Issue 5 – December 15, 2018

Issue 5 – 15 December 2018

Transcripts of the Work

Remembering P.D.O.
The Importance of Archives
The Importance of Transcripts
Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto
Compassion for the Human Condition
G.I. Gurdjieff: Paris Meetings 1943
Gurdjieff’s Early Talks 1914-1931
Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson”: New York Talks 1926-1930

Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky

It was way back in October 1978 that I acquired a copy of a publication that I believe marks the dawn of a new era in the scholarship of the Fourth Way. I was excited by this publication because of its bibliographical nature as well as its offbeat form and content. Its existence is not widely known among collectors, scholars, historians, or practitioners of The Work.

I have in mind a thin booklet in an odd format. It measures nine inches in width by ten inches in height. The cover is made of a semi-stiff card cover that is pale green in colour. The publication is only forty-eight pages in length, including its three black-and-white illustrations. Its title is four words in length, but add to that the extra-long subtitle, and title-cum-subtitle combination reach a total of fifty-four words. Here are the explanatory words:

Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky / Born in Moscow, Russia [,] on March 5, 1878 / Died in Lyne Place, England [,] on October 2, 1947 / A brochure and exhibition commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of his birth, and celebrating the gift to the Yale University library of his papers, manuscripts of his books in Russian and English, and selections from his library.

That is quite a mouthful, yet it tersely explains that what we have here is a booklet or brochure that marks the acquisition of P.D.O.’s papers by … by whom? The final eight words answer that question and identify the present owners: Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut [,] October 1978. No personal collection of the Russian writer’s works is complete without a copy of Remembering. That at least is my opinion.

A century ago, when the Work was being established in the West (that is, in Moscow and St. Petersburg), who would ever have guessed that P.D. Ouspensky’s manuscripts and personal library would find their way into the Sterling Memorial Library on the campus of Yale University? I wish I knew the story of how the holdings found safe haven there – in the vault-like repository of manuscripts and archives of one of the leading “Ivy League” universities in the United States.

Here is a description of the holdings of the P.D. Ouspensky Memorial Collection: “The collection consists of reports of meetings of P. D. Ouspensky with his followers in London (1921-1947) and his manuscripts of books and articles in Russian, French, and English. Included are In Search of the Miraculous, New Model of the Universe, and Tertium Organum. Also in the collection are printed copies of Ouspensky’s books in various languages, selected articles by others on Ouspensky, and photographs.”

How much material rests here, accessible to scholars? “Fifty-four boxes of material that include typed transcripts of Ouspensky’s meetings from 1921 to 1947, some of which were subsequently published as The Fourth Way (1957), Conscience (1979), A Further Record (1986) …. The Yale collection also contains manuscripts, translations and copies of his books, and two boxes of photographs and material about Ouspensky.”

This description comes from Yale’s website which includes information about some of its other acquisitions, most notably one of the forty-nine known copies of Gutenberg Bible, the inscrutable Voynich MS, and the suggestive Vinland Map. Indeed, Ouspensky’s materials are in good company, alongside their holdings of the papers of Jean Toomer, Kathryn Hulme, and Maurice Nicoll.

Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky is largely the work of the feliciously named librarian Merrily E. Taylor who received “the invaluable assistance of members of P.D. Ouspensky’s circle.” I wonder who they are or were. She is known outside library circles for writing the introduction to Ouspensky’s Conscience: The Search for Truth (1979). For the current brochure, which is forty-nine pages in length, she prepared an annotated bibliography of P.D.O’s works, she drafted a bibliographical outline, she arranged the first publication of an “Autobiographical Fragment,” she gathered “a collage of reminiscences” about his life as writer, teacher, thinker, etc., and she drafted information about The P.D. Ouspensky Collection Endowment Fund. (The message here is to feel free to contribute to the upkeep of the collection.)

There must still be alive and well some students of the Work who have personal memories of Ouspensky at work, though they would now be octogenarians. For the rest of us, who know him through his texts as the leading proponent of the Fourth Way (aside from its founder and his successor), it is possible, reading the text and “remembering” him, to warm to the memory of this sometimes austere man of great will and immense learning.

