand that we accept his conclusions. Moore has researched many details of the world in which Pentland lived, but how can he possibly know that when he took his seat as President of the Cambridge Union, Pentland had “a sense almost of swooning vertigo”? (32) Does Moore have access to a diary or letter, and if so, why not mention it? Or is it all as much a fiction as the awkward talk between father and son which he invents?

History’s access to their verbatim conversation is decently barred by the study door” (15) Moore speaks here, as often, as if he were the voice of history, and the tone supports him when he adds: “Yet this caveat does not entirely forbid the authorial imagination an intelligent extrapolation from circumstantial evidence. Like most fathers His Lordship hardly knew how to begin.” Where is the intelligence here? What are the pieces of evidence he uses? Maybe if we knew the facts, we would find that Pentland’s father was different from how Moore imagines him. All I can see here is the operation of thoroughgoing prejudice, and that is a very different thing.

Similarly, in speaking of Franklin Farms, he mocks how “Society women with compressed lips earnestly bottling peas and beans were in a profounder sense, bottling spiritual merit.” (67). How does he know what their attitude was? Were they really so self-righteous as that? Maybe the women would have surprised him. But by filling this slim volume with “intelligent extrapolations”, and speaking as if all-knowing, Moore creates a consistent picture of pretentious and deluded wealthy folks, and then pleads its very consistency in aid of its veracity. This is not valid biography, and is cheap even as polemic.

It is difficult to overstate the extent to which the book is primed with irrelevancies which create an illusion of research, while bare of many matters which are far more important. For example, we learn that tickets to the premier of Gone with the Wind were hard to procure (51), but Moore does even try to tell us in what Pentland’s approach to the Gurdjieff teaching and methodology consisted. Yet, after the publication of Exchanges Within and several of his talks, this would have been as easy as it is desirable.

Again, Moore tells us that at one time a certain piece of news “would have imparted to Pentland’s stiff mind and body the artificial agility bestowed on a dead frog’s hind-quarters when juxtaposed to an electric coil …” (72). It is ponderously written, and not, to my mind, at all witty. But more profoundly, Moore assumes and has assumed all throughout that Pentland had a “stiff” mind”.

Moore is content to construct a paper tiger and ignore, in the published group meetings, what made Pentland the teacher he was – whatever type of teacher that may have been.

It is necessary to state that I am sure that Moore has a certain point: but he does not demonstrate it. I remember that in several meetings with “senior” people from the New York Foundation, they would gently push you into agreeing with them: it was obscene, the number of times one woman in particular would put words into people’s mouths by asking, “Wouldn’t you say …?” I had a sense, even then, that she was imitating, and my guess was that she was imitating Pentland.

I recall one chap who had met Pentland would come quote statements such as: “Don’t write that down! Remember it! Lord Pentland said: Why do we write? We write it order to forget!” How absurd. We don’t write in order to forget, but so that if we do forget, as experience shows us we often do, we will have a record. When I was in New York, about eight years after Pentland’s death, I was with Jim Wyckoff’s group. We had to remove all the items from a series of cupboards. I started to make a sketch of what was where. They got stuck into me: that was not the Work! I had to remember not use a crutch. They would remember. And so on. They really made a point out of it: they were unctuous and self-righteous.

But when, a week later, they had to restore the items, they were searching high and low for the sketch. Not one said a word to me. I started to form the opinion then that Wyckoff was a New York hippie, and before he died, I informed him that I no longer wished to “work” with him. I am gratified that to remember that I did. Because, like Pentland, he was an authority figure. But to give Pentland his due, Pentland could run a business and did establish the Foundation on the West Coast.

Still, the picture of the NY Foundation I then formed, as conceited while operating at a level lower than ordinary life, does seem to go back to Pentland. But I also felt that there was more than just that to Pentland. And I feel that the X quality which Moore has missed must have been something to do with the presence of Lord Pentland. Only by appealing to the presence of Lord Pentland can I explain why the text of Exchanges Within, which seems to me to be good but not excellent, sends those who knew him into raptures: they make a connection to what they experienced when they met him

Interestingly, Mr Adie did not consider Pentland to be anything but formidable. He did say that Pentland would go all cryptic and mystificatory or change the topic when he did not know something or felt inadequate. He also said that Pentland could play a double game, and for reasons I won’t go into now, I think that Adie may well have been right. I think that Pentland did relish the idea of taking over the Adie group in Australia, but – probably on instructions from Jeanne de Salzmann – was content to wait until Adie would die. And to give them credit, the strategy did work, but by the time it bore fruit, the groups had reduced from well over a hundred and forty persons to about a third of that number.

