Gurdjieff International Review
The Same Old Trick
The Taxing of Jean Toomer
I have always thought, that Gurdjieff used the money thing as a lever with which to work on you—one of the few and most effective ready-made levers available to him in relation to you, as you live under a system of private ownership and difficult peculiar finances, in short, under the capitalistic order, or disorder. Not that he does not want the money, but that he achieves two results, one for himself, one for yourself, by use of the one means.
One surely must think twice and again and again, before hardening and fixing the belief that Gurdjieff is after money only. To me, this belief never has and does not now seem tenable. Surely also, if one has feeling for the work and good will towards him, one must be on the alert so as not to refuse help if and when the call ‘Wolf, wolf,’ really means wolf.
You find your mind and psyche going through gymnastics which require your inner world to perform feats of coordination and endurance quite similar to those required of the body in the exercises and dances demonstrated by Gurdjieff and his pupils when he first came to this country in 1924. Witness myself. This that I have written and much more was stirred up in me owing to the fact that I was asked for an additional three hundred [dollars] in the circumstances I have described. Not every day does one experience such a plowing.
Yesterday morning, already informed by Gurdjieff that he would leave America for France today, knowing that he had insufficient money for this purpose, I gave him two hundred dollars. The money was hardly in his pocket when he began working on me for more. He invited me to lunch. I knew what it was for. I accepted. I accepted for a totality of reasons [and] also because I had an immediate matter which I wished to put to the test. At two o’clock, I presented myself at his apartment, a one room and kitchen affair on West 69th street, piled up with I do not know how many suit cases and loaded trunks.
Lunch, prepared by himself, was ready. His unpublished manuscripts were stretched on the bed. When I entered he arose, saying he was tired. By the feel of things I knew he was not leaving America the next day.
The food, like all the food he prepares, was amazing, original, unlike any food I’ve tasted elsewhere. . .
Lunch finished, we smoked, Gurdjieff momentarily reclining on the bed, propped on an elbow. He had to get up in order to show the typist where to begin. And, on his feet, he bethought himself of his business with me.
For this business we repaired to the bathroom, an “original office” as Gurdjieff had said before on the occasion of previous visits to its privacy, the only private place in the apartment, what with two typists in the main room and of the clowning sort, typewriters banging there. In this original office there was barely enough room for the two of us. Into my mind came the line, “‘Won’t you come into my parlor,’ said the spider to the fly.”
To the bathroom, then we hied ourselves, not without fitting ceremony. The gist of the business was this. He would not leave tomorrow on the ╬le de France which I already knew. He would leave a week hence on the Paris. Now this delay made certain things necessary. Of course, said I to myself. It necessitated that he send two hundred and fifty dollars (Ah-ha, said I to myself) to France by cable in advance of his arrival. It necessitated that he have money to live on while still in America. In short, he needed about three hundred and thirty dollars. For this sum he depended upon me exclusively, naturally. It was possible for him to get it elsewhere, but for reasons growing out of his policies with different people, and also because of his aims, he did not want to call upon those people at this time for this need. It is up to me. He gave his essence-word that in four months he would pay me back. Not only would he pay me back but I’d have a place in his future creations. If, however, I failed him, he and the entire work would go up the chimney, as this was the critical hour.
I listened. I nodded. I smiled. Inwardly I had the same disquieting feelings aroused in me by similar situations in the past when he had worked on me for money, feelings similar to those he had aroused in others, feelings which in some instances had driven them off from him with disgust and anger and the conviction that he was using his power merely in order to obtain money, money, and more money without cease.
I remembered other times, other “critical hours,” in which he had put it up to me, I being cast for the role of the only one who could save the situation. I squirmed, because I resented being worked on in this way. I squirmed. I knew, and I knew he knew, that it was only because of my positive sense of him, because of my positive experience with and belief in his work, and his ideas, that I had let myself in for such a situation where demands could be made of me with some effectiveness. I squirmed and was incredulous that he would try to work the same old trick again, seeing that just this trick had driven me away from him the previous spring soon after his arrival in this country. I felt awful, because just this behavior of his was again putting my belief in him to a severe test, threatening to collapse every positive feeling I had, threatening to undermine the very beliefs and hopes upon which my life had rested and moved ever since 1924.
What could be in the man’s mind? Who and what was he? What were his purposes? What aims did he have for me, if any? What aims for the people of the world? Was I a mere tool? Was I not even that, so nothing from his point of view that he need not even consider the way he used or misused me? Was he, as some claimed, insane? Did he, as some also claimed, know psychic laws but was essentially stupid in his practical dealings with people? If he knew anything at all about me, how could he fail to know that I was ready and willing to do all I possibly could as regards any real need of his that I could grasp and understand, whereas just these tricky manipulative tactics were sure to throw me off?
Or on the other hand, was he under the guise of this, to me, distasteful proposal, trying to do something for my good? I recalled a saying of his—“The means are mine. You look for the results in yourself.” I also recalled—“You can see only the present. I see in terms of a hundred years.” So then was he producing in me some necessary tension? Was he showing me, so that I could not possibly fail to see for myself, that for all of my professed great and deep belief in the work, I could be thrown off by some comparatively trivial thing simply because it rubbed me the wrong way? Obviously my declarations of value were but declarations if I suddenly faced about and disavowed everything merely because he put a screw in me and turned it.
This is what is so awful about the situations with Gurdjieff. The situations themselves are always taxing—and you can arrive at no sure reconciliation or fixed understanding because for every fact there is a counterfact, for every reason a counter reason, for every bit of “bad” behavior another bit of “good” behavior, for every son-of-a-bitching thing a counter saintly thing.
