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 Revision’s Sleeve Notes
Remarkably, aside from the above marketing narrative, very few words have been written in justification for the revising of The Tales. The following brief notes appear on the dust jacket of The Revision:
Beelzebub’s Tales is an “ocean of story” and of ideas that one can explore for a lifetime. It is majestic in scale and content, challengingly inventive in prose style, and, for those very reasons, often approached with apprehension. The first English language edition of the Russian original appeared in 1950. Since then, readers have recognized the need for a revised translation that would clarify the verbal surface while respecting the author’s own thought and style.
This revised edition, in preparation for many years under the direction of Gurdjieff’s closest pupil, Jeanne de Salzmann, meets this need. Originally published in 1992, this translation offers a new experience of Gurdjieff’s masterpiece for contemporary readers. It is presented in a sturdy cloth edition that echoes its original publication.
These sleeve notes march in step with the marketing narrative, inventing a “Russian original” where none exists. They conceive of some amorphous and anonymous group of readers yearning to be free of Gurdjieff ’s original work. They introduce, but fail to explain, the extraordinary concept of a “verbal surface,” implying that the words from which objective writing is carved can be swapped for others with no consequence whatsoever. The author’s thought, and even his style, are somehow “preserved in amber” rather than destroyed by this conjury.
Altogether we are blessed with a thoroughly modern reading experience; we delight in a literary masterpiece of new formation.
The irony of using the words “new formation” should not be lost, here. “New formation” indeed!
Does It Still Matter?
The ghost of Mme. de Salzmann haunts discussions about The Revision. We do not doubt that she was a remarkable woman who was devoted to The Work and who served The Work to the best of her ability. We regard her efforts to establish and manage The Gurdjieff Foundation as laudable and we regard her book, The Reality of Being as an extraordinary contribution to the literature of The Work.
Neither do we imagine that Mme. de Salzmann was perfect. It is easy, for example, to have reservations about the movie Meetings with Remarkable Men, which she took the active role in producing. While the movements demonstration at the end of the movie makes a deep impression, one does not walk away from it with a deep impression of much else. We do not think of it as an objective work of art and, as far as we know, no-one has suggested that it is.
Ultimately, when we consider her considerable contribution to The Work, we do not believe that she would deliberately damage Gurdjieff’s legacy. She claimed that Gurdjieff told her to revise the book and we prefer not to doubt her.
It has been suggested that The Revision was an attempt by Triangle Editions (its publisher) to establish a new copyright to The Tales, the original copyright having lapsed. If that was the aim then The Revision misses the mark entirely. To eclipse Gurdjieff’s original work, if possible at all, required something of far higher quality than The Revision.
The very idea of “rewriting” an objective work of literature seems insane on so many levels?
Who would entertain such a notion?
But if that was not the aim of The Revision, then what was?
The theory we suggested in To Fathom the Gist, Volume 1. was this: Gurdjieff did indeed instruct Mme. de Salzmann to create a revision of The Tales. Perhaps he even told her exactly how to go about it so that its inferior quality would be guaranteed and obvious to perceptive readers. Such a book, published decades after his death, would be a genuine shock to most people in The Work and particularly to those who cared about Gurdjieff’s writings. The existence of such an apple of discord would naturally provoke a “battle of ‘yes’ and ‘no’” within The Work which would persist for decades—and indeed it has done.
Of course, it may be that this theory is plain wrong. At best it is speculation, and perhaps it is time to ignore all such speculation. If we consider only the results of what has taken place, it doesn’t really matter who did what and why.
The only real danger posed by The Revision was that it would be treated as a legitimate text, that its poor quality would cease to be noticed and that its dominance would eventually lead to the loss of Gurdjieff ’s original text. This possibility was, in our opinion, squashed by the combination of the decision of Two Rivers Press to publish an authentic version of Gurdjieff ’s original work and the publication and wide circulation of the letters of protest.