All & Everything 2003 - the 8th International Humanities Conference

The 2003 conference takes place in The Royal Norfolk Hotel, Bognor Regis, UK starting the 2nd and finishing the 6th of April. For more information please visit the website or GIG events.

Originally conceived as a congenial meeting of the 'Companions of the Book', the conference has developed into a major forum for the presentation and discussion of recent writings and music associated with 'The Work'. It provides an open, congenial and serious atmosphere for the sharing of researches and investigations of G. I. Gurdjieff's legacy. The conference seeks to keep the study of the teachings of Gurdjieff relevant to global scientific, spiritual and sociological developments. The gathering is open, by invitation, to serious students of all & Everything and is not under the auspices or sponsorship of any 'Gurdjieff Group' or umbrella organization.

The conference is not intended to be a 'Group Work event' and thus will not include work on Movements or on exercises that are related to personal or group Work. The conference will include academic papers, individual view papers, group seminars on specific chapters and on themes common throughout All & Everything, and cultural events. The program is scheduled so as to encourage time for dialogue and the developing of personal relationships outside the structured meetings.

The conference is non-profit and is organized by a Planning Committee drawn from a diversity of international students of the Gurdjieff community. The aspiration of the Planning Committee is that the conference should achieve a balance in the presentation of material relating to the practical stimulation and development of the three centers - moving, feeling and intellectual.

Academic and individual view papers are recommended for presentation by a Reading Panel. The Proceedings of the conference are published and provide a permanent record of recent thought on Gurdjieff's legacy.

Sy Ginsburg is one of the founder members of the conference and a member of the planning committee. GIG had an opportunity to do an interview with Mr. Ginsburg to provide further information for our readers on the conference.

GIG: In a previous interview you said:

" my view, the conference is the best hope for the Gurdjieff tradition to avoid the trap of becoming an institutionalized religion, susceptible to all the problems that go along with being a religion.

The Conference began because a student in Texas, Russell Smith, had written a provocative book, ‘Gurdjieff: Cosmic Secrets,’ giving a different slant to the laws of world creation and world maintenance written about by Gurdjieff in ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson.’ Russell’s view of the nature of the changing of the stopinders by Endlessness was at odds with how most students of the Tales understood what Gurdjieff had written. An old friend of mine, Nicolas Tereshchenko of France, along with me, and another student, Bert Sharp of England, met through the pages of Gnosis magazine (no longer published) and continued our discussions by correspondence. We eventually decided to get together in England to discuss Russell Smith’s book and his ideas, and we invited Russell to join us. Another friend, James Moore who has a great many Gurdjieffian contacts became involved, and before we knew it, more than fifty people participated in that first conference.

The need was such that the first conference led to a second, and then to one each year after that. Over these years many problems have been encountered and resolved in such a way that the conference has remained ecumenical. It is not a group work event and does not include work on Movements or on exercises that are related to personal or group work. The conference is a four day event at a charming hotel on the south coast of England during which papers on aspects of the teaching are presented and seminars are organized around subjects and chapters of ‘Beelzebub’s Tales.’ It was recognized almost from the beginning that Gurdjieff’s writings under the title ‘All & Everything’ were the common thread by which people from different lineages or no lineages could usefully meet and share their perspectives. Personally, I have found that meeting other people with the same common interest is the most rewarding part of the conference, and it is structured so as to encourage time for dialog and the developing of personal relationships.

The conference is not held under the auspices of any Gurdjieff group or umbrella organization, Indeed, there is no organization that actually plans and runs the conference. It is put together by a group of volunteers, a planning committee, which at the moment numbers eight participants of which I am one. They are supported by an advisory board of prominent academicians and Gurdjieffians who presently number nine. The makeup of both the planning committee and the advisory board change in number and composition from year to year. I think the conference very much fits in with Gurdjieff’s ideas and criticisms about organizations, as it attempts to meet those criticisms."

With less than three months to go how are the arrangements going?

Sy: The conference in April of this year will be the eighth, the first having taken place in 1996. Each year at about this time, I have asked the same question to myself that you ask: Just how are the arrangements going?

I would have to say that the arrangements are going extremely well for this 2003 conference. This may simply be a matter of experience on the part of the planning committee. Since there is no organization that actually runs the conference, it is a matter of those who volunteer to make the conference happen, to see that it does happen.

Each year at the final conference session on Sunday morning that we entitle "Where do we go from here?", the delegates discuss what was good and not good about the conference and how it can be improved. We then decide whether to have another conference, and if so, where and when. Then we ask for volunteers to the planning committee. Two of us, myself and Dr. Bert Sharp have participated in the planning since the inception of the conferences in 1996. I suppose he and I are getting, as the saying goes, "a bit long in the tooth." Fortunately, the size of the planning committee has grown over the years as people have volunteered and have brought their talents to aspects of the conference that were not even foreseen at the outset. An example of this is the conference website which, because we are all volunteers, has encountered difficulties that a business organization might have more smoothly dealt with. Nevertheless, this is being worked out as are other matters. There are now eight members of the current planning committee along with nine members of the advisory board. In addition, there is a reading panel of two members who vet proposed papers and other proposed presentations.

My primary volunteer responsibility for the last several years has been to produce and circulate the mailings about the conference. We discovered that a mid year Newsletter is necessary in order to issue a "Call for Papers", and is also helpful so that people will know the dates, the locale and whatever other information is then available. Since the conference includes seminars on chapters of and themes from Beelzebub's Tales, we try to announce these in advance in the Newsletter so that people can work with this information during the year in preparation for these seminars. The mid year Newsletter for A&E2003 was mailed in July of 2002.

