Colombo on Kindle
National Poetry Month reading …
Beside the Point is a new compendium of the adages, aphorisms, and epigrams that were composed over a three-year period by author and editor John Robert Colombo.
Here are some two thousand short and original remarks arranged in alphabetical order by subject or topic. What these works have in common is the merit of transience: sudden insights, plays on words, linguistic lapses, philosophical inquiries, expressions of opinions, odd and irrelevant pieces of information, verbal inversions and reversals, vivid interpretations, as well as recreation of impossible schemes and imaginative ideals.
Soft cover designed by Bill Andersen. 6×9 inches, 298 pages, ISBN-10 1-894540-86-7. $35
Here for Now is a new collection of close to two hundred poems and effects composed during the calendar year 2016 by John Robert Colombo. The poet reacts to the issues of the day but in the main he offers observations and comments on cultural concerns, civilized values, and metaphysical matters of enduring interest. Also included are the daily entries of a year’s journal which to some extent place the poems and effects in the contexts of their times.
Toronto: Colombo & Company, 2017, trade paperback, 6″ x 9″, 258 pages. ISBN-10-1894540-84-0. $35.00
Recipe for a Canadian Novel
If the Rest of the World
A Said Poem
Poems of Space and Time
Part 1 of 3
Part 2 of 3
Part 3 of 3
Canadian Poetry on Line – University of Toronto
John Robert Colombo – Wikipedia
Hosts of Two National Television Series
CBC-TV, 6-part quiz and panel show with high-school students. Directed by Richard Donovan in six different Canadian cities, 2 April to 4 June 1978.
KarowPrime Films, 6-part historical-social study of Canadian “mysteries.” Space Channel and CBC-TV, launched January 2006, directed by Sean C. Karrow. Each episode deals with a given mystery: Coghlan’s Coffin, The Lake of Healing Waters, Plains of Abraham Mysteries, Revelstone Event, The Vanishing Village of the Dead, The Windigo.
Immense Estates consists of all the poems that were composed by poet and anthologist John Robert Colombo during the calendar year 2015. The poems are arranged in chronological order and are also dated, so it is possible to read through the year in question, and by matching these texts with the entries in the writer’s daily journal, also included, it is possible to follow one person through the 365 days of the year in question. The texts are characterized by much speculation and more innovation and even clear innuendo, being rather philosophical in nature and suggestive of some imaginative formations uncommon in contemporary literature.
Immense Estates is a work of some latitude and considerable longitude. ISBN-10 1-894540-83-2 / ISBN-13 978-1-894540-83-4 / 6″ x 9″, 294 pages. Cover design by Bill Andersen.
Bill Andersen has designed many book covers for John and Ruth Colombo. This slideshow includes them all, right up to JRC’s latest, Self-Schrift.
It is not widely known that the great French storyteller Jules Verne set seven of his exciting, action-packed adventure novels in Canada, that is, in Upper Canada and Lower Canada, in the Klondike, in the Mackenzie District, in the Niagara District … on land, on tundra, on plains, on rivers, on seas, on icefloes, and in the air. Here are the complete texts in English translation of these seven novels, collected by John Robert Colombo, who contributes the foreword titled “Jules Verne’s Canada,” and the scholar and author Jean-Louis Trudel contributes an afterword, a scholarly study of “Jules Verne’s Influence on French-Canadian Science Fiction.”
Folio size, 628 double-columned pages. Order from website of The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box.
Self-Schrift consists of commentaries on all the books written, compiled, edited, and translated by John Robert Colombo.
Here the prolific author and editor offers commentaries – anecdotes, insights, appreciations, criticisms, ideas, theories, etc. – about all of the 230 titles that he has published over the last half century. Also included is a list of other authors’ books that bear the imprint of Colombo & Company. 330 pages.
Available from the publisher as a print book or from Amazon Kindle as an ebook.
My latest publication is Uncommonplaces: Aphorisms of John Robert Colombo. It consists more than 3,400 original aphorisms and aphoristic-style expressions. (They are arranged from Abilities to Zombies.) A separate section offers close to 300 more evocations that are devoted to men and women prominent in public life known personally to the aphorist. They range from Acorn to Zukofsky. Uncommonplaces has a striking cover designed by writer, designer, and photographer Bill Andersen. Trade paperback, full-colour covers, 6″ x 9″, 408 pages. ISBN 978-1-894-540-73-5. Colombo & Company, $50.00 + postage and handling. Also available as an Amazon Kindle e-book edition.
