Here For Now

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

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JRC – References on the Web

Animated Poems (directed by Kristin Somborac)

Recipe for a Canadian Novel

Domestic Weaponry

If the Rest of the World

Animated Poems (produced by the NFB)

A Said Poem

Riverdale Lion

Poems of Space and Time

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

Canadian Poetry on Line – University of Toronto

Official site

Wikipedia entries
John Robert Colombo – Wikipedia

Hosts of Two National Television Series

Colombo Quotes
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.

Unexplained Canada
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.

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Immense Estates

web-cover-2Immense 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.

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Covers updated

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.

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Jules Verne’s Canada

verneIt 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.

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self-scrift-web-illus--275Self-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.

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Latest publication

uncommonplaces350My 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.

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Some Recent Books

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

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Colombo on Kindle


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.

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Ruth Colombo’s most recent poetry

words-on-parole-bookWords 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.

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“In the Spirit of Pilgrimage” by Dante Elsner Reviewed by John Robert Colombo

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.

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based editor and anthologist and poet. His current collection is “Late in the Day” and his latest compilation is “The Northrop Frye Quote Book.” His website is and his email address is He writes the occasional review of interesting books. To join the mailing list, drop JRC a line with your email address.

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John Robert Colombo reviews “Higher Being Bodies” and “A Stopinder Anthology”

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.”

John Robert Colombo is an author and anthologist who lives in Toronto, Canada. He has written and compiled many books on the lore and literature of his country notably “Colombo’s Canadian Quotations” and “Mysterious Canada.” Recent publications include “The Northrop Frye Quote Book” (3,200 alphabetically arranged quotations with sources), “A Sax Rohmer Miscellany” (thoughts on the writer and creator of Dr. Fu Manchu), and “Late in the Day” (poems and effects written during the calendar year 2014). His website is < >.

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Late in the Day

Late in the Day is the title of this collection of the poems and effects composed during the year 2014 by John Robert Colombo. As well as the texts of 101 poems, the collection includes diary entries that focus on the events of each day of the year. The wrap-around cover is the brilliant design of Bill Andersen It confines the text (title and byline) to spine of the trade paperback book, although sharp eyes will discern that the shadows of the letters of the title have become part of the front cover. The poems range over history and literature, philosophy and speculation. Card cover, 6×9 inches. ISBN 978-1-894-540-74-2. 248 pages.

You may download a PDF version of the book here, free of charge.

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Gurdjieff in His Own Words

A Review of Paul Beekman Taylor’s “Gurdjieff’s Worlds of Words”
by John Robert Colombo

It has been some time since I have taken up the mantle of the reviewer. Half a year ago I laid the mantle to one side, distracted as I was by reading all the published writings of Northrop Frye, for a collection of the late literary critic’s quotable remarks. Currently I am concerned with preparing for the publication of another mammoth collection of quotations (1.5 million characters in length), some five thousand remarks of special significance and interest to Canadians.

In the past, the reviews that I had been writing of Work-related matter and materials have been appearing on Dr. Sophia Wellbeloved’s Cambridge-based website. Those reviews are still there and may be accessed at < > . Some recent reviews have appeared on own website (< > ) where they are not given featured treatment. But they are easily accessed. Simply click onto the website, then click onto the big green button, and then read the current review. If you scroll down, you will find other reviews, amidst much Canadiana!

I recently experienced a computer crash of epic proportions with attendant professional and psychological consequences. But now, bolstered by a brand-new computer on my desk, using a newer word-processing package, I have the desire to catch up on reviews and notices of current book-length publications in the field of Work studies. The review that appears here is about a newly published book. Its importance will be appreciated by all serious students of the Work.

Paul Beekman Taylor bears three names which every serious student of the history and historiography of the Work will recognize and respect. A linguist by training, a scholar by education, and a literary critic by profession, Professor Taylor is the author of eight highly original critical studies of various aspects of Gurdjieff’s life and work, including most recently two valuable volumes: Gurdjieff in the Public Eye (a collection of the press coverage of his endeavours during his lifetime) and Real Worlds of G.I. Gurdjieff (a study of what the public knew about him during his lifetime).

