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]

Destructive Change

Some of the changes the revisers made are more destructive than others. Some of them make the text less accessible or harder to fathom, while some of them would lead to the destruction of a small part of Gurdjieff’s work if his original text were lost. These are the most serious errors that the revisers made.

Consider this example. In Gurdjieff ’s “friendly advice” at the beginning of the book, Gurdjieff advises the reader to “try and fathom the gist” when reading “thirdly.” In The Revision this reads as follows

I find it necessary on the first page of this book, now ready for publication, to give the following advice
“Read each of my written expositions thrice
First—at least as you have already become mechanized to read all your contemporary books and newspapers,
Second—as if you were reading aloud to another person, And only third—try to fathom the gist of my writings.
Only then will you be able to count upon forming your own impartial judgment, proper to yourself alone, on my writings And only then can my hope be actualized that according to your understanding you will obtain the specific benefit for yourself which I anticipate, and which I wish for you with all my being.

We could quibble here about the dropping of the adverbs “firstly,” “secondly,” and “thirdly.” Our understanding is that the book be read in three different ways rather than three times. But the more disturbing change is in replacing “try and fathom” with “try to fathom.” Without the presence of the “and,” the reader is unlikely to consider the meaning of the word “try.” He will not think to “sit in judgment over” and “wrap his arms around.”

Another example of destructive change is The Revision’s use of the words “six coppers.” In the story of the Transcaucasian Kurd we noted that when the Kurd asked the price of the fruit, the shopkeeper replies “that a pound of the ‘fruit’ would cost two cents.”

In The Revision this reads:

The shopkeeper replied that a pound of the fruit cost six coppers.

This is a bewildering error, as there is no reference in this that might point the reader either to The Widow’s Offering—Luke. 21.1-4 (two cents) or to The Honest Blacksmith (six groshen). Incidentally, it is only The Revision that gets this wrong. The French text is similar to the German text. It reads:

Celui-ci répondit qu’ils coûtaient six groshes la livre.

Deep into Chapter 42, Beelzebub in America, we encounter the story of the fasting of Russian Orthodox Christians during Lent. It is an intriguing section in which the Russian Orthodox Christian pays tribute to the tasty fish that are eaten during the fasting period. Gurdjieff writes as follows:

“During fasts and especially during Lent, our homes are made happy by the frequent visits of the:
Most Honorable ‘Sturgeon’ and the Estimable ‘Sterlet’ and the Respected ‘Dried Sturgeon’ and the Ever-memorable ‘Turbot’ and Her Illustrious Highness The ‘Salmon’ and the Musical ‘White Sturgeon’ and the Serenely Plastic ‘Mackerel’ and the
Eternally Angry ‘Pike’ and the Ever-demure ‘Gwyniad’ and the Leaping-alive ‘Trout’ and the Beauty ‘Trioshka’ and the Proud ‘Shamai’ and that Worthy Personality ‘Bream,’ and all our other like benefactors and protectors.

The Revision chooses to change the species of some of these fish. It reads:

“During fasts, and especially during Lent, our homes are gladdened by the frequent visits of the:
Most Honorable Sturgeon and the Estimable Sterlet and the Respected Sole and the Ever-memorable Turbot and
Her Serene Highness the Salmon and the Musical Tench and the Always-supple Mackerel and the Eternally Angry Pike and the Sanctimonious Carp and the Lively Trout and the Superb Whitefish and the Proud Herring and that Powerful Personality the Bream, and all our other benefactors and protectors

Two things we note are: that the quotes have disappeared, and the fish chosen for this list are closer, but not identical to, those in the French version of The Tales. That list is as follows:

Vénérable Esturgeon et de L’honorable Sterlet et de
La respectable Sole et de L’inoubliable Turbot et de
Son Excellence le Saumon et de La musicale Tanche et de
La tendrement plastique Perche et de L’irascible Brochet et de
La Sainte Nitouche de Carp et de
La frétilleante Truite et du
Superbe Merlan et du
Fier Hareng et de
La Brème à la puissante personnalité . . .

For some reason The Revision prefers Mackerel to Perch and prefers to refer to the Merlan (Whiting) as Whitefish. Whitefish is not a species of fish but a fisheries term that covers several species of sea fish, and hence it is a very poor choice of word—in fact, wrong. The Herring and Shamai are not the same fish, Shamai being a fish of the Caspian and Black Sea (alburnus chalcoides).