Noted by John Robert Colombo
Some time has passed since I last faced the task of reviewing current books of interest to readers who value psychopraxia. One reason for my tardiness is that I have been busy preparing the second edition of “The Occult Webb.” Sixteen years ago I collected all the information that I could find on the life and work of James Webb, the Anglo-Scottish historian of what he regarded as “rejected knowledge.” His magnum opus is “The Harmonious Circle” and it has yet to be bettered as the single most comprehensive guide to the personalities and principles involved in the appearance and development in the West of what was once known as the Special Doctrine but is known as the Fourth Way or to practitioners as the Work. Continue reading
I had not realized until April 2015 that so many of my books were available as ebooks through the medium of Amazon Kindle. Friend and designer Bill Andersen offered to collect the books — not only current and backlist titles issued by publishers like the Dundurn Group, but also the four original publications that bear the imprint of Colombo & Company. There are twenty titles here and there will be more. Simply click on an icon for a description of that title and easy ordering information.
Words on Parole is the title of Ruth Colombo’s newest book of poems. It speaks of release, and the poems in this collection speak of release from concurrent life sentences. There is fascination with justice. There is perception in the hindsight of childhood and reflection in the foresight of old age and death. In between, there is insight into the dynamic between sisters, and the dialogue between the poet and mentors such as a landlady in childhood and a mother-in-law in decline. There is thought and feeling and sentences aching for truth in this collection from a poet who has always wanted to be her own woman, and who likes the self she has forged, a self who wants to write about the world from the great monolith of Australia to the Third Rome in Russia. Words on Parole is the sequel to Concurrent Life Sentences, the earlier volume of autobiographical poetry. Both books are trade paperbacks with visually striking covers designed by Bill Andersen.
Whenever I visit New York City, which is not often enough, I devote half a day to the Frick Collection on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, largely in order to stand in reverential awe in its West Gallery to gaze at its most magnificent painting. Obviously I am referring to the “Self-Portrait” painted by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1658, the finest of the artist’s innumerable self-portraits and, in my eyes, one of the greatest works of art of all time.
I once quipped, “Rembrandt knows me but I do not know him.” This painting is evidence that he knows everyone, all of mankind, because he knows himself, and thus you and me. It is a tall order. On these occasions I recall the couplet composed by Robert Browning which go like this:
“He gazed and gazed and gazed and gazed,
Amazed, amazed, amazed, amazed.”
The enchanting lines come from Browning’s “Rhyme for a Child Viewing a Naked Venus in a Painting of the Judgement of Paris.” They capture what I continue to feel about this grand work of high art.
It would take an art historian like Simon Shama or a curator like Sir Kenneth Clark, Lord Saltwood, to elucidate the painting’s wonders and mysteries – or someone who has read the art book that is the subject of this review. The title of this book is “In the Spirit of Pilgrimage,” and it is the work of Dante Elsner, as edited by his son Jaś Elsner and published by Traditional Studies Press.
Before proceeding further, here is a paragraph about the publisher: Traditional Studies Press. The imprint has been maintained by the Society for Traditional Studies in Toronto since 1971. Over the last four or so decades it has released ten books and compact disks, all of them related to the Work, including the pioneering “Guide and Index,” “Beelzebub’s Tales” (in its Russian text), a compact disk of the English text (recorded by William J. Welch), and most recently, “Meetings with Louise Welch in Toronto,” a partial transcript of words spoken at meetings of the Toronto group a long time ago, some of which the present writer, a university student at the time, attended.
The books are beautifully and one senses lovingly selected, edited, designed, and printed. Most of them, like the present work, have a distinct, sparse, minimalist, and quietist style of their own. The work at hand shares these characteristics and has an unusual format. It is almost square, measuring 8.25 inches wide by 9.5 inches high. Pagination is x+106 pages of high-quality stock. It is a quality paperback with flaps on its front and back covers.
The text is well-leaded and hence easy to read, and there are by my count thirty illustrations, largely reproductions of paintings, ancient statuary, and pieces of old and new pottery, about half of them in full colour. My sole criticism of book’s typography is that on a double-page spread the outside margins are so wide that the lines of text disappear into what printers picturesquely call “the gutter.”
This is where the pages are glued (and not sewn unfortunately). Despite this reservation, the book serves as a miniature Frick Collection.
It comes with enthusiastic blurbs contributed by Jacob Needleman, Ravi Ravindra, Martha Heyneman, and Roger Lipsey. The consensus is that the book (in Needleman’s words) “sounds a uniquely authentic understanding of the spirituality of all great art.” That is the text in a nutshell.