I should also note here that there are some very interesting stories of Pentland being bested by Mrs Staveley in verbal duels. Once he asked her, in front of others, to give an impromptu talk on the importance of obedience. It was obvious to those present that his point was that she was disobedient to either Jeanne de Salzmann or himself or both. She turned the tables on him: “Yes, obedience is important. But obedience to what?” Discomfited, he changed the topic.

So it should be obvious that I have no problem with a book which is critical of Pentland and the Foundation: but it needs reasons and grounds. This book is filled with tricks: “How far away, suddenly, seemed the hors d’oeuvre table at Claridges,” (73). Moore had referred to Claridges a little earlier, but it had nothing to do with this section, and neither is there any reason to think that anyone thought of Claridges, wistfully or otherwise. It is just a way of inserting a supposedly clever line and making Pentland look like an upper class twit. Similarly, and there are other examples, Moore mentions that pencil sharpeners were made scarce in England during the war, and then speaks of Pentland going to the USA where “the staff were … never short of … pencil sharpeners,” (62). Is that humorous? Does it have a point? It was Moore, not Pentland, who cared about such matters.

I could continue like this, but in the end, the very cynicism of Moore’s approach takes me to what I consider to be the real question.

2. The Real Question

The real question, to my mind, is about the Gurdjieff Work. If Pentland – the leader of the Foundation in the USA – was indeed, as Moore paints him, then what is the point of the Gurdjieff Work?

Jospeph Azize

September 2012

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See related posts:

Andrew Rawlinson’s review of this book

https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/?s=Pentland+Rawlinson

+

John Robert Colombo’s reviews this at: https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/was-lord-pentland-an-eminent-gurdjieffian/

&

he reviews Ashala Gabriel’s Remembering Lord Pentland

https://gurdjieffbooks.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/john-robert-colombo-reviews-a-new-book-by-ashala-gabriel/

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Joseph.Azize@gmail.com

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.

WAS LORD PENTLAND AN “EMINENT GURDJIEFFIAN”?

 

JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO REVIEWS

 

JAMES MOORE

JAMES MOORE’S NEW BOOK

I distinctly remember the sensation that I experienced when I first saw in print the name “Lord Pentland.” What I sensed was a loftiness of person and of purpose. What I felt was the emotion of being wafted away from my usual, classless moorings: “Whoever is this fellow?” What I entertained was an heretical thought upon seeing his name in the context of the Work: “Was an English lord actually chosen by Mr. Gurdjieff to head the Work in America?”

I was late in the game. I first encountered the name and title in the early 1960s in the pages of a newly published book of radio talks. Its table of contents listed the contributors of talks and interviews broadcast on Pacifica Radio in California. I have long forgotten the names of the other contributors to this series of addresses, all of them public intellectuals familiar to me at the time. But I remember the name of this English baron who was completely unknown to me at that time. Curious!

I never met Lord Pentland or Henry John Sinclair or just plain John Sinclair, of course, but over the decades I have met with groups of men and women who knew him, attended his talks, and studied under him. They were unanimous in their admiration and respect for the man. I would ask each in turn, “What was his dominant characteristic? Why was he so admired and respected? What made him a dedicated teacher or leader?” People seemed to like the man but there was seldom a feature, chief or not, which I could identify or with which I could identify.

After all, the photographs of the man that I saw reproduced in public print, or at least those taken during his later years, showed a gaunt figure of a man with steel-rimmed glasses and querulous eyes. I once wrote, “To judge by photographs, John Pentland was a cadaverous figure of a man, toweringly tall, with skeletal skull, bushy eyebrows, and beady eyes. He resembles an ascetic, say a Cistercian monk …. “

As well, he seemed quite forbidding, almost formidable (if not slightly comic or ironic). I never could discover what psychological feature or features were so impressive, though every once in a while someone would glance around and mumble about the man’s patrician bearing, the slight condescension in his attitude and manner, etc. But then some people are never satisfied; they will accept the Sermon on the Mount only if delivered by Jesus Christ in person.

