Someone recently sent a jab in my direction, aiming not so much at what I said about “the New Work” in my book Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation, and Exercises, as about what I was taken to have intended. What I wrote in that book was, I think, clear enough, and no one has yet said that anything which I had presented as a fact was not so. Although it is I who say it, I think it is fair to say that I tried to turn the correspondence into a constructive direction. I directly answered what was said, but some people have a visceral reaction against any mention of the New Work; or rather, the implications they draw from what others and myself have written. What we write, and what people think we mean, often diverge. To get to the truth about this, we shall need to canvas matters of fact, logic, and patterns of thought and attitude. It will take a few posts to explain all this fully. But perhaps by the end it will be clear that not everyone who speaks of the “New Work” is cunningly mendacious. As St John Henry Newman found (not that I compare myself to him), when you reply that you never said what you are accused of, those who have already prejudged you will retort: “Ah! You didn’t say it, then, but you did mean it! How unscrupulous!”
In this post, by way of background to my written comments, I shall commence with summarising the seminal article “Moveable Feasts: The Gurdjieff Work,” by the late James Moore. Moore was once one of the leaders of the Gurdjieff Society in London. It was published in Religion Today (London) IX (2) [Spring 1994?] pp. 11-16, but has been fairly significant in this conversation. At the end of this series, I shall draw the strings together.
Before I begin that, I will state two facts. One: the term “New Work” is not pejorative, derogatory, or dismissive. It is a neutral phrase, based upon the observation that from some point in the 1960s, Jeanne de Salzmann began to introduce a “new work” which was to a degree in continuity with Gurdjieff’s, but also evidenced significant discontinuity. Two: I do not believe that there is nothing of value in what we might call “Foundation groups” as a whole; or that no individual associated with those Foundations has anything of value to offer; or that they use none of Gurdjieff’s ideas and methods. As I said, there is some continuity, and even sometimes great continuity. The value of the societies and the individuals, their ideas and methods, and their fidelity to Gurdjieff’s methods and ideas are matters of fact to be ascertained in each case. It would be as absurd to imagine that everything inside the Foundation groups is rotten as it would be to think that everything outside them is wonderful.
Next, the “Foundation” societies are, so far as I can see, those which are part of the International Association of the Gurdjieff Foundations (IAGF). These include the French Institut (http://www.institut-gurdjieff.com); the Gurdjieff Society, London (http://www.gurdjieff.com) and the New York Foundation (https://www.gurdjieff-foundation-newyork.org). There are also important centres in San Francisco and Los Angeles. There is a group in Caracas, and it was once quite significant, but I am unsure of its present health.
Part One: James Moore’s “MOVEABLE FEASTS”
The introduction to this essay is not pertinent: it contains observations about what Moore calls “New Religious Movements.” I must quote Moore, although I cannot pretend to be a great fan of Moore’s ambitious style; yet, when his phrases are good they are wonderful. He states that he will: “…soberly test for deviation and revisionism in one specific NRM namely ‘The Work’, i.e. the spiritual movement initiated by George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff . . . Amenably small, but not minuscule; religious in temper but not format; ‘new’ but no nine-day’s wonder; boasting a primary and secondary literature; and exerting a subterranean ideological and cultural influence—The Work is apt, indeed ripe, for survey. Gurdjieff himself counselled no-one to loiter in an unexamined ‘Gurdjieffianity’: “If you have not by nature a critical mind your stay here is useless”.
Moore concentrates on the English Gurdjieff Society. This, he says, “arguably dates de facto from December 1949, when, at 46 Colet Gardens, London W14, Mme J. de Salzmann presented Mme H. H. Lannes to combined English groups (initially constituted by Ouspensky, Jane Heap, and J. G. Bennett). By 6 October 1955, when it took de jure status as The Society for Research into the Development of Man Ltd., J. G. Bennett had broken away. The more indicative name The Gurdjieff Society Ltd. was adopted by special resolution on 17 June 1957.” He continues his research to the death of Jeanne de Salzmann (25 May 1990). That is the basic parameter and goal of Moore’s essay.
I omit some of his background to Gurdjieff and the Work. I think most reading this blog will have a fairly good idea of it. But the point he tries to bring out here, because it prepares the ground for his drawing a contrast with what was to come, is that Gurdjieff’s “compassion, humanity, humour … are amply documented—but as the context of his didactic rigour. That unexpected title ‘The Work’ (coined in Petrograd 1916) … methodologically implies virile and inescapable endeavour. “Ordinary efforts do not count”, exhorted Gurdjieff. “Only super-efforts count . . . it is better to die making efforts than to live in sleep”. The self-same Leitmotiv of intense striving blazes in memoirs of early English pupils: “The keynote was ‘Overcome difficulties—Make effort—Work’”.” He develops this point, relating it to Gurdjieff’s cosmology.
Moore concludes this phase with: “…grace … is, for Gurdjieff, the modest handmaid of human will. … Such then the stoic legacy, which on Gurdjieff’s death passed onerously into the worldwide stewardship of his closest and most senior pupil Jeanne de Salzmann.” Next we come to the English work under the guidance of Mme Lannes, when: “the traditional Gurdjieffian ethos of effort was personified and guaranteed. … Above all, effort was the sine qua non of Mme Lannes’ group work.”
He says that she set up occasions for “confrontative physical challenge in Gurdjieff’s line of ‘super-effort’ … In dramatic, interactive exchanges, conducted with ruthless compassion …” This was also the approach, he notes, of Mme de Salzmann, of Henri Tracol, and of their Movements teacher. “Such,” Moore states, “was the consistent and amply traditional tenor of The Gurdjieff Society’s 30-year primary epoch, which closed decisively at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, 28 May 1980, when H. H. Lannes died.”
However, a change then came over the way the London group was conducted by Tracol and Maurice Desselle under Mme de Salzmann’s supervision: “Fronting the new doctrine was a oligarchy-led modulation of idiom from active to passive voice: the pupil no longer ‘remembered himself’ but ‘was remembered’; no longer ‘awoke’ but ‘was awoken’. Pupils did not, need not, could not, work: they were ‘worked upon’ (even while they literally slept!).”
I will interpolate here that this is exactly what we first heard from Jim Wyckoff from New York in 1990, after Mr Adie’s death, when Michael de Salzmann advised us to work with him: even the surprising idea that one can work while one sleeps (“Who says I’m not working when I’m asleep?” Wyckoff rhetorically asked). That ends the first part of this summary of Moore’s article.
Joseph Azize, 12 June 2020