In these pages Dante Elsner writes about his training and experience as an artist – painter, sculptor, and potter. For him art is everything, to the exclusion of much else. The book consists of a record of the conversations that in his later years he enjoyed with his son, enjoyed with his son Jaś Elsner. There are no entries for father or son on Wikipedia, but on the Web the son warrants a page as a faculty member of Corpus Christi College at Oxford.
Jaś Elsner was born in London and is a well-published authority on the art of the Roman Empire. He is also the author with Simon Coleman of “Pilgrimage: Past and Present in the World Religions” (Harvard University Press, 1995). The authors have dedicated this illustrated volume with its substantial text to their parents – in Jaś’s case to Renée and Dante.
In these pages there is no reproduction of Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait,” the painting I so cherish, but Rembrandt is the only artist (aside from Dante himself) who is represented with two full-page colour reproductions, and these are greatly arresting works in their own right: “Bathsheba at Her Bath” (1654) and “Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels” (1650). The commentaries on them are most insightful. Dante and I would agree about Rembrandt’s artistic greatness.
In fact, I find little in the entire book with which to disagree, although there are some points that he does not make that I feel he should have made, and it would have been a help to the student of art had the text included a brief biography of Elsner and some assessment of his work, though I sense the editors for reasons of their own, perhaps consistency, made a decision to avoid doing precisely that. For instance, in Poland he lost his parents in the Holocaust, yet somehow he found his way to Paris (and the Louvre) and thereafter he turned up in London. Herein lies a exodus yet to be shared. In point of fact, Jaś covers these matters in his memoir at the end of the book, albeit in a sketchy fashion.
The manuscript of these conversations was brought to the attention of the editors of Traditional Studies Press by Anna Passakas, one-half of the art group called Blue Republic, which exhibits its contemporary sculpture in Toronto and Krakow She was befriended by the Elsner family in London and in their cottage in the market town of Amersham. She supplies a warm memoir which she calls “The Story of a Friendship.”
What Elsner himself offers his readers is a view of the relationship between the artist and the audience. “An original idea can only arise when a person is completely alive, and that is possible only when all functions – mind, feeling and body – collaborate, and that I am sure happens equally in music, poetry and the other arts. You have to use all three functions together. That’s what is very difficult indeed, because usually we are predominantly in one function. Quite a lot of contemporary art is just invented by the mind.”
He finds the special relationship of the centres in statuary from Ancient Egypt and Ancient China, and he finds its absence in the works of Kandinsky and Klee, not to mention Dalí and Picasso. “Try to compare, for example, the quality of Dalí with the quality of Bosch and you will see that there is no comparison.” He is a Traditionalist in his tastes. He does have a modern hero. “Cézanne is a genuine discoverer,” he notes, in keeping with modern scholarship and artistic fashion, and not a mere manipulator of impressions and not a purveyor of “a kind of cocktail of improvised ideas.”
“Great painting, great art, has exactly the same potential. It is not made by the artist, but through the artist. It is not Rembrandt who painted the portrait, but something in him – you can call it Holy Spirit or whatever you wish – that is visiting him. Because he is in this state, he listens, he receives the impression, and because he is also ready in skill, he puts it immediately on canvas.” So the artist is a visionary. “When the great vision is dictated to you, you don’t have time to go and ask yourself what this shape or that shape will be. You just do it. That is what I call form.”
“The great artist does not necessarily always produce great works of art. There are works by Rembrandt that are eogistic, and not painted with submission. However the later Rembrandts are nearly all superb works of art. Such is the quality of this man. He had lost his first wife, then later his common law wife and his son. He was left alone, abandoned by everybody (except perhaps by the Jews of the Ghetto who posed for him) and in spite of all that, he still produced great works of art. That for me is a mystery – how a man grows like that. The poorer he was, the more dejected he was, the more alone he was, the stronger he became.”
Elsner finds Rembrandt to be a role model. “There is one late portrait of his representing a laughing old man. He laughs at fate. He is completely unconcerned about what will happen to him personally. That is what I would like to learn from Rembrandt, and I feel I am learning something of his wisdom each time I see his work. I know that he died in poverty. His life had a different pattern from the usual one. From a rich man, he became a pauper. But he was not broken by adversity. In him there was tremendous strength. And this strength shows in his painting. That is what others can learn from him. He shows the way. He shows how people can develop themselves.”
My own experience with his “Self-Portrait” bears this out, except that this portrait of Rembrandt captures the subject’s experience of himself and also captures the discrepancy between what the subject senses, feels, and knows about himself and what others are able to appreciate about him. Yet there is some irony here, some cynicism perhaps, as is pointed out by Simon Schama in his exhaustive study, Rembrandt’s Eyes.
