Notes on the 1992 Revision of The Tales

The Revision of The Tales

[An Excerpt from To Fathom The Gist, Vol 2 – The Arch Absurd]

The Use of Quotes

Gurdjieff uses quotation marks to emphasize a word, in the expectation that the reader will pay specific attention to it. His use of this tactic is extensive and we suspect he gave considerable thought to the activity— putting himself “in the shoes of the reader.” We can think of his use of quotes as entirely distinct to adding an initial capital letter to a word, which generally signifies a “heightened” meaning.

As a literary technique, the use of quotes suggests to the reader that they contemplate the meaning of the specific word or phrase, because it has a non-standard meaning. Sometimes referred to as “scare quotes,” the use of such punctuation may imply irony (e.g. this modern-day “marvel”—to denote something that is unimpressive), it may imply variation of meaning (e.g. the Emperor had 100 “wives”), or it may imply skepticism, or at least, a kind of distancing (e.g. Georgia’s “130 year old” citizen).

It has become our habit in reading The Tales to pay close attention to Gurdjieff’s use of quotes and, in addition to other possibilities, consider whether the word in quotes is being used in a symbolic manner rather than (or as well as) in a literal manner. We also pay additional attention to the etymology of such words.

Consider the following example from Chapter 15, The First Descent of Beelzebub upon the Planet Earth:

“Not only did King Appolis not fly into a temper, as usually happens on the planet Earth when somebody pokes his nose where he has no business, nor did he pitch him out by the scruff of his neck, but he even talked it over with him and discussed the reasons for his ‘severity.’

In The Revision the text is as follows:

“The king did not fly into a temper, as usually happens on the planet Earth when somebody pokes his nose into what is none of his business, nor did he have him thrown out by the scruff of his neck. Instead he even discussed the whole question with him and explained the reasons for his severity.

The revisers do not appear to have considered Gurdjieff ’s quotes to have any function here. Nevertheless the very placing of these quotes caused us to wonder “What kind of severity is meant here?” As this tale of King Appolis progresses, it becomes obvious that his “severity” for ruling his people was actually the application of intelligence.

We may have gathered this when we encountered the nickname “the Arch-cunning” his people gave him, if we had looked into the etymology of “cunning.” This word derives from the Old English cunnan, which means “to know.” Its original meaning was “learned or skillful,” with the sense of “skillfully deceitful” being added within a century of the emergence of the word.

Nowadays the word “severity” carries the implication of harshness as well as strictness. Its etymology is from the Latin severus meaning “stern, strict, serious,” the idea of “harshness” being added later.

The etymology provides us with a clearer picture. If we consider the tale of King Appolis to be an allegory and we wish to rule our inner world in a manner similar to King Appolis’ cunning rule, we have food for thought.

Now consider the following three paragraphs written by Gurdjieff which discuss King Konuzion’s “religious doctrine” about “Mister God”:

“I must tell you that in those days not one of the ordinary beings knew that, besides their planet Earth, other cosmic concentrations existed.

“The beings of the planet Earth of those days were even certain that the scarcely visible ‘white-points’ far away in space were nothing more than the pattern on the ‘veil’ of the ‘world,’ that is to say, just of their planet; as, in their notions then, the ‘whole-world’ consisted, as I have said, of their planet alone.

“They were also convinced that this veil was supported like a canopy on special pillars, the ends of which rested on their planet.

The meaning of the quoted words is fairly clear in this. In hyphenating and wrapping “white-points” in quotes, the text suggests that stars can be conceptualized as white points. The words “veil” and “world” also imply conceptually that their concept of “world” admitted the possibility of it having a covering “veil.” Etymologically the word “veil” derives, via French, from the Latin velum, which means “membrane.” The use of hyphenation and quotes for “whole-world” implies the extent of the concept of the Megalocosmos in the minds of King Konuzion’s subjects.

In The Revision, the same paragraphs are joined into a single paragraph, as follows:

“You must know that in those days not one of the ordinary beings was aware of the existence of any cosmic concentrations other than their own planet Earth. They were certain that the scarcely visible ‘white points’ far away in space were nothing more than the pattern on the ‘veil of the world,’ that is to say, of their planet; for in their notions the ‘whole world’ consisted, as I have just said, of their planet alone. They also believed that this ‘veil’ was supported like a ‘canopy’ on special ‘pillars,’ the bases of which rested on their planet.

The main difference here, in respect of quote usage, is that the second mention of the word “veil” is wrapped in quotes, as are the words “canopy” and “pillars.” We can think of no good reason to do that. Gurdjieff often puts the first mention of a word in quotes and then subsequently leaves it unquoted, as he does here. Given Gurdjieff’s text, we can think of no reason why there could be any need to apply quotes to these three words.

When comparing The Revision with the original on a paragraph by paragraph basis, one sometimes encounters examples that provoke one to wonder whether the revisers were implementing any policy at all in respect of quote usage. Consider the following example. The original text from Chapter 39, The Holy Planet Purgatory, reads as follows:

“In certain of the beings there, particularly of recent times, their being-Aimnophnian-mentation or perceptible logic has already become such that they can very clearly see this same ‘God’ of theirs in their picturings, almost with a comb sticking out of his left vest pocket, with which he sometimes combs his famous beard.

In The Revision the same paragraph reads:

“In some of the beings there, particularly of recent times, their ‘aimnophnian being-mentation,’ or ‘perceptive logic,’ has deteriorated to such a point that in their picturings they can see this God of theirs very clearly, with a little comb sticking out of His left vest pocket, with which He sometimes combs His famous beard.

It seems sensible to wrap quotes around “aimnophnian being-mentation,” given that it has not been fully hyphenated, to indicate that it comprises a single unit of meaning, but why are there quotes around “perceptive logic?” And we may also wonder why, where Gurdjieff wraps “God” in quotes, the revisers chose not to do so, but added initial capitals for “His” and “He.”

In general, Gurdjieff uses full capitalization for every direct mention of GOD, uses all lower-case for metaphorical mentions of “god” that engender no respect (as in “their inner ‘evil god self-calming’) and tends to use God to denote human conceptions of God, which may be naive or misdirected, but are nevertheless real. In this instance his use of quotes is clearly ironic and he does not capitalize He and His for the same reason. The Revision accords the same respect to this comic picture of God as to more exalted mentions of God.

By ignoring the full capitalization of references to GOD the revisers had less choice in how to treat each use of the word. In this example, they simply chose not to indicate the ironic meaning that the paragraph clearly conveys. But why?

In trying to understand the activities of the revisers, it can help to refer to the French text of The Tales. It is not always but very often the case that the revisers chose to use quotes in situations where the French version of The Tales uses quotes. We provide the French text of the previously quoted paragraph below:

Chez certains êtres de là-bas, surtout pendant les dernier temps, le « penser étrique finophnien », ou « logique sensitive » a tellement dégénéré que, dans la représentation qu’ils se font de leur Dieu, ils le voient très clairement avec un petit peigne, sortant de sa pochette gauche et dont il se sert parfois por peigner sa fameuse barbe.

As can be seen, both “penser étrique finophnien” and “logique sensitive” are enclosed in French-style quotes and Dieu is not.

The revisers may be making the assumption that French and English style and typography are equivalent and can be translated “symbol for symbol,” although anyone skilled in translation between the two languages would know that this is not at all the case. One gets the distinct impression that The Revision has been produced in accordance with French punctuation and typographical style. If so, this is amateurish and entirely inappropriate.