Author/Artist: Paul Beekman Taylor
Publisher: Lighthouse Editions
First published: 2004
Preface by Roger Friedland.
Abundant new written and oral source material has enabled Paul Beekman Taylor to produce a work which sets G. I. Gurdjieff within the cultural and social contexts of America between 1924 and 1935 more accurately and fully than earlier biographical writings.
- shows why 'America' is a focal point in his thinking
- chronicles his interaction with the New York literati - for and against his teaching - Lincoln Kirstein, Sinclair Lewis, John dos Passos, Ezra Pound, Thornton Wilder
- with architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the St Petersburg painter and scene designer Nikolai Roerich
- connections with American politician Henry A. Wallace via Orage and Social Credit
- Muriel Draper, Fred Leighton, and Nick Putnam all important players in Gurdjieff's American experience
- the influence of his teaching, via Toomer, on the 'Harlem Renaissance' writers.
- his problems with immigration authorities which forced his departure from the United States and ended his hope of establishing his Institute there
- the truth about how he survived in Paris in WW2
- the conflict of interests among his followers after his death, the resulting power struggles to organize and perpetuate his teachings
- is thought in the context of Modernism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Watsonian Behaviorism and post-war French Existentialism
My second impression was that Mr. Taylor was, apparently on purpose, destroying my imaginary picture of Gurdjieff (you know: the Gurdjieff I like and have been admiring for a long time) and although I first did not like it, I could live with it and begin to appreciate it. This process of `accepting the destruction of my picture of Gurdjieff' is not new. The same process happened when the film of `Meetings with Remarkable Men' came out; the film had very little of `my Gurdjieff' in it. It took me a very long time to start appreciating the film.
In the book under review, 'Gurdjieff's America', the style and feeling of the written word is the same relaxed one I got to know earlier.
When it comes to the 'destruction of the picture of Gurdjieff that I carry' - in the new book this is done with such finesse that I hardly noticed. (Or it might be that the earlier book had done its job so well that the picture now was very similar to what Paul Taylor paints in 'Gurdjieff's America'.)
The Orthodox elders say that the weaknesses remain also in the saints, just to give them the chance to stay humble. In a similar way, the problems and difficulties in Gurdjieff's life perhaps also gave him the possibility to see his own weaknesses, which appear to have been mainly connected with alcohol, women and money - these three octaves seem to be carrying on through his life - and the famous `accidents', which were of different natures.
Paul Taylor's attention to detail is remarkable. The book includes lists of participants to the early meetings held in America. This aspect is interesting when we consider the place that Gurdjieff's teaching has in the world today (as we know the teaching has not many followers when compared to many other similar spiritual teachings). It all started in a small way, but with public demonstrations of the music and the Movements. Today the teaching is going on in a small way, but almost without public demonstrations.
This is happening in spite of the enormous `big DO' by Gurdjieff in bringing the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West together. It could be argued that the inspiration through Gurdjieff the appearance of the Eastern teachings in the West became possible. Consider a recent comment on one of the articles on a web site: `Gurdjieff said nothing new'. By the time anyone comes to Gurdjieff in our time he or she has already heard it all from other sources, often in the same words some of us have got to know through Gurdjieff.
The most important message of `Gurdjieff's America' is to the American `gurdjieffians' themselves; their history is told with great authority. Paul Taylor goes in his `American galoshes' all the way from promised land to hell in this world.
A superb documentation of the early American scene and a contribution to Gurdjieff and his teaching!
Reijo Oksanen, Switzerland