Over the years I watched out for references to Lord Pentland in the literature of the Work, especially in the “Gurdjieff Review.” I bought and read a copy of the book “Exchanges Within” which is subtitled “Questions from Everyday Life Selected from Gurdjieff Group Meetings with John Pentland in California, 1955-1984.” It was published by Continuum in 1977, and its prose captured some of the qualities of the man, which I take to be a general thoughtfulness or mindfulness coupled with directness and authority.

I found his manner of writing and speaking to be more elusive than evasive, and to this day his prose, whether transcriptions of the talks or of the sessions of questions and answers, continues to remind me of the opaque styles of J. Krishnamurti and Rudolf Steiner. The opacity could be that of some level of being: a disembodied intelligence, perhaps. The texts of the talks themselves read like … radio scripts.

The other day I checked Wikipedia’s entry and I learned a little about the man Henry John Sinclair, but next to nothing about his personality and purpose, his mission and message. He was born in 1907, but where? (The biography says London.) He died in 1984, but where? (The biography says New York City.) He was the 2nd Baron Pentland and a man of means; his wife Lucy was also titled and well-to-do. His daughter, son-in-law, and their child are contributors to the Work.

In the 1930s and 1940s he worked with P.D. Ouspensky in London, and in 1948 he spent about nine months with Mr. Gurdjieff in Paris, who thereupon appointed him to lead the work in America. (“America” means the United States; while he did visit Canada, it was for business meetings in Toronto before he had met Mr. Gurdjieff and for a visit to the rodeo in Calgary afterwards.)

At one point he worked out of an office in Rockefeller Center, representing British-American commercial interests, like an earlier neighbour, spymaster Sir William Stephenson (known as “the Quiet Canadian” before turning garrulous and acquiring the title “the Man Called Intrepid”). I recall reading a warm and memorable description of Lord Pentland at work in his office. The account was written by the youthful William Patrick Patterson who visited the baron there, was much impressed with the man, and studied under him for all of eleven years, before finding another mentor. Patterson went on to establish the Gurdjieff Studies Program and describes himself to this day as a student of Lord Pentland.

Lord Pentland served as president of the Gurdjieff Foundation from its inception in 1953 to his death in 1984, and also as president of the Gurdjieff Foundation of California from its inception in 1955 to his death. He also served as executive editor of Far West Editions from 1969 to his death. I sense that the year of his death marked the end of a phase of the Work in America, as phases of the Work in France and the rest of Europe and the United Kingdom were marked by the death in 1990 of Madame de Salzmann and eleven years later that of her son Michel de Salzmann.

Talks delivered by Lord Pentland at Esalen and on the campuses of American colleges and universities were delivered alike to veteran students and newcomers to the Work and printed in semi-limited editions. In print they seem somewhat abstract or at least abstracted from experience. Indeed, I reviewed three of these publications and summarized their contents for readers of this blog in 2008, where they remain archived for reading or reference.

I have gone into all this detail – peeks at Lord Pentland from a distance – for the reason that many if not most readers of this review will share experiences similar to mine, being one or two steps removed from the man and the manner. Not everyone in the Work has had a first-hand experience of the man. Savour those experiences and conceptions of the man before encountering him in relief in the pages of James Moore’s biography, which has a four-word title: “Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland.”

This biography is a handsome volume published by Gurdjieff Studies Ltd. in England. The website is < www . gurdjieff . org. uk >. The book has an attractive dust jacket (designed by Linda Edmonds), card covers, matching coloured endsheets, and well-designed pages which measure 6″ x 9.5″ and which run from xx to 108. There are eighteen black-and-white illustrations. There is also a nominal index (i.e., restricted to personal names, not places or references) and a bibliography best described as sketchy. I wish the pages had been stitched rather than “perfect bound,” i.e., glued, but there are headbands, and the pages once opened almost lie flat on their own. It is a nice edition to hold and to read.

But before I do review its contents, I want to comment on the first two words of the book’s title: “Eminent Gurdjieffians.” Serious readers will catch the significance of the word “eminent,” which was not coined by Lytton Strachey but was certainly trademarked by him. “Eminent Victorians” is the title of this influential composite biography of four leading figures in Victorian England (Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Matthew Arnold, and General Gordon).

