G. I. Gurdjieff

Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’ has a different character to the First Series, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, which has a dense writing style that intentionally employs the grammar of associations in order to pepper the reader with perspectives. The Tales is a critique of Man that presents him (and hence you the reader) in a very unflattering light. His intention with the First series was to destroy our comforting illusions about ourselves and our species.

It also has a different character to the Second Series, Meetings With Remarkable which has an uncomplicated writing style, well-suited to allegorical material. It is not much different from the storytelling of The One Thousand and One Nights (The Arabian Nights). Because it is so easy to read (in the first way – as you would read any of your newspapers or magazines) many readers simply take it to be an imaginative autobiography. It is not. It is a complex series of allegories by which Gurdjieff passes on invaluable information to those who wish to Work on themselves. It needs to be read both in the second and third way that Gurdjieff recommends.

Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’ is similar in that respect. It needs to be read in all three ways. Gurdjieff’s makes this quite clear when he advises: “Read each of my written expositions thrice,” at the beginning of The FIrst Series.

He declares the intention of The Third Series to be: 

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

His effort to do this is (in my view) a literary coup. He writes from his inner world in the sense that the words on the page appear to come directly from his inner world. In a way, it could be compared to parts of James Joyce’s Ulysses with its inner monologues and stream of consciousness narration, or to William Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury. However, in my view, that would be to trivialize it – because, in my view, he narrates an accurate representation of the Inner World. And he does this while providing a deep and thought-provoking allegory of meetings with the Orage Group in New York.

About that it could be said that one very productive way of pondering it is to think of it as describing the cosmos of the Gurdjieff Group and the need for Gurdjieff to provoke struggle within it — a profound theatrical display in which Orage was a willing and courageous participant.