It is not too late to acquire a copy of Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky. Copies are listed on the website of the Advanced Book Exchange, the mammoth union listing of the titles available for purchase from thousands of used-book dealers. The prices of copies range from between ten dollars and twenty dollars apiece, plus postage and handling. A piece of history. A bargain!

The Importance of Archives

As readers of this blog may readily guess, Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky is one of my favourite Work publications, not that reading or owning it will change anyone’s life overnight, but it will add some sense of the burden of the “Special Doctrine,” which was P.D.O.’s term for what is now known as the Fourth Way or the Work or sometimes the Gurdjieff Work. Using these two words, he distinguished this body of knowledge and experience from what is known as the “Secret Doctrine,” Madame Blavatsky’s term for Theosophy.

P.D.O. was, of course, a Theosophist before he was anything else, and it must have been a burden – two burdens actually – for him to carry around in his mind both of these systems – the views of Madame Blavatsky and her Masters, and the insights and practices of Gurdjieff and his Seekers of Wisdom. It might even be said (by me anyway) that the world lost a great Theosophist when it gained a great Gurdjieffian.

The depository of “wisdom literature” in public institutions, where it is readily available to reputable scholars and seekers, in one fell swoop democratized those esoteric traditions that are appeared in hand-written or printed form and made them accessible, at least in theory, for all to see. Scholars and practitioners now have access to original documents or at least those that reside in university libraries and archives.

Already some writers have made good use of them. I am thinking now of the labours of William Patrick Patterson, director of the Online Fourth Way School, editor of The Gurdjieff Journal (1992), and author of a series of well-researched videos and books. Notable among his books is Ladies of the Rope: Gurdjieff’s Special Left Bank Women’s Group, which makes excellent use of these archival materials. Even the redoubtable scholar Roger Lipsey, in his newly published Gurdjieff Reconsidered, pays tribute to Patterson’s pioneering archival research.

Highly original and effective use of the Yale papers was made by Stephen A. Grant, a senior member of the Gurdjieff Foundation, New York, when he prepared the manuscript of In Search of Being: The Fourth Way to Consciousness. He did so through the expedient of reconstructing Gurdjieff’s range of thought and expression in English based on a retranslation of the Russian-language originals of Ouspensky’s manuscripts.

Unless I have missed it, no bibliographer has yet produced a listing of the major holdings of Work-related materials in institutional collections. Perhaps this is a task for the bibliographer J. Walter Driscoll, the author of Gurdjieff: An Annotated Bibliography (1985), and the frequent contributor to the web-based Gurdjieff International Review.

The Importance of Transcripts

Along with the importance of archival resources, for historical studies if not for the purposes of self-improvement or enlightenment, there is the rapidly growing interest among publishers, editors, and (presumably) readers of collections of what may loosely be called volumes of “transcripts.” These are compilations of talks and commentaries, introduced and annotated with sources and dates, as well as actual transcriptions of interchanges between and among group leaders and group members.

I vividly recall the mighty labours of a select number of members of Mrs. Welch’s group in Toronto in the late 1950s who struggled during the meetings to keep up with the exchanges and interchanges. A few of these members employed shorthand but the rest of them struggled to keep long-hand accounts of the proceedings. Expressions on the faces of these amanuenses had the effect of slowing down the discourse and, if I remember correctly, interfering with the natural rhythm and flow of the interjections. The result is that these scripts, published a half century later, with no character descriptions or stage directions, so to speak, read abstractly, rather like the dialogue of Waiting for Godot – shorn of the settings, indicative actions, tones of voice, etc.

I would be hard-pressed to identify the first volume to be published of transcripts of discussions during group sessions, all those questions and all those answers, or the first of the transcriptions of the major talks that were made and subsequently published, but I think it would be a worthwhile undertaking to try to list them. The shelves in my study of my Work-related books, as haphazard a random assembly as it is, yield the following publications. I know there are many more titles to add, and I would be pleased to hear from readers of this blog about others that should be included in a subsequent discussion on this blog of transcripts and transcriptions.

Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto: On the Ideas and Practice of the Teaching of G.I. Gurdjieff. Toronto: Traditional Studies Press, 2011. 182 pages.

Upon its publication I reviewed this durable, hard-bound publication for Sophia Wellbeloved’s website, so I will not repeat my observations about the text and my praise for the production here. (Google will display the long review if anyone types into the search engine the full title of the book.) “My search is your search. We must each have a common wish to find out who we are and the direction in which we can grow to reach the truth.” That is how the book begins. It ends with an observation: “We all vary in tempo. Recognition of this can be important to understanding our relationships with people.” She was a sensitive woman with a literary bent. After all, she was the editor-in-chief of The Guide and Index to G.I. Gurdjieff’s All and Everything (1971) and the author of an endearing work of enduring interest, Orage with Gurdjieff in America (1982).

Compassion for the Human Condition: Gurdjieff Meetings with Dr. and Mrs. Welch in New York: Selected Transcripts 1991-1997. Rhinebeck, N.Y.: Epigraph Books, 2019. 236 pages.

This is a new paperback publication with transcripts of sessions led by Dr. William J. Welch, M.D., and Louise M. Welch. The cover features a sketch of the brownstone residence on East 84th Street on Manhattan Island where the Welches lived and worked and met with students of the Work.

G.I. Gurdjieff: Paris Meetings 1943. Toronto: Dolmen Meadow Editions, 2017. xviii+358 pages.

Of the five books mentioned here, this publication is the most substantial, in both body and soul. By body I mean the physically impressive volume itself, a sturdy hardcover with headbands and a pleasing dust-jacket. By soul I mean the fluent and efficient translation of the texts from the original French into English. The texts are Gurdjieff’s talks and comments and answers to specific questions from pupils at sessions of all kinds. Perhaps the reason the translations are so well handled is explained by the following notation: “The original French notes of the Paris Meetings have been translated under the direction of the Institut G.I. Gurdjieff, Paris.” The editorial labours were undertaken by a group in Toronto and that fine printing was done by Friesens in Altona, Manitoba, Canada.

Gurdjieff’s Early Talks 1914-1931. In Moscow, St. Petersburg, Essentuki, Tiflis, Constantinople, Berlin, Paris, London, Fontainebleau, New York, and Chicago. London: Book Studio, 2014. Foreword by Joseph Azize.

In his almost poetic appreciation of the contents of this collection, Joseph Azize writes, “I salute the editors for their indefatigable efforts to collect this material from collections and libraries around the world. They have done so because it means something to them. This is not a labour of antiquarianism. It is not more bookish exercise. This is work for the Work. The process has been marked by intention, consciousness, and a feeling of obligation to share thsi valuable material with their fellow human being.”

Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson”: New York Talks 1926-1930. A.R. Orage, Lawrence Morris, Sherman Manchester.

Introducing this edition, after praising Orage’s abilities and labours, Frank Brück writes, “The notes have been edited with an emphasis on readability. Illegible words, missing or wrong punctuation and grammatical errors have been corrected. Missing letters and words have been reconstructed using the context where possible. In cases where no meaning could be deduced, no changes have been made.”

Let me add some impressions of all of these editions. They would make handsome gifts for people “in the Work,” but they would present a passel of puzzles for people for people “not in the Work.” Most of the books include full-fledged “talks,” though an earlier generation would refer to them not as talks but as lectures, speeches, or presentations, for they have backbones and well-defined features. Most of the pages are filled with exchanges, and these take the form of a dizzying array of short questions and answers, and some of the latter are quite lengthy.

I will succumb to the temptation to quote Dr. Welch who in turn quotes Ouspensky: “ … the idea of attitude is interesting from many points of view. Ouspensky used to say, ‘The one thing you can change is your attitude.’ He didn’t say you could change it forever.” A questioner says, “I feel hopeful that you say that that’s possible.” Then Dr. Welch adds:

“Well, I’m not an authority on these things, but I always was touched by the fact that Ouspensky said this quite firmly. You know, the Dalai Lama was asked by a newspaperman whether he was really just an ordinary fellow, like everybody else. And he said, ‘Yes, except that every morning, when I get up, I adjust my attitude.’ I thought that was rather interesting.”