The lady and the three gentlemen were and are indeed “eminent,” though not necessarily pre-eminent for reasons of morality. The book’s appearance in 1918 coincided with the end of the Great War, and as the latter dealt the deathblow to the Kaiser’s designs on Europe, the former ended the idolatry and exposed the morality of leading public figures in Queen Victoria’s England.

Today, “Eminent Victorians” would be regarded as a hatchet-job, but for the fact that Strachey wrote well, researched deeply, and refused to moralize. Indeed, the composite biography appealed to the sceptical Bertrand Russell who read it while imprisoned for civil disobedience. In a letter he described the literary work in these words: “It is brilliant, delicious, exquisitely civilized.”

Do Lord Russell’s words describe the book at hand? I will answer that question but first here is another digression. The digression concerns the author James Moore. His entry in Wikipedia and his own detailed and informative website < www . jamesmoore . org . uk > are so interesting that I could write about the author at some length. Instead, I will write concisely and somewhat cursorily.

Moore, born in Cornwall in 1929, seems to be something of an autodidact, but one who worked with the Admiralty until retirement in 1980, who holds fellowships in at least two Royal Societies, and who is the author of four books of substance and many articles of importance which have appeared in serious journals and as entries in encyclopedias.

As for his Work experience, he studied with Henriette H. Lannes from 1957 to 1978, and thereafter with Henri Tracol and Maurice Desselle. He was closely associated with the Gurdjieff Society in London from 1981 to 1994 when, it seems, he was expelled, if that is the word to use, though “excommunicated” is the one that he himself prefers. (Query: Do Gurdjieffians “shun” like Mormons?) That might be the second-best thing that has ever happened to him, his induction into the Work being the first; the jury is still out on that. Anyway, he renewed himself as an independent scholar and presumably as an independent Gurdjieffian, his status to this day.

I have read his four books: “Gurdjieff and Mansfield” (1980), “Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth” (1991), “Gurdjieffian Confessions: A Self Remembered” (2005), and now “Eminent Gurdjieffians: Lord Pentland” (2011). His chef d’oeuvre is the second of these books, a biography rivalled only by John Beekman Taylor’s “Gurdjieff: A New Life” (2009), a sturdy and substantial work. I am still divided on the merits of the third of these books, as it adopts the tone of the tabloid press in its whining and winging, though as a human document it is full of fascinating detail.

If anyone in the Work is in a position to write short biographies of Work personalities and their essences, it is James Moore. On an earlier occasion I referred to this biographer as a precisian, an uncommon proper noun for someone who is strict and precise in observing the rules, his own or others’. I suspect that he gives a lot of thought before writing down a word. He is as stylish and exacting as Flaubert, who, it is said, worried so much over his prose that he would spend a morning inserting a comma followed by an afternoon erasing it. Moore is a writer who has to be read closely, and watched.

I have the feeling – it is an idea, really; perhaps a dream – that “Eminent Gurdjieffians” marks the first volume in a series, a series that may set a high watermark for scholarship in the literature of the Work. Such a series is long overdue. Where is there a short biography of Sophie Grigorievna Volochine (aka Madame Ouspensky)? Or a long biography of Jeanne Allemand (aka Madame de Salzmann)? Perhaps these and other biographies are waiting in the wings.

Yet in these pages Moore writes, plangently, “This book is my literary swan-song.” If so, it is sad news. Earlier I quoted Bertrand Russell’s words about Lytton Strachey’s book: “brilliant, delicious, exquisitely civilized.” Do these words apply to Moore and this book? Yes and no is the short answer. The long answer follows.

Moore writes with a stylistic brilliance that is coruscating and hence sometimes blinding. His prose is delicious in the sense that the reader wants to consume more and more pages, though with full knowledge that some passages are going to be hard to digest. But is the work “exquisitely civilized”? The author is certainly a cultured man, but I would not immediately describe him as civilized, at least in terms of what he has written here. He is very hard on his subject and for these reasons one would have to read between the lines.

There is a telling anecdote about a beautiful but impressionable society lady who one day accepted a luncheon invitation from W.E. Gladstone. Asked about the experience, she replied, “I realize that I was in the presence of the most brilliant man in all of England.” The next day she lunched with Benjamin Disraeli. Asked how that lunch had gone, she replied, “I realize that I am the most brilliant woman in all of England.” Reading Moore’s prose I feel that Moore is the most brilliant writer in all of England.

He monopolizes his subject, but to demonstrate this I would have to lead the reader through the book page by page to review Pentland’s life and that would take a great many pages (or “screens”). It is an interesting life that he led, but not a very convincing one, at least to the degree that Pentland was a late developer, and it begs the question whether he developed at all; that makes Moore’s task all the harder.

Medical historian Michael Bliss had the same problem as Moore when he wrote the now-standard biography of Sir William Osler, the clinician and Regius Professor of Medicine, who had no secrets, no scandals, and no enemies. That presents a problem. How does a biographer make decency attractive in its own right? Instead of pursuing this line of inquiry, I will make a few general points.

* Moore devotes no pages at all to Pentland’s talks and interviews, even those that were published in “Exchanges Within.” So the subject’s “take” on the Work is not discussed. Pentland presided over an interesting period in the evolution of the Work – what with the introduction of all of those “sittings” – but while they are mentioned, they are certainly not considered in any detail.

* Moore has hardly anything of an interpretive nature to say about the appeal of P.D. Ouspensky’s “system” to Pentland. There is no speculation as to what Mr. Gurdjieff saw in Pentland’s spirit, mind, or manner. Possibly what he saw in his “American lieutenant” was a respectable man with the ability to relate to men and women on all social levels, which it seems is what Pentland did do.

* Moore devotes no paragraphs at all to Pentland’s business interests, a point he himself makes, as if to exculpate himself. These details would be of some social and intellectual interest. His “war record” seems to be one of evasion rather than duty, but that is not conclusively shown.

* Moore devotes no sentences at all to interpreting the man’s psychology. I am not now referring to “the psychology of man’s possible evolution” but to the dynamics of the man’s personality, his image of himself. For this reason the biography seems to me to be pre-Freudian: the subject is more a mannikin than a man in Moore’s hands.

* Moore seems uncomfortable dealing with the characteristics of the English class system, both its strengths and its weaknesses. Whenever possible he brings Gilbert Harding into the narrative. I found this interesting, but only because I have long been curious about this English broadcaster and polemicist (who spent some time making mischief in Toronto); Moore is always about to compare and contrast the two men whose lives seem to have been lived at cross-purposes.

* Moore might see himself as a social historian, offering brief histories of the decades. For instance, I learned that the year 1957 “was in some senses a funny year. Jack Kerouac published “On the Road”; Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” was translated into Eskimo and staged in a Perspex igloo …. ” Fascinating tidbits, à la John Dos Passos, but hardly part of Pentland’s world. For a short book, it is long on potted history.

* Moore is a careful researcher. I spotted no errors of consequence; two inconsequential ones are the spelling of the New Brunswick port where Madame Ouspensky disembarked (it is Saint John not St. John’s, New Brunswick); and the indecision as whether or not to hyphenate Rodney Collin-Smith’s name.

* Moore is good on the dissection of imagery. He offers a brilliant comparison of Pentland’s gaunt appearance with that of the elderly farmer in Grant Wood’s classic painting “American Gothic.” He also comments on the surprising photograph taken by Dushka Howarth which catches Pentland and Mr. Gurdjieff at lunch at a roadside café in 1949, the baron gazing into the distance, the “teacher of dance” digging into the food before him.

* In dealing with that photograph, I believe Moore tips his hand when he describes Pentland in terms of his “depthless earnestness.” These two words might well be his final insight into the man and interpretation of his contribution to the development of the Work. It is an most revealing phrase.

Earlier I mentioned in passing that I had no occasion to meet Lord Pentland. In the introductory pages of this book, Moore mentions that he did meet this “eminent Gurdjieffian,” once, almost accidentally, long before the notion of writing the man’s biography occurred to him. After reading his book, I feel that had I had an occasion to meet Pentland, I too might – like Moore – sense the man’s “depthless earnestness.”

