8 – The Destruction of the Very Saintly Labors….

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.

The Apologists

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.


6 Responses to 8 – The Destruction of the Very Saintly Labors….

  1. It is still inexplicable to me that certain senior members of the Foundations and the London Gurdjieff Society were bamboozled into supporting this travestry of a ‘revision’, I having been myself a member of the Society for more than 40 years…I can only assume out of blind obedience to Madame de Salzmann

    • I prefer not to “second guess” the rationale for the 1992 version. It could even be the case that Gurdjieff really did ask Madame de Salzmann to create the “revision” to act as a shock. It requires more-than-a-cursory investigation of the text of the “revision” to demonstrate that it should be discarded and ignored. An interesting outcome of such an analysis is that it brings the French version into question. Gurdjieff oversaw the completion of the English and German versions only – and, it appears from Louise March’s account, that the German version was directly based on the English version.
      I’m not sure, by the way, that Salzmanino is a deliberate reference to Madame de Salzmann. Etymologically it breaks down into “salt (German) man (English) little (Italian)” which could equally be a reference to his and her son, Michel de Salzmann or perhaps it simply means “man of little salt.”
      As for those who supported the “revision,” all they did was demonstrate their lack of understanding of the book.

  2. Re Mdm. DeSalzmann:

    I’m reminded of an old saying, which says more or less: “A water conduit does not itself drink, but it may convey water to the thirsty.”

  3. Could somebody explain what happened with original text written in Russian? Being Russian and reading English version I see a lot of controvercy in translation. Thus book goes yo the history but not as far as explaining where is the original. Russian version I obtained is presented as “translation”. It makes little sense to translate in this case unless the original was lost or intentionally withdrawn.

    • As I understand it – I do not know for sure – there are some original Russian typed manuscripts. But I have not been able to get copies or to know for sure that they are authentic, or even what they represent – they could be “work in progress.”

      They might be useful to a Russian reader, if you can lay your hands on them. (I cannot help you in this.)

      However, it is important to understand that the English (and German) versions were written as objective for the English (or German) reader. They are not in my opinion translations in the usual sense of the word. This is clear from the choice of words, if you dig deep enough. Gurdjieff chose the English words. It is clear in many instances that Orage (or Jane Heap) could not have chosen the words.

      The books were written philologically, as Gurdjieff states.

      • Hi, I found the “original” Russian text. The difference between. two Russian versions is very big. As it is often the case for back translations. This version makes much more sense too Andreas like literature actually. Meaning long windy sentences are normal for Russian writing. Just has to be a right order of words and proper logical links between parts. The “original” got that “naitive” Russian style. The translation did not. I was recently involved with a “special type of reading” when every word was described and explained with help of dictionaries. It felt like taking a toy and dismantling it into small parts in order to understand how it works – the functionality is destroed, only pieces are left. No content. For that “type” of reading language of the original is very important. There is no place for discussion left. It has to be English. Otherwise how all these pieces from English dictionary work to deliver the magical sense? I am not that type of reader. I need the toy as a whole, with its functionality. So language of the original is not that important for me at the end Still in content there is a lot of domestic Caucasian references. So “transcocasian Kurd” in Russian has daily familiarity as that is the word people use routinely “zakavkazskij”, in English you need a dictionary. Funny when people are so obsessed with own secondary “knowledge” coming from English dictionaries that refuse the simple primary one – how it feels after a hot day sleeping on a flat roof in that part of the Universe.

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