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Book Reviews

by Arvan Harvat

Beelzebub's Tales to His GrandsonGurdjieff ( Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man (All and Everything Series 1))

Much Ado about Nothing

This, as someone called it, "Finnegan's Wake" of esotericism, is a grave disappointment for anyone not infatuated by Gurdjieffian myth. Let's see what it's all about.

1. It is a blend of ironic science fiction, superflous "criticism" leaning towards shallow stereotypes on various nations or modes of behaviour, combined with unnecessary obscure references to diverse "occult" practices ( "kundabuffer" ).

2. Also, it is a rehashed ancient "teaching" ( alchemy, Patanjali's and Taoist yoga, Sufi dhikr,..) - all cast in a consciously deceptive lingo ( heptaparaparshinokh, triamazikamno and all that jazz ).

3. Cognitively, judging it as a work in psychology, archaic cosmology, even philosophy - this is an empty ( not sealed, but empty ) book, Gurdjieff's personal indulgence and nothing more.  Even in the field of esotericism, it is a miserable failure compared to Blavatsky or Aurobindo ( who are champions of turgid prose, but here and there sparkle with insight.)

4. As for its literary merit, ie. as a piece of imaginative literature - it can't sustain the company of a London or a Zane Grey.

5. I gave it two stars only because it complements ( tangentially ) Wilson's and Speeth's books on Gurdjieffian myth, one of rare adventure stories of our past century. Because, with all pros and cons, Gurdjieff remains one of those writers/personalities about whom Henry Miller said that "their lives are more important and interesting than their works".

The Gurdjieff WorkKathleen Speeth ( The Gurdjieff Work )

Gurdjieff 101

This book is unrivalled as the clearest presentation of Gurdjieffian mythos, ethos & logos. For anyone seeking transparent elucidation of the "work", this is the best starting point. Instead of meandering through the ponderous & subjective musings of Nicoll, Bennet, Orage and Ouspensky, here you got in a nutshell:

1.GIG's cosmology: a highly original ( this is an understatement ) variant of Neoplatonist emanationism combined with Blavatskyan planes/worlds; all set in a pseudoscientific lingo using ordinary chemical symbols ( Carbon, Oxygen, etc.) in a bizarre quasi-alchemical setting.

2.GIG's psychology: a modern-day gnosticism without "divine spark". His famous "centres" ( physical/vital, emotional, intellectual ) are old Platonic & Thomist archaic psychology recast in a deceptively "oriental" mode- in fact, Gurdjieffian esoteric physiology is Western ( his centres having little in common with chakras ), while the entire raison for the "work" is Eastern: in essence, this is activation & empowering of the already existent, but numb & deluded jiva ( Tantric tradition ), spiritual seed ( Valentinian gnosticism ) or vijnana ( Vajrayana Buddhism ). GIG's emphasis on non-existence of "I" is just a pedagogic trick.

3. And, last: it was GIG who has brought enneagram to the West. This ancient Hermetic symbol, serving primarily as a glyph delineating stages of alchemical transmutation of a psyche, has become, due to hilarious unpredictable New Age ravings, a sort of universal bestseller on the pop-psychological supermarket.

What to say at the end ? Read it- it's a truly delightful mystery story on the search of the miraculous.

The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types - by Don Richard Riso, Russ Hudson - review on this page.

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content by Arvan Harvat
page uploaded 16 November 2003, last modified 22 June 2009