BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

More on Gurdjieff ...

I'm beginning to guess that the inscrutability of Mr. Gurdjieff seriously effected the ability of his students to compose a full-length book on him and his teachings. Like my just-previously reviewed book (by C.S. Nott) which has a large section in its middle of other material, so Margaret Anderson's The Unknowable Gurdjieff is deeply defendant on "padding" to reach its 212 page length.

The first 60% of this was the actual material written by Anderson regarding he experiences with Gurdjieff while trying to write her book The Fiery Fountains, the rest then goes into her struggles to publish that, the reactions of various folks to it, and then excepts from the writings of her group of lady friends. It is rather damning that it was a breath of fresh air when she switched authors. Most of her part of the book was whiny, petulant, and self-absorbed. She kept harping on how things had to be interesting, she always sought out things that were interesting, she'd always surrounded herself with stuff that was interesting, and how Gurdjieff's work just didn't seem interesting to the extent that she was accustomed. It didn't help that she completely avoided quoting Gurdjieff but for one half-sentence snippet which she then made a big deal of.

Frankly, I'd never heard of her, and wondered how she afforded to run from place A to do this, to place B to do that, with the only "means of support" noted was the book that she was having such a hard time writing. A bit of Googling showed that she had been the founder of a literary magazine The Little Review which put out the works of many noted (and, no doubt, interesting) authors between the Wars. Googling also turned up information on the various other ladies mentioned in the book, which (although not mentioned as such) was the all-woman "The Rope" group that coalesced around Gurdjieff towards the end of his life on the Left Bank in Paris, when he had "officially" stopped teaching. Nearly all of these persons were famous lesbians in the arts, and it did appear that Ms. Anderson "got around", as reference after reference noted these as being "lovers of" the author. Again, none of this is even intimated in the book, but I suppose that could be due more to the ethos of the 1930's rather than it being sufficiently interesting for her to add to her narrative.

Frankly, most of her narrative is complaining about how she couldn't possibly really focus on the Gurdjieff work because it would draw away from her efforts to write her book, and her book was going to be so very interesting and make so many people ever so interested in the Work. I suppose that it is to her credit that she includes some pretty caustic commentary about her eventual manuscript. Her old partner in the literary mag, Jane Heap, had passed it along to T.S. Eliot who inquired: "... it is certainly very egocentric ... but would it interest anybody who was not already interested in Margaret?"

The material that she includes in the latter part of the book from Georgette Leblanc, Jane Heap, Solito Solano, and even Dorothy Caruso, opens up windows to the Gurdjieff work in ways that her own prose doesn't begin to approach. If nothing else, this at least points to other volumes (most of which, unfortunately, don't seem to be currently available) where not only is The Work given the attention it deserves, but the writing focuses on more than the self image of the author. The very last section in the book is a series of communiques from Paris that Solito Solano (who had stayed behind with Gurdjieff while the others sailed for New York), about his last days and funeral. The writing there is vivid, passionate, observant, and caring, all aspects largely absent in Anderson's own telling. Of course, much of my criticisms on this level could be argued as my being "reactive" to failings I see in my own writing, but I would like to think that were I to have been a student of Gurdjieff's, any book that I would have produced on it would have at least delved into some of the actual teaching and not banalities about why I ended up choosing a particular room to stay in etc., etc., etc.!

Clearly, unless one has a particular interest in the social clique of Ms. Anderson's, there is not much here to recommend it that is not likely to be found in better form someplace else. Except in the words of the other authors that she quotes at length, there is none of the eye-opening "being there" sense that was so notable in Nott's book, and the biggest "take-away" from this is close to being saddened that Gurdjieff should have been saddled with this particular "group" in his final years. The Unknowable Gurdjieff does seem to be out of print itself at this point, but is available via the new/used vendors over at Amazon for as little as 12¢ for a "good" copy and $2.40 (plus shipping, as always) for a "new" one, so it's there if you'd want to get it.

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Tags: book review
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