Gurdjieff’s list appears to be primarily of Russian fish, although in different language versions of The Tales (English, German and French) the list varies, apparently to suit the language of the reader. The Revision’s mixed list of fish appears to be a cross-breed.

Incidentally, the list of fish is quite likely a list of the “idiots” that Gurdjieff ritually toasted for years at his meals. If so, then the correspondence is as follows:
Most honorable Sturgeon—Ordinary Idiot
Estimable Sterlet—Super Idiot
Respected Dried Sturgeon—Arch Idiot
Ever memorable Turbot—Hopeless Idiot
Her illustrious Highness Salmon—Compassionate Idiot Musical White Sturgeon—Squirming Idiot
Serenely Plastic Mackerel—Square Idiot
Eternally angry Pike—Round Idiot
Ever-demure Gwyniad—Zigzag Idiot
Leaping-alive Trout—Enlightened Idiot
Beauty Trioshka—Doubting Idiot
Proud Shamai—Swaggering Idiot
Worthy Personality Bream—Born Idiot

We leave it to the reader to ascertain whether each of these fish, as described, corresponds to the idiot with which it is listed. The changes made by The Revision obscure any intended meaning.

A final example of destructive change can be found near the beginning of Chapter 27, The Organization for Man’s Existence Created by the Very Saintly Ashiata Shiemash, Gurdjieff writes:

“According to my latest investigations, when, in all the separate spiritualized parts of the common presences of these two three- brained beings of that period, Poundolero and Sensimiriniko, there arose and was continuously sensed the suspicion, which later became a conviction, that, owing to some obviously non-lawful causes, ‘something-very-undesirable’ for them personally had been acquired and had begun to function in their general organization and that at the same time it was possible for this something-very- undesirable to be removed from themselves by means of their own data within themselves, they then sought several other beings like themselves who were striving for this same aim, in order together to try to achieve the removal from themselves of this said something-very-undesirable.

The Revision reads:

“My further exhaustive investigations showed that in all the separate spiritualized parts of the common presences of both of these three-brained beings, Poundoliro and Sensiminiriko, there arose and was continuously sensed the suspicion, which later became a conviction, that owing to some obviously nonlawful causes, ‘something very undesirable’ for them had been acquired and was functioning in their general organization and that, moreover, it was impossible for this very ‘undesirable something’ to be removed simply by means of the data present within them. They therefore decided to seek out some other beings like themselves who were striving for the same aim, so that they could try together to rid themselves of this very ‘undesirable something.’

In this paragraph, by changing the word “possible” to “impossible,” the revisers chose to reverse the meaning of a sentence entirely. Changed in this way, the text doesn’t make logical sense at all. It suggests that Poundolero and Sensimiriniko became convinced that they had acquired ‘something very undesirable’ and that it was impossible for it to be removed by data present within them. Consequently, the text states, they sought others like themselves who were striving to get rid of this ‘something-very-undesirable.’ Logically, if these others were just like them, then they wouldn’t have any data within them for getting rid of the ‘something-very-undesirable’ either, so there would be little point in seeking them out. Naturally there would be some point in seeking them out if it were “possible for this something- very-undesirable to be removed from themselves by means of their own data within themselves” because they could then work together as a group.

At first sight this revision is bewildering. It almost forces one to wonder how anyone could make such a change. The answer to this is, in fact, simple. The revisers didn’t make this change, they simply copied it from the French version of The Tales. In that version the text reads as follows:

Selon mes recherches ultérieures approfondies, chez ces deux êtres tri-cérébraux de là-bas, Pandoliro et Sensimiriniko, avait surgi, et se faisait sans cesse ressentir dans toutes les parties distinctes déjà spiritualisées de leur présence intégrale, le soupçon que leur organisation générale avait acquis, pour certaines raisons évidemment non conformes aux lois, « quelque chose de fort indésirable » pour eux – et, ce soupçon se transformant bientôt en conviction, ils virent en même temps qu’il leur était impossible de se défaire de ce « quelque chose de fort indésirable » qui s’était mis à fonctionner en eux, au moyen de leurs seules données intérieures; ils résolurent alors de chercher parmi leurs semblables quelques autres êtres animes des mêmes intentions et de mettre en commun leurs efforts en vue de parvenir à se d’ébarrasser de cette « chose fort indésirable ».

This evidence suggests that if any version of The Tales was in need of revision, it was the French version.