WHAT DID GURDJIEFF LEAVE UNFINISHED?

madam-1.jpg

photo: Jeanne de Salzmann sitting left with Helen Adie at the piano, London
to enlarge click on image

Joseph Azize addresses this questionion the first part of a continuing enquiry;

“Everything” indicated that Gurdjieff’s work remained “unfinished”, Michel Conge told Ricardo Guillon. Dr Conge was a direct pupil of Gurdjieff, and quite close to Jeanne de Salzmann. When he went on to say that “we” had decided to continue “Gurdjieff’s task”, it would seem that he was speaking of the Institut Gurdjieff in Paris. De Salzmann herself told Guillon that the transmission of the teaching can proceed outside of groups, and in other “movements” including religions (Record of a Search, 93 and 100-1). Some who knew her have disclosed what was in any event clear, that de Salzmann introduced new techniques into the Gurdjieff groups (Ravindra, Heart without Measure, 128-9 and Segal, A Voice at the Borders of Silence, 196-7). Segal says that it was only after Gurdjieff and Ouspensky that “the true sense of the Work” even began to be understood (A Voice, 216).

If Gurdjieff did not finish his task, if what he did bring had to be supplemented, if even then it could be carried on in other religions, and if it could not be understood in a “true sense” while he was alive, then how can we understand Gurdjieff’s methods and teachings now? The short answer is, perhaps we cannot. If so, then the honest course would be to admit this, and its repercussions for the Gurdjieff groups.

However, my thesis is that it is not Gurdjieff’s task which was unfinished, but his pupils. First, the methods must all be used in their integrity: and some such as the inner exercises were wrongly abandoned by de Salzmann. Next, properly understood, the Gurdjieff methods and ideas are most effective when ancillary to a person’s aim or faith. The ideas will illuminate and even influence these, but they cannot supply a motive where a person has none. Where teachers such as the Adies, the Andersons, the Bennetts, Mme Claustres, the Conges, the Courtenay-Mayers, the de Hartmanns, Jane Heap, Henriette Lannes, the Nicolls, the de Salzmanns and Mrs Staveley (and there were of course others) embodied what I will call “faith”, the Gurdjieff methods and ideas could have a profound effect, if the pupil was in sympathy with their teacher. However, in many of the continuing groups there has been a tension between the institutional and the individual health of the group. It seems to me that the tendency has been for the various institutions to ossify and narrow, especially since de Salzmann remade the Gurdjieff methods to suit her strengths.

I suspect that the roots of tension go back to Gurdjieff himself, who by closing his own Institute, inadvertently provided an opening for the formation of a new institute (the Institut Gurdjieff in Paris) which developed a goal of self-preservation in a way which is inimical to the preservation of Gurdjieff’s methods and the spreading of his ideas. The other error which I believe he made was to place so much trust in de Salzmann and to encourage others to look up to her. Gurdjieff cannot have realised what she would do.

Others will disagree with all this: but I can see no real difference between most members of the Gurdjieff groups and most members of churches or even devotees of a philosophical life. The differences, such as they are, seem to me in superficial behaviour: members of Gurdjieff groups tend to be more self-conscious and controlled. Mr Adie used to say that considering and politics were worse within the groups, and he died in 1989. I think the situation has deteriorated since his day. There are exceptions. But such exceptions are found elsewhere, too. In fact, apart a few second-generation Gurdjieff pupils in Europe and the USA, the most impressive people I have met over the years since Mrs Staveley’s death in 1996, have been monks, priests, or people who have left Gurdjieff groups.

The Groups
I know of persons whom I can recommend; who can pass on a living and transformative tradition which has come down from Gurdjieff. But even where these persons run formal groups, the groups do not bear names, or if they do, they do not have the words “Foundation” or “Institute” in them. Indeed, my view is that if you wish to lose your faith in Gurdjieff’s methods, then you should make friends with your closest Gurdjieff Foundation.

Scepticism about the enduring value of Gurdjieff’s efforts is not palatable to those with an institutional interest in the Gurdjieff name. Sinclair’s desperate efforts to prove that de Salzmann’s “new work” is in perfect conformity with Gurdjieff’s are doomed to failure, contradicting Ravindra and Segal’s avowal of innovation. Sinclair invests a great deal of capital in Gurdjieff’s instruction to “steal” the energies which the faithful direct to Jesus, as demonstrating continuity with de Salzmann’s approach (Without Benefit of Clergy 146, 157, 230-1). However, Sinclair actually demonstrates discontinuity: Gurdjieff gave at least two fully developed exercises for appropriating these finer materials. I find it difficult to believe that de Salzmann did not know at least one of them. Why did she not teach them? Why did she abandon the preparation exactly as Gurdjieff had brought it? (see Sophia Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts, under “New Work” and “New Work Terminology” and on diversity within the broad Gurdjieff tradition, appendix 2).