Gurdjieff was talking away. He said, among other things, “It is not for me. I am nothing.” Suddenly with utter sincerity, I said, “I feel the same way. I am nothing.” And I did feel it. I felt I wasn’t important, not the slightest. I felt I had reached the limit of my possibilities. I felt there was no further use that I tax myself, not in relation to him, not in relation to anything, but mainly not for myself. I felt selfless, without ego. I felt I would gladly willingly give all I was and all I had if it would be of any service to others. I felt that an additional three hundred dollars was nothing at all to contribute to his work, if it really were a work, if it really was destined to be of vast service to mankind.
What were three hundred dollars? What was three thousand or three hundred thousand dollars? Every American month and year such sums are squandered on nonessentials, staked and lost on projects of no real benefit to anyone even if they do succeed, such sums and vastly larger sums are sunk into battle ships and the various instruments of man’s war against man. Three hundred, for a creative service? It was far too little to give.
But if just this sum was needed for just this need, then why manipulate? Why not a straight request so that I could respond with a straight hand? Why not do it in a way that would assure me that the sum would be thus used, that after I had given the three hundred I would not at once find myself being worked for an additional five hundred, and so on and so on as long as I could scrape together a cent—or until I, like others before me, became disillusioned and embittered and broke off from him completely.
We left the bathroom and took chairs in the main room, the typewriter pounding and clacking. We smoked and joked. I asked Gurdjieff certain questions about myself. He said I did not deserve to know. I asked, “If I do not deserve, then who does?” His reply was that nobody deserved. I asked, “Then for whom are you doing all this work?” “I will live for coming generations,” he said. “It is for them.”
Supper began—and, of course, the toasts to the idiots. In the course of eating and drinking quite a number of things came up, among them Solon’s accusation to Gurdjieff that Gurdjieff stole or tricked money from people. Gurdjieff denied it. He said he took it. I backed him up. I said he took it. And he does. The distinction may not seem important, but it has, I feel, a direct and significant bearing on the general way in which Gurdjieff operates.
He gives, as he was giving the suppers. He takes. Often as not he will even tell you in advance that he is going to take. Tricks he has, and he uses them apparently without conscience. But believe me he is not and never has been and never will be a petty trickster. His use of tricks is so glaring that they almost shout at you telling you what they are. He knows they are tricks. So do you. If you then fall for them can you accuse him of dishonesty?
He fixes a situation. He leads you into it. You go into it, eyes open. Then he takes—if you let him, and often you do. If you let him, if he takes today, then you may be sure that as long as you have relations with him you will again and again find yourself in a similar situation. If you withhold, then again as long as you have relations with him a similar situation will be repeated.
Why? Why does he work it this way? Might as well ask the sphinx. Is there some profound teaching and training involved? Or doesn’t it, on the contrary, argue that he has a most cynical view of human nature, believing that people are but sheep who must be sheared because they wouldn’t understand and respond to his need if he presented it as a human being to human beings? . . .
During the course of the supper I felt a revival of my old feeling for Gurdjieff. The drinks helped my subconscious self to come out, and I found myself, with something like a rush of feeling, once more affirming him. My mind was working too. I did not want to be importuned for money. I did want to offer it to him voluntarily if he really needed it. Before the evening was over I proposed that we, myself, Leighton and Solon too, and I had others in mind, work out a scheme whereby Gurdjieff would receive from us a definite amount each week for the period of a month. Later on, the plan was actually carried into effect. After leaving Gurdjieff that evening I did not see him again for several weeks.
That was early in January. February was over half over when I again got a call. I went to lunch. I went to dinner. The upshot of it all was that Gurdjieff, planning to leave America on March 2nd, needed money for the passage. Practically no manipulation was required, nor resistance against manipulation, for me to promise two hundred dollars. This done, I felt at ease, and, also, just a little virtuous. I breathed a sigh of relief and satisfaction. This time, it seemed pure, the money transaction would occur simply, without “tactics,” on the simple real basis of one person responding to another’s need.
I soon saw, however, that, for some reason or other, I was in for a period of being called upon to come to lunch, come to dinner, come for Turkish bath. Gurdjieff is that way. If he calls you he calls you. With him it is all or nothing. He wants to take you away from everything else—or, in any case, he wants you when he wants you, often, one after the other—and it is up to you to decide that you too want or else call a halt.
It was just this by me previously known tendency that I had braced myself against when returning to New York in the fall. I had my own life and affairs, my own world; I had not wanted to be absorbed by him into his affairs and his world, even though I liked his cooking, always got something from being with him, and, in a way, really and sincerely considered it a rare privilege to be in his company. Iámay be mistaken but I also believe that thousands of people also would consider it such a privilege, if they had a genuine sense of him, if he would discontinue his strange baffling antagonism-arousing tactics. Through the fog which he himself creates around himself there are but few who can see and sense him—and of these few, all are alternatively drawn towards him and repelled, praising, damning, appreciating, cursing.
These excerpts are extracted from the Jean Toomer Papers located in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, and are published here by their kind permission. They were previously published in The Gurdjieff Journal (formerly Telos), Vol. 4 Issue 4, Arete Communications and were provided through the courtesy of W. Patrick Patterson. The photo of Jean Toomer is by permission of Margot Latimer.
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Featured: Fall 2005 Issue, Vol. IX (1)
Revision: December 1, 2005