As we noted in the first posting in this series, this discussion of the revision of The Tales is not intended to be a critical take-down of the Gurdjieff Foundation’s publication of it.
Mme de Salzmann ordered the revision, and it was not published until after her death, so there was never any possibility of discussing it with her. She said Gurdjieff asked her to revise it and there is no reason to believe that she was lying.
Certainly, senior members of the Gurdjieff Foundation that made efforts to popularize the revision lied about it. Clearly, they had to. The idea that Gurdjieff spent decades of his life writing an objective work of literature down to the level of having it read to audiences, observing their reactions and adjust the text, and then later decided that a motley bunch of translators from the UK and American Gurdjieff Foundation working with the French text (a version that was obviously created for French readers) would improve the book is patently absurd. They could do nothing but damage.
The suspicion that the Gurdjieff Foundation was trying to “take ownership” of the book seems possible on first thought, but the more you consider this idea the more absurd it is. The reception of the new version was hostile. There was outrage when it was discovered that the Foundation intended to no longer sell the true version, and to their credit, Mme Staveley’s group in Oregon immediately took over its publication.
In other words, if there was some dastardly plot, it failed quite spectacularly, to the extent that the revised version was withdrawn from publication.
So let us return to the idea that Gurdjieff ordered the revision. By 1992, over 40 years after Gurdjieff’s death, his pupils of the first rank were also gradually dying off, leaving fewer and fewer people who could claim to be teachers of the first rank. It was also clear that the pupils of the first rank were not putting others in their place. The work was weakening and, Gurdjieff in conversation with Solange Claustre had said that he expected it to last only four generations, after which its force would be lost.
The future of the Work, if it had any, depended on the Movements, The Tales and Objective Science. So it is possible that Gurdjieff did indeed command Mme de Salzmann to revise The Tales, with the express purpose of giving a shock to everyone in the Work, and particularly to those who respected his writings. This stands a chance of being true—in fact, it feels very Gurdjieffian.
Incidentally, should anyone who reads this not realize that the revision of The Tales is a damaged work, let them consider the following two excerpts, relating to the Transcaucasian Kurd (p21) :
But our Kurd replied: “No, for nothing on Earth will I stop. Didn’t I pay my last two cents for them? Even if my soul departs from my body I shall still go on eating.”
In the revision p(21) it reads:
But our Kurd replied “No, for nothing on Earth will I stop. Didn’t I pay my last six coppers for them? Even if my soul departs from my body, I will go on eating.”
The two cents, as some of you will realize, is a Biblical reference from the New Testament to the widow who put her last two mites into the treasury. This is where the term two cents originates.
The term “six coppers” means nothing at all to English readers.
Click here for the previous article in this series