In an interesting passage, Elsner states that in a garden you can see a rose. Or can you? “You cannot say ‘rose,’ in this case, because this one is unique. You have seen it and you will never see it again. This is what happened to me. I was simply in the inner state of completeness, and so I saw a complete thing. Is there a rose that is not complete? It has beginning, just as you have. You also are complete. From this sort of experience can be born a portrait of roses or something like that.”
The training of the artist is technical, but it must also be psychological, indeed spiritual. “All we can do is to prepare ourselves. We can prepare ourselves to be. This is basic to all religious teachings. Contemporary religions have lost contact with the essential, the basis in religion.”
Elsner finds the work of Henry Moore, or at least those works that he has seen of the British sculptor, to be lacking. “Some people fall into a position of dealing with shapes, and that is characteristic of Henry Moore.” It is earthbound rather than visionary. “As I’ve said, great paintings leave room for the spectator to be creative, to fill the spaces, and by that to create the work of art.”
With Zen paintings, he finds that the spectator “fills these gaps where there are no strokes.” He likens this to the modesty of Matisse who, sensing his limitations, forgets to paint in the faces of the saints in his masterpiece of religious art, Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. “By accepting that to paint them was not in his power, he did some good. And that is a wonderful thing.” My own feeling, on spending some time in the chapel near Nice, was that Matisse’s Dominican sponsors failed to realize that they had commissioned an artist who was a pagan rather a believing Christian.
I am not sure why but I find that Elsner’s Zen-like drawings to be less exciting than his paintings and ceramics. Perhaps it is because at first glance they resemble a lot of other calligraphic-like art and design. Perhaps the spectator has to study them in great detail to find how they are different, unlike Elsner’s ceramics which strike me as quite distinctive, rich in a quality that is both earthy and earthly.
Elsner is quite critical of today’s training techniques. “The training and practice of how to be open to another dimension does not exist in art schools. For that you have to find a special school and spend many years training. For example, there are meditation schools of Buddhism, like Zen, Vipassana or Thibetan; there is Islamic Sufism, the Krishnamurti Foundation, Bahai, the Gurdjieff teaching. All these schools may not teach you art, but they help you to become less dispersed within yourself.”
“If you want to educate yourself as an artist, I recommend looking at the great works of art in museums.” He then offers pointers on how to make such visits worthwhile. “If you look, for example, at Rembrandt, you don’t learn how to copy him; you learn how he positioned himself inwardly in order to receive the vision. It is possible to extract that from Rembrandt.”
It was Yogi Berra who once said, “You can see a lot by looking.” Elsner always says, “Looking at drawings is an extremely important part of an artist’s education. I spent two years in the Department of Prints and Drawings of the British Museum, and three years in the corresponding department of the Louvre, the Cabinet de Dessin.” I am sure Elsner was a fine teacher, if he taught at all, and relentless critic of the work of other artists.
“Yes, when a man is in a collected state, not relying only on the resources of the rational mind, but with the awareness of the body and feeling working simultaneously, he is connected to a different energy that flows through him with unusual speed. His eyes are open to a different reality. He sees more – he sees ‘form.’ Everything becomes alive then. You are somehow wider. So what is important, maybe, is precisely that, to be wider.”
En route to these insights, he discusses his reactions to individual works by Holbein, Leonardo, and, surprisingly, Corot’s “Seated Woman” painted in 1830. “That is what I call real art.” He then admits, “I think that all true art must be religious.” He distinguishes that from “going to church.” “Some Chinese or Japanese bamboo paintings are for me religious art, whereas ‘The Holy Family’ by Rubens is not.” The same is true of Vermeer’s ‘Lady Playing a Lute’”
Goya and El Greco “attempted a nearly unreachable” goal when they largely failed in their attempted depictions of Christ. “The majority of paintings representing Christ are not religious.” The reason for this? “What is missing nowadays, in both art and religious itself, is feeling. If we could have feeling, we could have peace. But we are not peaceful in ourselves and that is why our dreams of making peace are just nonsensical. If feeling were there, within a moment, peace would be there.” Also: “Every human being can be an agent of peace if he is peaceful himself – if he is related inside. Feeling of this quality is the highest thing a man can touch.”
There is a fair amount of information about Chinese, Japanese, and Korean art, and especially about Zen and the special paper and brush and brushstroke that the Zen artist uses. “To reach this quality of brushstroke, you have to practice hundreds of times.” Perhaps if I reread these pages I will begin to appreciate the depths of Elsner’s Oriental drawings.