Professor Taylor’s current book is Gurdjieff’s World of Words: A Methodological Reading, and it is best viewed as a monograph, not because it is short (in fact it is reasonably long: 76,000 words in length – with all those words set in smallish type), but because it has the sharp focus of a monograph, in this instance on Gurdjieff’s use of words – not his language or meaning so much as the words themselves: verbissima, the very words.

First: a few of my words about the book itself; second: my own summary of the book’s content and argument. The physical book is a sturdy trade paperback that measures 6.25 inches by 9 inches; it has 160 pages; it appears in an edition of 250 copies. Its publisher is Eureka Editions of Utrecht, The Netherlands, which has an informative site on the web that features a long list of invaluable Work publications.

The present monograph consists of an Acknowledgements, an Introduction, a Preface, a Prologue, an Epilogue, a Selected Bibliography, and an Index … and, almost as if as an afterthought, eleven detailed Chapters. Each chapter is in effect a critical paper or even an academic lecture. Now, Professor Taylor has an interesting habit. His habit (or habitus, as Latinists might have expressed it) is to wait until the end of the book to account for all and everything in the final pages. He himself wrote, “Last proves best.” The observation is true for the present book: the Epilogue speaks for the work as a whole, and I advise the reader to begin to read it from there, as I will now do.

The Introduction (which should be identified as a Foreword because it is supplied by someone other than the author, in this instance by the distinguished theorist Anthony Blake) makes the point that “this book provides a veridical account of what we know about the Gurdjieff writings.” Blake observes the surprising fact that Gurdjieff devoted “over just ten years of his life” to writing his books, no more than that. He finds that Taylor’s term “worlds of words” is “a strange but apt phrase.” Blake offers his own take on the notion: “I myself came to believe that words are like crystallized bits of consciousness that can release feelings in us if we enter into them.”

The Preface (written by Professor Taylor) is something of a lecture about hermeneutics, the disciplined interpretation of otherwise obscure meanings. “This book is unashamedly a scan of Gurdjieff’s stylistic mastery of the English language, not so much in theory but in practice, that is, in attention to possibilities of meaning, translation, and words whose contexts inform particular sense.” The insights into utterances of theorists like Wittgenstein, Bakhtin, Butor, and Hermes Trismegistus are introduced. Sometimes I think Professor Taylor is a frustrated philosopher, or perhaps merely a frustrated lecturer, as much of the discussion is only marginally germane to the work at hand. However, this section ends with a lovely image: “Gurdjieff’s language is like shot silk: what one sees depends upon the angle of vision.”

The Prologue is subtitled “Gurdjieff’s Cradle of Languages.” As a polyglot, Gurdjieff was able to mint words and create pun in numerous languages, notably Russian, French, and English. Professor Taylor’s strength is that he has no fear when it comes to explicating texts written or translated into these and other languages. The bulk of this chapter is newly uncovered details about Gurdjieff’s birth and birthplace and those of his close relatives. Oddly, the root of his surname, gurd, means “Kurd” in the Turkish language, “Christian” in the Armenian language, and “Georgian” in the language of Georgia. A man for all states if not all seasons.

Chapter 1 is a “defence” of the inerrancy of the English edition of Beelzebub’s Tales. (I could not resist employing that term, so beloved of Christian fundamentalists, but I should resist the temptation; the term I should use is “authorized” in its literal meaning, for it bears the imprimatur not of the Vatican but of Mr. G.) Professor Taylor has discussed this matter in a previous book, but in this one he updates his research with respect to the 1950 and 1992 editions of Tales by examining statements made by James Moore, Stephen A. Grant, Madame de Salzmann, Mrs. A.L. Staveley, Roger Lipsey, and many others. These two editions and other ones in other languages are compared and contrasted and the author soon reaches this conclusion: “I cannot find any compelling reason to deny that Gurdjieff approved and authorized the English text that he edited with Orage.”

Chapter 2 continues in the same vein of inquiry, which is known as explication de texte, with respect to the French versions along with his other texts, notably Meetings with Remarkable Men and Life Is Real. One of his judgements is particularly interesting: “To accept the claim that the French version’s clarity is a veritable model for revision of Gurdjieff’s English in the 1950 publication of All and Everything is to accept a language not Gurdjieff’s.” Equally interesting is one of the reasons he gives for not revising the English of that edition: “Last, if the 1950 [edition] seems difficult to read, Gurdjieff intended as much.”