The point is indeed interesting as well as instructive. Dr. Welch goes on to discuss the question of whether or not attitudes are artificially imposed. “There was an old friend of ours, who’s been dead now for some time, who used to say, ‘You know, we think the work is theory and we’re real. But it’s really just the other way around.” (Compassion for the Human Condition, discussion, November 10, 1995)

It saddens me to admit that I have never met Peter Brook, though I have observed the director of that fine film Meetings with Remarkable Men as he magisterially presided over a group in New York City. Should I ever spend time in his company, I would encourage him to check the exchanges and statements in Paris Meetings where Gurdjieff addresses a questioner who is concerned about his own weaknesses and those of his friends. Gurdjieff replies: “You must not pay attention to the outside. This is the outer. You must know only your task and do it inwardly. The other person, consciously or not, plays his role, plays his part. You do not know him; you do not know who he is. Whether it is Moses or someone else, it does not matter. What matters to you is your inner task.” (Discussion, April 29, 1943)

Many of these questions and answers could be dramatized effectively. There are passages in these books – and especially in Paris Meetings – that are bacciferous. I will save the reader a trip to the dictionary. The word bacciferous means “productive or conducive to producing in abundance; ‘be fruitful and multiply.’”

Gurdjieff’s Early Talks, at 443 pages, is the longest of these books. I imagine there are 200,000 words here, the texts of 123 major speeches. The total text is rich in insight, especially in the form of throw-away lines that ring with authenticity. For instance, in the speech on January 5, 1921, Gurdjieff said, “We are only sincere in our imagination.” That remark raises questions about how man can access his deepest thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Then there are remarkable insights: “Action in one center reacts on others, in all parts of the body, even to points outside the body. Man’s intelligence varies in proportion to his capacity to prevent those fluctuations passing from one center to another.” (Chicago, 1924)

The book is rounded out with exercises, fragments, and sayings collected in the last pages, followed only by the ample index. I will permit the reader to savour but one saying: “We are only influenced because we allow it.”

A.R. Orage was the subject of Mrs. Welch’s biography, the one mentioned earlier. Here he comes into his own with his Commentary on Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson. There are seventy-two commentaries, each an essay in length, followed by a twelve-age index (which takes the reader from Abraham to Carl Zigrosser). There are 378 pages in all between these thick covers.

There is no more diligent a commentator to be had than Orage, though there are numerous commentaries – Denis Saurat’s very literary appreciation of Gurdjieff’s masterwork comes readily to mind, as well it might, given that Saurat and Orage were colleagues – and Orage laboured mightly on draft after draft alongside Gurdjieff over the passage of decades to ensure clear expression of “work ideas” in an immensely sprawling work. Indeed, Orage alludes to a frequently overlooked notion which courses through the work, originally raised by the French metaphysical scholar: “In Saurat’s point of view, our immortality depends on our having desires which outlast the body. This might be a passion for understanding which outlives the planetary body.”

Orage himself had no doubts about the system. “The method cannot be proven theoretically. The psyche is always active and demonstratively never passive and logical. Potentials are only experienceable but never logically demonstrable. Stretch your mind with exercises, efforts of real imagining in reality. Such as the exercise of imagining the total population on the planet, etc., or in place of the planet on the solar system in relation to Hercules in the milky way, to other milky ways.” (5 December 1927)

There is a special place in my psyche and perhaps my reader’s psyche for works that gather together miscellaneous thoughts and truths, and the five books noted above meet my needs and perhaps yours too. There is something close to the revelations of the poets in these texts. There are a number of other such collections in print, and perhaps at a later date I will have the opportunity to write about them too.

To conclude, here is one of Gurdjieff’s germane sayings: “To see your real character, watch your imagination.”