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]
In Chapter 42, Beelzebub in America, Gurdjieff describes Beelzebub’s visit to the kitchen of an American restaurant to observe its operation with the following words:
“Then in the same way he went over to another cupboard and again took out a tin of some canned food, but this time he put only a little of the contents into the frying pan and, having stirred the resulting mixture, he put the whole lot with precision on a plate which he set on the table and again sat down in his former place and resumed the interrupted reading of his newspaper.
“The waiter who had ordered this ‘fancy dish’ soon returned to the kitchen bearing a very large what is called ‘copper’ tray on which were a vast quantity of hollow metal what is called fashionable cutlery and, having placed the dish with this strange food on the said tray, he carried the whole into the restaurant.
In The Revision, we read:
“Then in the same way he went over to another cupboard and took out another can of food, but this time he poured only a little of the contents into the frying pan and, having stirred the resulting mixture, he arranged the whole lot with precision on a plate which he set on the table, and again sat down in his former place and resumed the interrupted reading of his newspaper.
“This bull-necked cook carried out the whole procedure with the most complete indifference, like a real automaton, it was visible from his movements that his thoughts were far away, doubtless where the events described by that American newspaper were taking place.
“The waiter who had ordered this fancy dish soon came back to the kitchen bearing a very large copper tray on which were laid out a vast quantity of what is called ‘fashionable cutlery’ made of hollow metal and, having set the plate with this strange food on the tray, he carried the whole thing into the restaurant.
Clearly an extra paragraph has found its way into the text. Gurdjieff describes the cook as “fat-necked” not “bull-necked.” The two terms are not equivalent, and we note also that the use of quotes is not identical. This extra paragraph has its genesis in the French version of The Tales, where the text reads:
Ce cuisinier au gros cou faisant tout cela dans la plus complète indifférence, comme un véritable automate; d’après ses mouvements, il était visible que ses pensées planaient au loin, sans doute dans les endroits où se déroulaient les événements décrits dans ce journal américain.
What we do not know for sure is the provenance of this paragraph. The extent of Gurdjieff ’s involvement in the French version is itself difficult to know. We know that Mme. de Salzmann was working on the French version when Louise March began work on the German version in 1929. While there are abundant examples of letters Gurdjieff hand wrote in English, there are none we know of written in French. Gurdjieff had no French pupils who could read the book until the late thirties, when Georgette Le Blanc and then René Daumal encountered him.
This paragraph in The Revision does not read like something Gurdjieff has written. However, it may be that the whole of the French version does not read as it would if Gurdjieff had closely supervised its production. Translations from it have an awkward “feel” to them.