MEETINGS WITH REMARKABLE MEN -
G I GURDJIEFF
"They open doorways that I thought were shut for good, they read me Gurdjieff and Jesu. They build up my body, break me emotionally, it's nearly killing me but what a lovely feeling. I love the whirling of the dervishes, I love the beauty of rare innocence. You don't need no crystal ball, don't fall for a magic wand, we humans got it all, we perform the miracles.
Them heavy people hit me in a soft spot, them heavy people help me. Rolling the ball, to me."
So it was that I was first introduced to Gurdjieff - via a Kate Bush song. I was just naturally curious and on hearing his name mentioned I wondered who he was? There was no Internet in those days, however, (can you imagine?) so it wasn't just a question of a quick Google search. No, for anything like this it required a bit of research and a bit of effort.
He liked his drink, did Gurdjieff, particularly armagnacs which he would sink by the bottle. In fact, Meetings With Remarkable Men starts with him gleefully contemplating the 200 bottles sitting in the wine-cellar of the house where he's resting. He intends to have the lot and not from typical liqueur glasses but from larger-sized tumblers, with the intention of establishing a rhythm of thinking to enable him to wiseacre in full blast.
Gurdjieff didn't half go on sometimes though, as evidenced by the 31 pages-long introduction from him at the start of his book which leaves you wondering why he didn't edit it down a bit and just get on with it.
So what do we know about Gurdjieff? Well, that he was born in Russia in 1877 where he trained as a priest and a physician before heading off for the remoter parts of Central Asia for 20 years in a bid to understand the meaning of human life. Like the prodigal son he then returned to Moscow where he began teaching his system of knowledge. On his escape from revolutionary Russia (or the time of 'the great agitation of minds', as he puts it) he ended up in Paris where he established his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. Gurdjieff passed away in 1949.
Meetings With Remarkable Men is exactly what it says on the can, describing and telling stories of the men who helped shape Gurdjieff's philosophy. And what exactly is Gurdjieff's philosophy? Now, that is the question.
What Gurdjieff seems to be telling us is that there's more to life than meets the eye. That there's another world alongside our own that the old philosophers of the East still recall but that us in the West have all but forgotten about. The gist of his message is that we need to wake up and become aware of this 'something other'. Either that or if we don't then we'll continue to slumber through life like automatons.
And what don't we know about Gurdjieff? Well, the main thing is that we don't actually know if he was genuine or if he was simply a liar, a fantasist and a con man.
'My aim is that the reader should obtain instructive and really useful material', he writes. I regret to inform you, however, that Gurdjieff provides neither or not in this particular book at least. Instead, all that Meetings With Remarkable Men does is to cause the reader to question the veracity of some of the stories.
What happened, for example, to the pre-sand map of Egypt he claimed he had? What happened to the idea of discovering a city of buried treasures beneath the Gobi desert? Did he and his brotherhood really journey to the centre of the Gobi desert on stilts? Why would they abandon such an expedition upon one of them being killed by a rogue camel? And why, just as Gurdjieff is about to reveal a holy truth as told to him by one of his remarkable men does he suddenly stop and say he's not going to expound upon it now but instead save it for his next book he intends to write? Why doesn't he just get on with it?
Was Gurdjieff bonkers and seriously so? In all probability yes he was though that's not meant as a criticism. Was Gurdjieff a master of the mystic arts? I'll pass on that one because after all, who am I to judge? I never met him so all I've got to go on are his books but reading them in this day and age what with all we know about the world (and what we know that we still don't know) it would seem that you'll get just as much enlightenment from watching the latest Doctor Strange film starring Benedict Cumberbatch than from reading Meetings With Remarkable Men.