Elsner takes his readers from his studio on a brief tour of a number of Europe’s greatest centres of art, including Chartres cathedral, Notre Dame cathedral, the Cluny Museum in Paris, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. He describes and examines stained-glass windows, carved stone heads, etc. At the Guimet Museum in Paris, he pauses over the Raku pots and La Tsu Shi porcelain. “The real pot has to be ‘born.’ The potter does not ‘do’ anything. That’s how it is in nature. To be creative does not mean that you create, but that creation takes place through you, through us; this is the purpose of our existence. We are created not in order to appropriate to ourselves the creating capacity.”
The art and architecture of Ancient Egypt shows “supreme clarity” if only because their artists and artisans did not have to struggle against the pervasive naturalism that plagued Rembrandt and other European artists. “The ‘Sphinx’ produced a profound impression when I looked at him from his left side, but he was not so convincing from the right side. However, I have to reserve my judgment because I saw him only in the morning and at midday. How would he look in the afternoon or evening? You would have to go there many times, to see him in various situations of light. Maybe he was designed in such a way that in the evening he would appear very impressive from the right side, when the sun having moved towards his back would diminish the glare of his right eye.”
Elsner finally asks the question, “Who is the ‘Sphinx’”? If it is the image of the Pharaoh Cheops, it is much more besides that. “Krishnamurti says that we have a brain, but rarely have Mind; only sometimes can the cells of our brain undergo a transformation and contact Mind.” There is a deep consideration of “Le Scribe Accroupi” (a seated male figure with a hypnotic gaze and a scroll in his lap) which dates from the Fifth Dynasty. “It calls you to be in the state of presence, not to imitate it, but to be it. The scribe is showing you as in a mirror what you could be.”
Other works of art including Leonardo’s “Mona Lisa” and Vermeer’s “La Dentellière” are examined. The latter canvas he calls “a complete painting, painted with all the powers of his being.” He confesses, “It took me eight years to distinguish the point of view expressed in this painting. The understanding did not happen suddenly as it did with the Mona Lisa. The understanding here came in a gentle way.”
Of Rembrandt’s “Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels,” he writes, “You feel it speaks to you, not to the whole world …. He painted her like a being from another planet.” He adds, “This painting saved my life. I came upon it wanting to kill myself. I needed help.” I will allow the reader of this book to learn more about this turning-point. Help arrived with the compassion conveyed by this painting.
The last section of this work is titled “Memoir of My Father” and it gives a youngster’s view of his sculptor father who found some artistic fulfilment during his life but no ready market for his wares. The youngster is the distinguished art historian Jaś Elsner. From his father’s exhibitions, he recalls signs that appeared on all the best pieces. They read “Not for Sale.”
Elsner Senior was born in 1920 to a middle-class Jewish family in Krakow. He would have been given the first name of David except that it seemed too Jewish; instead, his parents opted for Dante, which sounded Italian and Catholic. He survived the German occupation of Poland, unlike so many other people. At the age of twenty-four, he entered the Academy of Fine Arts. “He was absolutely clear that the artist’s two-fold path lay in clarifying what his expression should be, and in acquiring the necessary skills to the highest possible level.”
In 1948, he was able to leave Communist Poland on a scholarship to study art in Paris, where he applied for refugee status, supported in this endeavour by the sculptor Zadkine, a fellow Pole whom he barely knew. He spent ten years painting in a garret on the Boulevard St. Michel. It was in the Louvre that he came upon Rembrandt’s portrait of his common-law wife. It was in Paris that he chanced upon followers of Gurdjieff and in the early 1950s he joined the Work. “My father lived his working life, his art, his vocation and his spiritual life, as one. It is to Gurdjieff’s Work that he owed the inspiration to take this as a goal and much of the means to effect it.”
In 1956, he met a distant cousin Renée, also born in Kracow, and two years later they married and settled in London. They were able to support themselves from the meagre war reparations they received from the Federal Republic of Germany. Jaœ recalls growing up with his sister and attending meetings. “In our early childhood, one day of every weekend (alternately Saturday and Sunday) was spent at the Work’s large former chicken farm at Bray outside London where my parents were involved in various craft activities to be conducted under strictly Gurdjieffian conditions of attention and ‘self-remembering.’ I think the children were meant to do this too, but we conspired to be as disruptive as possible of this particular aspect of the Work!”
At Bray he was exposed to the pottery of Peter O’Malley. “I think he believed that a great pot was a perfect embodiment of an experience of life, and in the range of his pottery he sought to evoke the infinite variety of human experience, joyful, sad, summer, spring, winter, autumn …. ” In the end, “ill health struck him cruelly.” He died of pneumonia in 1997, but lived long enough to see his daughter married and his son Jaœ married and the father of a girl named Maia and a baby boy (named Dante after him). “It was a joyful cremation” that took place at the Golders Green crematorium.
