The Work in Fiction
In Search … the Movie
The Work in Fiction
“This is a list of esoteric fiction based on the teachings of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and A.R. Orage. It includes works by direct followers and those who were influenced by the teachings.”
The American novelist and academic Jon Woodson wrote those two sentences when he compiled the following list of works of literary fiction influenced in one way or another by the Work. Well represented are Black American novelists of the 1920s who were strongly influenced by A.R. Orage. Woodson, emeritus professor from Howard University in Washington, D.C., is the author of a number of books, notably Oragean Modernism: A Lost Literary Movement, 1924-1953 (1999).
To Professor Woodson’s list, I have added some British drama and fiction, following Item 21.
1. Mount Analogue by René Daumal
2. The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
3. South Moon Under by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
4. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
5. Dune (“Dune Chronicles,” #1) by Frank Herbert
6. USA: The 42nd Parallel / 1919 / The Big Money by John Dos Passos
7. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
8. Moses, Man of the Mountain by Zora Neale Hurston
9. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
10. Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson by G.I. Gurdjieff
11. Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by P.D. Ouspensky
12. Obelists at Sea by C. Daly King
13. A Night of Serious Drinking by René Daumal
14. Cane by Jean Toomer
15. Firecrackers: A Realistic Novel by Carl Van Vechten
16. The Street by Ann Petry
17. Black Thunder by Arna Bontemps
18. Jubilee by Margaret Walker
19. Judas My Brother by Frank Yerby
20. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
21. Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks
The Time Plays of J.B. Priestley explore temporal paradoxes that at the time were associated with Ouspensky. One of the three magicians in Priestley’s novel The Magicians is modelled on Ouspensky. John Buchan’s The Gap in the Curtain features a professor rather like Ouspensky.
3 March 2019
In Search … the Movie
I suppose it is safe for me to assume that everyone who is a subscriber to this blog has read (at least once, at least in part if not in whole) the major work titled In Search of the Miraculous. This is one of the cornerstone books about the Work or the Fourth Way. It was written by P.D. Ouspensky, the Russian philosopher and one-time associate of G.I. Gurdjieff, and it was not published until two years following Ouspensky’s death in 1947 in London, England. The 399-page memoir, which details the Russian philosopher’s meetings with his Georgian-born teacher G.I. Gurdjieff, remains a steady seller to this day. There are numerous editions available in a number of languages, including online texts and spoken-word editions.
There is also, if you can believe it, a motion-picture adaptation. Right; now, I am going to leapfrog over the book itself, which I am prepared to argue is a considerable achievement in style as well as in substance, and suggest that one of its claims to fame is that it inspired this quite remarkable short film which captures the heart and soul of the memoir in every sequence.
In Search of the Miraculous – the movie – was filmed in Yugoslavia. While its viewing time is barely 42.15 minutes. it captures the essence of the Work along with its perennial mystique. In doing so it focuses on three individuals, the mysterious teacher Gurdjieff, the diligent philosopher Ouspensky, and (surprise) the New Zealand fiction-writer, Katherine Mansfield.
The movie combines narration and dialogue, superb casting and acting, and archival footage that shows the collapse of society in Imperial Russia during the 1910s and early 1920s. It tells the familiar story of the meetings in Moscow and St. Petersburg of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff, their travels in the Caucasus, and the way of life that was established at the Priory in Fontainebleau. It ends with a remarkably glorious epiphany in its corridors.
At one time I owned a commercially released DVD of this remarkable documentary drama, but it seems to have disappeared from the face if not of the planet Earth then from the shelf my bookcase devoted to the literature of the Fourth Way. This is not as great a loss as it might seem to be because the short film may be viewed, day or night, at no charge, on Google’s YouTube. Simply keyboard “Ouspensky: Troubled Philosopher” and watch it, though the image is quite wanting in definition. As usual, YouTube offers it in a variety of versions. The one to select is the longest one for which the running time is 42.15; the others are previews or excerpts. All of them are in black and white. Phenomenal acting and characterizations.
I would give a complete list of credits based on the title cards, except that these are too blurry to be fully readable. Here is what may reliably be read. Title: In Search of the Miraculous. Subtitle: “Fragments of an Unknown Teaching.” Produced by Fairway Films, Sydney, Australia, in association with Nak Production, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1998. Directed by Zivko Nikolic, assistant director Nikola Jankovic. Script adaptation edited by Milan Peters. Music: Ruza Rudic. Production Manager Mirjana Savic. Narrator: Steve Agnew (who pronounces Mr. G.’s name “Gur-Gee-Eff”). “Special thanks to Chris Bernays.” As for the principals, Ljubivok Tadlo [?] played Mr.Gurdjieff; Dubravko Jovanovic played Mr. Ouspensky; Dijana Marojevic played Miss Mansfield.
I wish I could supply reliable spellings of the names of the principal actors who play Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Mansfield, as these roles are superbly cast and the actors are first-class performers. Gurdjieff has eyes that are exceptionally beady, and Ouspensky is very much the model of his precise and scholarly interests. As for Mansfield, she is suitably lovely and wan, for she is able to command the final sequence of the film with her back to the camera. The film was released to YouTube in 2012. Between that year and the present day, it has chalked up 13,464 viewings.
3 Feb. 2019
Jeanne de Salzmann in Her Hundredth Year, New York 1988. That is the title of the video that everyone who is involved in the Work or who is at least interested in the Gurdjieff Work will want to watch. It is readily available at no cost or registration on YouTube. In fact, there are two versions to be found there, one with subtitles and one without subtitles. There is no reason to worry about the language because the words are spoken in English, though some of the words are sometimes indistinct. But the subtitles are clear and faithful renditions of the speech. The video is only 2.42 minutes long and since it was posted to the web on January 11, 2016, it has proven to be popular, having been seen by 24,000 viewers in the last three years.
The woman to whom I am referring is Madame de Salzmann. She was born in Reims, France, on January 16, 1889; she died in Paris on May 24, 1990. The last three decades of her life had her serve as G.I. Gurdjieff’s deputy. After his death in 1949, she oversaw the enlargement of the Work with the creation of the Gurdjieff Institute in Paris, the Gurdjieff Society in London, the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York City, and the Fundación Gurdjieff of Caracas. She died at the age of 101 in 1990.
The brief entry on this remarkable woman in Wikipedia reminds us of the following achievements: “Jeanne de Salzmann played a major role in realizing the 1977 movie Meetings with Remarkable Men by Peter Brook.” As well, she recorded her thoughts on the Work in a series of notebooks for over forty years. These entries were selected and published as The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff (Boston & London: Shambhala, Boston & London, 2010). That volume has since become a Work classic.
On the computer screen, the viewer sees the head and shoulders of a woman with dark eyes. a woman with a message to convey. Her white hair is coiffured, her light purple dress is adorned with a modest cluster of pearls. She shows great concentration and presence of mind. She wastes no emotions or movements. “Are there other energies or not?” she asks. “I must know. I am open to a new vision, to a new intelligence, which I was not open to before.” It is apparent that she was an impressive person in life; her presence remains impressive to this day.
To access the uncaptioned video, keyboard “Mme de Saltzmann in New York in 1988.” An organization that identifies itself as the North London Gurdjieff Meetings has placed this video on the Web. In case of difficulty, try this: https://youtu.be/oexgqnylqBl.
To access the captioned video, keyboard “The Gurdjieff Foundation of Texas, Dallas Group – Jeanne de Salzmann.” This foundation launched the video on the Web with welcome subtitles. The uncaptioned video identifies two websites that offer more information: www.RealityofBeing.org and info@RealityofBeing.org. In case of difficulty, try this: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1278578232172004.