Chapter 3 is a short lecture on what might be called “the spoken word” and specifically the word described by St. John as being “in the beginning.” I despair, in a sentence or two, of the task of trying to summarize the argument here, for it is full of talking-points like this one: “One can understand that Saint John means that god ‘spoke’ Creation into being, and Beelzebub seems to suggest the same.” There is much discussion of “Heropass” or the flow of time, and also of the nature of “endlessness,” with the chapter ending with the suggestion that it has to do with everything “from Classical Natural Philosophy to modern Western quantum physics.”

Chapter 4 is a chapter of speculation. There are many allusions to space travel and time travel, especially to novels published at the turn of the twentieth century, and the present work has some points in common with them. “Whether Gurdjieff’s Tales is science, science fiction, fantasy or vision, is inconsequential, for all these literary genres lie within its encyclopaedic scope.” Inadvertently Professor Taylor has hit upon the key word here and that word is “encyclopaedic.” The best literary description of the genre of Beelzebub is that the work is an “anatomy,” employing the term in the sense of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy and currently of Northrop Frye’s The Anatomy of Criticism. This is the route that Professor Taylor could well take in his future speculations. The “anatomy” is a work of the imagination and instruction that is “encyclopaedic” in nature, inclusive of all allusions and genres.

Chapter 5 is in many ways the core of the inquiry for it deals with what Professor Taylor calls “Gurdjieff’s Semantic Worlds,” that is, the confluences of meanings of a great gamut of terms and terminologies. Plato and Goethe held that the mind must know the meaning before hand – before it recognizes the meaning as being present in any word, old or new. Professor Taylor presumably agrees, for he discusses the matter with respect to the views of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Orage. Gurdjieff’s celebrated neologisms he places to one side. In this chapter he examines an odd assortment of words: dainty, whim, twaddle, wiseacre, galoshes, mills, and tango. Then he examines some phrases: intentional and voluntary suffering, the extents and limits of chief feature, and what he calls bodily functions. The argument here bears the imprint of deep thought, and its perusal cannot but enrich every reader’s sense of the depth of the texts being discussed.

Chapter 6 amounts to an eight-page analysis of the “Worlds of Accident and Fate.” Here Professor Taylor brings into the loop The Herald of Coming Good and the ballet-pageant known as The Struggle of the Magicians. He finds the words “law-conformable” to be especially revealing with respect to “the forces of the creation and maintenance of the world.” There is a discussion of the nature of law which is amplified through association: “The phonological association of ‘law’ with ‘love’ might well have been brought to Gurdjieff’s attention by Orage. The link is significant, of course, in Beelzebub’s Tales where the Common Creator commands: ‘Love everything that breathes.’” The technical terms are Heptaparaparshinokh for “the law of seven” and Triamazikammo for “the law of three.” Also introduced is the chapter “Glimpses of Truth” from Views from the Real World. Nietzsche and Ralph Waldo Emerson are introduced. “Only a law of change can reconcile the two, and since all laws are probabilities, man has the possibility of altering his personal relationship to laws.” In this regard the distinction between personality (being under forty-eight orders) and essence (under twenty-four orders) is recalled, along with the role of one’s magnetic centre, and becoming free of chance happenings. A surprising aside on Sartre’s Existentialism lends an intriguing perspective. The exposition here displays evidence of much thought, both associative and original (or perhaps traditional is the right word to use).

Chapter 7 begins, “There are both vertical as well as horizontal worlds of words in Meetings with Remarkable Men,” and Professor Taylor does his best to examine the riddles and puzzles in the text and the purposeful confusions that are to be found as part of “the architectonics” of the work, a work that incorporates as an integral part the supposedly added-on chapter titled “The Material Question.” Thus the text proceeds from the father through the companions along the way to the son. Professor Taylor is a talented textual scholar and there is little that eludes or evades him, especially when it comes to plumbing the depths of the names and the characters of this cast of characters – “remarkable men” and one remarkable woman, seekers all.

