It was 1992. I remember it well, at the Barn with Rina’s crowd and discussing the sudden emergence of a completely new version of The Tales. My memory is that nobody bought it; neither the idea of a revision, nor the book itself. The very suggestion that Gurdjieff’s masterpiece could be improved upon seemed utterly absurd.
It wasn’t long before Madame Staveley’s public letter fell into our hands. If that letter had not been written, I guess we’d have had to buy a copy of the book and investigate for ourselves. But there was enough in the Staveley letter to persuade most of us not to spend any time with this “brazen counterfeit” of The Tales.
There were some apologists. Rina’s Northern Group (the one I felt a part of) was of one mind, but her Southern Group was less so. Some of the older members were strongly affiliated with or at least psychologically attached to the Gurdjieff Foundation. They became apologists. They invented or borrowed reasons to justify the indefensible.
“The new version was done so that Gurdjieff’s family could continue to receive a royalty stream from the publishing company.”
“It was a less difficult version.”
“Gurdjieff asked that it be done.”
“Madame de Salzmann would never betray the work. It has her seal of approval.”
“It’s closer to the original Russian version.” (There was no original Russian version.)
The apologists evoked Nietzsche’s sorry cri de coeur: “I sought great human beings, but I found only the Apes of their ideals.
It was a sobering moment, and it remains a sobering moment. The 1992 version of The Tales was truly awful, and it still is – and yet senior people in The Work participated in a publicity push for it. Two recordings were made of full readings of the Counterfeit. For a while, until Two Rivers fixed the problem, you could not get a copy of the genuine version of The Tales.
It is hard to believe that so many people, some of whom were direct pupils of Gurdjieff, would conspire to try to destroy Gurdjieff’s objective work of art. And yet, wittingly or unwittingly, they did.
Letting It Pass
But we can let it pass. Few people take the 1992 version of The Tales seriously any more. The apologists have passed on and the damage has been repaired. There may even be a beneficial side to this. Now that the meaning of The Tales is becoming increasingly accessible, and it is clear what damage bad translation can inflict, it’s possible that there will be revisions to the poorly translated versions of The Tales: The French, The Russian, The Spanish, The Italian, etc.
That would be an excellent outcome.