Whoever reads “In the Spirit of Pilgrimage” will acquire a new friend, an irascible one at times perhaps, yet a presence, who regarded art as a vision and a revelation so that he regarded the artist as a visionary and a revelator. Artists in particular will be impressed with the man’s need to intuitively understand the work of art, intrinsically, rather than extrinsically through personal, material, or social history. If I had met him in life, I am sure Dante Elsner could and would have spoken to me for hours about the hidden and spiritual wonders of that special self-portrait now in the Frick Collection that Rembrandt had painted in Amsterdam amid so much poverty and pain over 350 years ago.
These days I am proving to be a highly irregular reviewer of books. The last book that I reviewed was a critical study of the writings of my late friend Judith Merril, the American-Canadian “science fiction personality” (as she styled herself). It appeared late last year in “Canadian Literature,” the academic quarterly published by the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C. I found the academic study to be sturdy but stingy in scope. It lacks entirely the “feel” of the woman.
I also wrote a short review – a very, very long paragraph in fact – full of impressions of Conrad Black’s “Rise to Greatness,” his very, very long history of Canada (1,100 pages in length). I wrote it for some future use, so it has yet to appear in print The two academics who wrote “Judith Merril: A Critical Study” overlooked entirely the feisty woman’s social role and presence. In is history of the Dominion of Canada, Black, a capitalist, a financier, and at one time one of the world’s leading newspaper “press lords,” Lord Crossharbour in fact, ignored the role of capital formation in the evolution of this country. I find specialists seldom see forests for trees.
I am pleased to report that this observation does not apply to the two books that I am about to review here. What they have in common is the Work, of course, but also the Beech Hill Publishing Company. I will sidestep saying a few words about the Work, but I will write some words in praise of Beech Hill. The publishing house may be the only one in the world that is based on a small island; it lies in the coastal waters off the shore of the State of Maine. The island’s name is Mount Desert, and the imprint goes back to 1975 when its name began to appear on scientific publications and books of local history. In recent years its proprietors have shifted gears so that now and in the future it will concentrate on publishing works on the Work.
These books are among the most attractive titles in the library of such literature. So far four titles have appeared. I have yet to set eyes on “The Struggle of the Magicians” by G.I. Gurdjieff and “The Story of My life with Mr. Beelzebub” by Will Mesa, but if they resemble the two books already issued by Beech Hill, which are lying on my desk right now, they are beautiful indeed. These are handsomely produced volumes with striking covers and readable text pages.
Perhaps at a future date I will review each of these books in detail. Right now, all I want to do is to write a brief note about these two trade paperbacks and suggest why they are not only readable and worth reading but also worth collecting.
“Higher Being Bodies” measures 5.5 x 8.5 inches and is 262 pages in length, though it seems to be much shorter. Its author is Ocke de Boer, a Dutchman who has become, as far as I know, the first enthusiast for the Work to explore in person and in print the notion of the “coating” of bodies, which I take to mean the opposite of the “crystalizing” of bodies. I will not go into detail about this process; interested parties are able to check the author’s name and the book’s title on Google and find websites devoted to this book and to an interview with the author. So the reader may watch and listen to Mr. De Boer talk about his book, rather than read what Dr. Colombo has to say.
De Boer has given the following subtitle to his book: “A Non-Dualistic Approach to the Fourth Way, with Hope.” I like those last two words – they are a humble surprise, as is the book itself. For myself,
I always confuse non-dualism and Adviata, on the one hand, with Monism and philosophical substantialism, on the other, so I am never able to decide whether I would prefer to be identified as a non-dualist or as a monist. De Boer is a non-dualist of the first water. He takes the reader through nineteen chapters that lead from Higher Being-Bodies (in the text of the book the last two words are hyphenated, but not on the cover or the title page) to “Unity or Disparity Thinking.” It is thoughtful journey.
The degree to which Higher Being Bodies (or Higher Being-Bodies) differ from chakras has yet to be determined, though the latter are illustrated in some of the book’s fine sketches, but through De Boer’s association with Joseph Azize, a student of George Adie, in turn a student of Gurdjieff, he began to study this aspect of the Work and made an important presentation “Conscience Dialogue” with Farzin Deravi on this subject to the members of the All & Everything Conference meeting in Canterbury in April of 2013. At the time it was widely noted and it brought attention not only to the subject but also to De Boer.
