Gurdjieff International Review

Daumal with Gurdjieff and the de Salzmanns

Finding a Path

by Kathleen Rosenblatt


“A Man will renounce any pleasure you like but he will not give up his suffering.”

G. I. Gurdjieff

In October of 1930, René Daumal and his friends began to notice a tall, solitary man who had recently begun to frequent their haunt, the Café Figon on the Boulevard St. Germain, where they convened every Thursday following their meeting at the artist Joseph Sima’s studio. This gentleman would always sit in a corner of the terrace, drinking many glasses of calvados and endlessly drawing curious Arab and Chinese characters. Finally, in early November, Joseph Sima recognized Alexandre de Salzmann from an earlier collaboration at the publishers Pégase in 1923. He presented the legendary artist to his young friends. According to Georgette Camille, a contributor to Le Grand Jeu, de Salzmann approached them on another occasion. After conversing a while, he asked those at the table to try something: to hold their arms straight out to the side for as long as they could. Minutes later, Daumal was the only one with arms still outstretched, and de Salzmann said, “You interest me!”1 As it turned out de Salzmann was a pupil of G. I. Gurdjieff, and these encounters were one of those fated “coincidences” dear to the Surrealists. It was a major turning point in the twenty-one-year-old Daumal’s life. Jacques Masui writes in his article “René Daumal et l’expérience Gurdjieff” that “Daumal was not content merely to accept the Gurdjieff teaching; he gave himself over to it.”2

Who was Gurdjieff the man and what was the teaching that so intrigued Daumal? According to those who knew him, he was a powerfully spiritual, enigmatic, unpredictable scientist of the soul. The late P. L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins, described the effect Gurdjieff had on his followers:

His mere presence gave out energy. To receive his glance was to receive a moment of truth that was often very hard to bear. A master like Gurdjieff is not someone who teaches this or that idea. He embodies it himself.… I think I saw in him what every true master has: a certain sacrificial quality as though he clearly had come for others.3

In this chapter, we will give a brief overview of the history and teaching of Gurdjieff directly, and then examine the same concepts through the public and private writings of Daumal. In addition, we will open the door a second time to Daumal’s last fourteen years of life, viewing them through this new lens—his association with the Gurdjieff phenomenon.…

[The complete text is available in the printed copy of this issue.]
Copyright © 1999 State University of New York
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Featured: Summer 1999 Issue, Vol. II (4)
Revision: January 1, 2000