Chapter 8 is a mathematician’s delight but it may be off-putting to some readers because it takes with the utmost seriousness each and every specific date given in the canon and it attempts to link it to an overriding reason for it being there. Here is one instance: “Orage died on 6 November 1934, seven years to the day after Gurdjieff had warned him about his frail health and seven years to the day after Gurdjieff had apostrophized: ‘My Being is necessary not only for my personal egotism but also for the common welfare of all humanity,’ and projected another seven years to rewrite his work in accordance to the law of ‘sevenfoldedness.’” About this instance of numerology, Professor Taylor concludes: “The play of Gurdjieff’s numbers figures the play of man’s spirit with his body.”

Chapter 9 deals with The Herald of Coming Good which has always struck me as a work that would have benefited from the helping hand of Ouspensky or Madame de Salzmann. The role played by Payson Loomis in its appearance is discussed, as is the plan to close the Priory and re-establish the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in the United States. Professor Taylor pauses over the word “herald” in its title and gives an attentive reading to the text, one that will send me back to its pages for further edification. “It is worth noting that each of Gurdjieff’s four published works contain historical information not found in the others.” And this is true of details in Herald. The text includes an insightful review of that book written by T.J. Davis and published in Lincoln Kirstein’s Hound and Horn, a review that is otherwise not readily available. Davis makes an extravagant claim: it contains “the most authoritative writing on psychological and religious themes which has appeared in the western world since before the time of Aristotle.”

Chapter 10 examines “words of movement and colour” in the text of Struggle of the Magicians. The text of this work, not generally considered to be part of the canon, is tailor-made for Professor Taylor, who “goes to town” on its references, comparisons, metaphors, symbols, and archetypes. Even if the reader of this book has not had a chance to read the text of the five-act ballet, he or she will be carried along by the exact and exciting description of its action on many levels. The chapter ends with a commentary contributed by Anthony Blake, which concludes with this insight: “It is plausible to regard every manifestation of Gurdjieff, including the events of his own life, actual or invented, no matter in what medium, as part of his marvellous world of language.”

Chapter 11, the final formal chapter, examines Gurdjieff’s command of the English language, both spoken and written. The Interwar Years in Europe were characterized by polyglot, linguistic-minded writers who left their mark, notably James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov, and generations later the tradition is continued by Jorge Luis Borges, George Steiner, Alberto Manguel, and others. To the list should be added Gurdjieff. Professor Taylor, a polyglot himself, draws the reader’s attention to meanings of words that intrigued Gurdjieff, oddly enough everyday expressions like “plat du jour” and “cocktail.” Humour is not evident in the earlier chapters, but it does appear in this one. The author agrees with the statement about Gurdjieff “that philology was a better route to Truth than philosophy.” Then there is that statement “one must bury the dog deeper.” Professor Taylor writes, “I cannot find it in any of his published writings but many who knew him repeat it. He offers various interpretations rather than definitions of it. I could go on … but I will not.

Remember what Professor Tahylor wrote? “Last proves best.” The Epilogue is more concerned with the book’s title “Gurdjieff’s Worlds of Words” and less with its subtitle “A Methodological Reading,” for it focuses on Gurdjieff’s linguistic fluency, aided and abetted by his youth spent in the Caucasus, where from his earliest years he “spoke all languages” – or he “spoke one that included all the others,” the author has added. “He had the skills of an orator who knows how [to] make an audience pay attention to what he says.” Mr. G. was wont to describe himself as “a teacher of dancing,” but he might equally well have described himself as “a teacher of language.”

As well as a linguistic flair, Gurdjieff had “a philological bent,” his philosophy being the subject of one of Professor Taylor’s lesser-known books. Like Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gurdjieff distinguished between subjective language with its associations and objective language with its deep meanings. For instance, he preferred the verb “to exist” to the verb “to live,” noting that the former is active and dynamic whereas the latter is passive and static.

Words have roots: some bear fruit above ground; others bear vegetables below ground. Like roots, words may be shallow or deep, and there are levels of communication that are entirely free from the contexts and constraints of language. There are accounts of the man communicating in words with other men in a manner that seems best described as telepathic. He advised his readers to read his principal book three times, in three different ways, and inevitably on three different levels.

