Gurdjieff in pensive mood.

In his excellent book, Heart Without Measure, Ravi Ravindra writes:

“Madame de Salzmann told of an incident, late in Gurdjieff’s life, when she came upon him in a place in Switzerland. He was sitting, looking very sad and discouraged. She asked him: “Are you discouraged because we are not working hard enough? Is there something we don’t do?” With great feeling, he described his sadness as he conveyed to her the immense distance between what was needed and what was being done. He felt compassion for his pupils, as well as his inability to do it for them. Then he waved to her to go and play the piano.”

Gurdjieff is the definition of enigmatic. He cannot be evaluated in the way one might try to evaluate other notable human beings. He never, as far as we know, told anyone in any detail about what he was trying to achieve and how he intended to proceed. Many of his skills were never passed on. Who now, for example, is capable of creating a new Movement? Who has his language skills or his philology skills? Who actually understands the objective science he taught?

The Enigma of Life is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’

Putting those aspects of Gurdjieff aside, we run straight into his writings which appear deliberately designed to confuse. And let’s simply ignore all the neologisms and invented words and the confusing style, and nevertheless, we are planted firmly into galoshes right on the first few pages of The Tales, with the words:

FIRST SERIES: Three books under the title of “An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man,” or, “Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson.”

Yes, indeed, there are three books.

SECOND SERIES: Three books under the common title of “Meetings with Remarkable Men.”

Well, not exactly. There’s only one book as such, although, if you want to, you can segment it into three parts, and pretend there are three books – even if it feels completely arbitrary to do so.

THIRD SERIES: Four books under the common title of “Life is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am.’”

There are not four books. True, he seems to promise what might be four books in the chapters Ekim Bey, Piotr Karpenko and Professor Skridlov of Meetings With Remarkable Men. They are nowhere to be found in the 177 pages of  Life is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am.’ And what is worse, it seems as though that book has not even been assembled correctly.

In our study group for this book, one of the participants suggested that the first 56 pages labeled The Prologue should actually be inserted after the five New York talks and before the final chapter entitled The Outer and Inner World of Man. And maybe it should. It certainly feels like it’s in the wrong place.

And this Third Series, in case you have forgotten, has the purpose – in his words:

To assist the arising, in the mentation and in the feelings of the reader, of a veritable, non-fantastic representation not of that illusory world which he now perceives but of the world existing in reality.

The text of the Third Series is, in my view, well written and, it seems, written by Gurdjieff from the perspective of his inner world. As such, it can have great value for the reader, but once you reach its final page, the mystery remains.  Where are the other promised volumes? I can think of no answers to this. And part of me thinks that this unfinished symphony is something that we are somehow supposed to complete ourselves. But if that is so, I have no idea even where to start.