Gurdjieff 1877-1949

Gurdjieff International Review

An Annotated Bibliography

a review by Andrew Rawlinson

Gurdjieff must be the perfect subject for a bibliography. Although he lived and taught in France for nearly 30 years and visited America several times, the only writings of his which appeared in his lifetime were a typescript of Beelzebub's Tales in 1930 and The Herald of Coming Good, which was privately printed in 1933 and withdrawn a year later. Yet hundreds of people met him and were influenced by him, and dozens of these tried to follow the 'Way' that he taught. In addition, the most influential disseminator of Gurdjieff's ideas, Ouspensky, was nearly as reluctant to publish as his teacher. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Ouspensky taught in London independently of Gurdjieff. And, those of Gurdjieff's pupils like Orage, Nicoll and Bennett, who went on to lead groups and write, often published in obscure journals or with very small publishing houses. In short, Gurdjieff's extensive and complex ideas appeared in print piecemeal, here and there and everywhere, over a period of several decades and from very varied sources.

For anyone who is not only interested in Gurdjieff's ideas but also in the remarkable influence they have had over the last 65 years, this book is a delight. It is made up of four sections: Gurdjieff's own works including a discography of his music; 1107 items in English; 580 items in French; and 14 items in other languages. These works about Gurdjieff are all arranged by author alphabetically with anonymous works entered by title. There is also an index of book titles together with their reviews.

Do not be put off by the introductory 'Footnote to the Gurdjieff Literature' by Michel de Salzmann, which is perhaps too discriminating. This is his very first sentence: "The increasing spate of books about Gurdjieff does not make up for their almost unfailing irrelevance to what is essential." M. de Salzmann has very little good to say about anyone, though he does recommend Jean Vaysse's Toward Awakening, which must be worth a look if it passes such demanding standards.

As for the bibliography itself, it contains everything one would ever want to know about Gurdjieff and the Work. In effect, this information arranges itself in a series of ever-increasing circles (from the most concentrated to the least). I shall deal with the English section first and then go on to the French.

The nub of the whole complex is Gurdjieff himself, of course; his writings and music are listed first. Then we have the works of those of his pupils who carried on the Work in their own way: Orage, Ouspensky, John Pentland and Maurice Nicoll, Bennett and Collin. All of these (except Collin) knew Gurdjieff. Next we have writings by those who also knew Gurdjieff but did not publish primarily as teachers, but more as reminiscers. These divide somewhat artificially into major and minor figures. The former include pupils such as C. S. Nott, Fritz Peters, Kathryn Hulme, Kenneth Walker and the de Hartmanns. People with a reasonable knowledge of Gurdjieff have heard of them. The minor figures are much less well-known and the information given here (both in the bibliographical details and in the annotations) is fascinating and a real treasure. I'm thinking about Claude Bragdon (who helped translate Tertium Organum in 1920), Gorham Munson (an American writer who visited Gurdjieff's Institute at Fontainebleau and was a friend of Orage), William Welch (a pupil and a doctor who attended Gurdjieff at his death), Olgivanna Wright (Frank Lloyd Wright's wife—who carried Gurdjieff's ideas into Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural school at Taliesin) and James Young (who, together with Maurice Nicoll, gave up his practice of Jungian Therapy to join Gurdjieff at Fontainebleau, but unlike Nicoll, did not stay in the Work). There are many others and one can have a lot of fun coming across them in these pages.

The next circle out, so to speak, is of a different order, for we have now left behind those who knew Gurdjieff personally and enter the extremely murky realm of those who have attempted to carry on the Work. There are in fact quite a number of people who claim to be legitimate successors of Gurdjieff—claims that are made all the more difficult to assess by the very nature of Gurdjieff's own method of teaching, which was bewildering, frequently contradictory and rarely explained. Those like J.H. Reyner, Kathleen Speeth and Charles Tart, are all trying to apply Gurdjieff's ideas in a contemporary way. (Bennett's later works should be included here, perhaps, as well as some of his own pupils like A.M. Hodgson and A.G.E. Blake). Others like Oscar Ichazo (the founder of Arica), E.J. Gold, Rajneesh and Jan Cox are clearly making use of his ideas but, equally clearly, have each departed considerably from them.

Moving out even further, we leave behind practitioners or modifiers of the Work and reach those who have written about it as an intellectual exercise. In fact, this only started to happen in the early 60s. All the obvious authors are here (Louis Pauwels, James Webb, Colin Wilson) and a few not so obvious ones, too (e.g. Perry's Gurdjieff in the Light of Tradition).

Finally we reach the outermost and most diffuse circle, which consists of any mention of Gurdjieff and the Work, however short, vague or trivial. There are 400-word reviews and anonymous newspaper reports. There is a considerable 'vague-but-famous' category: those luminaries who knew Gurdjieff or have referred to him. This includes Bob Dylan, Henry Miller, both Lawrences (D.H. & T.E.), André Breton (in the French section) and John Updike. We are talking here, sometimes, of the odd sentence or two. A few of these references in the outermost circle are very interesting, however. I did not know that Arthur Osborne, a disciple of Ramana Maharshi, had written a review of Meetings With Remarkable Men; nor that Brian Aldiss' novel Barefoot in the Head, is "laden with numerous references to Gurdjieff and Ouspensky;" nor that James Webb, in his Introduction to Hinton's Scientific Romances, discusses the possibility of the influence of Hinton on Ouspensky. (Hinton was a mathematician with a theory of four dimensions).

The tracing of interconnections that this book allows is really quite prodigious. We can follow up Beryl Pogson on Nicoll and Irmis Popoff on Willem Nyland. There is a short article by Rowland Kenney entitled "A Socialist Meets Mr. Gurdjieff" and an M.A. thesis by Susan Palmer on E.J. Gold's group in Montreal. Item 96 includes the details of the Finnish translation of one of Bennett's books; and items 711 and 714 give us information about two versions of Orage's talks on Beelzebub's Tales. There are entries concerning the tapes issued by the New Dimensions Foundation, that include Robert de Ropp, Kathleen Speeth and Charles Tart; and numerous entries concerning Peter Brook's film of Meetings With Remarkable Men. (The index reveals that while the book only received 39 reviews, the film got 62.)

The French section of the book is particularly interesting. I have never read anything in French on Gurdjieff and so the information presented here was all new to me. Leaving aside French translations of English originals, and the French originals of what has since appeared in English, the most obvious fact is that the French material is all about Gurdjieff. Ouspensky and his pupils are rarely mentioned and then only in reviews of their writings.

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Andrew Rawlinson has been a Lecturer in Buddhism at the University of Lancaster, England and a visiting Professor at the University of California at both Berkeley and Santa Barbara. Now retired from teaching, he remains an active researcher and writer. His latest book Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Teachings is an encyclopedic guide to Eastern influenced psycho-spiritual traditions and trends. It provides an informed thirty-page synopsis of major leaders in Gurdjieff's legacy.

Copyright © 1987 Andrew Rawlinson
This webpage © 1998 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Fall 1998 Issue, Vol. II (1)
Revision: January 1, 2000