The only answer, I think, can be that de Salzmann had too little confidence to continue with those methods, but she built her authority on what she was and what she did have confidence in. In itself this was not bad, but it was not a complete and impartial representation of the Gurdjieff tradition. At some point, it seems to me, de Salzmann had to compromise fidelity to Gurdjieff’s methods and ideas in order to buttress her authority. That is, she felt that in order to maintain her position as the leader of an almost global movement, she had to possess authority. She could only enjoy this authority by emphasizing those areas where she was pre-eminent, chief among these being perhaps the movements and the “sitting”. Where she did not possess the greatest qualifications, such as with the ideas, or with the inner exercises and in understanding Beelzebub, these had to take a secondary place. It is rather as if the leader of cards club banned all games other than those at which they themselves excelled, so as to preserve their own position.

More than this, those who did not uncritically accept her authority were marginalised (e.g. Mrs Staveley). I call this “initiatism”: the attitude that unless one is a trusted member of the group, little or nothing should be allowed to them. Consider the secrecy which now surrounds the movements to the extent where many Foundation movements demonstrators do not wish the pupils know the movements in detail. The emphasis now is on “protecting” the movements and “working in the moment on the movements floor”. For example, after Mrs Adie died, our Foundation demonstrators such as Jim Wyckoff from New York prohibited us from practising movements at home: something the Adies had encouraged (I shall perhaps later set out why I believe that the Adies’ attitude is the better). Another demonstrator from the Foundation, let me call him J., specifically told us not to divulge the names of the movements, as it made it harder for people to take the movements elsewhere. I have it on good authority that the Foundation had their lawyers threaten someone with a suit should they publish the Struggle of the Magicians, which begs the question, why has the Foundation itself not published this remarkable piece? Why are so many documents “privately compiled” and never released? It is a standing rebuke to the Foundation that the maverick Patterson published some of the of the surviving Gurdjieff group meetings. This is “initiatism”.

And now that de Salzmann has gone, with the astonishing force she could manifest, the Foundation has been left depleted of authentic Gurdjieff exercises, and with a bowdlerized Beelzebub, but following her model of authority and “initiatism”. And this is the root fault of the groups. The groups exemplify what Gurdjieff said about the law of seven, and how the line of development can veer into different and even hostile directions, while preserving the former name. Many of the Gurdjieff groups have not an exoteric but a cult mentality: in is good and out is bad.

Like de Salzmann, the Foundation groups de-emphasize the ideas and Beelzebub. In a transcript which I have, de Salzmann is reported as having been critical of the efforts of the Toronto group in putting together an index of Beelzebub. Once at Bray, Mme Lannes stated that there is to be no discussion of Beelzebub in the official groups, one just reads it for oneself. This is the position de Salzmann took in the transcript. And why? Once more, the only answer can be a lack of confidence. Although she had taken a major role in the rendering of a French translation, she was unhappy with the English, and had it revised by the New York group. And yet, Gurdjieff had spent many years with that text, and given meticulous attention to even small details, as Orage and Toomer noted. As Mrs Staveley said, Gurdjieff allowed himself to die when the book was sent to the presses. How could anyone, even de Salzmann, claim to understand Gurdjieff’s intention better than he did? The question is, what did she think the book actually was?

Staveley was of the view that the book was a legominism. When Gurdjieff describes legominisms, he gives only general principles. In the chapter “Art”, when he speaks of legominisms in dance, one is perplexed: how could anyone today decipher such a legominism? One would need to know where the feet, for example, should in principle be placed before being able to ponder why they have been placed otherwise in any given dance. However, there are legominisms in Beelzebub. By that I mean that there are at least two places where I believe Gurdjieff has deliberately used the wrong word. I believe, on the basis of my own experiencings, that the word “X” should be “Y”. Further, the substitution of “X” and not “Z” for “Y” is itself significant in both instances. The statements make perfect sense, but they are simply not correct, and from other indications, it is clear that the correct statement is “Y”. On one occasion, “Y” includes certain words which have been left out, but are to be found nearby. Gurdjieff refers to something like this method in an unpublished piece called “Palm Sunday”. While the reader may be wondering what I am referring to, I cannot give the examples because I respect Gurdjieff’s method. When I realised that these passages, which had always struck me as enigmatic, were legominisms, I received a shock. The realisation brought a simplicity and depth of understanding I would not have thought possible. The moments of illumination seem to me to have become a part of myself. Were I to disclose these legominisms, I would be robbing others of the chance to discover them. Gurdjieff could easily have stated these propositions in prose: but he chose not to, so that when they were deciphered, they burst into understanding, with feeling attached to them.

