In Practical Terms, What Is Self-Remembering?

At the end of a lecture delivered on 14 February 1974 lecture, Bennett was asked whether he could speak of self-remembering in relation to the theory he had unfolded of different worlds in which we live. Bennett replied that he would like to if the questioner could tell him what self-remembering is. The chap answered that he didn’t know. Bennett said:

I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. If somebody, I would really like to talk about it, only I’ve never been able to make out what self-remembering is about. I mean, I’ve heard the word used for years and years. But I’ve never been able to make out what it refers to.”

The young man then said something which I cannot hear well enough to transcribe, but Bennett’s response was: “What I do know is that in a negative sense, one doesn’t remember oneself, but what self-remembering is I do not know. I am not joking. I do not know what on earth the word means and why it was ever introduced. I do understand this: man does not remember himself. That’s fine. But that’s as far as I can go. But what self-remembering is, I do not know.”

This statement, that we do not know what self-remembering is, can be true in different ways. Once when Mr Adie was at Gurdjieff’s table in Paris (1948 and 1949), Gurdjieff asked him if he knew what self-remembering was? Mr Adie replied: “Perhaps I do not.” Gurdjieff was delighted: “Ah! Repeat so others can hear.” Mr Adie repeated what he had said, and Gurdjieff said to him: “From today you are my brother.” The more I ponder it, the more I understand it as meaning that Mr Adie had the taste of self-remembering, and that this had taught him that it was a mystery: something of which we know a beginning, but no end, no conclusion.

But I am genuinely surprised by Bennett’s comments. He did not mean what Mr Adie did. Let us put Bennett’s comments to one side: he is not here to comment. I shall begin with the philological question which, Gurdjieff said, is often a better guide to truth than philosophy. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary of 1933, revised 1956 and 1973, gives for “remember” the following: “(from) late Latin rememorari call to mind.” If we just take that, then self-remembering would be “calling to myself to mind.” Then, “myself” could be taken as “my being,” all of me, the whole of myself.

That is the root meaning. The first nuance given for “remember” is “to retain in, or recall to, the memory.” So now we also have the idea of “retaining myself in my memory.” Note, “in memory.” This imports the vital concept of a continuity from moment to moment, constantly renewed in the present – for the act of remembering is a present act.

The second limb of the first meaning is “not to forget.” Since Bennett said he understood what it meant to forget himself, then self-remembering could be taken as the converse.

But then the next meaning of “remember” in the SOD is most interesting: “to think of, recall the memory (of a person) with some kind of feeling or intention.” We now have a concept of “bearing myself in mind and memory with feeling and intention.”

Intriguingly, the dictionary records a now rare Middle English use of the word, as meaning: “to think or reflect upon (oneself).” In other words, “remember” once had a meaning very close to what Gurdjieff called “self-remembering.”

Now let us analyse the word. While “remember” is derived from the Latin memor, and the B was added for pronunciation purposes, it strikes me as nonetheless significant that the word “member” comes from the Latin membrum, for “a limb.” In English, a member is an organ or limb of the body, or “each constituent part of a complex structure,” and “each individual belonging to a society or assembly” and formerly “one who takes part in anything” hence “a member of Parliament.”

The preposition RE- has “the general sense of ‘back’ or ‘again.’ If one considers this, then re plus member has the sense of “uniting the parts,” i.e. “putting together the constituent parts of the  complex structure which comprises me.”

When I think of the word “remember” I cannot help but think of RE plus MEMBER, although I know that is not the etymology of the word. But the word has that sound and the sound bears a significance.

We can add to this. The preposition re- has, often, in English, the sense of going back to an original state, or as the dictionary says: “back to or towards the starting-point.” Examples of this are the re- in “revoke” and “recede.” It bears the sense of “back to the original place or position” as “replace” and “restitution.” This frequently implies “back to one’s hands or possession,” as in “receive” and “resume.” This is particularly fitting for the phrase “remember myself” for the result of the action is to bring myself back to my starting-point (my essence, my true self) and to place myself in my own hands.

So now we have a good basis for indicating the mysterious aspect which Mr Adie had sensed and Gurdjieff had congratulated him for: beginning in whatever condition I am in, I return to my essential state by uniting more and more of the diverse parts of myself.

This is only a point of departure, but, I think, a useful one.

2 comments

  1. Very interesting to see Bennett’s admission. As someone outside the Work, I find the term “self-remembering” a hurdle: as a native English speaker, I would say it doesn’t mean anything in English. To remember is not just to call to mind, but to call to mind *past* experience or knowledge. Did I once experience a self and have forgotten? Mr Azize’s discussion, in his 2020 book, of the Russian phrase is very interesting, and indeed brings in the past. But Ouspensky was a native Russian speaker and seems to be talking about something present. If the Russian phrase is ordinary Russian, then “self-remembering” must be a mistranslation, because “self-remembering” is not ordinary English. Google Translate says “pomnie sebya” means “remember yourself”, but that doesn’t mean the phrases convey the same clarity or meaning to each speaker.

    I’ve come across various interpretations. Ouspensky walking down the street seems to be talking about retaining some attention on oneself, on one’s consciousness, as well as the outer world. Another pupil recounted that in the middle of a frightening experience he remembered himself, and suddenly knew what Gurdjieff meant. It seems to me this was presence of mind: at first sight a different thing, but again is resisting being absorbed in an experience. Other accounts involve body-sensing, but it is not clear if they consider the “self” to be the body being sensed or the sensations as such. The Tooner experience in the earlier articles is new to me.

    In summary I don’t understand why “self-remembering” is never admitted to be an unusual coinage – except in these words of Bennett. Is it a coinage in the original languages too, or an ordinary phrase?

  2. Can you provide a source book reference for this?

    ‘Once when Mr Adie was at Gurdjieff’s table in Paris (1948 and 1949), Gurdjieff asked him if he knew what self-remembering was? Mr Adie replied: “Perhaps I do not.” Gurdjieff was delighted: “Ah! Repeat so others can hear.” Mr Adie repeated what he had said, and Gurdjieff said to him: “From today you are my brother.”‘

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *