Available now on Audiobook, is a recording of G.I. Gurdjieff’s Herald of Coming Good by my esteemed friend and colleague, A.G.E. Blake. At the bottom of this page I provide a link to the U.K. web site. If it does not work, just go to your local Audible site and enter “Herald of Coming Good.”
I have previously reviewed books and recordings by Blake. This may be the best reading of his yet, which means that it is securely of the first class. Whoever the sound engineers are, they performed an excellent job: Blake’s voice comes through clearly and distinctly. As usual, he allows each word its proper weight, and unerringly places the emphasis just where it should be. This is not a trite comment: there are a number of Audiobooks I cannot listen to because of how the reader regularly stresses the least important word in the clause. Blake also has an excellent sense of tempo: the subtle variations in reading speed so well fit the text that one hardly notices the changes; they seem to have been dictated by the text. But of course, the reader had to interpret the words, and that is an art.
Then, one of the hardest points for readers is a phrase in which two or more words need to be given just exactly the same emphasis. It is striking how rare the gift to manage this is: people invariably stress the first word or the second a little more than the other. I came across one especially nice example of how Blake manages to read at a good tempo, allowing the words their proper weight – no more and no less – and manages to keep everything smooth and even; this is his reading of the two words “Professor-Instructor.”
Another difficulty, in reading, is sensing when to pause and when to continue. I have always thought that Blake’s sense for silence is remarkable: he does not allow the content of the text to force him along. He collects himself and controls his delivery, pausing just enough to allow the sense to be received. Near the start of this recording there was a particularly fine instance: one clause ends with the word “Good,” while the next, separated by only a semi-colon, begins with the word “and.” Blake rightly, I think, pauses after “Good,” a little more than usual, not allowing the conjunction to drag him forward. Yet, anything less would, in this case, have been too short a pause to absorb the meaning, and digest it.
But more than this, Blake manages the one thing I had doubted would be possible with this text: without adopting sanctimonious (breathlessly pious) tones, he delivers the booklet as a serious spiritual, even esoteric work. The temptation to ham up some of the passages must have been present. But there is nothing corny or theatrical about this reading, and yet it is theatre. The dramatist’s art is delivered so naturally that one is unaware that it is a work of dramaturgy. To put it another way, there is nothing self-conscious about this reading, and so the reader’s personality does not impose itself upon our attention. Rather, Blake directs us to the text by the simple expedient of removing himself, or rather, his personality from the performance.
Although the second part of the word “performance” comes from the French verb fournir, to provide, to furnish, and not the word “form,” yet what is provided is a certain form. It has been said that God is the shape beneath all shapes. This reading is not a theophany – but it does, I think, emanate from a being state which is, or at least approaches, the state Gurdjieff was hoping for in his readers. So it is not just the reading which corresponds to the text, but also the state which is conveyed.
Having said that, is it worth listening to a recording of a pamphlet which Gurdjieff withdrew from circulation soon after its publication? I would say so, and I would say that the single best reason to listen to the book is so that one may hear this controversial text read in a manner which is free of our own projections upon it. In the ordinary course, we can only read in accordance with our habitual manner. It is valuable to hear it read by someone interpreting it without our preconceptions: it makes possible a fresh reception of the material. So for example, I was eagerly listening for the passage on “transformed-contemplation.” I knew what it said, but Blake’s reading subtly brought out for me how the three-centred nature of the activity relates to what had earlier been said about our three centres and how they usually do not work together.
I have earlier written that I consider that Gurdjieff was, at times, remarkably candid in this booklet, It even cost him friends. I suspect that he may have withdrawn it, in part anyhow, because he regretted his candour. Some of what he says about the way of inner development is quite powerful: but I am reviewing a reading, not the book. I suspect now, having heard Blake’s reading, that I could better formulate my opinion this way: I wonder if, with this booklet, Gurdjieff did not place some very important and beneficial ideas, and when he saw that people missed this, and reacted to minor matters, he withdrew it. I suspect he had been intending to relaunch his work when he published this booklet, but the backlash made him change his mind.
If I am correct in this, then that was, I think, the true tragedy of this pamphlet: he saw that people were not ready.
Are we ready now?