Four Books on Heidegger, Gurdjieff and Aletheia

Heidegger, Martin (1996/1927) Being and Time: A Translation of Sein und Zeit.Trans. Joan Stambaugh. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Staumbaugh’s 1996 translation is clearer to read than Macquarrie and Robinson’s 1962 original, although it is helpful to have both for comparison. Sein und Zeit influenced existentialist, phenomenological, deconstruction and hermeneutic philosophy, and spans a bridge to pivotal later work by Hans-Georg Gadamer (Truth and Method), Alain Badiou (Being and Event; Logic of Worlds), and Paul Ricoeur (Time and Narrative).

This opens up some potential ‘correspondences’ to compare Heidegger and Gurdjieff’s philosophies worth further exploration. Sein und Zeit may be Heidegger’s ‘legominism’; Heidegger’s hermeneutic method an attempt to recover the ‘I’; Dasein an awareness of Time as Gurdjieff’s ‘Merciless Heropass’; and Heidegger’s ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ broadly similar to Gurdjieff’s ‘Way of Golgotha’ (during the First World War and the 1917 Russian Revolution), in that both are death-aware orientations to personal conscience. Heidegger’s perspectives in Sein und Zeit about angst, falling into inauthenticity, and tradition’s role in cultural transmission are similar to Gurdjieff’s arguments. Finally, Sein und Zeit is about Aletheia in the sense of ‘unconcealment’ of being-in-life.

Faye, Emmanuel (2009) Heidegger:The Introduction of Nazism into Philosophy in Light of the Unpublished Seminars of 1933-1935. Trans. Michael B. Smith. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Faye’s book ignited controversy during its 2005 publication in France. Smith’s translation has done so again, in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Faye makes three main arguments. (1) Heidegger embraced Nazi metaphysics in the late 1920s before he became Rector of Freiburg University, and this influence is clear in his 1933-35 seminars. (2) Heidegger’s Nazism has influenced hermeneutics, postmodernists, and radical ecologists, who may be susceptible to proto-N. ideas. (3) Heidegger’s political beliefs mean that he should be banished as a philosopher from university courses, and censored in libraries.

For many reviewers, Faye’s contribution has been to highlight the archival sources in (1), although others claim Faye has misrepresented Heidegger’s ideas to advance his arguments. (2) and (3) have ignited the debate: Who has Heidegger influenced over time, and to what effect? Under what conditions can knowledge creation be separated from its sociopolitical contexts, particularly when these contexts may change? What should be the fate of philosophers who may be brilliant in one sphere, but taint their reputation in other areas? Is it possible to be influenced subtly by ‘evil’ ideas, and how would we be ethically self-aware enough to know?

Faye’s book is best read as an ‘active exercise’ with these issues in mind, issues that highlight Lethe as the opposite of Aletheia: how knowledge may be de-manifested, fragmented or (willfully) forgotten over time. A comparison of Heiddeger’s period as Rector of Freiburg University with Gurdjieff’s Paris groups raises some intriguing questions about Aletheia and ethical self-awareness in the midst of revolution, war and societal conflict. On the Paris groups, see the Gurdjieff group transcripts in William Patrick Patterson’s Voices in the Dark: Esoteric, Occult, & Secular Voices in Nazi-Occupied Paris (Fairfax CA: Arete Communications, 2000).

De Salzmann, Jeanne. (2010) The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff. Boston: Shambhala Press.

De Salzmann (1889-1990) was the closest pupil of Gurdjieff’s during his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Fontainebleu, and during the later Paris period in World War II. She was pivotal to the Gurdjieff Foundation, to the transmission of the Movements, and to Peter Brook’s film adaptation of Meetings With Remarkable Men (1979). Her publicly available writings have a directness of presence that differs from most other sources, the exceptions being Uspenskii’s In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Harcourt, 1949) and John Pentland’s Exchanges Within (New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1997). This book compiled from De Salmann’s 40 years of private notes promises to be a watershed moment in the Gurdjieff Work.

Tamdgidi, Mohammad H. (2009) Gurdjieff and Hypnosis: A Hermeneutic Study. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Robert Fripp’s DGM diary for 3rd February 2010 alerted me to Tamdgidi’s study, which has an introductory essay by noted Gurdjieff Work scholar J. Walter Driscoll. Tamdgidi contends that Gurdjieff’s expertise as a hypnotist is essential to understand his relationship with students, and the deep structure of his books, especially the ‘legominism’ Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (New York: Harcourt, 1950). In doing so, Tamdgidi demonstrates the methodological value of hermeneutics to interpret Gurdjieff’s texts and to reconstruct the hints and ‘fragments’ into a coherent whole. This book reveals some of the ‘mesoteric’ ideas on the transcultural sources of Gurdjieff’s cosmology, the appropriate use of friction in the teacher-student relationship, and the hypnotic structure of many occult ideas. Tamdgidi’s analysis however has some broader implications about the performative nature of Uttering a Word, and why the Task and Curse of a Magus involves a paradigmatic shift or conceptual distance.