A former teacher and therapist Susan Dent Aronson, attracted to De Boer’s approach to the subject, agreed to assist in turning the De Boer’s manuscript into the present text. Perhaps she saved the author from innumerable Gurdjieffian formulations, though some of them, whether unique to him or not, do survive: “reason-of-understanding,” etc. Passages about the Kesdjan body from Christian scripture appear here and there in the text. In fact, what is quite unusual about the present publication is that it commingles passages from a great range of sources beginning with “Beelzebub’s Tales” and continuing with references to Salzmann, Bennett, Adie, Hands, Heap, Nylan, De Lubicz, Nicoll, etc. The text is deep as well as wide ranging. She quotes De Ocke on Work effort: “It is very serious but also very light.” To her we owe the stylish prose, I guess.
Here are a few of the author’s formulations: “This small work is about applying sacred ideas, not about describing them.” “Overcome disparities, live with one’s conscience.” “If we have fully-coated bodies we no longer belong to the Earth. We can be sent down here or somewhere else where we are needed if this is necessary.” (This sounds somewhat ominous!) “If we start to coat higher bodies with our own initial efforts, we will be noticed by higher forces.”
“If you learn to remember yourself, the voice of conscience will become stronger in you and will warn you when you lose track, so to speak. Only this voice can help dissolve the hypnotism of ordinary life.” “Conscious labour and intentional suffering are human means for liberating sacred vibrations before death to fulfill God’s purpose.” (To the last formulation he adds, “I do not know where I heard this, but I had written the following statement in my diary about conscious labour and intentional suffering.”)
There are occasional surprises, like the note about “sittings.” Here is part of it: “Gurdjieff did not use the word ‘sittings.’ He frequently used the word ‘exercises.’ Jane Heap used the term ‘morning preparations.’ George Adie used the word ‘sittings.’ I use the word simply because I am used to it.” It continues, but this line of reasoning reminds me of the fact (noted by Ravi Ravindra) that not once does Patanjali in his classic “Yoga Sutras” mention the word “asana” or its translation “posture.” The sole error I found in the present book is “Forward” for “Foreword” in the running head on page xi. It leads me to believe that the author, editor, and publisher are truly human! In brief, “Higher Being Bodies” is a lovely book and the last word on the subject, so far anyway.
Over the years I have had occasion to review some of the publications of David Kherdian who has described himself as a “third-generation” follower of Gurdjieff. In a way Kherdian is “one up” on the Teacher of Dancing himself, as Gurdjieff was only fifty percent Armenian, whereas Kherdian is a one hundred percent Armenian. He is also a one hundred percent American, having been born of immigrant parents in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1931.
Maybe it helps to be Armenian. No one has ever accused Gurdjieff of lacking in energy. Kherdian seems to have plenty of it. He is the author of dozens and dozens of books (as many as seventy in all) in a variety of fields of interest. I have an Armenian friend in Toronto who thinks the world of Kherdian’s recently published translation of his people’s great narrative poem: “David of Sassoun: An Armenian Epic.” He was awarded the Newbery Medal for “The Road to Home,” which was followed by “Finding Home,” about his mother during the Armenian Genocide and then as an immigrant in America. Three of his collections of poetry are “The Nonny Poems,” “Living in Quiet,” and “Seeds of Light: Poems from a Gurdjieff Community.”
The latter publication is illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian, his wife, a talented artist whose work brings to mind the lazure-like art and decoration of Rudolph Steiner of Anthroposophy fame. In the past I have reviewed Kherdian’s collections of poetry, but I have never set eyes on a copy of “An Anthology of Armenian American Writers” which apparently includes works by Michael J. Arlen and the two Saroyans, William and Aram.
Kherdian recalls his introduction to the Work through Lord Pentland and how it affected him emotionally in his awkwardly titled memoir, “On a Spaceship with Beelzebub: By a Grandson of Gurdjieff.” It is a memoir that was praised by the late Colin Wilson as “one of the best accounts I’ve read of actually being a member of a Gurdjieff Group.” It is written with warmth and introspection.
I first encountered Kherdian when I subscribed to the journal that he edited decades ago from a farm in Wisconsin. It was called “Stopinder: A Gurdjieff Journal for Our Time” and it was handsomely designed and illustrated by the talented Nonny. Each issue offered subscribers a low-key yet concentrated approach to human problems and experiences and perplexities in a rural and rustic setting. Then I took an interest in Kherdian and his own writing. This takes time because over the decades Kherdian has published innumerable anthologies, volumes of verse, collections of memoirs, and works of fiction.
