Chapter 5 - Gurdjieff in France & USA 1925 - 1933
Copyright © Reijo Elsner
When the first drafts of Beelzebub were written Gurdieff lost his mother and wife within half a year. In spite of the difficulties he continued writing and also composed music with Thomas de Hartmann. But something went wrong with the writing. Orage reported that it was so bad that nobody could understand it. In 1927 Gurdjieff's cup was full and overflowing. He rejected the idea of a suicide as a solution and continued the rewriting of Beelzebub and went on to write 'Meetings' and 'Life Is Real Only Then When I Am'.
By 1933 most of the people in du Prieuré were either told to go away or sent to different places to start groups. By 1930 de Hartmanns were gone for good. There were six visits to the US during this time. Orage was finally dismissed in 1931 as the representantive in America. In 1933 the possession of du Prieurë came to an end due to lack of finances. By that time the place was run down and had very little activity. Further information in C. S. Nott's books.
It is worth noticing that the collection of Gurdjieff's lectures called 'Views from the Real World' has many lectures dating 1923 and 1924; only one, dated 1930, is from a later date consisting of questions and answers in a meeting in New York. The gap is filled by Beelzebub.
All & Everything
Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson
Beelzebub was read aloud, often one chapter at a time. These readings replaced much of the lectures that were held before. Gurdjieff composed, with Thomas de Hartmann as always, special music that was played before the reading started. These were hard ordeals for the listeners as the readings often lasted for two to three hours and what was heard was almost impossible to understand.
The book is difficult to read and Gurdjieff gave in his 'Friendly Advice' instructions to first of all read Beelzebub before any other books he had written and morover to read it three times; first as you are mechanized to read, second time aloud as if you were reading to another person and third time to try to fathom the gist of his writings.
On the first reading the likely reaction to Beelzebub could well be somewhat similar to the one John Anthony West describes in his article 'Encountering Gurdjieff'. He writes: 'I was about to hurl this arrogant book against the wall ... when I realized that this was precisely Gurdjieff's intention. Knowing, as an already substantially published writer, how difficult it is to elicit a specific, intended response from readers in twenty pages of prose, or 200 pages for that matter, I was caught up in admiration for a man who could get me that angry in just two sentences.'
My own studies of Beelzebub have shown that I can understand some ideas presented in a new way, although I have read them before and thought I had understood the meaning. As an example of this I recently read how the wars and natural catastrophies destroy the cultures of the old. I know that this is a theme in Beelzebub, but 'where is the dog buried' then? This is such an obvious thing! We are to-day discovering some remnants of old civilisations in many parts of the globe. Is it not amazing that we have to dig many meters down to find them? At the same time those digging for it are finding developed cultures going back 5-7000 years, but no further. Every time something is found there is some religion tied up to it, usually a primitive one - Mr. God was not yet discovered at that time and the 'ancient savages' just did not know about Him.
However, this is an example of what could be called a physical approach to the book - to read as we are accustomed to read. Listening to Beelzebub being read should go to our subconsciousness, which Gurdjieff says should be our 'normal' consciousness. To put it in another way the book should act on us beyond the our normal waking state, depending on our ability to listen and receive.
Sy Ginsburgs's article, recently included in GIG, makes some interesting points on
the discoveries he has made. In their books
two 'learned women', Doctors Anna T. Challenger and Sophia Wellbeloved,
write about Beelzebub and its relation to art, philosophy, astrology,
the zodiac and the Enneagram. Another new book is by Joy Lonsdale and
called 'Gurdjieff and the Arch Preposterous: An Hermetic Descent into the Mind';
available in Australia. These and other areas of study are on the
'menu' in the All & Everything Conferences. An example of a
deepgoing study to be read online has been written by Dr. Herbert J.
Sharp and called
The Adventures of a Solitary Soul.
There is no doubt that Beelzebub has many things that are there to be
discovered - it is just that the dog has to be dug up first or to put
it in another way: standing up in the galoshes can help.
The references to Beelzebub's Tales on this site are collected on one page; this page has links to books and articles.
As mentioned the first version was impossible to read. After the changes he made, Gurdjieff thought that some parts, notably the chapter called 'Purgatory', were too transparent and easy. He revised it more than once to achieve what he wanted. Why did he do this? The explanation I have: whoever reads the book and makes an effort to understand it will be able to find out the meaning. On the other hand a mere reading will not get to the meaning at all. The idea is something like this: if you want knowledge it is available and to get it you will have to pay for it, make it your own, so that you can understand. This will also prevent the Beelzebub for being just an intellectual exercise. Gurdjieff often asked: 'what does it make you feel?' This is very much similar to the whole idea of the Gurdjieff Work and like the Movements applied to the reading of the book.
Ouspensky recorded Gurdjieff on the subject of objective knowledge: "Realizing the imperfection and weakness of ordinary language the people who have possessed objective knowledge have tried to express the idea of unity in 'myths', in 'symbols', and in particular 'verbal formulas' which, having been transmitted without alteration, have carried on the idea from one school to another, often from one epoch to another."
A revised translation of Beelzebub was published in 1992 by Arcana. If you are considering buying the book you can get hold of the original version, which was first published in 1950. If in doubt you can purchase it through the Amazon buttons in our Books section. A useful help for the studies is The Guide & Index by Traditional Studies Press, a new revised edition is in preparation in 2002.
Meetings with Remarkable Men
I have written a fair amount of the Meetings in Chapter 2 - Gurdjieff's Search. Compared to Beelzebub it is much easier to read and appeals more directly to the emotions. Beelzebub has many different layers, like an onion (Gurdieff referred to onion as a symbol of man and the peeling of the layers), but the Meetings is not without its layers either.
Beelzebub was aimed 'to destroy, mercilessly, without any compromises whatsoever, in the mentation and feelings of the reader, the beliefs and views, by centuries rooted in him, about everything existing in the world'. The Meetings was aimed 'to acquaint the reader with the material required for a new creation and to prove the soundness and good quality of it'.
The Meetings is also 'a myth' starting from the legend of Gurdjieff's education and continuing to his search for truth. Each of the remarkable men are symbols representing some aspects of the truths he found. There seems to be a connection between Beelzebub's decents on the planet Earth and some travels described in the Meetings.
Life Is Real Only Then When 'I Am'
The aim of 'I Am' was 'to assist the arising, in the mentation and in the feelings of the reader, of a veritable, nonfantastic representation not of that illusory world which he now perceives, but of the world existing in reality'.
Gurdjieff made promises in the Meetings to write a book about his father's educational methods, to write a chapter called 'The Inner and the Outer World of Man' etc., but these do not form any part of the book. In 'I Am' he also starts a chapter on the prolongation of life, but never finished it. If his idea was to hand us something that would disappoint the reader he certainly succeeded in it.
I have heard that Monsieur Serge Troude in France says he is in possession of original manuscripts that were left out from 'I Am'. It sounds strange that he would be sitting on this material and doing with it what he wants (so far no results have come forth).
It is generally known that Gurdjieff laid his pen to rest in 1934, after he had written and published 'The Herald of Coming Good', the only one of his writings that was published in his lifetime. As it turned out he discovered that 'The Herald' was a mistake and he advised that if you have not read it, please don't.