Intimate Portrait of Gurdjieff
samedi 25 octobre 2003 par herve
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Souvenirs sur G.I Gurdjieff
- Editions L’Originel
In the past critics have lamented that extant books on Gurdjieff fail to give readers a sense of the man as a man while exposing him as a magician-sage. Tchesslav Tchechovitch has now filled the gap. His is an extraordinary intimate portrait of Gurdjieff the storyteller, doctor, psychologist, businessman, teacher, financial advisor and friend whose generosity of spirit is beyond the author’s measure.
Tchesslav, a Pole, was born in Russia in 1895, served as an officer in the Tsar’s Imperial Army during World War I, deserted during the Bolshevik uprising, and made his way to Constantinople where he came under the influence of Ouspensky, who introduced him to Gurdjieff. From that moment in 1921, he was a regular visitor at 35, rue Iemenedji in Constantinople, and became close friend as well as pupil there, and later in Berlin, Paris and the Prieuré. He was a member of Gurdjieff’s troupe in the United States in 1924, and one of a small number of pupils who listened to Gurdjieff during the German Occupation. He was at Gurdjieff’s side when he died at the American Hospital in Paris.
In the years following Gurdjieff’s death, Tchesslav, living and working first in Paris and later in Formentera where he retired, wrote and rewrote his memories of Gurdjieff. Several years after his own death his memoirs were found in the attic of his small house there by a friend Michel Kalt who prepared this edition. The memoirs are a series of anecdotes, scenes from events in all those places he resided with Gurdjieff, interspersed with brief recollections of his own life. He was a prestidigitator, a circus strong man and a champion wrestler in his youth, and an accomplished dancer in Gurdjieff’s troupe. I remember well his powerful frame and manner when I worked with him in Gurdjieff’s kitchen at 6, rue des Colonels Renard.
Despite his personal talents, his memoirs are distinct from those of Bennett, Nott, Peters and others by an absence of displays of ego. Tchesslav has neither ax to grind nor personal relationship with Gurdjieff to glorify. He describes what he experienced and what was experienced by others. He was just one of many friends of Gurdjieff, for, as he makes quite clear, Gurdjieff considered everyone a friend until betrayed, as Frank Pinder and Gurdjieff’s Prieuré business manager did (neither name is given). In such cases, and there are many, Gurdjieff habitually took "revenge" by shaming his adversaries into self-consciousness with generosity. If it is a virtue not "to hit a man when he is down," Gurdjieff had the greater virtue of lifting him up.
Tchesslav’s perspective is that of a close associate, one who shared language and similar traits of cultural experiences with Gurdjieff. Do not expect to find names of familiar figures in the Gurdjieff orbit here. He recalls a brief and moving association with Katherine Mansfield and mentions Orage once, in relation to the organizations of demonstrations in the Untied States.
His perspective is focused on Gurdjieff and his family circle. As were others who had been with Gurdjieff before arriving in France, he was an intimate within that circle, and his anecdotes are replete with personal details about Gurdjieff, his blood and extended family I had neither heard nor read before.
With both warmth and humor he recalls Gurdjieff’s painful recovery from his 1924 accident, Gurdjieff’s direction of the construction of the Study House and the baths. Finally, the identity of the worker who fell asleep balanced perilously on a high beam in the Study House is revealed : it was Tchesslav.
More significant for followers of Gurdjieff’s ideas are the talks Tchesslav recalls verbatim, many in response to his own questions. Gurdjieff’s argument that all "religions" are different expressions of one Religion is plainly rendered. Tchesslav exposes Gurdjieff’s methods of thinning an audience to a core who are able to understand and respond to his words. He relates succinctly Gurdjieff’s explanation of the difference between subjective art that is decorative and objective art whose content has the value of meaning.
What Tchesslav’s recollections tell us of Gurdjieff is his embodiment, enactment and transmission of Love. Gurdjieff taught him that man must work on himself to be able to love, and Tchesslav characterizes that love in almost every anecdote he tells.
In short, this is an extremely interesting and pleasant book to read.
Paul Taylor, Switzerland 2003-10-10
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