Monday, 16 May 2016

GI Gurdjieff - The war against sleep by Colin Wilson (1986)

I came across the work of Gurdjieff through the books of Colin Wilson - and I was particularly captivated by the idea of self-remembering which is the term for theose moments when we are aware of Me! Here! Now!

But beyond my secondhand acquaintance via Wilson, I made no further progress with Gurdjieff; indeed quite the reverse. I found his books (and those of Ouspensky, his most famous disciple) completely unreadable, to the point that I could not progress more than a few sentences before being paralyzed with demotivation.

When a movie was produced of Meetings with Remarkable Men in 1979, I was very eager to see it (easier to watch a movie than read a book, I thought) - but did not get the opportunity until the next summer when I was in Toronto, Canada. To say the film was a disappointment is an understatement - it was perhaps the most forgettable and under-whelming couple of hours I have ever spent at the movies; I remember literally nothing about it except a picture of a desert mountainside, and the sense of disappointment afterwards.

(Of course, the movie was directed by Peter Brook, who was one of the most-over-rated, pretentious, boring and hollow theatre/ film directors of all time - so realistically I should not have expected otherwise.)

When Colin Wilson wrote a biography of Gurdjieff in 1986 I was keen - finally - to get to grips with Gurdjieff; perhaps find the key to understanding him? The books is good, as a book - this was a period when everything Wilson wrote was worth reading. But the man himself...

Gurdjieff comes across as a psychopath - much on the lines of another author of that ilk, Carlos Castaneda. In other words; manipulative, impulsive, selfish, abusive, sadistic and quite staggeringly dishonest. Like Castaneda he was wildly evasive and self-contradictory about his place of birth and even his date of birth/ age, so nobody could check even the basic facts about his tall tales.

Of course, Gurdjieff was not just a psychopath - in the sense that he also had talent, intelligence, insights and a massive charismatic charm - so he did have some interesting things to say. But his literary abilities and powers of explanation seemed negative rather than positive - so almost everything written about him and his views come from disciples, acolytes and other admirers.

Furthermore, at the end of the day everything Gurdjieff proposed was merely 'therapy' - it was about feeling better, feeling more alive, having more energy and being more effective. This is fine, so far as it goes - but it does not go far enough. And in the end usually does more harm than good and subverts itself as being merely a transient and subjective psychotherapy.

Gurdjieff had no religious vision, and provided no transcending sense of purpose. He was, therefore, a prescursor of the more dangerous, exploitative and self-serving type of 'sixties cultist or New Age guru.

But well worth reading about - especially when Wilson is on hand to extract the nuggets of wisdom from the sensational and scandalous life story (if you can believe it all - which I don't).