But the point is this: these experiences prove to me that de Salzmann did not realise that the English Beelzebub, as a legominism, is not simply a translation. No one who worked on either of the new translations can have understood this. Gurdjieff said of Beelzebub that it contains “all that exists, all that has existed, all that can exist … all the secrets of the creation of the world …” (Voices in the Dark, 118). Does one see a corresponding valuation of the book in the groups? I don’t, except perhaps in Mrs Staveley’s group (Mr Adie possessed this valuation, but his group has folded). It means that the high noon of the Gurdjieff work has already passed, as this understanding is not to be found where it should by rights have been nurtured.

To conclude, many of the groups, but perhaps not all, have narrowed the Gurdjieff ideas to a caricature which they can control.

The Romance of the “Search”

A special section has to be written for the romance of the search, which exemplifies, for me, “the new work”. Mr Adie would speak of the necessity of the search. “Do not put a full stop there … go on,” he would urge. But he did so understanding that a search has no meaning unless there is a possibility of finding, and Mr Adie had found something. Rather than introduce a polemical tone into George Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia, I placed entries for “certainty” and “doing” in the index. Beelzebub is replete with examples of how knowledge was gained, and later developed or lost. If Beelzebub does not say that real knowledge can be obtained, and passed on in endless ways, even through words, then it says nothing. Knowledge is not enough: Gurdjieff told Hulme to work at her task like a monk, not “knowing” but “sure-ing”, with a feeling understanding (Undiscovered Country, 90). But some knowledge is a good start. If one knows nothing, as people from the Foundation so often said to us in absolute terms, then why do we make any effort at all? One might as well end one’s life in narcotic-induced bliss. But there is such a thing as knowledge, and it can reveal its own limitations. This, after all, is what a scientist or scholar does: he acquires a knowledge which leads him on to and into the unknown – and he follows it with gratitude.

In no other area, perhaps, does Mr Adie’s fidelity to Gurdjieff appear in greater contradistinction to the “new work”. Certainty of myself is the aim of our work, said Adie (George Adie, 222), and he had us prepare our activities, and then review them, and learn any lessons. Accustom yourself to do things well, said Gurdjieff, prepare them in advance with all your faculties, and “never fail” (Voices, 173). Jim Wyckoff, on the other hand, would say “when I know it I kill it”, which can be true but can also be untrue, and he would be forever tearing up plans and making people revisit what they had decided. It was a good way of keeping the group dependent on him. We had a period at Yerrinbool with him. The groups had prepared menus for each day. Wyckoff had the cooks dispense with the menus. Go out and work the people, he said, try and feel what they need, rather than impose your pre-set menus on them. The result was chaos, and what was worse, potato soup. At one meal, when the now chronically unprepared kitchen did not have enough food on hand to prepare whatever the inspiration of the morning had “told” them was required, one of the women in the kitchen sent back her plate for a larger serving. The others had to do with smaller servings. True, Jim Wyckoff was a “New York hippie”, forgetting his umbrella, whose books demonstrate his intellectual mediocrity. But, in my assessment, the efforts of the group remains at a lower level than the level of life: and that is inimical to the Gurdjieff work.

More broadly, this spirit is certainly still a part of the “new work”. Roger Lipsey wrote of the Gilgamesh epic that it tells us that neither success nor failure matters, only the search (Search: Journey on the Inner Path, ed. J. Sulzberger, 41). This is silliness both as a statement in itself and as a reading of Gilgamesh. The whole point of Gilgamesh, as they very opening words of the epic tell us, is that he did indeed see the “all”, and attained knowledge. He understood the role of mortal human life in the great universe. If this seems anticlimactic, it has much in common with the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Perhaps the point is to accept the obvious facts of life: that is, there a deeper acceptance is possible for us.

Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

February 29, 2008 at 8:17 pm

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