Gurdjieff had the reputation of garbling the language, but those men and women who knew him personally (and Taylor as a youngster was one of them) attest to his precise and often devastating use of words, largely in English, but also in French, Russian, Georgian, and Armenian. “He invented a large repository of words and assured their integrity free of the confusion of tongues. A study of that vocabulary would require another book and another author better equipped than I am for the task.”

Nevertheless Professor Taylor’s achievement is likely to remain unsurpassed, for he recognized that Gurdjieff created what he called “worlds of words” – a “universe of discourse” might be another way to express it; Northrop Frye would have called his achievement “the order of words” – the way a scientist adheres to a vocabulary of agreed-upon terminology for each discipline. One also thinks of “evidence-based medicine” versus “eminence-based medicine,” where the vocabulary is controlled and the lexicon is limited. Without an agreement on terms, there is no understanding at all. “Gurdjieff strained to create worlds of words that could be explored subjectively.” I might add, “objectively as well.”

The Epilogue – and hence the book itself – ends on a rousing note, referring as it does to Gurdjieff’s decision to close the gates of the Priory and to open notebooks in which to write the books that he eventually produced – to preserve the Special Doctrine in the formof script: “After that moment of kairos in 1927, he wrote himself into volumes in which we can read him.” An evocative phrase from another discipline comes to mind, one associated with the Haida myth-teller known as Skaay. His verbally inventive narratives of deep time are best described as “being in being.”

Professor Taylor “covers the waterfront,” to employ an inelegant expression. Yet, in reading the chapters and all the preliminary and end-matter, I have kept a “weather-eye” open (to use another inelegant expression) for one of the phrases that I most associate with Gurdjieff when he was faced with speech or script, an expression that he used on numerous occasions. Yet the phrase fails to appear in these pages. The phrase is “bon-ton.” The words are French for “high-toned,” but they carry undertones or undertones of facetiousness or derisiveness. Nowhere in these pages did I find the French expression used. While there is nothing bon-ton about Professor Taylor’s treatment of his subject, his readers would have found it enlightening had the author discussed the characteristics of bon-ton expressions (the high style) and the “wiseacering” (low style) that those words may imply.

The reader who tries to read Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson will likely be perplexed to encounter tongue-testing neologisms, like the three that appear on the first page of its Prologue – Assooparatsata, Karatas, Pandetznokh. The reader would be well advised to turn to the well-known Guide and Index (2nd edition, 2003) and then to Sophia Wellbeloved’s valuable Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts (2003). Gurdjieff’s Worlds of Words will not help that reader, as the book was written to assist students with more experience. But it does suggest that Gurdjieff, with his surprising OULIPO-like focus on the insights and idiocies of language, rightly saw himself as the author of the world’s first postmodern books of sacred writings.

John Robert Colombo is a Toronto-based author and anthologist. His latest books are A World of Differences (a volume of poems) and A Sax Rohmer Miscellany (an account of a lifelong appreciation of the writings of the British author of the Fu Manchu novels). The latter is available in a print edition and an ebook edition through Amazon Kindle. JRC’s website is < > .

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Slideshow with music bed

This is a collection of covers for books published relatively recently by authors John Robert Colombo and Ruth Colombo. (In the case of the Sax Rohmer’s Sumuru, JRC contributed the foreword.)

The covers were designed by Bill Andersen, in collaboration with the authors. The music bed is sampled from this album, if you wish to purchase it online. John Robert Colombo has an extensive list of titles now available as Kindle ebooks.

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uncommonplaces-300pxThe subtitle of Uncommonplaces is “New Aphorisms of John Robert Colombo.” There are more than 3,400 original aphorisms and surprising aphoristic expressions, as well as a separate section which offers close to 300 more aphorisms which attempt to describe those men and women the aphorist has met. All the contents have been arranged in alphabetical order by subject, so they range from Abilities to Zombies, or in the case of the personalities, from Acorn to Zukofsky. Colombo writes, “There are words around us that we resist using at our pleasure or peril, and these words are the most common ones.” By and large these commonplaces (or platitudes) whirl about like dervishes until they become uncommonplaces, remarks worth pondering. 400 pages. Now available as an Amazon Kindle at US $6.99.

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