In an earlier review devoted to the man’s poetry, I yielded to the temptation to regard Kherdian’s poems as prayers (which Gurdjieff calls “recapitulations”) because they are admissions of current limitations and appeals to an outside agency or force or power and also to the force or the agency within one’s own self for enlightenment, salvation, redemption, insight, consciousness, whatever. The poems are straight-forward and personal without being particularly subjective in nature. I find I want to place his poems in an unusual and perhaps idiosyncratic context, one that permits him to explore the possibilities in our day of the direct expression of one’s life and work – the common style: plain, direct, unornamented, unrhymed, unrhythmed, a style that is risked by few poets in the West these days. It is free verse, be assured, but it is so direct it has little appeal to most poets, though it does attract a good many singers and songwriters.
The poems might also be described as meditations, ruminations, ponderings, or considerations. The only other poets who come to mind so influenced by the Work (or at least by Traditionalism) are Kathleen Raine and Pierre Bonnasse, both quite differently. The British poet worked within given forms (rather like Edith Sitwell), whereas the French poet and critic is a composer and performer with innovative tendencies. Kherdian seems the workman among the artisans.
David the poet and Nonny the artist lived from about 1978 for nine years at Two Rivers Farm, near Aurora, Oregon, a community founded by Annie Lou Staveley, a pupil through Jane Heap of Gurdjieff. It was presumably the sole farm in the area that had its own printing press. How many people have lived on these acres, how many people were weekend visitors, how many acres there are … none of this information is shared. Instead, the reader is invited to partake of Kherdian’s perceptions, impressions, and thoughts.
It is not surprising that David and Nonny (one yearns to refer to them informally by their first names) sought to find a public of readers and seekers who lived outside the confines of their group, so they launched their subscription publication “Stopinder,” twelve issues of which were issued between 2000 and 2003. Highlights are now reprinted between the covers of “A Stopinder Anthology” which Kherdian has skilfully edited. This handsome publication measures 6×9 inches, is 324 pages long, and displays a lovely cover with art by Nonny. I subscribed to “Stopinder” in its heyday and at the time I regarded it as a manifestation of the principle of “outreach” beyond the predominant group structure of the Work, a reaching out to the general republic of seekers, displaying as it did so the spirit of the All & Everything Conferences.
Joseph Azize contributes an appreciative Foreword which tactfully avoids explaining the meaning of the word “stopinder.” He has my sympathy. Here is one of Gurdjieff’s uses of the word: “in respect of what is called the ‘Vivifyingness of Vibrations’ according to its passage through what are called the ‘Stopinders’ or ‘gravity-centers’ of the fundamental ‘common-cosmic sacred Heptaparaparshinokh.’” There are seven such centres in all. Instead, Azize has interesting insights to share concerning the role of communities in the Work, the relationship between individual effort and group work. In this regard I recall the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go in a group.”
There is also “A Note from the Editor.” I believe David is inclined to see the Work in terms of the company he keeps. I find him to be a man of faith: “That many of us may not live to see the dawn of a new era of human history more than likely, but that we have a task to perform is in my mind an absolute certainty.” There are thirty like-minded contributors of the forty or so easy-to-read articles, interviews, memoirs, poems, descriptions of the Work in action, including the Movements. Contributors widely known on their own include the following: Joseph Azize, Anthony Blake, Keith Buzzell, Wim van Dullemen, Seymour Ginsburg, Will Mesa, Allen Roth, Sophia Wellbeloved, John Anthony West … plus, oddly, Walt Whitman.
Whitman belongs here, in a way, of course. I enjoyed some of the lighter contributions, like “Remembering being Forgotten by Mr. B.” contributed by Bob Engel. The sole interview included is John Scullion’s informative interview with Sophia Wellbeloved about her study of astrology and “Beelzebub.” Allen Roth (“With Types and Astrolabes”) is informative about life at the community at Sherborne House. Everybody likes to recall his introduction to the Work, including Bob Silber (“The Spring of 1968”), and it comes as no surprise that it turns on a first reading of “In Search of the Miraculous.” Seymour Ginsburg examines “The High Commission and Other Sacred Individuals” and gives a high-level, level-headed reading of sections of “Beelzebub’s Tales.” Kamori Cattadoris writes “commentaries on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” that range well beyond Two Rivers Farm. The longest contribution seems to be “A Taste of the Sacred: Gurdjieff’s Movements,” written by Wim van Dullemen, who puts all the details in a larger context than is usual. I could go on ….
“A Stopinder Anthology” is a distillation of the experiences of a dozen or so years of working together and gathering together disparate approaches to traditional themes and common materials. It is a good-natured and varied prelude to work on oneself within the context of a group of like- minded individuals. As the Michelin Guides would say, “Mérite un détour – Worth a detour.”