During the last week of December we mailed the official conference invitations. These go to previous participants, to people recommended by previous participants, to people who request invitations, and to other interested parties. While participation is by invitation, I do not recall any request for an invitation ever being turned down. We just try to see to it that the participants are serious students of All & Everything. Between now and the conference dates I will usually get several additional requests for invitations and will see to it that they are sent.

In addition to these jobs, other planning committee members see to other matters such as the logistics of providing recording and musical equipment and people to monitor them, relations with the conference hotel and its staff, publicity, and preparing and publishing the conference Proceedings.

Having come from a business organization background where responsibilities are delineated in an organizational chart and chains of command are fairly well organized, I have found it quite remarkable that all the things required to make the conference happen, get done by volunteers without any such formality and without any of the conflicts usually encountered by businesses and institutions that have a formalized organizational chart and command structure. I think this is in concert with Gurdjieff's idea that at increased levels of awareness, we are all really one and are not the separate personas that we mistakenly take for "I."

GIG: You mentioned various difficulties that the conference planning committee have encountered, such as with the website. What other difficulties have the planners encountered over the years?

Sy: There have been many difficulties mainly little ones, some not even thought about in advance, and some rather humorous. Probably the biggest difficulty encountered over the years but I think mostly overcome at this point in time, has been to assure Gurdjieffian students that the conference is not an attempt to engage in group work such as work on Movements or on exercises that are related to personal or group Work. So, there is no impingement on the work that people do in their respective groups if they are involved in group work, nor is there any allegiance to any so-called Gurdjieff umbrella organization. We have learned that in order for it to be congenial and constructive, the conference must remain independent of all this.

I remember one situation some years ago that I thought was rather funny at the time and not particularly significant, but which some of the participants took very seriously. This had to do with a proposal to reinstitute Gurdjieff's toast to the idiots at the conference banquet that is held on Saturday evening, the final evening of the conference. Two participants had researched and published material about this, giving lists of the different types of idiots: one was James Moore in English and the other was Nicolas Tereshchenko in French, in their respective books. The issue was whether in Mr. Gurdjieff's absence, the toasts should actually be drunk, because who other than he, after all, could presume to say what kind of idiot any person was. The delegates were rather evenly split over this matter and the discussion went on almost throughout the entire conference. Finally, just before the banquet the matter was resolved by having the respective lists of idiots read out at the banquet but no toasts to any particular person as a particular kind of idiot were drunk.

Another problem, a little one, occurred at last year's conference when it was discovered that the hotel had booked a blood drive into the meeting rooms used by the conference for the Wednesday of the conference. Because people giving blood had in some instances to rest on cots in the meeting rooms for quite a long time, there was concern that the room would not be available for the "Getting to Know You" session in the evening. Fortunately, we were able to get the last donor on his feet and on his way home just before the conference began. These are the kinds of difficulties that arise. As you can see, some are significant, others less so.

GIG: What are the main features of the 2003 Conference?

Sy: The conference this year looks to be especially interesting. One special feature is the organization of a "Forum of those who knew Gurdjieff." Panelists will address the questions: What has Gurdjieff given to you? What has he asked of you? As the years have gone by there are few and fewer people remaining who actually knew Gurdjieff, so the planning committee thought that it would be useful for the conference delegates to have the benefit of hearing from some of these people. Those who have volunteered to be on the panel are Adam Nott, Professor Paul Beekman Taylor and Professor M. W. Thring. The planning committee has been researching who else might be included and if they are able to participate.

Another feature this year is organized around Gurdjieff's music. Wim van Dullemen, a well known Dutch concert pianist, Gurdjieffian student and also a member of the conference advisory board will be giving a recital of Gurdjieff's music, giving an analysis of one of the hymns, and providing recordings of orchestral works never heard before they were recently recorded by a Dutch symphonic orchestra.

This year there will be six papers presented as approved by the Reading Panel with rather provocative titles. These are:
"Beyond the Fourth Way" & "Comments on Dr. Philip Groves" by Dr. H. J. Sharp
"On the Third Line of Work" by Dimitri Peretzi
"Toward a Historical Study of Gurdjieff and his Legacy" by Joseph Azize
"The Two Fundamental Laws in Relation to the Trajectory of One's Search" by Will Mesa
"What does Feeding the Moon Mean" by Prof. Gerald Porter
"His Endlessness and Mr. Gurdjieff" by Len Brown

One thing that especially interests me and that I hope to bring up during the seminar on Chapter 15 of the Tales, "The First Descent of Beelzebub upon the Planet Earth", is the work of Joy Lonsdale. Joy published a book before her passing in 2002, entitled, "Gurdjieff and the Arch-Preposterous: An Hermetic Descent into the Mind." Her work suggests that Beelzebub's six descents onto Earth are actually meditative descents into the mind. It is an idea that I had not come across before, and I would like to explore this with others at the conference. This is an example, of one of a new idea that has come to my attention as the result of these conferences. Gurdjieff left us an extraordinary legacy. It is vibrant and alive and insights, such as this, whether one accepts them or not, is one reason why I think these conferences are so worthwhile.

GIG: I just finished reading Joy Lonsdale's book and wrote a short review of it on the site. It will be interesting to hear what other people say about it!
Over the past half a year we have got to know each other through the internet and e-mails. I now look forward to see you in person early April!

Sy: See you then!

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